Education and training: Essential to reducing healthcare costs

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Workplace health education and training is an important tool that contributes to healthy companies and employees while reducing costs related to health problems. It has even been shown scientifically that education and training programs guarantee a significant return on investment: lower healthcare costs (drugs, disability or illness), improved motivation, less stress, increased productivity and efficiency, lower absenteeism and presenteeism, etc.

In addition to these benefits, the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace1, along with employee training tax credits from the federal government and some provincial governments are excellent incentives for businesses.

Unfortunately, small and medium-sized businesses often believe that they don’t have the resources needed to give workplace health and wellness the attention they’d like. Also, they tend to be harder hit than larger companies by the human and financial costs of workplace health problems. However, there are easy, inexpensive ways to promote workplace health and wellness.

How to evaluate education and training needs?

Businesses that don’t have an HR department often hire workplace health and wellness consultants to survey employees and managers or to set up focus groups to assess their needs. They can also download questionnaires online2 and adapt them to their particular situation.

The survey results should then be discussed with managers, union representatives (if applicable) and employees, so that the project lead can understand them better and identify the key takeaways.

If surveys aren’t an option, businesses can ask their managers to determine amongst themselves what employees’ main health and wellness concerns are. Minutes of staff meetings or workplace health and safety committee meetings, performance appraisals and exit interviews also provide valuable information that can be used to assess employees’ and managers’ health and wellness education and training needs.

Main workplace health and wellness aspects to be evaluated

A needs assessment questionnaire should address three main themes: work environment (air quality, noise level, availability of equipment, ergonomics, etc.), management practices (communication skills, management of difficult behaviour, performance management, employee performance appraisals, team engagement, leadership, management of psychological distress, etc.) and employee health (nutrition, achieving a healthy weight, adopting a better posture, stress management, depression, conflict management, improved fitness, change management, heart disease prevention, etc.).

Assessing management practices is especially important, since it has been scientifically proven that they have a critical impact on the performance, attraction, retention and health of employees.

Implementation of an education and training program

According to Lorraine Dauphinais, a clinical psychologist and Director of the Prevention and Training department at Solareh, a company that has been offering workplace health and wellness programs for over 25 years, it’s important to make education and training part of a long-term program and to integrate the values they promote with the company’s values. Employees will be more likely to put what they’ve learned into practice or get on board with the proposed changes if the company makes an effort to integrate them into its values and its culture, and to remind everybody about them on a regular basis.

“If a company has a workplace health and wellness education and training plan that also revolves around good HR practices, there’s a very good chance that the benefits of the education and training will last,” says Dauphinais.

The form this training takes depends on the company’s resources and equipment. You might have a speaker or trainer on site, a webinar, hard-copy or electronic documents, posters, an event, a booth, a team-building activity, etc. For information, small businesses can also look to resources in their immediate community such as associations and service organizations.

The manager’s role: The key to success

The attitude of managers often changes everything. That’s why some training should be designed specifically for them. Managing difficult behaviour and psychological distress and preventing health problems from worsening are some of the challenges managers now face. We’re seeing more and more employers paying special attention to employees, because they’re aware that they can have a positive influence on them and reduce healthcare costs. When managers help improve workers’ health, the whole organization is better off.

Resources

MENTAL HEALTH COMMISSION OF CANADA (2012). Psychological Health and Safety: An Action Guide For Employers, Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction, Simon Fraser University.

CONFERENCE BOARD OF CANADA (November 2005). What You Need to Know About Mental Health: A Tool for Managers.

CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES – HEALTH AND SAFETY BRANCH. Enough Workplace Stress: Organizing for Change (PDF, 1.6 MB).

1Backed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and developed by the Canadian Standards Association and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec

2Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) gives an example on its website. The CCOHS also published the Workplace Health and Wellness Guide, which includes a sample survey in the appendix. The site for the Canadian tool Guarding Minds @ Work also offers online questionnaires.