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Workplace Wellness

York Region provides consulting and support services and resources to help businesses start and maintain a Workplace Wellness program. York Region offers information to workplaces in the key areas of employee health, including:

  • Stress management
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Skin cancer prevention
  • Physical activity
  • Stress management
  • Substance use
  • Tobacco use
  • Healthy eating

By starting or improving a Workplace Wellness program, workplaces can take care of their most important resource, their employees. Employees who feel safe, healthy and supported give businesses a competitive edge. It makes business sense to promote health in the workplace and it can be simple and inexpensive.

Starting a Workplace Wellness Program

Starting a Workplace Wellness program

Current research shows that a comprehensive approach to workplace health promotion is the most effective way to protect and enhance the health of an organization and its employees. This approach to creating a healthier workplace supports program activities that can be easily maintained and that focus on the needs of the employees and the organization.

A successful workplace wellness model has strategies to reduce employees’ health risks in three broad categories:

  1. Occupational health and safety: including reducing work-related injury, illness and disability by addressing factors in the physical environment such as physical, biological and chemical hazards, ergonomics and air quality
  2. Organizational change initiatives: including changing employee attitudes and perceptions, management practices and the way work is organized to improve job satisfaction and productivity
  3. Voluntary health practices: including addressing lifestyle behaviours such as physical activity, tobacco and substance use, nutrition, stress management and cancer prevention through education, supportive environments and policy

A complete Workplace Wellness plan (Health Plan) organizes these activities according to the four health promotion strategies:

  1. Awareness building: provide information to raise awareness of health risks and the benefits to employees for making healthy choices
  2. Education and skill building: provide education and opportunities for staff to learn new skills related to healthy living
  3. Environmental supports: provide an environment that encourages employees to make healthy choices
  4. Policy and guideline development: establish policies and guidelines that encourage healthy living

York Region’s Workplace Wellness Toolkit was created to help companies develop their health plan. Workplaces can move through the steps quickly or choose a gradual guided approach to develop their health plan and engage their employees.


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Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour

Physical activity

Physical activity is beneficial to the body and the mind. Research shows that regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of over 25 chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. As well, physical activity has been linked to improved sleep, reduced stress and improved mental health.

Being active on a regular basis helps you to become more fit. This allows you to perform tasks of daily living with comfort and ease. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about half of the functional decline between the ages of 30 and 70 is the result of an inactive lifestyle and not aging.

The Canadian physical activity guidelines recommend adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more for health benefits. This includes activities such as walking, taking the stairs, cycling or sports.

Since more than half of Canadian adults spend at least one third of their waking hours at work, fitting physical activity into the work day is a great way to be active and also reduce sedentary time (sitting).

Workplaces with active employees have a reduced level of:

  • Absenteeism
  • Work related Injuries
  • Turnover
  • Disability and health claims

Employees experience better:

  • Health and well-being
  • Morale
  • Job satisfaction
  • Ability to cope with stress
  • Increased productivity and effectiveness at work

Workplaces can help employees reduce sedentary time by providing opportunities for employees to be active. Here are some examples:

Pedometer challenge

Health professionals recommend we walk at least 10,000 steps daily to achieve health benefits. How far do you and your fellow employees walk?

Starting a Pedometer Challenge is a great way to raise awareness of regular physical activity and promote healthy active living among employees.

The Pedometer Challenge Toolkit provides all the resources a workplace needs to organize a challenge.

The Workplace Wellness program also has pedometer lending kits available to help workplaces start a pedometer challenge. Contact a public health nurse for a consultation and/or resources by email at

Sedentary behaviour

Sedentary behaviour is any activity done while in a sitting or reclining position that requires very little movement and energy expenditure (measured in metabolic equivalent or MET). This does not include sleep as sleep is beneficial to health. Sleep helps reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.

Sedentary behaviours include occupational sitting, commuting in automobiles and time spent in front of screens (computer, television, mobile devices). Being sedentary increases the risk for poor health outcomes such as:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Some cancers
  • Depression
  • Back pain
  • Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of risk factors that often occur together and include abdominal obesity (fat around the waist), elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated blood sugar and low levels of high density lipoprotein. These risk factors combined increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Ways to reduce sedentary time

Some activities such as reading, working on the computer or travelling may need to be completed while sitting but it is good practice to find a healthy balance between sitting and standing. Whenever possible, incorporate physical activity into your day to help meet the physical activity guidelines for adults of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for health benefits and to displace time spent in sedentary activities.

Look for ways to break up sedentary time and move more:

  • Take the stairs. Research shows that using the stairs regularly can help reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke and obesity. It also raises awareness of the stairwell locations in case of emergency
  • Look for cues to remind you to stand. For example, stand up to answer the phone and stay standing while talking on it, or when someone enters your work area stand up
  • Hold walking meetings. Walking burns calories and stimulates blood flow throughout the body, helping to increase concentration and problem solving
  • Walk to a colleague’s desk for a face to face discussion instead of using email or phone
  • Print documents to a printer further away
  • Take active breaks. Go for a short walk around the office or do some stretches
  • Break up seated work with standing-based work. A sit/stand work station is helpful if the workplace is able to provide this
  • Go for a walk at lunch. Join or form a walking club at work
  • Park the car a little farther away from your destination and walk the rest of the way
  • Consider walking for trips up to two kilometres and cycling for trips up to five kilometres

Additional resources:

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Mental Health and Stress in the Workplace

To help employers create and maintain healthy workplaces, the Mental Health Commission of Canada and its partners have released the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and an Action Guide for Employers. Visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada to download the standard, action guide and to register for free monthly webinars.

Stress in the workplace

Stress is a part of life. A little bit of stress can be motivating, helping us to get things done. Too much stress can overcome our ability to cope and can result in health concerns such as headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty with concentration, irritability, short temper and upset stomach. You may also experience job dissatisfaction and low morale (CCOHS).

Fortunately, there are strategies that may help with stress management. These include:

  • Participating in physical activity which releases endorphins, feel good chemicals in the brain that act as natural pain killers. Also, physical activity helps to reduce tension and facilitates a good night’s sleep so that you are better able to handle stress
  • Engaging in mindful health activities such as Me Time, Strive for Balance, Make the Connection and Spending Time in Nature
  • Access A Simple Guide to Stress Management toolkit for resources on stress management

Mindful health

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the workplace can be a strong contributor to positive mental health. It can, however, also be a stressful environment that contributes to mental health concerns and illness.

Good mental health is an integral part of health. It is more than just the absence of mental disorders. It is about feeling good and being able to function effectively most of the time (CMHA).

You can look after your mental health by building mindful health choices into your life. 

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e-Newsletter and Webinars


The Workplace Wellness e-newsletter focuses on recent research, health information and resources related to workplaces. It provides regular updates on current public health campaigns and is distributed quarterly to subscribers. This e-newsletter can be forwarded to your employees, included in your company newsletter or posted.

Archived Workplace Wellness Newsletters:

  • June 2016 Workplace Wellness Newsletter
    Healthy aging in the workplace means staying connected; It’s your business ready for disaster?; Take a walk in nature – lift your mood and increase your productivity; Activ8 Your Stride Workplace Pedometer Challenge; Fire up the grill; Active Kids. Active Adults – Physical Activity video; No time to exercise? Researchers say it only takes minutes video; What’s your sun safety IQ quiz; Be fit Be sun safe poster; Have a fun and fruity summer recipes; Healthy Measures e-bulletin survey; Fun corner: What does .pdf stands for?; Summer Bike Challenge; Quit and win $500 with the First Week Challenge

  • March 2016 Workplace Wellness Newsletter
    March is Nutrition Month: Take a 100 meal journey; Quit and Stay Quit Monday – supporting cessation in your workplace; It’s in the walk; 2016 is the United Nation’s International Year of Pulses; April is National Oral Health Month; Carpal tunnel syndrome quiz; Measuring positive mental health in Canada infographics; What is emergency or disaster preparedness video; Fun corner: when was the first email using the @ symbol sent?; Travel health –Public Health Agency of Canada; Bicycle friendly business award

  • December 2015 Workplace Wellness Newsletter
    Diabetes; tobacco cessation - resources; Scents at home and in the workplace; Weighing in on sleep; What you can do to get through a crap week? (YouTube video); The Canadian diabetes risk questionnaire; Understanding seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (YouTube video); Stress strategies – web tool; Recipes; Sugar; Cancer risk of meat; Extreme cold; Be spa safe guide; Travel health
  • September 2015 Workplace Wellness Newsletter
    Mindful walking; Get physical to manage stress; Physical literacy for life; osteoporosis; Test your stress smarts quiz; The single most important thing you can do for your stress - video; Mood and anxiety disorders in Canada – fact sheet; Don’t wait to get the flu – infographic; nutrition tips for shift workers – Eatright Ontario; Eggplant recipes; Tetanus – fact sheet; Reading in dim light: eye strain prevention in the digital age – CBC news; Smart Commute Week; Becoming a Bicycle Friendly Business


Workplace Wellness hosts a variety of webinars led by topic experts. All webinars are free to the public and can be used as part of your workplace wellness messaging.

Past Webinars

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Request a Consultation or Resources

If you would like to speak to a public health nurse about comprehensive workplace programming, contact:

Health Connection
Telephone: 1-800-361-5653
TTY: 1-866-2552-9933 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)

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