Cover Story

The ripple effect

Illustration by Natalie Shantz

Work and wellness come together with Manitoba Blue Cross

Life can be hard. Really hard. It’s a lesson we all learn at least once (but probably lots of times) in our lives. Sometimes when life is hard, we need help to get through whatever challenge has come our way. 

But it’s not just people who need a hand. Sometimes organizations need assistance and advice to handle what comes their way, too.  

Fortunately, there is hope and help within reach.

Photo by Doug Little

Opening the doors
Manitoba Blue Cross, the local not-for-profit health benefits provider, prides itself on supporting the community and providing services that both deliver what is needed and have a positive, lasting impact on everyone involved.

The company saw the growing need for businesses and organizations to access help and threw open the doors to its Organizational Assistance Program (OAP). Where once the program was only for Manitoba Blue Cross clients, it has now been expanded to any local business that needs its services. Manitoba Blue Cross knows that organizations can face challenges that are beyond the normal course of business. How those experiences are handled can set a path for business success and overall organizational and employee wellness now and in the future. Manitoba Blue Cross saw how they could be there to assist when organizations face challenges and difficult events head on, and provide that key support to reinforce resilience and connection, and to improve the lives of employees, bottom lines and the community as a whole.

“We are dedicated to our community and lifting up the companies, organizations and teams that connect us all,” says Benjamin Graham, Manitoba Blue Cross’s president and CEO. “Offering assistance to organizations throughout our province is part of our commitment to better the health and well-being of all Manitobans.”

The whole nine yards
The OAP offers a range of services to organizations that need guidance to support their employees’ physical, mental and emotional wellness. Jodie Voth is the manager of Manitoba Blue Cross’s employee assistance services and she sees daily how the OAP supports employers and employees to foster a culture of wellness and build resilience in teams and organizations.

“Our services are diverse, and can be tailored to your unique situation,” says Voth. “No two people or organizations are exactly the same, and we make sure our offerings fit your needs.”

There are many ways that the OAP can benefit organizations and provide much-needed support. It can start with leadership advice or change management and reaches all the way to critical help when the worst happens.

“If you think you need advice on managing your team’s wellness—whether you’re dealing with company culture issues or dealing with a significant tragedy—the first thing to do is call us,” says Voth. “From there, we can work with you to determine the best course of action and how we can help.”

Photo by Doug Little

Happiness matters
Wellness may seem like a buzzword, but it’s far from it. Creating happier, healthier employees creates a stronger team, workplace and community. But it shouldn’t just happen when a crisis hits.

The OAP is more than just a service to call. It can be a commitment to wellness and to your employees’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.  The program, and Manitoba Blue Cross, can be a partner to create a workplace where people want to be. When organizations have the support they need, it ripples out. “Good support that is encouraged and used builds resilience and creates better outcomes,” says Voth. “When people are happy at work and get the help they need when they need it, it shows. Leaders do better, teams do better and organizations do better. It’s pretty simple when you think about it.”

Lead by example
Leadership consulting is a cornerstone of the program’s services. Voth, a long-time mental health practitioner, says that leaders have significant influence over how workplaces function and can affect appropriate change quickly. “Leaders are often the best, most efficient way to reach people within an organization,” says Voth. “We can help leaders find the right tools and messages to create workplaces that are caring and compassionate and able to handle challenges when they arise.” 

Through the program, leaders can learn how to manage workplace change to reduce stress and tension and build teams that are resilient when faced with challenges. The program can also offer workshops and presentations to teams to reinforce ideas and tools to handle what life and work can throw their way.

Recently, Voth and the Manitoba Blue Cross team supported a local organization tackling the impact that significant leadership and structural changes were having on multiple levels of staff. “The frontline group felt the greatest lack of control over the shifting conditions at work and thus the greatest frustration,” says Voth. “In our initial consultation, it was clear that this group was the focus and sole target audience from the perspective of the representatives that we spoke to.” However, as the work proceeded, the OAP team encouraged the organization to consider providing services directed to the leaders so they would be better equipped to both support their staff and manage the change themselves. Workshops for staff and leaders were provided, along with an awareness campaign for the whole organization. “The opportunities to connect, learn and share knowledge helped the leaders to support their staff while keeping them oriented to their new objectives,” says Voth. “It also provided frontline staff with mental and emotional strategies and knowledge to better manage the professional and personal impacts of change.”

Breaking points
In working to build up collaborative and caring workplaces, the OAP can also provide support when personal challenges become crises. If someone on your team is struggling in their personal or professional life, the impact is felt at all levels. 

“We can assist employers in finding the right support for their teams’ mental health and well-being,” says Voth. “We know that issues in our personal lives can easily spill into the workplace and companies can be equipped to help.”

The OAP assists leaders in taking the right action with employees in need and supports them to navigate life’s challenges. A variety of workshops and training programs are available to leaders and staff to recognize, understand and respond to various stressors or wellness challenges, such as anger, anxiety, depression and addiction. 

Providing that help not only benefits the employee and the company, but also their loved ones and the community. 

Photo by Doug Little

In the toughest times
The program can also be accessed in times of loss and grief. “We can support teams through times of loss or tragedy, providing immediate and longer-term assistance when and where it’s needed,” says Voth. For example, the passing of an employee—whether at work or not—is a loss that should be handled with care and compassion. “The death of an employee, whether sudden or not, needs the appropriate attention. Employees are not just workers. They are colleagues, friends and often, like family. We can assist your organization in navigating the initial loss and the ripple effects that can be felt in the weeks and months after.”

Manitoba Blue Cross can also be there for the unthinkable. Critical incidents, such as a natural disaster, robbery, assault or (ahem), a pandemic, happen, and they can happen here. Debriefing services are essential, as is follow-up care as the days and weeks pass. “Everyone experiences trauma differently, with their own lens and their own experience,” says Voth. “For example, the witnesses to an incident need different support than those who were bystanders from afar, but all will have had their sense of safety and security shaken.” The program can provide the assistance needed to help employees and the organization recover.

The OAP team was engaged not long ago to assist after a workplace fire that was life threatening and caused significant property damage that disrupted regular operations for months. “We were engaged to provide immediate crisis counselling to all staff and consultation to leadership on their immediate and ongoing response,” says Voth. “Following an initial consultation, we recommended immediate group and individual crisis support for all staff of the site, whether they were present at the time of the fire or not.” The team also advised the company’s leadership on what support could be provided on an as-needed basis and coaching to leaders on what to watch for in staff who may show signs of impact later on, and how to respond when it happened. “We scheduled follow-up check-in calls after each contact with the site to ensure that emerging needs were attended to promptly,” says Voth. 

Boots on the ground
The program is also unique because it knows the people it serves. The Manitoba Blue Cross team lives and works in the communities where the help is needed. “We are not helicoptered in and out again,” says Voth. “We know the environment we’re operating in because we live here. We are your neighbours and friends, and we are here every day making connections and building relationships that last.”

Reaching out
The best time to start is today. “We spend a lot of time at work. Those hours can be made even better in a place where you want to be,” says Voth. “We can help you create an organization where everyone does and is well.”

The first step is as easy as a phone call that can change everything. “I firmly believe that we are a better organization when we support others and lift them up and empower them to do what they do best. We take action to support individuals, teams, leaders and organizations to get through difficult times and to thrive each and every day,” says Graham. “This is not just part of our job—it’s part of being a good corporate citizen.”

Learn more about Manitoba Blue Cross at


Manitoba Blue Cross
Manitoba Blue Cross is a local Manitoba-based health benefits provider with coverage that is among the best in the industry. Part of a national network, they provide care for members in Manitoba and across the country. 

As a not-for-profit, the organization is committed to putting people and service first, and their bottom line is about the health and wellness of Manitobans. That commitment shows as Manitoba Blue Cross has been the province’s leading health benefits provider for almost 50 years.

An independent licensee of the Canadian Association of Blue Cross Plans and with its subsidiary, Blue Cross Life, Manitoba Blue Cross provides health, dental, employee assistance, life, disability, wellness and travel coverage for over half a million people. 

Plus, every dollar Manitoba Blue Cross makes is reinvested back into the organization, its people and the province to provide better care for its members, expand its community impact and broaden its health care knowledge.


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