When corporate officials at Nortel, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies, decided to set up a wellness program at their headquarters, they were determined to find out exactly which services their employees wanted. They distributed a needs assessment survey to employees that asked what their main concerns were about wellness in the workplace. This assessment revealed a number of problem areas, including workplace stress and pressure, office relationships, balancing home and work life, financial management, and increasing the support from friends and family. This survey formed the basis for the Aralia Wellness Centre’s popular wellness program.

The Aralia program provides many of its services in a 4,800-square-foot facility in Nortel’s Brampton Centre office in Toronto. There is a warm, welcoming reception area with soothing videos of outdoor scenery, motivating health and wellness phases etched in the glass entryway and comfortable reading chairs. A massage therapist helps reduce stress in quiet, private rooms with relaxation videos and audiotapes, dimmed lighting and biofeedback equipment. The facility also contains a wellness library with more than 700 resources, as well as the services of 15 staff members, including a medical consultant, physiotherapists, nurses, a dietitian and a back care specialist. This positive blending of medical and wellness services creates a unique and comprehensive approach to employee health and well-being.

Other program components are provided outside of the Wellness Centre. They include a 16,000-square-foot fitness facility, indoor rock-climbing walls, outdoor volleyball and basketball courts, and a 2.1-km walking trail with five exercise stations.

Also available are a Zen garden for quiet reflection, a private “blood pressure alcove” for stress reduction, a spirituality room where employees of all faiths can worship during the work day, and even a “food choices board” in the cafeteria to encourage healthy meal selections. It’s all part of Aralia’s mission to optimize the potential of Nortel’s employees by enabling them and their family members to assume greater responsibility for their health and well being.

The program also includes popular classes on relaxation training, finding joy in your life, parenting, eldercare and personal fitness training. These varied offerings have produced significant cost savings for Nortel. The company has saved more than $1.90 in health care expenses for every $1 spent on wellness — a ratio that is very high by Canadian standards because Canada’s system of socialized medicine covers medical expenses that in the U.S. are picked up by corporations. This win-win situation has resulted in more satisfied employees and improved productivity.