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Working wellness into your performance reviews

Open-ended questions can raise awareness of benefits and keep your workforce engaged

Cheerful business woman

Only about a third of Canadian employers have formal workplace wellness strategies in place, according to a Conference Board of Canada survey, while 51% identified lack of budget resources as the main impediment to workplace wellness strategies, according to a Sun Life report. One low-cost, high-impact way to encourage a culture of wellness is the incorporation of wellness-related questions in the talent-development process—specifically, during the performance reviews that most employers conduct throughout the year.


A robust performance-review process is rooted in the foundation of talent development and talent engagement—everything else that emerges from it is to serve those two priorities. This process should happen frequently and features 360-degree feedback, as well as significant opportunity for self-evaluation. Review topics discussed are signals of the company’s values and priorities. Incorporating questions about wellness into the review process represents an inexpensive and sincere way to get across to a large staff base that employee wellness is important to the company.


So what sort of questions are best? Frame each inquiry as a conversation starter—as an open-ended opportunity to explore the wellbeing of the employee in question. Tone is important. Questions should be designed to encourage self-evaluation. The idea is to begin a dialogue that can focus on an employee’s priorities related to his or her wellness behaviours. I suggest three broad categories of questions organized into Medcan’s eat, move, think framework:


  1. Eat (nutritional knowledge, diet and eating habits)—Eating healthy is one of the key ways to increase the likelihood that you’ll live a long, healthy and active life. The purpose here is to explore how the individual feels about his or her eating. The question should be designed to avoid making the subject feel judged. “What are your eating habits?” is the sort of open-ended question to aim for here, in a process designed to encourage self-evaluation and the development of better eating habits.


  1. Move (physical activity)— A correlation exists between conducting exercise and higher workplace productivity. In other words, exercise breeds work engagement. Office workers who pursue some sort of physical fitness feature higher energy levels and get sick less frequently. An inquiry about how much physical activity an employee is getting can segue into a conversation about the importance of exercise, and the evolution of routines that can make it into a daily habit. In addition, questions about exercise can allow HR directors to inform employees of benefits they may not know they have—such as allowances for physiotherapy or therapeutic massage.


  1. Think (mental wellness)—A review question about mental health signals that the company cares for its employees, believes they’re valuable resources, and is concerned about wellness overall—even if it’s a simple question, such as, “How are you feeling?” Or, “How are you sleeping these days?” At Medcan, we believe detecting problems early can pay off down the road. A question about mental wellness represents a way to detect problems at an early stage, when an intervention can treat issues before they grow more serious.


Adults spend about a third of their lives at work, which is why it’s so important for employers to have wellness programs that care for employee health. Workplace wellness programs create measurable benefits, with one survey reporting that 40% of respondents experienced reduced absenteeism and 30% experienced increased productivity. That’s great, because the Conference Board of Canada estimates that absenteeism costs the Canadian economy $16.6 billion annually.


Including wellness questions in your performance-review process represents one low-cost way to signal that employee wellness is a priority—and begin conversations that raise awareness among your staff of the importance of pursuing a healthy lifestyle. This is an idea framework and you are welcome to adapt these suggestions to suit your sensibilities and organizational culture—perhaps even start slow and build from there.


Ashim Khemani is the president of Medcan. He is the author of Canadian Group Insurance Benefits—A Practitioner’s Guide and Reference Manual, and the co-author of Global Health Care Systems: A Perspective on Issues, Practices and Trends Among OECD Nations.

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