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A health plan that pays

It makes more and more sense to put your focus on employee health and wellness

Creating a safe, healthy and supportive workplace isn’t just good for your workers — it’s also good for your business.

“The health of your workers is tied to the health of your business,” says Jade Reeve, a manager with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC), an Ottawa-based non-profit organization focused on addressing human resource issues in agriculture. “HR practices that improve the well-being of your workers will improve business performance as well,” she says.

While supporting employee health and wellness is a worthy goal on its own, there are also returns to the farm business, agrees Adelle Stewart, director of operations at Saskatoon health and wellness consulting firm, Bridges Health. These can include improved employee engagement, better productivity, reduced absenteeism, reduced presenteeism (working while sick), and fewer long-term disability claims.

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Young farmers in soybean fields before harvest

Investing in the health and wellness of your farm’s human capital can give your farm the advantage with today’s tight labour market. A health and wellness plan can translate into more success attracting and retaining good employees, says Reeve, who asserts that a health and wellness plan need not be costly.

Some practical examples of health and wellness policies and of resources that can help employees adopt healthier lifestyles include:

  • Pay for smoking cessation programs, mental health or First Aid courses, or provide appropriate club or gym membership subsidies.
  • Help employees establish work-life balance and reduce stress by permitting flexible schedules that recognize, when possible, that everyone has multiple roles, i.e. they aren’t only employees but also parents, partners, etc.
  • Improve morale by acknowledging employee efforts and showing appreciation through monetary rewards, team recognition or milestone celebrations. An imbalance between effort and reward is a significant contributor to burnout.

To make it more manageable, health and wellness initiatives can be added in bite-sized pieces over a period of time, perhaps as long as three to five years. But whether an enterprise is large or small, health and wellness planning is a process that should fit within a broader HR plan for the farm business, Stewart says.

With the heightened awareness of the toll that extreme stress is taking on farmers, more farm businesses are exploring ways to expand their existing health and safety programs to include mental health initiatives.

“Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world,” says Stewart. As well, people may be physically present at work but not at their most productive selves because they are struggling with depression or anxiety, she says.

Promoting an open atmosphere where employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences around mental health is a good place to start, says Stewart.

Stewart also recommends having the farm leadership take a Mental Health First Aid course which can help managers be better equipped to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. Mental Health First Aid courses are available from Bridges Health in Western Canada as well as through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Managers also benefit from learning how to pair mental health knowledge with management strategies. To this end, Bridges Health created a series of courses to help managers learn how to have sensitive discussions around mental health, the appropriate language to use, how to create management strategies that accommodate individual employee needs, as well as the importance of personal self-care for managers and setting healthy boundaries.

According to CAHRC, which provides planning modules as part of its subscription-based online AgriHR Skills Toolkit, it’s crucial to identify the needs, attitudes, and preferences of your workforce before creating your farm’s specific health and wellness plan. Administering an employee survey (sample surveys are available from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety) is one way to determine the specific needs of your workforce.

As with any good plan, success depends on establishing realistic goals and determining what resources (time, money, people) will be needed to meet them. Of course, it’s also vital to ensure management buy-in.

Wellness policies and programs will need to be communicated to employees to encourage uptake of health and wellness programs. Word-of-mouth, a notice on the coffee room bulletin board, or email can be used to inform employees of the available initiatives.

The final planning step involves tracking and evaluating the success of the health and wellness plan and then using these results to make improvements to the plan.


HR factoids

Pointers from the experts:

  • According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness during their lifetime
  • “The workplace may not always be part of the issue; nevertheless, it can always be part of the solution.” — Bridges Health
  • Farmers experiencing high stress are 1.7 times more likely to have a serious injury than farmers with low to moderate stress. — Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council
  • The 2017 Morneau Shepell Trends in Human Resources Survey reveals almost half of corporate HR leaders are making it a priority to improve the physical and mental health of their workforce. And almost two-thirds see better mental-health training as a sound strategy for improving disability management.

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