Sun Life-Ivey Canadian Wellness ROI study update: Does going all-in pay off?

Phase 2 shows positive change significantly driven with coaching, employee engagement

(Figure 1. Treatment and control groups in the Sun Life-Ivey study)

According to recent data from Phase 2 of the on-going Sun Life-Ivey Canadian Wellness Return on Investment Study, companies with a strong health foundation and a focus on health prevention see a significant positive shift in employee wellness.

Designed to answer the question, “How do I best help my employees live physically and mentally healthy lives, both in and out of office?”, Phase 1 of the study found that reduced absenteeism was strongly correlated with wellness programs, projecting potential savings to the Canadian economy as high as $3.6 billion.

Phase 2 involved over 800 participants across six organizations on 28 sites. Three unique wellness programs were simultaneously launched and closely monitored over a two-year period, in a concerted effort to completely understand both the business case, and the health case, of wellness programs in Canada.

The breakdown 

The treatment group (see Figure 1) took part in six different forms of wellness programs, which delivered a full support suite of healthy initiatives, including one-on-one coaching and lifestyle modification programs. Control Group 1 had only the wellness survey, while Control Group 2 had access to both the survey and the biometric clinic.

Calculating wellness

Faced with the question of how to best quantify wellness, the Ivey Research Team developed an organizational wellness index (Figure 2) to clarify how the treatment and control groups responded differently to the diverse features of the varying wellness programs. The index measures organizational wellness and health metrics based on five categories of metrics:

  • Workplace culture and engagement
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Stress
  • Tobacco and alcohol

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Figure 2: Organizational wellness index

The findings so far

In terms of overall health score, researchers found that companies with a strong health foundation and a focus on health prevention (the treatment group) logged far more significant shifts across the Organizational Wellness Index.

Perhaps most impressive were the treatment group’s behaviour changes in physical activity, which were almost nine times greater than both control groups. This suggests that programs supported by a healthcare team lead to better fitness outcomes. The same may be said for the positive health outcomes associated with stress management and nutrition counselling.


  • 22% of participants became physically active for the first time
  • More than half (53%) reported an increase in the current level of their physical activity
  • 23% reported increased energy levels at work
  • 53% reported improvements in their nutrition

Researchers also noted respondents who were involved in the wellness programs had improved communication with others, more restful sleep patterns, weight loss and better stress management.

The Sun Life-Ivey research study was officially launched in 2011, with the latest findings to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The next round of results are set to be released in the fall.

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