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An organization that provides health and wellness services to the broad communications industry wants to see more companies in the sector take the pulse of their staff to find out where they’re coping well – and where they’re not.

The National Advertising Benevolent Society, known as nabs, is a charity that provides services for those in the communications sector, which includes advertising, marketing, public relations and media companies. It is hoping up to 50 companies in its industry will take part in this year’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award as a way to get a standardized reading on how their employees are faring with the stresses and challenges that life and work bring.

“We understand the value that a healthy employee is a more productive employee,” said executive director Jay Bertram in an interview. “The award will help our industry realize some of the other factors that go into having a strong working environment and we’re supportive of that.”

The Employee Recommended Workplace Award, created by The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell, was started to honour companies that have taken action to improve the health and well-being of their staff.

When companies register for the award, their employees take an online survey that examines four pillars: work, life, physical health and mental health. Once employees complete the survey they immediately receive a score and additional information about what their score means. They are also linked to online resources to help them address any areas of concern.

Employers then get an aggregate score and a report outlining the areas their company is doing well, and areas to improve its health and wellness programs. Companies that meet a certain threshold are awarded the Employee Recommended Workplace badge, and are eligible to win an award if they are the top score in their category.

“We’re going out to [firms in the industry] now and asking them to participate and get the data that’s going to help them and help us to reshape our services based on the information we get,” he said. “Because that’s always evolving.”

Nabs services include counselling on financial issues, dealing with bullying, as well as a host of stress, anxiety and mental health issues.

Mr. Bertram formerly headed up an agency and it offered an array of health and wellness programs for its employees but “we never really saw a big improvement and it’s only now I realize that there were so many other factors that were outside of work that were impacting their performance, so the total health model I’m a big believer in.”

The total health model looks at all aspects of an employee’s entire life – both personal and professional -- to determine what kinds of programs a company may need to offer to help their staff be as productive as possible, whether that’s dealing with mental health issues, coping with stress, handling with financial issues or boosting physical activity.

“We need to better understand how people are coping through the challenges of not only work but outside of work,” and having companies in the industry do the same survey will give a “standardized way of measuring that sort of impact and that can only be good,” he said.

Mr. Bertram has a vision for his organization to not only offer health and well-being programming (such as Employee Family Assistance Programs (EFAP), coping skills training and other programs) to industry partners but also to ensure that what’s being offered is having an impact. Mr. Bertram and his team believe there is a need to validate whether nabs is offering the right kind of programming and if the programs are having the desired effect.

This thinking motivated Mr. Bertram and his team to partner with Ross Taylor from Morneau Shepell in November, 2017, to use its total health index (THI) to collect data on employees’ health and program experience. In the end, 16 companies and 332 employees took part in the pilot study and the aggregate data was shared with the group.

The goal was to evaluate the companies’ health and wellness programs and give advice to the participating companies as to how they could better retain and sustain healthy, engaged and productive work forces.

The study found that:

· Overall physical health was below the benchmark due to high rates of sedentary activities.

· The workplace pillar also fell below the benchmark due to concerns around work demand.

· Mental health was found to be a risk factor, suggesting that this population would benefit from additional support.

· This population reported concerns about their ability to manage work demand and reported a high risk for burnout.

· Another issue dealt with respectful workplace issues, as well as concerns about how to manage demands from home and work.

· The critical finding was that employees with a higher THI score reported better attendance, higher levels of discretionary effort and lower levels of presenteeism (at work but not being productive) . This suggests a direct relationship between employees’ total health and productivity.

· In addition, employees who participated in programs like EFAP, stress management workshops, coping skills, fitness challenges and respectful workplace initiatives were found on average to have higher THI scores. This suggests that the programs the companies offered had some impact.

“More and more people in our industry are understanding that this is a category issue, an industry issue, a societal issue, not a company issue, in terms of some of the issues employee face. Mental health is not a specific company problem, it’s something we all need to be aware of and support,” said Mr. Bertram.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. Bill Howatt and Gillian Livingston, an editor with The Globe, are co-creators of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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