How a company’s new wellness program took off

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Corporate wellness programs can be fluid or highly structured, and the rewards can range from getting a free t-shirt to winning a medal in a marathon.

The most telling measure of success is employee buy-in. At the best of times, building and sustaining a health-focused plan in a corporate environment is a difficult task that requires commitment from both employees and the employer. Combined with a pandemic, this task can seem almost insurmountable.

But Sobora Duy, head of mental health and wellness for Air Canada in Montreal, likes a challenge, like making a public promise on social media to lose more than 40 pounds. “Failure is not an option,” said Duy, who blogged daily about his weight loss journey, posting a shirtless photo every day for 100 days. Correcting bad eating habits, getting proper rest and exercising regularly led to his success.

When Duy was tasked with amplifying Air Canada’s wellness program, he applied the same commitment to the task. Prior to his wellness role, Duy worked in several different departments within the company, including the customer service contact center, where he developed an understanding of business and customer perspectives, global differences for employees on six continents and sensitive union/management issues. . In short, he had an in-depth knowledge of the corporate culture.

Well-being during a pandemic

Then COVID-19 arrived. The pandemic has proven to be extremely difficult for all Air Canada employees, not least because the aviation industry has never faced such a challenge. At the height of the pandemic, the company laid off almost 50% of its employees, which caused anxiety and lowered the morale of the remaining workers. This accentuated the need for a wellness resource offering practical help and guidance.

Duy summed up his initial assessment of the existing program by saying it needed a restart. He updated tools and resources to increase participation. For example, wellness webinars began to be held regularly, rather than occasionally, and focused on topics such as financial wellness and quitting smoking. Each event allowed employees to ask questions and get answers from experts.

Duy realized that his first priority was to get buy-in from employees who were worried about COVID-19 and employment, among other concerns. Driving engagement meant building one-on-one relationships with employees to gain endorsements and positive word-of-mouth. This was accomplished through the use of Yammer, the airline’s internal communication channel, where employees participated in contests and won company giveaways.

In addition to gaining employee buy-in, the wellness initiative also needed to establish identity and direction. To that end, Duy and his team developed a new social media platform to promote two-way conversations and share professionally produced videos that included employee stories about managing wellness topics in four categories. health: work, mental, physical and financial, all under the banner of “Unlock the best in you” (UBY).

Built on CoreHealth’s comprehensive wellness platform, the UBY site quickly became known as the “People’s Platform,” educating employees in a simple way on how to handle personal and work-related issues, some employees choosing to share their individual experiences. The site also features blog posts, videos, and testimonials that showcase employee support.

The content was based on the guiding principle that challenges exist in every professional role, regardless of industry. Although the UBY initiative received strong buy-in from the leadership team, the site would not be considered a “top-down” effort.

Instead, Duy applied her contact center experience, which taught her that “every employee can be an inspiration.” Duy’s manager, Air Canada Chief Medical Officer Jim Chung, was also instrumental in supporting Duy and his work to develop and optimize the UBY program.

“Air Canada’s senior management has made employee well-being a key priority over the past few years,” Chung said. “Having Sobora as our Wellness Manager was a key part of the strategy to evolve the wellness experience of our employees. He was instrumental in driving engagement, creating new services innovative and new content.”

Well-being in all facets of work

The UBY program represents a significant investment by Air Canada. Consider food and its connection to people’s mental and physical health. UBY reviewed options in the company cafeteria and gained approval to ensure healthier meals and vending machine snacks were made available to employees. The employee gymnasium at the company’s headquarters in Montreal is being rebuilt into a state-of-the-art facility, with other locations set to be upgraded as well.

UBY logos printed on free items given to employees have helped build awareness of the program and its values. The visibility of UBY swag has become another strong indicator of widespread employee engagement.

Recently, UBY’s “10 to 10” (a 10-minute break at 10 a.m. every Wednesday) was introduced to motivate employees to take a break from their work and computer screens and get moving. The program quickly took off, with dozens of employees joining the activity in person and virtually through a weekly outdoor session. Air Canada employees shared their “10 to 10” experiences externally and internally via Yammer, and the level of participation grew to more than 100 employees per session.

An expression of employer support

UBY’s goals, beyond promoting the health and well-being of Air Canada employees, are difficult to quantify. However, internal research revealed a significant increase in employee participation in the UBY program, and employee perceptions of Air Canada’s internal culture changed to present a company that truly cares about the people it serves. she employs.

HR knows that employee retention can help reduce recruitment costs in a competitive technology environment and that a platform like UBY helps retain employees. An example: Duy’s efforts are designed to meet employee needs and build employee engagement and are strongly supported by company management. So far, all signs point to a program that benefits Air Canada employees and the company.

Anne Marie Kirby is the Managing Director of Carebook Technologies Inc. Prior to co-founding the company in 2004, she held several technology leadership positions as a software engineer in the healthcare industry. Recognized as a leading female entrepreneur by Canadian national award juries, Kirby has been at the forefront of health and wellness innovation.

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