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How did wellness programs come about?

Employee health has been a concern for employers since the 1800s to optimize worker output during the Industrial Revolution. Further development of government regulations for occupational safety, employee assistance for alcoholism and mental health and eventually health insurance benefits and retirement plans shifted the view of worker care to be more holistic and integrative to company success.

The 1980s aimed at physical health and by the 1990s mental health became a consideration of corporate wellness. By 2000 workplace programs began to look like what we think of today (1). Innovative tech companies started creating more relaxed, lifestyle environments, catering to their youthful staff. To entice top talent and in exchange for long hours of work, employees were provided snacks, the opportunity to get fit and manage their stress in an environment that was cool, fun and social. Employees wanted to work at open minded companies had their interests in mind and enjoyed premium perks they’d likely not have access to otherwise.


What kind of businesses have a wellness program of yoga and meditation?

Traditionally office workers stretching to counteract a day of sitting were the typical participants of employee health programs, but today, it’s common among a wider variety of companies. Businesses that want to bridge department segregation, companies with employees stressed from making a lot of high stakes decisions, groups that do physical activity that need to cross train or work on their mental game…

In almost 12 years of corporate experience, my Toronto clients have ranged from several big banks, marketing and design firms, telecommunication companies, law firms, film sets, hospitals and schools.


A wellness program can be tailored to anyone and as yoga and meditation have become more popular, workers are more open to getting involved.


How can developing a wellness program benefit a company and its employees?

We see that healthy employees are not only happier, they make better contributions to the business through increased productivity, better internal communications and improved client transactions. Over time, this can translate into fewer sick days (2), lower stress, and better overall health measured by blood pressure, sleep, (3) weight control and self-reported happiness. The returns are also more positive, long lasting and widespread, the longer people participate.

For an employer, the return on investment can be incentive enough (4) but really, being a part of someone’s personal growth garners more loyalty from those staff members. 84% of Canadian adults do not get adequate exercise (5). Employees mention several barriers to physical activity such as time, cost, childcare or environment (6) which is where a wellness program during office time can greatly eliminate those pressures.

From an outside perspective, corporate wellness programs increase attractiveness of to new recruits (7) and clients who consider a company’s culture. Human Resources have known this as they’ve often been the ones reaching out but with the rise of Social Committees, employee interests and team building are seen as an important part of creating a successful organization. As more businesses adopt wellness programs and we experience a labour shortage (8), what was a seen as a nice perk, is considered a must-have for preventing illness/stress and retaining employees.

What are examples of components to consider when building a Wellness Program?

Offerings will depend several factors like physical space, employee population, budget and company culture. It’s important to think about what people need and match that with easy, inclusive and enjoyable options. Being aware, (or becoming aware through polling), of staff preferences, fitness levels, and time constraints can go a long way to finding a fit. Encourage regular feedback and promote the programs to encourage participation. Consistent messaging and sustained program activities are important as it takes time to build a habit.

Create spaces that facilitate health and wellness on-site:

  • Ergonomic work spaces

  • Gym or exercise space, fitness equipment

  • Nap rooms/meditation lounge

  • Kitchen and healthy snacks

Fitness Classes and Wellness education:

  • Exercise classes, such as bootcamp, group cycle, yoga or Pilates

  • Mindfulness Classes, such as Meditation or Tai Chi

  • Workshops on nutrition or mental health

Medical on-site offerings:

  • Chiro/Physio/Massage where employees can use health insurance

  • Health Assessments to measure biometrics and vaccination clinics to help staff stay on top of physical health.

Wellness Incentives:

  • Health spending account

  • Contests to meet participation goals for fitness classes/workshops

  • Flexible work hours/time off

Socialization to increase team building:

  • Book clubs, games, movies, theme days, holiday parties

  • Group outings for drinks, BBQs, picnics, watching sport games


Some of these offerings seems unsuitable for your group but the idea is wellness comes in various forms and programs can be simple to very comprehensive. While many studies have been with large corporations (for study sample sizes and comparisons), small businesses can definitely see success and have an be easier time implementing a plan (9).



Why is yoga and meditation an optimal activity for a corporate wellness program?

Yoga and meditation directly work on countering stress, which is a leading employee concern (10).

Both modalities are unique in that they do not compete with other physical training or spiritual beliefs. In fact, yoga may increase performance with increased mobility and proprioception. Meditation may improve self talk and deepen connection to core beliefs.

Another benefit of yoga and meditation is the low to no injury risk and beginner friendly intensity. This works well with very mixed employee demographics and abilities. Most people are familiar with the positive reputation of these modalities and are curious to self-improve.

For the workplace, the non-competitive, non-judgemental nature of yoga and meditation make them inviting and beneficial to furthering that bias among employees. Likewise, both practices are activities people do individually, yet is enhanced by being together. This sense of community then transfers to the workplace.

In addition, yoga and meditation does not require much space or equipment. In Toronto, we can easily enjoy these activities indoors for the majority of the year and take it outside for our brief summer.


1) Article

2) During the 24-week period of the study, employees who exercised at least 150 minutes per week only missed 5 hours from work, on average.  Employees who exercised between 70 and 149 minutes per week missed 11 hours of work, and those that exercised less than 70 minutes per week missed 19 hours of work. Study

3) “The program had high employee engagement. After 1 year, the benefits included clinically important improvements in physical and mental health.” Study

4) “Studies have repeatedly proven that comprehensive corporate wellness programs return an average $3 for every dollar spent.” Article

5) “84% of the adult population is not active enough." Report


6) Barriers to Physical Activity Study

7) “88% of workers see great value in corporate wellness programs” Article


8) Boyce says. “When you add in the labour shortage and the war for talent, then it’s no longer a matter of businesses saying ‘is this something we should do?’; rather, it’s ‘we have to get on this right away to keep our good people and attract new good people’”. “ Article

9) “These include reduced bureaucratic demands, which give easier access to health promotion vendors; better connections between the management and workers, easier communication and, possibly, more empathy towards workers who are seen as a part of the family.” Article


10) “Close to three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents stated that their work experience impacted their mental health, while a higher number (78 per cent) reported mental health as the primary reason for missing work.” Article

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