Put on a Happy Place

Workplace health and wellness is a cause that’s easy to embrace. It boosts productivity, busts absenteeism and feels great. But how can you tell which wellness trends truly promote well-being at work?

By Cindy McGlynn

In-house yoga, pet-friendly offices and other workplace perks are “nice-to-haves,” says Jim Moss, CEO and co-founder of Plasticity Labs, a company that helps workplaces improve culture and employee well-being. But, adds Moss, they’re much less important to employee wellness than a solid serving of “need-to-have” items.

Item number one on that list: A healthy culture. To be healthy at work (and in life) people need good relationships, a sense of independence and the opportunity to grow, says University of Ottawa Professor Natalie Durand-Bush, co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport (CCMHS).

“The quality of the environment and the relationships within that environment are key,” says Durand-Bush. Moss agrees: “It’s all about trust and community.”

Robert Half, a global staffing firm, surveyed more than 2,000 workers across North America about the benefits they value most.


• Flex-time
• Clear performance expectations
• Regular feedback and communication
• Workload management to avoid burnout
• Recognition and reward for good performance
• Learning, mentorship, personal and professional growth opportunities

Overworked and underfunded

The good news about the sports administration profession, says Moss, is that many employees are purpose-driven and passionate, however, there may be a tendency towards competitiveness that must be managed to avoid burnout. 

Durand-Bush says funding is also a problem. National wellness programs like Game Plan support Olympic and Paralympic athletes, but, says Durand-Bush, “they’re not servicing the lower level athletes, they don’t have the funds to do that, and they’re not necessarily servicing the coaches and the rest of the sport support staff.”

Although having a healthy budget always helps, in the end Moss says incremental improvements in workplace culture really pay off. “It kind of aligns with a fitness model,” says Moss. “You can’t do a million sit ups in a day and get abs. It’s the small, meaningful things that are done with the most repetition that really make a difference.” 

Walk the walk 
Durand-Bush says leaders should model behaviour they want to encourage, making sure wellness processes are respected and people feel safe reporting unhealthy practices. 

Make it measurable
Like other workplace programs, wellness initiatives should be measured to see if they work, says Moss. Consider circulating a short digital survey quarterly or twice a year. “It takes five minutes for employees to answer about 20 questions,” says Moss. “You can get a baseline and identify things you need to maintain and things you need to improve.” 

Keep an eye on trends
Moss says small changes in company culture are best, but acknowledges that trends promoting physical activity can help too: Having standing desks available and taking walking meetings could be worth the investment.  

Use existing resources
“It’s not like you have to reinvent the wheel. Use existing resources and models that are there,” says Durand-Bush. Great resources include: 
• Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport: ccmhs-ccsms.ca
• Game Plan total athlete wellness program: mygameplan.ca
• Mental Health Commission of Canada: mentalhealthcommission.ca

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