University Health Network’s wellness centre: A true health oasis

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Upon entering the brand new employee wellness centre at the University Health Network (UHN), you instantly feel at ease. Ocean-blue walls induce immediate relaxation, which is only amplified by the soothing jazz-inspired sounds of Diana Krall. It’s no mystery why this wellness hub is called The Oasis.

It’s widely understood that a happy employee is a productive employee. But the wellness team at UHN takes this age-old wisdom to the next level.

Located in the heart of Toronto General Hospital, the Oasis Wellness Centre is a 1200 square foot space open to all UHN staff seeking refuge from the stresses of work. The centre opened in late November 2007 and is already a popular spot for staff in need of a break.

“Wellness is about focusing on the whole person, not just the working person,” says Emma Pavlov, senior vice president of human resources at UHN.

The centre’s mission is to support behavioural changes in UHN employees for the betterment of health and well being, at both the individual and organizational level. The Oasis Centre has been in the works since 2005, and the employee health evaluation conducted in 2006 solidified the centre’s goals. The study revealed that many UHN employees have health risks that can be addressed through targeted wellness programs.

“This is why the centre is so important; it promotes a positive work-life balance for employees by offering various lifestyle-centred services and programs,” says Oasis manager Alison Cocking. “Activities such as seated massage, stretch, strength, relaxation exercises, yoga, triathlon training, nutritional education, and a healthy eating challenge are very popular among staff.”

With all these exciting activities offered on-site, it is no wonder that UHN was named one of Toronto’s top 50 employers and one of Canada’s Top 100 employers for the fifth consecutive year in 2007. The Wellness Oasis is just one component of UHN’s organizational culture that has enabled the network to maintain such a coveted status as a top employer. Emma Pavlov recognizes that when an employee works within a culture of care and respect, productivity and satisfaction are much greater.

“This award demonstrates UHN’s care for its employees and the Oasis Wellness Centre really puts us at the forefront of employee engagement,” says Emma Pavlov. “UHN’s senior management team sees employee wellness as a strategic priority; this is why we are investing in supporting our employees to improve and maintain a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. I am deeply proud of the commitment UHN’s senior management team has to a healthy workforce.”

Workplace wellness is clearly something taken very seriously at UHN, but Emma Pavlov stresses that every employee is responsible for his or her own health. “UHN supports healthy living strategies, but there is a degree of personal accountability that every individual must acknowledge in order to reap the benefits of workplace wellness activities.”

To streamline the delivery of Wellness centre initiatives, all departments must work together towards a common goal. An example of this complementary relationship was the Health Risk Assessment of 2006 in which diabetes was recognized as a significant risk factor for many UHN staff. To effectively combat this identified risk, Oasis staff partnered with the Occupational Health team and held blood sugar testing sessions that were available to all employees. Over time, lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise will result in a reduction of UHN staff at risk for developing diabetes.

In the long term, the Wellness team seeks to reduce absenteeism and disability costs. A physically and psychologically healthy organization translates into a more productive and resilient workforce. Across Canada, stress is the number one cause of absenteeism in the workplace. With the stress management strategies offered by the Oasis Wellness centre, economic benefits and a happier, healthier workforce will soon be recognized.

“It is a strongly held belief at UHN that we need to take care of those who care for our patients,” adds Emma Pavlov.