Healthy Living Program at American Express Canada Creates a Culture of Wellness & ROI

Rationale / Objectives

Recognizing that employees spend a good deal of their day at work, American Express Canada aimed to make health and wellness part of the employee culture, both at work and outside of the organization. 

Project/Program Description & Major Achievements

Launched in 2009, the Healthy Living program operates under three core pillars: energy (nutritional health), strength (physical health) and vitality (mental health and well-being). A number of complementary initiatives include team sports tournaments, an on-site gym, healthy eating options in the cafeteria, and events designed to promote physical and mental well-being among many different groups of employees. The organization hosts an annual Healthy Living Expo and nearly 90% of workers attended the event last year. Of those, 96% visited three or more vendors, and 97% said the Expo inspired them to take a more active approach to their own personal well-being. 82% of call-centre employees who participanted in a Fit-in-10 (minutes) program reported a significant improvement in their flexibility, confidence level and sleep patterns. 83% reported moderate to significant improvement in their energy levels and upper body strength, as well reduction in stress levels. After three years, American Express in the U.S. has had several hundred employees join its Healthy Living with Diabetes program. As a result, 58% of its employees with diabetes have reported keeping their A1C — a measurement of one’s average blood glucose (blood sugar) — below 7. Follow-up measurement  revealed 62% with A1C below 7. Amex Canada indicated that they have achieved a return on investment (ROI) for the dollars invested into the wellness programs, which was offset by savings in their short-term disability program and lost days due to mental health issues.

Lessons Learned

Amex Canada cites the need to constantly find innovative and exciting ways to engage employees through education, and provide a variety of activities and programs that offers something for everyone as an ongoing challenge. While it is difficult to show a direct correlation between the wellness program and some corporate measures of success, employee satisfaction levels, (satisfaction with the company and with the wellness programs); attrition and absenteeism rates; and medical and short-term disability claims are postulated to be impacted by improved wellness among employees. Implementation of the Healthy Living program will vary from country to country. 

People / Organizations Involved

Further Description

Amex Canada Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the U.S.-based American Express Company. It employs about 3,700 non-unionized workers, 2,100 of whom are located at the firm's Markham, Ontario facility in Canada.

Amex developed what was called 'Formula for Growth'. It sets out three objectives for  the company. Unless an activity is in support of one or more of the following objectives, it will not be undertaken or it will be cancelled:

  • to provide excellence in quality and service
  • to deepen customer relationships
  • to become a top 25 employer

Two departments of Amex play a key role in promoting health, safety and wellness:

  • Facilities (ensures air quality meets/ exceeds provincial standards; ensures workstations and workspaces meet ergonomic and legislative requirements).
  • Health Services provides a range of medical services and conducts ergonomic assessments.

Most of the lifestyle and wellness activities of Amex can be grouped into four categories: nutrition, physical activities, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and health and wellness education. Launch of the Healthy Living program included a large marketing event featuring fitness demonstration classes, volleyball and basketball activities, and a smoking cessation booth. All employees were given a passport and got a stamp for each activity they participated in. The stamps determined which prize level they’d be eligible for at the end of the event. Other initiatives included a campaign to encourage employees to walk 10,000 steps per day and the provision of a pedometer and mapped out a path within the grounds to achieve the goal. An on-site wellness centre offered free hand and neck massages by its on-site registered massage therapist; the gym raffled off prizes, including free yoga mats. The cafeteria includes healthy meal and snack options branded under the Healthy Living name. Amex Canada uses a blog, a digital employee newsletter and internal plasma screens to advertise the different resources and events related to the program. The organization also hosts an annual Healthy Living Expo.

Major Achievements

Amex Canada has been focused on health and wellness for a number of years prior to the inception of the Healthy Living program. A survey from 2002 revealed that 75% of employee respondents believed that they were able to maintain a work-life balance and over two-fifths of respondents indicated they would like to stay with Amex for ten or more years. The a ttrition rate at Amex Canada has declined considerably since 1998, when the wellness initiatives began in earnest. In 1998, the attrition rate was 40.31 percent, in 1999, it was 29.84 percent, and in 2000, it stood at 22.99 percent. More recent data from the Healthy Living program:

Metric Result Detail 
Healthy Living Expo Employee Participation Rate 90% In 2014
% of Employees who visited 3+ vendors at the Expo 96% In 2014
% of Employees who stated that the Expo inspired them to take a more active approach to their own personal well-being 97% In 2014
% of Call-center employees who reported moderate to significant improvement in flexibility, confidence level and sleep patterns 82% Among Fit-in-10 participants
% of Call-center employees who reported moderate to significant improvement in their energy levels and upper body strength, as well reduction in stress levels 83% Among Fit-in-10 participants
% hemoglobin A1C levels below 7 among diabetic employees 58% after 3 years of participating in the Living with Diabetes program; 62% after further follow-up Includes data from U.S. participants