Canadian business leaders who want to do more for employee health and wellness have a silent partner in their success – data! -- ANDREW HALE

In Canada, the costs associated with employee wellness have been on the rise. According research from Deloitte, direct and indirect expenses related to claims and absenteeism for mental and physical health conditions are over 56.3 billion per year -- and increasing by 0.5 to 1 percent every year. With the intense impact of COVID-19 putting further pressure on both employees’ health and corporate bottom lines, these continual increases must be held in check lest they accelerate out of control.

What can help? Turns out, a big answer is data. With data-driven insights, firms of all types across Canada can respond to employee health and well-being challenges in ways that are both effective and cost-efficient.


Data-driven insights can help firms allocate their well-being resources toward the areas most likely to show dramatic improvement. Though this may not sound like rocket science in terms of an approach to cost containment, many firms have been relying on proxy metrics like employee satisfaction and engagement reports to give a rough guide on overall employee well-being. These can be frustratingly broad and overly generalized. Using data to get further down into the organization and connecting dots between morale and health makes a different.

For one example, look at Magna International. The firm established its own internal health and wellness team a decade ago, in 2012. This team is responsible for monitoring claims activities and providing company-wide health clinics and wellness programming. It reports to senior management and coordinates services with Magna’s various locations.

Thanks to claims analytics, the wellness team was able to see that there had been a large spike in claims related to blood pressure, and that a specific location was the source. As a result, the company implemented a special three month long active health campaign that was then linked to ongoing personal health coaching available at the company’s expense. While employees were initially skeptical of signing up, once they realized there was ongoing support (and that the support was free to them) it became very popular. The location’s claims rate went down – a major net savings for the company – while employees simultaneously reported meaningful improvements in their health and satisfaction.


A second key value of data-driven insights for firms is allowing health and wellness champions to prove that the spend is making a difference in mission-critical areas. With employee wellness programming taking three to six years on average to deliver visibly positive returns, according to Deloitte, it is important to be able to showcase milestones being achieved along the way.

First, Canada as a country provides a national baseline for firms to show a difference. Only about a quarter of firms have a wellness program in place, despite the existence of the Standard. Thus, data analysis can compare a firm doing some spending – even if it’s a limited amount – against peers who are doing nothing to show how the metrics are moving.

Second, rising short term disability claims and costs nationally also provide a useful anchoring number for statisticians. Being able to bring down the number of short-term claims as a result of wellness initiatives is a reasonable goal. Firms of all sizes can feel the difference in the bottom line quickly, even if long-term goals on costs aren’t yet being met.

Finally, engagement drops and absenteeism have increasingly been linked to mental health pressures on Canadian workers. The last two years have been intense and (hopefully) exceptional in the scale and scope of the anxiety and stress generated among Canadian workers. Spending on anxiety-reducing interventions or team bonding event to reduce group stress can be quickly correlated to reduced numbers of days away from work and higher levels of engagement/job satisfaction.


The third key way that data-driven insights can bolster the impact of health and wellness programs while managing costs is by demonstrating value of investment (VOI) as well as return on investment (ROI). According to TELUS Health, VOI captures the adjacent benefits of wellness spending, such as enhancing the attractiveness of the company during recruitment, improved retention rates, and higher levels of productivity. These can be as important to a company’s priorities as pure ROI.

VOI can also help focus discussions about why and how wellness dollars are being spent. For example, if a company is seeking to be a family-first organization, wellness programming that requires staff to spend more time in approved office gyms or in education sessions may not align with the greater mission compared to virtual solutions or solutions that include an entire family unit. Or, firms that value supporting local communities might direct their spend to in-person trainers and coaches instead of nationally delivered virtual systems, even if those systems were comparable in cost.

It’s all about creating systems that work for the organizations behind them, both in terms of improved employee health and the right kind of impact on the bottom line. Taking a longer view helps, but data can help even more. By directing spend to the areas of highest potential, data creates visible wins quickly. By proving that spend is making a difference on key metrics, data helps companies do the right thing even if the cash benefits aren’t immediate. Finally, by deepening participants’ understanding of why benefits and health spending at the firm is organized the way that it is, data-driven insights let leaders and employees alike can find meaningful value in their programming that goes beyond direct, hard dollar metrics. As a result, firms and employees together are more likely to continue their wellness investments, leading to better outcomes for everyone over time.