$264 billion.  That’s how much Canada is expected to spend on health care in 2019, which totals $7,068 per person.1  Health care spending includes direct and indirect costs associated with five chronic disease risk factors: physical inactivity, smoking, excess weight, use of alcohol and low vegetable / fruit consumption.2

Addressing health and wellness does require employer investment; however, the cost of doing nothing is simply too high to ignore.  When it comes to investing in wellness, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Dedicate specific funds to wellness.

Employee wellness programs can use a variety of strategies to help improve employee health and they don’t all have to cost a lot.  It is important, however, to allocate budget dollars to wellness.  Yes, there are free resources available online and through community partnerships – and those can be great additions to your program.  Realistically, to offer employees initiatives customized to meet their needs and interests and to see financial returns over time, you will need dedicated funds.

Developing a budget is critical to the success and sustainability of your program.  If wellness is new to the budget discussion, you may not get everything on your wish list.  Rank initiatives by priority based on company objectives and employee needs, which you can gather through Health Risk Assessments and internal surveys.  Be realistic about what you can allocate and link initiatives to specific objectives you want to accomplish through the program.  You must also be realistic about the possible return you will see.  More visible programming such as onsite health fairs and one-on-one health coaching requires more financial investment.  If that’s not possible, adjust your expectations and look at building the budget over time.

If you can’t seem to get your team onboard to add wellness as a budget item, consider looking at no-cost initiatives to get started.  (EWSNetwork offers a 3-month Starter Kit.  You can learn more here.)  Look for ways to record results to help demonstrate the value of wellness when it comes time to discuss budgeting again.

Anything is better than nothing.

Maybe you can’t afford the ultimate program that checks all the boxes, but what you can offer is a step in the right direction.  Never underestimate the value of implementing wellness – however small the financial investment can be.  If you’re not sure how far your budget can get you or how to use it most effectively, ask your wellness program provider.

There is a wellness program for every budget.  Look at what you have to spend and identify wellness offerings that are possible.  Involve employees and align initiatives with their interests and needs.  Look for ways to optimize your investment.  Those free resources mentioned above can certainly supplement programming that you must pay for.  Perhaps you can leverage related programs such as professional development reimbursement programs to give employees the option to learn about financial wellness.  Be creative and look for ways to influence healthy behaviours: conduct walking meetings, create an office obstacle course, institute regular breaks for employees, or place healthy cookbooks in your office break room.  Employees may also be willing to share expenses on program offerings like on-site massage, exercise classes, or workshops.

You cannot have a healthy workplace culture without investing in wellness.  The important piece is having funds to spend specifically on wellness initiatives.  This gets the ball rolling and demonstrates to your employees that health and wellness are important.  It also helps to build momentum.  Healthy habits that start at the workplace may extend into employees’ personal lives and to their family and friends.  Positive changes and results help set the stage for future budget discussions and could lead to more program funding next year.

Don’t forget about the VOI

A main discussion point when it comes to health and wellness spending is the Return on Investment.  Research shows a possible return of $1 to $3 for every dollar spent.3,4  To get a positive ROI, you must implement a comprehensive wellness program that includes health risk assessments, incentives, culture change and behaviour change activities such as challenges, screening and coaching.  It’s important to remember that programs are more likely to deliver greater returns as they mature, rather than offering immediate financial benefits.  Research indicates that achieving positive ROI can take three years or more.4

Some may be discouraged when it comes to their wellness program ROI, but it’s important to remember that the ROI is very subjective.  You must carefully examine what the program provides along with factors such as program size, implementation strategies, leadership involvement and middle management support.  These numbers also cannot fully capture the benefits of investing in corporate wellness. Taking a broader look at results is essential.  The financial gains of the ROI come in the form of reduced health care costs, but we must also take into account the more abstract value resulting from the investment.  This is the Value on Investment.  The VOI acknowledges the significance of employee morale, reduced absenteeism, better performance and productivity, and employee retention.  It also recognizes the positive impact of your wellness program on employees and their lives, which is ultimately what you are trying to achieve.  So, while we are conditioned to focus on numbers and financial savings, it’s essential not to underestimate the importance of VOI.

Employees spend nearly a third of their week at work.  Their workplace, therefore, offers a valuable opportunity to directly influence their health and wellbeing.  Many employees are looking for help.  Forty-nine percent of Canadian employees want more focus on health and wellness in the workplace.5 Take advantage of that opportunity to make a difference.  Regardless of your wellness budget, you can inspire change and start improving employee health.

Need some more assistance?

Get your FREE Corporate Wellness Membership 90-Day Starter Kit to get you started!  Employee Wellness Solutions Network can help you create a healthier culture resulting in a more profitable and successful workplace. Our memberships give you access to services including corporate wellness specialists, trainers and health coaches to help you create the best strategy for your organization.  To learn more about the memberships, visit Employee Wellness Solutions Network.


  1. Canadian Institute for Health Information. (Oct 2019). National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2019. https://www.cihi.ca/en/national-health-expenditure-trends-1975-to-2019
  2. Cision. Canadian employers bear the economic burden of the poor health of their employees. (2017, Apr 24). https://www.newswire.ca/newsreleases/canadian-employers-bear-the-economic-burden-of-the-poor-health-of-theiremployees-620220913.html
  3. Society for Human Resource Management. (Sept 12, 2012).  Study: Wellness Programs Saved $1 to $3 per Dollar Spent. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/wellness-dollars-saved.aspx
  4. Deloitte Insights. (2019). The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business.  https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ca/Documents/about-deloitte/ca-en-about-blueprint-for-workplace-mental-health-final-aoda.pdf
  5. Mercer. (2018). How much are you losing to absenteeism? https://www.mercer.ca/en/our-thinking/how-much-are-you-losing-toabsenteeism.html