"Working safely is critical at Spectra Energy," said Linda Ydreos, senior director of benefits at Spectra Energy Canada. "And while we pride ourselves on being an extremely safety-conscious organization, our culture is not only about being safe on the job. It's also about day-to-day health and wellness — and consistently supporting our employees, mentally and physically."

Sprouting plants

When asked about the best way to accomplish this, Ydreos insisted the answer was simple: "Know your employees well, and focus on the emerging issues around health and safety, so you can be one step ahead."

In 2008, Spectra Energy's HR team recognized that the organization wasn't meeting the core health needs of its Canadian employees. The total cost of employee benefit claims — including short- and long-term disability claims — was on the rise. If health problems weren't tackled quickly, the results would be increased risk for employees, along with higher absence rates and reduced productivity for the company.

So leadership took on the challenge of improving employee health and wellness. They knew success would depend on whether they could increase participation in the company's health and wellness programs.

For Spectra Energy to meet this challenge, it would be crucial to reach every employee with both information about workforce health risks and the company's programs — existing and planned — that could help mitigate those risks. "We have corporate employees in offices and many employees working out in the field," said Michele Finley, Spectra Energy's manager of health services. "This can make it quite challenging to reach each and every employee. We had to ensure all of our wellness programs would be completely accessible, no matter where people work."

An Organized Approach

To do this, Spectra Energy partnered with Towers Watson.

"Towers Watson is a very good fit for us. They not only track and understand trends in health benefit costs and disease management, but also have considerable expertise with best practices in organizational health," Finley said. "This was essential, because we were breaking new ground in the company in several areas of wellness, such as mental health.

"They helped us look at the big picture of health and wellness, and also think strategically as we considered the critical elements of new health and wellness programs, and their potential impact on our workforce."

The team began by designing a road map that would serve as the company's long-term plan for boosting employee health and wellness.

At the journey's starting point, employees didn't recognize wellness as a significant workplace issue. The road map progressed through employee awareness of and increased interest in wellness, and continued to where employees and the company would be proactive about improving employee health. It finished with health and wellness being a way of life.

After presenting the road map to the company's senior leaders, the health services team immediately received their full buy-in. "Reinforcing Spectra Energy's commitment to health and safety wasn't a hard sell," Ydreos said.

First, the team needed to pinpoint the organization's biggest health-related risks. With Towers Watson, the team used an Integrated Health Data Analysis (IHDA) report provided by the organization's insurance carrier and benefit providers to understand the current state of the employee population's health. The IHDA consolidates aggregate data from Spectra Energy's employee health spending, including prescription drug usage and disability claim information, and presents an annual analysis of trends.

The IHDA showed how health-related risk factors were affecting Spectra Energy's workforce and provided a framework for the development of targeted, prevention-focused strategies and tactics to address the risks.

Three groups of risk factors stood out in the report: musculoskeletal, cardiac and mental health. Armed with this information, leaders hired a health promotion specialist to facilitate employee education and promote Spectra Energy's new and existing wellness programs, and got to work. It was the beginning of what would become a continuous, long-term effort to build a healthier workforce.

A woman jogging

Reaching Every Employee

The challenges went beyond program design — and still do. When creating programs and introducing them to the workforce, the team keeps all employees' circumstances and needs in mind. This can be complex, as the workforce is dispersed across worksites throughout Canada. "Our field employees work outdoors in the elements, in plants and in work camps," Ydreos said. "Sometimes it's difficult to give everyone easy access to information and programming."

To ensure that every employee and family member would know about the company's health-related programs, the team created a comprehensive health and wellness website called Connect to Wellness. The site provides information on resources and programs, as well as a quarterly health magazine, Connect to Healthy Living. A printed version of the online magazine is mailed to employees' homes so they can share information with their families.

To develop the communication materials, including the website and magazine, the team partners with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit — a municipal public health agency that promotes and improves community health and well-being. "This external agency is a crucial player in the execution of our strategy," Ydreos said. "We went outside our company to bring together the best team players we could find."

The team also relies on Spectra Energy's Health and Wellness Committee, a group of volunteer employees across Canada that's committed to the company's wellness programs. The committee serves as a resource for all employees by offering information, programs and a way for employees to provide input. "These committee members are our wellness champions. With their passion for health and wellness, they can change our culture," Finley said. "Through the committee, we frequently receive requests for new programs, including fitness activities, lunch-and-learn events and specialized offerings."

Talking About Ergonomics

Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant health risk for Spectra Energy employees. Because Spectra Energy's workforce is aging, providing employees with accurate information about ergonomics at work — and at home — is essential to helping them stay healthy.

"We're piloting a program, called the Parkway Wellness Program, to help manage our workforce's age-related health risks," Ydreos said. "At one of our large worksites, we created a video that introduces important concepts related to health and wellness, and offers tips. The video targets all employees."

Among the features of the wellness program are stretch-and-flex exercises employees can do as part of their daily morning routine, onsite nursing support, biometric screenings, annual flu shots and suggestions for ways to stay healthy at work — such as serving fresh fruit and juice rather than donuts at meetings, and walking instead of driving between worksites.

"Our hope is that all of our employees, including the many workers out in the field, will reap the benefits of our health and wellness initiatives," Finley said.

Enhancing Cardiac Health

"Prescription drugs to combat high cholesterol and high blood pressure are among the 10 most-used drugs," Ydreos said, "but we've learned that changing some lifestyle-related behaviors can positively affect those conditions." So the organization is working on lifestyle-related behavior modification in the areas of physical activity, nutrition and weight management in hopes of influencing outcomes over time.

"Positive change takes time, and these types of changes require individuals to make a personal commitment," Finley said. "We offer a variety of programs to help people make that commitment, allowing employees to find what will work best for them and their families."

The programs have included:

  • Spectra Energy on the Move. This event, which ran annually, promoted physical activity for people at all fitness levels. The company is introducing a new physical fitness program in 2015.
  • Weight Watchers and Best Doctors. The Weight Watchers program provides financial support to employees who sign up, while Best Doctors gives employees access to the opinions and support of world-renowned physicians.
  • Lifespeak. This online library of streaming videos includes information on improving mental health and physical well-being.
  • Achieve My Potential. This online, self-monitoring wellness program is designed to help employees reach optimal wellness via smart nutrition, and a healthy body and mind.

Among other elements of the cardiac health improvement program are wellness fairs, which provide biometric screenings; flu shots; blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose testing; and body mass index assessment.

While Spectra Energy has conducted wellness fairs for employees for a number of years, leaders recently boosted promotion efforts. A communication campaign has led to a noticeable increase in fair participation. The screenings and testing offered at the frequent fairs help employees understand their health risks and enable them to track their health improvements over time.

"Thanks to the early identification of health-related risks, employees have the power to help themselves prevent serious medical conditions from developing," Finley said.

Fostering a Healthy Mind

Another order of business was creating and executing a mental health strategy. The team created a three-year mental health plan and garnered the endorsement of business-unit executives.

The plan's goals included integrating the concept of mental health into the organization's culture, policies and practices; reducing the stigma surrounding mental disorders; helping all managers better understand mental disorders and their effects on productivity; and recognizing mental health as a significant factor affecting employee health and safety.

"One in five Canadians will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime, which means about 750 Spectra Energy employees in Canada are at risk," Finley said. "So it's vital that we have an open mind about mental health and begin to have conversations about it in the workplace."

To initiate these conversations, the team believed it was critical to educate employees on the impact of stigma as it relates to mental health. "We must eliminate stereotypes and misinformation, and make employees feel comfortable seeking help. We need to create an environment where employees can speak up about mental health, and feel supported by their peers and leaders," Finely said. "It's about educating people and raising awareness."

To this end, the organization offered both employees and leaders extensive training. Employees participated in computer-based training on what constitutes a mental disorder, the impact of stigma, and what resources are available for employees and family members. Leaders took part in a half-day, face-to-face training program that focused on what they can do to support employees suffering from mental disorders.

Also, the team created online toolkits for boosting the awareness and understanding of behaviors specific to mental disorders.

"The company recognizes the importance of creating an environment where employees can come forward and receive support, so that they don't suffer in silence," Finley said. "We're extremely passionate about fostering good mental health. The effects of mental health disorders are an ongoing issue for our workforce, and we believe the only way we can support employees is to foster open communication about these issues. We want to support employees through their journey to get the help they need."

Looking Ahead

According to Ydreos and Finley, it's too early to formally gauge the success of the organization's health and wellness initiatives, but there are already clear signs of accomplishment.

Employees have eagerly shared their health and wellness success stories. "We highlight our employees' health-related achievements in the company's Connect to Healthy Living magazine, and some employees have come forward to share their personal stories," Finley said.

For example, during a recent town hall meeting attended by more than 200 Spectra Energy employees, one worker explained his journey to good mental health. "This was so important in helping to encourage workplace conversations about mental health. It helped to reduce the stigma," Finley said.

"We also hear from employees who, thanks to our biometric screenings, have been alerted about their elevated glucose, blood pressure or cholesterol levels," she said. "And some have received early diagnoses of diseases, such as diabetes, which have helped them with the prevention of long-term health problems."

Another sign of the program's success is Spectra Energy's score on an evaluation of best practices that was part of Towers Watson's 2013/2014 Staying@Work Survey. "In Canada, 114 organizations participated in the study, with almost 24% of participants in the energy and utilities industry," said Towers Watson senior consultant Kathy Landry. "Among all Canadian participants, Spectra Energy had the highest score for health and productivity best practices: 4.5 out of 5.0."

This score is dramatically higher than the national average (1.8), the industry average (1.9) and the average for highly effective companies (2.5). Even more impressive: Of the 685 companies in Asia Pacific, the U.S. and Canada that participated in the survey, only seven scored higher than 4.0. And among the scores of those seven organizations, Spectra Energy Canada's score is at the top.

"The score makes it crystal clear that Spectra Energy has been very successful in incorporating wellness into the company's safety culture," said Wendy Poirier, Towers Watson's leader of Health and Group Benefits consulting in Canada. "The company uses many effective practices across the full spectrum of health and workplace programs. The strategic approach to managing absence and disability, and fostering employee wellness, has really put Spectra Energy at the forefront of highly effective organizations."

The Spectra Energy team insists that while these results are very encouraging, there's still a lot more work to do. Up next: Towers Watson is helping the team develop a wellness dashboard that will illustrate the organization's return on its investment in health and wellness programs. The data from four programs — mental health, fitness, biometric screenings, and addressing drug and alcohol addiction — will show Spectra Energy's leaders the strength of that return.

"We feel we're just getting started, and we have a lot of plans in the works to further help our people become and remain healthy, everywhere they work," Ydreos said. "Parkway Wellness is a pilot program. We hope to expand it and make all of our health-related programs available to employees in our field locations.

"Our number one goal is to build a healthy organization: an organization where employees and their families can depend on us to help them meet their changing health and wellness needs."

Sage Advice

For organizations looking to strengthen workplace health, wellness and safety, Spectra Energy Canada's leaders share the following recommendations:

  • Get senior leaders' buy-in at the start. Take the strategy to the executive team and senior leaders, and ensure they're supportive and on board with your efforts.
  • Partner with experts. If your core business isn't in the realm of promoting health and wellness, consider partnering with outside agencies that specialize in that area.
  • Know your organization's health status, and use data to improve it. Data can help you understand trends and best practices in managing disease and chronic conditions, mitigating employee health risks, and controlling health care spending and benefit costs.
  • Be flexible. Business units have varied needs, so adapt programs to meet the requirements of each unit whenever possible.
  • Make the right connections. When creating initiatives, always link them to organizational priorities and values. To become part of the company's culture, they must align with business priorities.
  • Know your audience. Use multiple communication channels to meet employees' varied needs. Your workforce likely includes Baby Boomers, as well as Gen X and Gen Y employees. Communication channels that work for one group might not work for others. Use a variety of audience-specific materials and channels, including webcasts, videos, social media, face-to-face communications and more. And explain programs using language employees will understand.