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How to (Metaphorically) Eat an Elephant

by Shandy McLean ASEBP | October 15 2015 | 4 Comments

Have you ever started a project or made a to-do list that left you feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start? I have. This feeling is usually followed by me fist shaking and wailing (dramatically to myself) “Complexity breeds despair!” You too? Great—I suspected I wasn’t the only one.

Over time, and with support and advice from my mentors, I’ve figured out that there are a number of ways to metaphorically ‘eat an elephant’ and get the most seemingly complex job done. Here are a few tips to help you as you are considering where to start with your workplace wellness initiative.

Find other hungry (passionate and committed) people
It’s best not to go it alone (have you SEEN the size of that elephant?!?!). Let other wellness champions know you need some help to get this work moving. Promote, prod, stalk (nicely) those colleagues and partners you know are passionate about promoting employee wellness and make sure they have the opportunity to take on roles that interest them and that fit with their skill set. Do that, and you’re likely to keep these folks for the long haul.

Loosen your pants (and expectations)
Go easy on yourself. Maybe your eyes were bigger than your stomach? It happens. As wellness champions we’re more likely to stay energized and prevent burn out when we have a safe space to talk about success and challenges and know that, as a group, we can adjust the plan as needed. Integrate all learnings (the great, the bad and the ugly) into your plans right away. You don’t have time or energy to waste on the wrong plan—you have an elephant to eat for goodness sake!

Figure out where the most delicious (?) morsel is
Having early success can really get a group of wellness champions going. After you’ve done the work to assess the collective health or health interests of your workplace colleagues, choose a focus area that the group is reasonably comfortable with and start there. If you bite off more than you can chew right away, it can affect morale and commitment and then—BAM!—we’re back to fist shaking and uncontrollable wailing.

Put it on ice (leftovers are ok but don’t let them get stale)
Eating an elephant is not for the faint of heart. It takes time and patience to get to the finish line. While not everything needs to be done right away, be sure you’ve plotted a plan that reminds you that where you started is not where you’ll end. This will prevent post-elephant slump after eating that delicious morsel (read=stalling after a great start). Effective wellness programs are comprehensive and should include a variety of initiatives and activities that can be sustained over time.

So if you’re ready to eat the elephant that is your wellness initiative or activity, take a breath, collect your friends and get started—one bite at a time.

Shandy McLean

With a background in social work and a masters in health promotion, 'Shamu' (yes, like the whale) is a tireless advocate in the public health arena and ASEBP’s former director of Health Strategies and Stakeholder Engagement. We know that her questionable claims of being 'related' to actress Claire Danes is a way of coping with her crippling fear of sharks. But it’s okay—we’re all in this together, Shamu.

Gillian W. ASEBP - | October 15 2015 12:08 PM

Great blog, Shandy! After just poking my head on the other side of a major project, this really rings true. My biggest takeaway is that it's okay (and sometimes really helpful) to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and that they don't stop you from moving forward with your initiative - or getting ready to eat the next elephant!

Megan H. ASEBP - | October 20 2015 3:22 PM

Shandy, what an excellent way to depict the challenge of workplace wellness!  

A wise woman (J. Carson) once said "It is a complex issue, but it doesn’t have to be complicated."

Taking it one bite at a time and allowing ourselves to be human along the way is truly fabulous advice.   It works best when we support one another and are sure to incorporate a healthy dose of humour and cat videos.  


. | October 23 2015 3:18 PM

Other than now feeling like I could use a snack, one thing I take from reading this post, Shandy, is that it is probably best to settle in for the long-haul when it comes to employee wellness.  

With a long-term view in mind and short-term successes along the way, a workplace wellness program can develop a depth and robustness to it that will ensure benefits to colleagues and employees for years to come.  

Lorna M. Alberta Health Services - | October 27 2015 11:05 AM

Great insights Shandy!  I have worked with a number of jurisdictions that have decided that "staff wellness" should be a priority.  The African saying "if you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together" certainly applies.

It is important to have lots of people supporting this work if you want it to be successful... and relevant!