The way Canadians work has changed dramatically during the pandemic. Nearly 5 million more Canadians started working from home, and while many employees enjoy the flexibility, there can be drawbacks when it comes to mental and physical health.
Blurring the lines between home and work life, less face-to-face contact with co-workers and no more travelling to and from offices have left us working longer hours, juggling multiple priorities and with no outside outlets. A recent international study focusing on the unintended effects of remote work during the pandemic quantifies the mental and physical challenges:
- 85% say mental health issues at work affect their home life in terms of sleep deprivation (40%), poor physical health (35%), reduced happiness at home (33%), challenges with family relationships (30%) and isolation from friends (28%).
According to Tammy Brazier, senior director of Corporate and Business Development with GoodLife Fitness, employers are providing more supports and information to help their workforce navigate the crisis. Corporate wellness programs have changed to offer more virtual programming, online classes and employee events with COVID safety protocols. In many cases, virtual workplace wellness practices are making programs more efficient and are even better suited for companies looking to reach a large workforce in multiple locations.
With campuses throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Seneca is known for its size and diversity, as well as its flexible class options and connections with industry leaders. Seneca students learn in many formats (in-class lectures, online learning, co-op and field placements) in programs related to applied arts, business, financial services and technology.
With most faculty, staff and students working and studying remotely until the circumstances of the pandemic change and everyone can return safely to campus, Seneca has adapted its workplace wellness efforts to address the realities of working from home. Faculty and staff used to attend wellness and fitness sessions and workshops on campus, but the team quickly adapted to offer programming and content in a virtual format.
“Our goal is to offer the right content for what people need right now. We’re basing it on what we’re hearing from faculty and staff, as well as our understanding of the realities and challenges of working remotely in the education and administration fields during a major health crisis,” said Felisha Ali, Project and Program Coordinator, Leadership and Employee Development-HR at Seneca.
Seneca provides updated resources, content and fitness programs designed to boost the physical and mental wellness of faculty and staff. The Leadership and Employee Development team previously ran regular in-person wellness workshops that were broadcast to other campus locations across the Greater Toronto Area. Now they’re all available online.
Timely, practical online workshop topics include Bouncing Back: Personal Resilience; How to Fit Exercise into Your Busy Life; Stress, Anxiety and Depression; Detoxification: The Once Over; and Personal Ergonomics.
Ali says participation has doubled with the new format and she is receiving positive input on the workshops and other online materials focusing on lifestyle habits to promote self-care and better work-life balance.
Reliance Home Comfort
Reliance Home Comfort is a national company providing affordable, reliable heating, cooling, hot water, water purification and plumbing products and services to Canadians. With 28 branches and 2,400 team members across Canada, Reliance Home Comfort takes the wellness of its employees seriously.
Before the pandemic, Reliance held annual in-person Health & Safety Days at its branches that featured an expert presenter on health and wellness topics. This year, the pandemic changed those plans. According to Jamie Trull, health and safety manager at Reliance, team members were invited to tune in to sessions online covering various topics related to physical and mental health and well-being.
Trull added the company introduced a pre-shift warm up and stretch session for team members at some facilities in Southwestern Ontario. Led by a GoodLife group fitness instructor, the team gathered in the parking lot to stretch and move before work several times a week.
“The work we do involves a lot of lifting and reaching, and there was risk of being injured. The goal with the pre-shift warm-ups is to help team members limber up before they start work. People are joining in on the live warm-up sessions and many are also doing it on their own on the other days. We’re hearing that it’s really helping,” Trull said.
These sessions have helped prevent strains and sprains on the job. Now Reliance has moved them online and will be offering stretching sessions at its other branches.
Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services provides lifesaving products and services in transfusion and transplantation for Canadian patients, and is responsible for safeguarding Canada’s systems of life essentials in blood, plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues.
With 3,800 employees at 36 locations across Canada, Canadian Blood Services saw about a quarter of its office staff transition to virtual work when the pandemic lockdown started, while the remaining employees worked in front line roles.
In the first days of the pandemic lockdown, workplace wellness efforts focused on communicating information about COVID-19 prevention and healthy habits. The immediate goal was to convey COVID-19 safety protocols to keep people as safe as possible.
Within a few weeks, it became clear employees would need to access more supports through the Employee Assistance Program, more flexible working arrangements to take care of family members and mental health resources to help them cope with the realities of constantly changing pandemic conditions.
Senior leaders encouraged their teams to find balance and take time for themselves, then modelled that behaviour. The organization introduced programs and channels to recognize its employees virtually for their efforts on the front line and for long service.
“The priority has been to do everything we can to ensure employees feel connected. We’re providing them the supports and information they need most to stay healthy and cope with all this change. That means flexible working conditions so they can take care of family members, and it means EAP and other supports, curating the right information and communicating much more often,” said Katie O’Brien senior consultant, Wellness, Diversity, Inclusion and Recognition.