Employee Wellness


Bringing Mental Wellness Support to Our Frontline Airport Workforce

Greater Toronto Airports Authority adopts Calm Business to help employees in high-pressure environments reduce stress and improve well-being

airport worker on the tarmac

Corrinne Burling, Program Manager, Organizational Development, GTAA

7 min read

At the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), managing Canada’s largest airport is a high-pressure, 24/7 operation. Each year we serve more than 35 million passengers through Toronto Pearson International Airport, the largest and the busiest airport in Canada and the fifth-most-connected mega-hub in the world. Getting them to their destinations safely and efficiently is job one. It’s also a complex undertaking that depends on our partners and relies upon our 1,700 workers, 70% of whom are onsite shift workers, feeling their best physically, mentally, and emotionally.   

Supporting the health and well-being of our employees is critical to anticipating and exceeding passenger needs, one of the core ways the GTAA is creating a next-generation airport and putting the joy back into travel. By empowering our people to optimize their health, we’re empowering them to meet the demands of their day.

Growing risk of anxiety, stress, and loneliness post-pandemic

Those demands have intensified post-pandemic. With travel resuming amid continued labor shortages across North America, our onsite airport workforce, from security to customer service, are under even more pressure, increasing their risk of stress-related illnesses or, worse, burnout. We understand the impact stress can have on anxiety levels, sleep quality, and our overall mental well-being, which in turn can affect how we show up at work.

Our remote employees who are living alone may also be at greater risk of loneliness. And working parents are still experiencing stress as they search for balance between work and caregiving. Not only did Calm’s 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends report validate our concern for our employees’ wellness needs, our employees told us through surveys and listening labs in 2021 and 2022 that they wanted more wellness resources, and we took that feedback to heart. 

With the increased risk of mental health challenges and a focus on total well-being, we expanded our Organizational Development team to include a full-time program manager focused on growing our wellness portfolio in 2021. That role has been dedicated to developing programs and providing tools and educational resources to support the whole person, both inside and outside work. 

Supporting the well-being of a diverse and dispersed workforce

Supporting the whole person starts with appreciating the diversity of our people and their roles.  

Recent  graduates work alongside employees preparing for retirement. We have both onsite and hybrid employees working across our 4,600-acre campus. We have employees working at desks and frontline operational employees who have limited access to computers during their shifts.  

Roles span a wide range of functions from Baggage Services and Fire and Emergency Services to Finance, Maintenance, Customer Service, and Resource Management, which includes communicating with pilots to coordinate aircraft gating and de-icing to enable a safe and efficient passenger experience.

We’re committed to helping all our employees create healthy habits that build resiliency and bring more balance and joy into their daily lives. Because our workforce is so diverse, our approach to wellness needs to be customizable, which is what our employees are looking for.

Evolving mental health support to focus on preventive solutions

When reviewing how to improve our support for employee well-being, we identified opportunities to establish a more supportive culture around mental health and provide additional preventive support.

Our Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) already offered a number of services for employees and their dependents, including immediate counseling support, online cognitive behavioral health therapy, and one-to-one coaching for a host of life events. Last year, to expand support for employees in operational, high-pressure environments, we partnered with our EFAP provider to pilot mental health check-ins, offering drop-in sessions for employees to meet with counselors onsite.

On a monthly basis, we offer Ask-the-Expert webchat sessions employees can join to anonymously ask questions on a range of topics. We recently focused, as part of a Harnessing Healthy Habits Campaign, on implementing a fitness routine that works. Two times a year, we also host full-day Mental Health Marathons, where experts are available all day for employees to post questions via anonymous web chat. 

On a weekly basis, we feature a Wellness Wednesday post on our intranet and internal social networking tool that align to a monthly wellness topic related to services or themes that our mental health partners offer. 

Additional programs and resources we rolled out this year include the following:

  • Weekly Wellness Information Content. Weekly themed posts are shared through our enterprise social networking tool to motivate employees to move more, eat well, and care for their emotional well-being (Movement Mondays, Tasty Tuesdays, Feel Good Fridays); they offer employees quick micro-content to create awareness and inspire action. 
  • Calm Business. Last fall, we adopted Calm as a preventive solution, available to all 1,600 employees and their families, to help reduce or mitigate stress and anxiousness and build resilience.

Bringing wellness to the palms of our employees’ hands with Calm

When it came to selecting a tool, we wanted to think out of the box about supporting our unique operational frontline onsite and hybrid populations. In particular, our onsite airport employees don’t always have consistent access to wellness rooms or quiet spaces. 

Calm enabled us to put wellness in the palms of their hands. Our employees can take a wellness break while walking or sitting anywhere in the airport. They can plug in their headset and close their eyes for a moment to breathe, listen to a meditation, or take a mental health break and de-stress. 

Calm met all our significant criteria for a benefits tool, including these:

  • Accessibility. To support our wide demographic ranges, we needed a solution that’s simple to access and use.
  • Diversity and inclusion. We needed a solution that all employees can personally relate to. The diversity of Calm’s content is immediately evident, and their narration in many languages is key.
  • Variety. It was important to let people “choose their own adventure” and personalize their experience. With Calm, employees can select what they want to do based on where they are on their unique wellness journey.
  • Reporting and tracking. Calm allows us to view how many of our employees have signed up, how many are engaging with the app, and which content is used most. We use this information to develop our wellness programming and communication strategy.  
  • Appeal. We needed a solution that would draw people to it. Calm is a well-known brand with a great repository of content. And the celebrities they work with get people excited about using the app.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Coming out of the pandemic, cost was also a factor.

Hands-on roadshow to meet employees where they are 

Communicating to employees about new wellness perks is always a challenge, but having a large, dispersed population without consistent computer access presents another layer of complexity. 

To reach our frontline operational employees, who make up approximately 70% of our workforce, we went to where they work. We launched a wellness roadshow and visited locations across our 4,600-acre airport campus in partnership with our DEI and wellness advisory teams. We shared DEI programs and wellness resources and launched the Calm app, helping employees sign up on the spot. On location, we could tailor the introduction of Calm to the specific employee audience, which really helped us connect with them and make an impact. 

For example, we helped some employees download the app and demonstrated how they could search for resources, such as sleep stories or tools to promote mindful breathing, based on their unique needs. We encouraged them to sign up and highlighted how to share the experience with their partners, kids, parents, or other family members so they could use it too.

Our launch of Calm included several successful communications strategies, including the following:

  • Posting physical posters that included a QR code and instructions for signing up for Calm, which worked well for terminal trade crews and airfield maintenance workers
  • Deploying a digital lock screen to all shared and personal computers, which worked well for hybrid employees
  • Including links to relevant Calm content in our Wellness Wednesday communications and through our intranet and internal social networking tool
  • Sending weekly emails to leaders sharing how the workforce is using Calm
  • Taking advantage of flu shot clinics to introduce employees to Calm
  • Adding Calm to our wellness package in our new-employee onboarding kit

Engagement with Calm exceeds expectations

Our initial goal was to get 30% of our employees to sign up for Calm in the first month. Not only did we surpass that goal by registering 38% of employees, but we currently have 50.8% of employees signed up, with more than 72.6% engaging daily with the tool. High enrollment among our onsite workers was largely due to our interactive airport roadshow featuring the Calm app. Calm’s well-known brand and content narrated by familiar celebrity voices were hooks that enticed our employees to engage with the benefit. 

Our employees have shared with us how much they love using Calm to help them better manage their stress, sleep, and anxiousness. 

What our employees are saying about Calm

Here are just a few of the testimonials our employees have submitted:

“Good for winding down or finding balance during the day.”

It has helped to wind down after a night shift, aiding the transition to sleep during the day.”

“I have a son with anxiety and the breathing and sleep stories have been a fantastic tool to quieting the mind at bedtime or in the middle of the night when he is often waking and has terrible trouble falling back to sleep for long periods of time.”

“It helps to know that the GTAA supports me and my mental health. Calm has helped with the quality of my sleep and ability to fall asleep.”

Calm Business has played an integral preventive role in supporting our employees’ mental health, whether it’s helping them take a virtual wellness break while working in a fast-paced airport environment or wind down and get a good night’s sleep. 

Help employees stress less, sleep better, and build more resilience with Calm Business

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