Reimaging Workplace Wellness

Healthy Workplaces Require More Than Providing Health and Fitness Programs At Work

Today’s blog has been written by Shannon Rogers, a Chronic Pain, and Functional Rehabilitation Specialist, who deals with the result of workplace injuries and chronic pain daily basis.  Shannon has unique insight into the causes of chronic pain and the treatment of a variety of workplace-related mental and physical health challenges. Improved indoor environmental quality is key to the treatment of, and moreover, the prevention of long-term illness.

Workplace wellness has traditionally focused on programs and incentives offered by employers to engage employees in healthy lifestyle habits. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has shown however, that providing healthy workplaces requires more than providing health and fitness programs at work. The wellness of employees depends on larger environmental factors.

According to studies, respiratory infections account for up to 50% of work absenteeism due to illness (Bramley et al. 2002; Loef et al. 2019). Those who attend work despite fighting a cold or flu virus are less productive resulting in increased costs for businesses (Dicpinigaitis et al. 2015; Keech and Beardsworth 2008). How do standard workplace wellness programs address such concerns?

Evidence shows that improving overall health and fitness and maintaining optimal body mass index leads to improved immunity, helping employees fight off pesky viruses. However, the recent pandemic demonstrates that simply maintaining healthy behaviours is not enough.  The Integrated Benefits Institute estimates that employee absences due to Covid-19 have cost employers upwards of 50 billion (Gavidia, M, 2021). Companies must double down on their efforts to provide safer and healthier working environments for employees beyond that of giving coffee cards for attending lunchtime fitness classes.  

Green certified buildings prioritize improving a variety of key factors (IEQs) to support healthy work environments. Improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) includes improving air quality, decreasing extreme temperatures, optimizing humidity, providing adequate ventilation, lighting, acoustics and ergonomics.  All IEQ factors affect both the physical and psychological health parameters of employees. A recent study comparing green and non-green buildings showed that working in a green building with improved air quality, improved conditions such as asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, and decreased stress.  Employees of green-certified buildings noted improvements in productivity and reduced absenteeism (Singh et al., 2010). 

Traditionally, employees who suffered from respiratory diseases and other chronic conditions may not have participated as robustly in workplace wellness programs.  Participation in such initiatives assumes the employee has the ability and motivation to participate, relies on employee and leadership engagement in the program, depends on good internal communication about programs, and accessibility to these offerings for employees.  When employees have rigid work schedules or higher workloads, participation may not be possible.  For those who have disabilities or chronic conditions, certain aspects of these programs may not be suitable.  Increasing the IEQ of work environments allows passive benefit to all employees, regardless of ability, availability, or willingness to participate.

The ethics of providing employees with healthier buildings in which to work is clear. The time to reimagine our concept of workplace wellness is upon us. What will you do? 

Article Written By:

Shannon Rogers, BScExPhys, CEP, RMT

Chronic Pain and Functional Rehabilitation Specialist,

Catalyst Kinetics Health Services 


Mattke, S., Liu, H., Caloyeras, J., Huang, C. Y., Van Busum, K. R., Khodyakov, D., & Shier, V. (2013). Workplace Wellness Programs Study: Final Report. Rand health quarterly3(2), 7.

Singh, A., Syal, M., Grady, S. C., & Korkmaz, S. (2010). Effects of green buildings on employee health and productivity. American journal of public health100(9), 1665–1668.

Middeldorp, M., Loef, B., Allard J., van der Beek, A., van Baarle, D., Proper, K. (2020). Sickness absenteeism, work performance, and healthcare use due to respiratory infections for shift and non-shift workers. Chronobiology International, 37:9-10, 1325- 1334. DOI: 10.1080/07420528.2020.1825468

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