The Excellence Canada “Thought Leaders’ Round Table” (TLRT) met in November 2018 to discuss how wearable technology, smartphones, and employee rewards software are converging with organizational wellness programs to yield best practices, cost-effectiveness, and tangible improvement for employees, organizations, and society as a whole.

With these emerging trends in mind, this Thought Leaders’ Round Table session explored what makes an integrated health behaviour change program both successful and sustainable and how, through the use of technology, these types of programs can reduce the economic burden of health in Canada. This article summarizes and explains the findings of the discussion.

Overview of Current Health Costs

In Canada, government healthcare spending is increasing at an alarming rate, with an estimated $242 billion in total health expenditures in 2017, an annual increase of almost four percent. Direct and indirect costs related to five key modifiable chronic disease risk factors make up the bulk of this economic burden, and it is not just provincial governments being forced to carrying it:

  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • excess weight
  • use of alcohol
  • low vegetable & fruit consumption

Employers experience both financial and intangible costs through reduced employee productivity, absenteeism, workplace disability and even premature death, which is why many companies are now adopting health behaviour change programs to reduce the risks of chronic disease amongst their employee populations. A useful tool recently launched by BestLifeRewarded Innovations,, can now help calculate the costs of unhealthy employee behaviours and the potential savings that would result from even a small reduction in a workforce’s health-risk factor profile. This information can help companies justify the up-front costs of implementing a wellness program and better estimate the return on investment.

Multiple Generations in the Workforce

In Canada, today’s typical workforce spans at least four generations, which presents an interesting challenge for employers when managing their needs:

  • Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 and onward
  • Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 – 1995
  • Generation X: Born 1965 – 1976
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946 – 1964

Each group has its own distinct beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours, making health and wellness a particularly challenging topic to achieve alignment on. Given the accelerating advance in technology over the last 40 years, and the differences across generations in adopting or embracing it, one size does not fit all. This aspect was reviewed with a focus on the importance of developing highly personalized workplace wellness plans that can be better tailored to our increasingly diverse workforce.

The Changing Role of Technology

The proliferation of personal communications and interactive technology in recent years has transformed the way health and wellness programs have the potential to operate. Every generation responds differently to technology, education, communication, and wellness strategies – their needs are different. Technology offers an incredible opportunity to deliver “tailored-for-you” programs, easily and cost effectively. The most successful workplace wellness programs will be the ones that recognize rapidly changing employee demographics and embraces both the challenges and the opportunities of having such a diverse workforce. A personalized well-being strategy that recognizes both the differences and similarities between generations can allow companies to fine-tune its programs to meet the needs of its workers.

Questions and Group Discussion

The first question focused on what companies could do if they were armed with data demonstrating that their workplace wellness program resulted in a reduction of overall healthcare economic burden, including workplace savings. Common response themes were:

  • A case could be made to secure more funding to further develop programs for continuous improvement based on individual employee needs.
  • More strategic benefits such as promoting societal impact of employee wellness programs through public relations efforts
  • Demonstration of good corporate citizenship and employer-of-choice status
  • Opportunities for collaboration with unions as well as employee associations and local communities
  • Some organizations have been prohibited from using incentives in their wellness programs. Demonstrating that significant improvements in health and the healthcare system costs may help to secure approval to use incentive programs that have been proven to work.
  • Reliable success metrics would encourage a shift from expensive correction to affordable prevention.
  • Anonymous aggregate data evidence would support a general increase in digital strategies across the health care industry.

The second question discussed was surrounding the specific challenges of implementing a wellness program for multiple generations.

The first insight was to question whether generational differences should be singled out as a challenge or are just part of a greater need to accommodate workforce diversity of all kinds.

It was believed that fostering an organizational culture that embraces wellness could be achieved through involving employees in problem-solving, group training sessions in a boot-camp style, educating managers, supervisors, and senior leaders to ensure leadership buy-in and commitment of resources, and the need to encourage human connections, personal stories, testimonials, and peer support mentoring.

Other challenges experienced included:

  • Serving a dispersed workforce including working from home
  • Creating a safe environment of privacy and trust
  • Inspiring people to care about themselves
  • Securing leadership commitment

All challenges could be better resolved with the existence of proof demonstrating the effectiveness and payback of wellness programs, playing up the need for reliable measurable outcomes and the recognition and promotion of role-model organizations that are leading the way.

The third question examined what other elements could be added to a workplace wellness program that aren’t a part of “traditional” wellness. The group had some interesting ideas from their own organizations, including: volunteer opportunities, pet therapy, peer support from people with lived experiences, financial wellness programs, mandatory vacations, and no limits on vacation times.  The group recognized how personality traits affect the adoption of wellness programs and how important it is to tailor the offerings, highlighting the need for great flexibility. The suggestions were to use technology to segment targeted content for people by generational divides such as millennials, Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers as well as to explore personality traits and other behavioural drivers.

Finally, teams discussed how they have chosen, or would go about choosing, a workplace wellness program, and what types of proof points they need to see to secure buy-in.

Examples included referrals, Lunch’n’Learns, pilot projects, and simple face-to-face meetings with suppliers, which were all common methods when vetting programs. Industry case studies and testimonials were useful to show employee wellness as a staff retention strategy and employer-of-choice status, as well as evidence of improved productivity and engagement. These were some common benefits the teams thought would help to secure buy-in for wellness programs at their organization.

 Key Takeaways

  1. Organizations have a key role to play in promoting societal impact of employee wellness programs through public relations efforts and contributing to the reduction of Canada’s economic burden of healthcare.
  2. Generational needs and personality traits impact the adoption of wellness programs and to be successful, program offerings need to be flexible and tailored to meet the diverse needs of the workforce.
  3. Workplace wellness trends seen today will continue to grow, i.e., allowing more flexibility in the workplace, creating a safe environment, investing in technology and customization, inspiring self-care and involving employees in the development of solutions. Employers must strive to be at the leading edge to be employers of choice.
  4. Tap into the collective wisdom of the workforce to get creative solutions. Think “out of the box” for innovative ideas, e.g., no limits on vacation times.
  5. The value of face-to-face meetings and involvement continues to stand strong for fully engaging employees of all generations.

Supplemental Documents

  1. Does the world need another app?
  2. 5 Best Practices for Health and Wellness Program Data Security
  3. Healthy Economics: Why Improving Workplace Wellness Helps Canadians and the Economy

A tool to help you determine the cost of doing nothing vs. doing something from a direct and indirect health cost impact. This tool was created using Dr. Hans Kreuger’s peer-reviewed publications on the cost burden of 5 lifestyle risk factors – the impact that a small percentage reduction can have on the health costs in Canada and to employers.

  1. Wellness in the Workplace: Supporting Multiple Generational Needs
  2. Fostering a Healthy Workplace: Framework and Criteria for a Strategic Approach


About BestLifeRewarded Innovations (BLRI)

Science-based wellness programs improve the wellbeing of your people, which makes your business stronger. It’s simple logic: when your people are well, they help your business thrive. What we do works. Most wellness offerings are light on substance, but BLRI builds real engagement through science-based wellness with built-in assessment models and robust measurement. We’re wellness experts who believe in science-based programming that engages with emotion. That’s why we provide individuals with their own personalized path to wellness that takes their motivators into account, not just their health profile.

BLRI is a turnkey wellness solution that makes implementation easy. It’s highly customizable and fits seamlessly within existing programs. Most important of all, it’s a wellness resource that employees actually use and love. Want to drive your businesses forward? BLRI does just that. It’s the proven gold standard in wellness programming.

About Excellence Canada

Excellence Canada is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that is committed to advancing organizational excellence across Canada. Since 1992, Excellence Canada has helped thousands of organizations become cultures of continuous quality improvement and world-class role models, through its Excellence, Innovation and Wellness® Standard and its four-level progressive methodology.

As a national authority on Quality, Healthy Workplace®, and Mental Health at Work™, Excellence Canada provides excellence frameworks, standards, and independent verification and certification to organizations of all sizes and in all sectors. It is also the custodian and adjudicator of the Canada Awards for Excellence program, of which the Patron is Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.Q., C.D., Governor General of Canada.

For more information, please contact us:

BestLifeRewarded Innovations
Susanne Cookson, President
Email:  [email protected]
O:  905.336.1000 x 103
M:  205.599.6945

Excellence Canada
Russ Gahan, Vice President, Operations
Email: [email protected]
O:  416.251.7600 x 249
M:  416.888.3463

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