Work-out programs work out well

Award-winning workplace wellness program shapes up nicely for employees at sanofi pasteur
By Lisa Cancian
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/26/2011

Work through lunch? Sure, there’s more time to complete that report, meet with colleagues to discuss a project or catch up on accumulated emails. But when the lunch hour rolls around at sanofi pasteur, employees think twice. Between Zumba classes, meditation workshops and healthy eating events, employees are busy keeping balanced.

At the Toronto-based vaccine company, the idea of an on-site wellness program has always been essential to ensure the well-being of staff. That’s evident in its Phoenix Wellness Program, which has grown from a small initiative to a large-scale program meant to enhance the overall healthy lifestyle and job satisfaction of more than 1,100 employees.

And it seems to be working. In October 2010, the organization was presented with the Who’s Who in Workplace Health Award by Working Well magazine, which honours individuals and organizations that have demonstrated leadership and innovation in workplace health.

Sanofi pasteur has had a wellness program in place since the 1980s when the provincial government provided companies with grants for fitness programs. As part of the grant application, employees were surveyed and the results showed they were highly interested in having a wellness program on-site.

As a result, an occupational health nurse was brought on board to help implement the Phoenix Wellness Program. An on-site gym and employee sports teams were introduced, including softball, bowling and hockey.

In 2008, however, the company initiated another site-wide survey and found there was room for improvement. So the wellness program underwent several upgrades in the summer of 2009, with help from workplace health provider Tri Fit. For one, sanofi pasteur had its first full-time, on-site program co-ordinator and all employees, not just Phoenix members, could take part in the wellness programs.

“Companies that make employee wellness a priority see an overall boost in performance and attitude,” says Kristi Acorn, Tri Fit’s wellness consultant and the Phoenix program co-ordinator.

“Having access to a wellness program makes for a happier and healthier workplace, which is what people are looking for.”

The program includes a fully equipped gym, group exercise classes such as yoga and boot camp, running and walking clubs, fitness assessments and personalized training programs. It aims to educate employees with wellness handouts and emails, information booths in the cafeteria, lunch and learns and promoting employee participation through awareness events covering topics such as healthy eating and stress reduction.

More fitness classes were also added to accommodate diverse fitness levels and areas of interest. And to help meet a need for additional instructors, some employees were trained to teach on-site fitness classes.

The Phoenix Wellness Program has taken off — boosting membership 20 per cent between 2009 and 2010.

“These programs have offered me a well-structured, safe and effective exercise regime that has served as a motivation to follow a healthier, active lifestyle,” says Lella Dal Ferro, a member of sanofi pasteur’s research and development department who participates in programs such as Learn 2 Run, Winning @ Losing (a 10-week weight loss competition) and Walktober (a walking challenge in October where employees record their walking mileage on a website and compete against other Tri Fit companies).

“Accessible and credible programs in the workplace not only help employees avoid getting sick but also enhance their energy and enthusiasm, increase productivity and reduce health-care costs and sick leave,” says Karen Chiarelli, manager of occupational health.

The on-site wellness program contributes to a positive work environment, says Eudora Ng, who works in sanofi pasteur’s regulatory affairs.

“The Phoenix program makes being healthy fun, gives you the opportunity to mingle with other employees, fosters team spirit and really helps you relieve stress.”

The program also offers Wacky Olympics, a fun team-building event with a variety of outdoor games, introduced in the summer of 2010. In addition, the company encourages employees to have lunch outside at one of the picnic benches or to re-energize themselves by walking a lap or two around the site’s grounds.

Some employees still find it difficult to find the time to attend a class or lunch and learn so the Phoenix Wellness Program recently started offering employees programs such as Tri Fit @ Home, with easy-to-follow circuit training exercises that can be done away from work.

Lisa Cancian is a communications specialist at sanofi pasteur in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 667-2700 ext. 2871 or

Living healthy

6 tips for employees to stay healthy

•Have a healthy breakfast.

•Incorporate 20 minutes of physical activity every day.

•Laugh — tell a joke to a colleague.

•Motivate others — have an on-site walking, cycling or running partner.

•Find ways to de-stress and focus on the positive.

•Make healthier choices at lunch — choose meals that are low in fat and sodium and include lots of fresh vegetables.

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