The Ultimate Guide to

Corporate Wellness Strategies

Guide Summary

Corporate wellness initiatives have gradually become expected by the multigenerational workforce. But as companies continue to adapt to new normals, it’s clear that purchasing a ping-pong table or offering a discount at the gym next door is no longer enough. With a healthy workplace environment more valuable than ever to Canadian workers, top marks go to those organizations with a positive wellness culture. Since health and wellness options can seem endless, however, we've crafted this guide with concrete examples you can implement in your organization. You'll also learn why corporate wellness provides benefits to employees and employers alike, how to ensure your initiatives are successful, and much more.


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We all know about hustle.

From the recent college grad looking for their first job, to the mother of two trying to balance domestic and work responsibilities, to the baby boomer mentoring colleagues – we all work in a competitive market with increasing daily demands.

Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and its monumental impact on how and where we work, and it’s no surprise all the hustle can take a physical and emotional toll.

We check our phones constantly, often working into the evening; we can’t always make time to buy fresh food or prepare nutritious meals; we hunch over our laptops and phones, creating poor posture – all the while struggling to keep our work and personal lives separate.

Not only do many Canadians suffer from increased stress and anxiety, feelings of isolation, and concerns about their mental health as a result of working from home, but the sad reality is that too few modern and remote workplaces are set up to promote healthy habits. Desk jobs involve long hours of sitting, and both the stress and excitement of a go-go-go lifestyle can lead to sleep disruption and less-than-healthy coping techniques.

This isn't just bad news for tired, sedentary, or lonely employees. It also impacts the businesses seeing decreases in overall productivity and pouring money into employee benefits in an effort to combat preventable or manageable chronic issues like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain mental health issues.

But despite struggling employees costing big bucks, there's plenty of good news as well: an analysis by Sun Life Financial showed that companies that kick-started an effective wellness program reduced costs and experienced financial gains.

These included:

  • 11% higher revenue per employee
  • 1.8 fewer absentee days per employee per year
  • 28% higher shareholder returns
  • For every $1.00 spent on wellness programs:
    • medical costs fall by about $3.27, and
    • absenteeism costs fall by about $2.731

Corporate wellness programs are a win-win in the workplace world, where healthier employees are happier, happier employees are more productive, and companies stand to benefit from improved financial health.

This is a correlation that’s backed by hard evidence.

Not only does the Sun Life-Ivey Canadian Wellness Return on Investment (ROI) Study show that corporate wellness programs reduce absenteeism2, a 2018 study by the McGill Comprehensive Health Improvement Program found that, after one year, the benefits of Canadian corporate wellness programs resulted in clinically important improvements in physical and mental health3.

And it doesn't stop there.

Well-designed workplace health promotion programs can improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels while providing the virtual services Canadian employees are looking for more and more. These elements can in turn impact financial measures important to employers, including health benefits utilization and worker productivity.

But the keyword here is "well-designed." You can't just stock your break room with granola bars or host the occasional online social event and call it a day. Wellness programs work when they're tailored to the needs and goals of certain groups and when they provide opportunities based on employee engagement, input, and feedback.

Stepping back and identifying gaps in your current wellness structure can help you develop an agile, equitable, inclusive program designed for the workforce of the future.

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In this guide, we'll provide you with a structured approach to implementing a corporate wellness strategy within your organization. In it, you’ll find clear steps for addressing a number of factors that affect employee health.

01 What are corporate wellness programs?

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To answer this question, we first have to define "workplace wellness" versus "corporate wellness"; two similar-but-different ideas.

The phrase "workplace wellness" is an umbrella term describing a number of programs or activities typically offered as part of employer-provided health plans. As a means to help employees improve their health and reduce healthcare costs, these initiatives effectively stop bad habits before they become health risks.

Think of programs that focus on:

  • Physical activity
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Tobacco cessation
  • Stress management
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"Corporate wellness", while close in meaning, refers specifically to programs, policies, benefits, and environmental support designed to power up the health and safety of all employees.

Corporate wellness programs can be:

  • Awareness-oriented: providing information to help employees make healthy lifestyle choices
  • Activity-oriented: combining awareness with participatory activities
  • Results-oriented: including a focus on measurable outcomes4

If this sounds like a wide-ranging scope, that's because it is. Corporate wellness programs are meant to encompass everything from disease prevention and management to education, and from telemedicine and other virtual care services to health-related team-building activities.


According to a 2017 survey from the Conference Board of Canada, one-third of Canadian employers have a formal corporate wellness program in place and almost half have informal policies – stats that have jumped significantly since 2009.5

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans also reported in 2017 that 75% of employers offer wellness initiatives to improve overall worker health and well-being. Of those companies that instituted wellness programs, 66% saw an increase in productivity and 67% reported their employees were more satisfied.6

Given that 80% of Canadian employees believe their overall well-being would improve if they were offered a personalized wellness program7, employers are expressing renewed urgency around employee well-being and mental health.

02 Why should companies address corporate wellness?

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With limited budgets, competing priorities, and the ongoing challenges of adapting to a new business normal, why should corporate wellness be on your radar? It's simple: healthy employees lead to healthy companies. If employees are sick, overweight, stressed, sleep-deprived, disengaged, worried about money, or feeling isolated or burnt out, a company isn't going to thrive.

Overweight and obese workers, for instance, have been found to be:

  • Absent more frequently
  • Less productive at work
  • More likely to require short-term disability benefits
  • More likely to take a disability pension8

Even beyond the imperfect metric of weight, inadequate levels of physical activity are associated with additional total healthcare expenditures.9

For example:

  • The direct healthcare costs of physical inactivity in Canada in 2009 were $2.4 billion, representing 3.8% of overall health care costs.10
  • A modest reduction in risk factors associated with smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity of just 1% would result in an $8.5 billion annual reduction in economic burden by 2031.11
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Furthermore, in view of the fact that most adults spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, it’s worth noting that:

  • 70% of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health and safety of their workplace.
  • 30% of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health problems and illnesses.
  • There’s a strong connection between a mentally healthy workplace and the achievement of business objectives.

Basically, healthier employees perform better. Studies show that not only are physically active employees absent less frequently than their inactive counterparts12, but physically active adults have lower annual health care expenditures than insufficiently active adults.

Meanwhile, employers who are rated favourably on psychological health and safety in the workplace experience:

  • Lower absence rates
  • Less presenteeism
  • Higher employee engagement, and
  • Lower personal stress among employees13

All of which can impact a company’s bottom line.

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A study carried out by Soma Analytics in 2017 showed that FTSE 100 companies that prioritize employee engagement and well-being outperform the rest of the FTSE 100 by 10%. 14

But the impact is about far more than profitability. Health tends to breed happiness in a very real way. When companies prioritize wellness goals, especially in combination with career development, the result is a more positive work environment.

In Sanofi Canada’s 2020 Healthcare Survey, 86% of respondents agreed that a workplace environment that encourages health and wellness is an important factor when deciding on a job offer or remaining at an organization.

Which is why many employers look to corporate wellness programs to increase employee engagement and become an employer of choice.

03 How do corporate wellness initiatives benefit employees?


Promoting healthy habits is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace wellness. Wellness initiatives also do something invaluable: they show employees you truly care about their health and well-being.

Now more than ever, employees are turning to their employers to help provide solutions – not only for their physical well-being, but in all aspects of their life.

A 2021 report from Aon showed increased employee interest in lifestyle benefits like stress management and counselling (84%), financial planning (74%), nutrition programs (70%), virtual fitness memberships (69%) and fitness equipment purchase/rental (66%).

A thoughtfully designed and well-implemented program can introduce a number of benefits into the workplace:

  • Reduced healthcare costs
  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased morale 15,16

Unsurprisingly, this range of benefits has a pretty big influence on employee satisfaction.
According to Sanofi Canada’s 2020 Healthcare Survey, 77% of employees with wellness programs at work agreed that their workplace culture encourages health and wellness,17 61% stated their employer effectively helps employees manage stress, and 74% described the quality of their work health benefit plan as good or excellent.

This, in turn, impacts job satisfaction: 90% of employees that praise their company’s wellness culture say they are satisfied with their current jobs, compared to 61% without the benefits of a wellness culture.

05 How do the pros tackle corporate wellness?


Here are a few innovative ideas that major organizations have put into action to promote corporate wellness22:

  • Equium Group in Calgary supplies free indoor bicycle parking and an onsite fitness centre that includes perks like scheduled yoga sessions during the workday.
  • Habanero Consulting in Vancouver encourages de-stressing with “culture budgets” for local team activities. Pre-pandemic events included Friday lunches, family BBQs, and bowling showdowns. More recently, activities have included virtual lunch deliveries, online game nights, and surprise door-drop care packages.
  • Medtronic designed employee lounges in both their Brampton and Montreal offices with massage chairs, puzzles, and video games for stress-relief breaks.
  • COBS Bread in Vancouver, which bakes all of its products on-site from scratch, gives retail bakery employees $10 worth of healthy, additive-free baked goods at the end of every shift.
  • In Edmonton, Jobber maintains a staff engagement budget for surprise gifts and events that have included hiring an ice cream truck, organizing a free bicycle repair day, and arranging desk-drops of plants.
  • Mastercard Canada offers every employee up to 5 work days a year to engage in meaningful volunteer or community outreach activities.
  • Intuit Canada reimburses up to $1,000 for any expense related to an employee’s (or their family member’s) physical, emotional, or financial well-being. They also offer company-wide “recharge days” with no vacation day usage required.
  • Admiral Insurance in Halifax offers both a $500 personal spending account for things like fitness equipment and personal development, and access to a $2,000 interest-free life event loan for wedding costs, moving expenses, or helping a family member who’s ill.
  • Ceridian improves work-life balance with flexible work arrangements, generous sick leave, and a Flexible Time Away From Work program where employees can choose the number of paid days off they take each year without limits.
  • Axis Communications in Mississauga believes work-life balance is so important they launched a Sabbatical Program in 2017 that provides three weeks off and $2,000 in spending money every 5 years so employees can relax and recharge, spend quality time at home, or go explore the world.

With a little imagination, you can reinvent successful initiatives like these to benefit in-office, remote, and hybrid workers alike.

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06 What makes a corporate wellness program successful?

Planning to implement a corporate wellness program? Easy.

Imagining the benefits of a corporate wellness program? Very easy.

Creating a successful corporate wellness program? Actually… still pretty easy! But there are some important guidelines to follow.

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Spread Awareness

Corporate wellness programs rely on participation to succeed. To get people to participate, it's important to get the word out.

  • Host meetings to talk about your company’s wellness program.
  • Send out a monthly wellness newsletter that addresses program updates, incentives, and wellness challenges.
  • Electwellness champions” and feature them in newsletters or on your company website.
  • Bring in guest speakers to talk about the benefits of participating in corporate wellness programs and how employees can save on healthcare costs.
  • Use a wellness portal to help employees keep track of their progress while earning rewards and incentives.
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Establish a corporate wellness strategy

Just like wellness is more than eating the occasional kale salad, wellness programs are about more than offering a gym membership or virtual health class. It's essential to look at the entire employee population, their families, and corporate culture to figure out how people can be encouraged to change their behaviour.

And that isn't always simple.

But as we’ve already discussed, wellness programs are especially effective when they're clearly tailored to the goals and needs of specific populations and provide opportunities for employee engagement and input.

Here are a few ways to make that happen:

  • Administer a baseline survey to assess your employees’ physical activity levels, dietary preferences, and interest in health and wellness options. Some companies give employees a health risk assessment and offer to place them in a program designed to encourage them to meet customized health goals throughout the year. 23
  • Assess existing opportunities for physical activity at home and at the workplace (like bike racks, walking paths, and organized virtual workouts).
  • Develop specific targets like getting 25% of employees to join an in-person or digital lunchtime walking club.
  • Identify a senior leader who will support and participate in your company's wellness program to demonstrate the importance of making health and wellness a priority.
  • Reward employees for healthy behaviors and results.
    As opposed to one-size-fits-all rewards, successful incentives are tailored to individual employees. The more you can personalize prizes or compensation, the more success you’ll have engaging participants and making wellness programs ‘stick’.
  • Communicate frequently with employees via email, pamphlets, posters, and fact-sheets.
  • Measure success and effectiveness by collecting data on participation rates and progress toward health targets, and by assessing future needs and participant satisfaction.

Embrace a holistic approach to physical and mental well-being

Chronic stress at work can result in a number of negative side effects, including:

  • Decreased mental health
  • Triggered depression and anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Emotional exhaustion 24

Stress can also lead to severe physical health problems like:

  • Immune deficiency disorders
  • Chronic headaches
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced ability to recover from illness 25

And the list goes on. Stressful work conditions can even hamper an individual’s ability to make important lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthfully
  • Getting physically active

The Canadian Policy Research Networks estimates that stress-related absences cost Canadian employers about $3.5 billion each year.26 What’s more, the costs of lost productivity due to mental illness in Canadian businesses equate to $11.1 billion per year.27 The World Health Organization has even recognized burnout as an official medical diagnosis.

The way forward is clear: a majority of employers are increasing their investment in mental health programs (88%), stress management and resilience (81%), and mindfulness and meditation (69%).

Holistic wellness programs help employers lead the way to better health by:

  • Emphasizing mental health support
  • Promoting healthy mental well-being
  • Encouraging the use of mental health days
  • Making additional time off or sick leave available
  • Providing assistance or coverage for counseling services or therapy
  • Providing access to services like telemedicine to decrease barriers to physical or mental health care

Stress is an unavoidable fact of life. With the goal to design wellness programs that help minimize and control employee stress levels, many employers are adding families to benefits offered for greater peace of mind.

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Convenient, personalized, innovative services that can target a broad demographic

Employees have varying needs, fitness levels, family situations, and more. They require personalized experiences in their corporate wellness programs. And the best way to create a more personalized experience is by using digital platforms to host wellness programs.

Virtual platforms help generate specific wellness goals and activities based on each employee’s preferences—helping reduce stress via mindfulness for some, and promoting hiking or bike commuting for others.

Virtual programs like telemedicine, meanwhile, have experienced one of the most significant increases in popularity of all wellness benefits – with 87% of employers planning to increase their investment moving forward.

The implementation of services like telemedicine can help target a broad employee demographic regardless of age, location, and other personal factors.

07 Analyzing employee usage of corporate wellness

Program evaluation is critical to maintaining accountability for a wellness program. Are your employees using your offerings? Why or why not? Conducting regular evaluations and analyses to first determine what will be most helpful – and then following up to see who is using what – is essential for measuring results and adapting programs accordingly.

Overall, there are three types of evaluation:

  1. Process evaluations (participation or utilization rates, level of interest, participant satisfaction)
  2. Impact evaluations (short-term changes in attitude, behaviours, and skills)
  3. Outcome evaluations (long-term goals like financial outcomes, and biometric health outcomes such as BMI, smoking cessation, blood pressure, and cholesterol)28

There are lots of ways to measure impact and outcomes, including contracting outside experts to conduct reviews, conducting focus groups and employee surveys, and performing health risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses that include medical claims comparisons.29

Start with a survey of what employees want.

  1. What are your team’s needs? Evaluate specific health concerns. For example, is the nature of your team’s work sedentary? Are they stressed? Do they have the opportunity to take breaks throughout the day?
  2. What are your team’s interests? Determine what might stimulate your team’s participation. Basketball or yoga? Biking or meditation? This will help you steer clear of the 5am boot camp no one shows up for in favour of the after-hours rock-climbing clinic or virtual hikes everyone loves.

You might consider using some version of a Wellness Organization Self-Assessment Tool in conjunction with a resource like the MindsMatter evaluation powered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

There are many other free and helpful tools available online, including Wellsteps’ Checklist to Change, which helps evaluate easy changes companies can make to increase worksite wellness.

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Once you’ve set up your corporate wellness program, your strategy should include asking your employees for feedback.

Send out regular surveys or hold quarterly meetings to gauge how employees are responding to your wellness initiatives. How would they improve the program? What’s going well? What isn’t? All of this information will help you adapt your corporate wellness programs according to your employees’ needs and desires.

While many companies focus on return on investment for dollars spent on wellness initiatives, it’s equally important to consider value of investment (VOI). This includes examining the broader impact of programs on core priorities for your organization, which may include improved employee morale, talent attraction and retention, or heightened customer loyalty.

08 What's the connection between corporate wellness trends and technology?


Today’s technology offers many opportunities to improve corporate wellness strategies. Interactive platforms can turn team-building challenges, social networking, and gaming into corporate wellness opportunities. 30

Artificial intelligence (AI) also has an important role to play in corporate wellness by identifying trends and making forecasts for the future. Not only can employers use AI to collect and analyze data to improve wellness initiatives, AI software can provide better personalization and more rapid responses to employees.

Finally, telemedicine services like Dialogue play a crucial role in workplace wellness programs. Employers creating an employee wellness program can use telemedicine to educate, motivate, and provide treatment. The availability of 24-hour, on-call care from medical professionals doesn’t just bump up modern EAP offerings, it supports the on-site benefits and culture that other wellness initiatives foster:

  • When workplace screenings report medical issues, telemedicine benefits provide the follow-up to address them.
  • Stress management initiatives are bolstered by telemedicine’s mental health offerings.
  • Telemedicine empowers employees to proactively address and manage health issues before they become chronic health conditions that interfere with workplace productivity.
  • Telemedicine can assist employees with questions regarding nutrition, disease management, mental wellness, and an overall healthy lifestyle.

According to a November 2020 survey by Environics and Dialogue, 82% of Canadians believe virtual care should be offered as an employee benefit and 66% said they would likely use it if it was available.

Meanwhile, a 2020 poll conducted by The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) showed that Canadians are embracing virtual care options and would like to see them continued, improved, and expanded in the future.

09 How can you implement corporate wellness?


You should aim to choose wellness program providers that can first help you gauge employee preferences, and then offer a variety of options for achieving them—from virtual or on-site fitness and incentive programs, to a digital wellness platform and telemedicine benefits.

Here are a couple of questions that can help you find the right fit:

  • Does the vendor offer in-person services? Virtual services? Both?
  • Do they provide a full-service wellness program? À la carte offerings? Both?
  • Does the vendor provide innovative solutions?
  • Will they customize programs to meet the specific needs of your employees?
  • How does the vendor measure participant satisfaction?
  • Does the program provide marketing and communications support?
  • Does it feature a wellness portal?

No matter which solutions you pick, it's important to prioritize flexibility. For example, your vendors should be accessible for employees who:

  • Work remotely
  • Work different shifts
  • Travel
  • Have families
  • Prefer certain communication channels
  • May not be comfortable exercising with coworkers

How are top Canadian employers integrating corporate wellness into their benefits?

Some of Canada’s top employers, large and small, use corporate wellness benefits to attract and support the best talent.

  • Keyera Corp encourages employees to engage in physical activity with employee-led sports teams and a wellness spending account.
  • NAV Canada offers a health spending account as well as a separate wellness spending account as part of its health benefits plan.
  • Dejero Labs offers a health spending account and a separate wellness spending account to help cover the costs of wellness-related expenses.
  • Bank of Canada’s workplace has fitness facilities on-site, including instructor-led fitness classes. There’s also a purpose-built Wellness Centre with a quiet lounge space, a wellness library, rooms for meditation, stretching or prayer, a private space for nursing mothers, light therapy lamps, and blood pressure monitors.31
  • KPMG LLP has a pool of funds for a wellness program that employees will decide how to use – whether for premium benefit coverage, retirement savings, boot camps, or dog walkers.32
  • Doctors Without Borders Canada offers reimbursement for gym memberships, yoga classes, and even running shoes.33

Tumultuous times are an ideal opportunity to re-evaluate and reinforce the employee experience while supporting business objectives.

With an increased focus on remote work and mental health support, more employers are conducting incentive plan reviews and rolling out wellness strategies that integrate benefits like virtual care, family care, iCBT, and digitally-driven EAPs.

Discover our Case Studies

10 Key Takeaways

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Corporate wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes and can be made to fit any employer or employee. But whatever style they take, they can make a big difference in employee wellness, productivity, and retention.

Here are some key takeaways from this guide to keep in mind:

  • Your employees spend a lot of hours at work, which makes it an ideal time to introduce new and healthy habits.
  • Corporate wellness benefits reduce health-related costs for employees and employers.
  • The best corporate wellness programs meet the needs of your employees, so find out what employees want most and then track how much they’re using the perks you provide.
  • Embrace a holistic approach to workplace wellness that includes mental well-being.
  • Effective strategy implementation, coupled with support from program providers, increases user adoption.
  • Technology like digital health platforms, digital-first EAPs, and telemedicine can make your corporate wellness strategy more productive.
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Reference Sources

8 Dor, A., Ferguson, C., Langwith, C. & Tan, E. Dor, A., Ferguson, C., Langwith, C. & Tan, E. A heavy burden: The individual costs of being overweight and obese in the United States. (George Washington University, 2010). Available at
9 Carlson, S. A., Fulton, J. E., Pratt, M., Yang, Z. & Adams, E. K. Inadequate Physical Activity and Health Care Expenditures in the United States. Prog. Cardiovasc. Dis. 57, 315–323 (2015).
12 Goetzel, R. Z. et al. Ten modifiable health risk factors are linked to more than one-fifth of employer-employee health care spending. Health Aff. (Millwood) 31, 2474–2484 (2012).
24 Sapolsky, R. Taming stress. Sci. Am. 289, 86–95 (2003)
25 American Psychological Association. How stress affects your health. (2013). at
27 Martin Shain, et al., “Mental Health and Substance Abuse at Work: Perspectives from Research and Implications for Leaders,” A background paper prepared by the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, November 14, 2002.