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Shifting to a Culture of Wellness

by Lorna Muise Alberta Health Services | November 10 2016 | 1 Comment

At the recent Healthy Active School Symposium in Red Deer, our Zone 4 Team hosted a conversation with roughly 20 educators to discuss what senior leaders need to know in order to create or strengthen a culture of wellness in their district. What followed was a great discussion based on sharing, exploring and learning from these educators. We heard, loud and clear, that wellness must be embedded at all levels of the organization. According to participants, it’s critical to mindfully address staff wellness.

Darlene Ferris, Director of Wellness and Student Services in the Wild Rose School Division, noted that “jurisdictions must consider allocating resources or support to staff wellness. When staff are healthy, they are better able to support the learning needs of our students.” I agree with Darlene wholeheartedly. Through my work in Central Alberta, I’ve observed or provided support to a variety of districts as they explore and address the topic of staff wellness. Based on my experience, below are some considerations for jurisdictions exploring this topic.

Focus on the numbers. What existing data do you have that suggests your jurisdiction needs to address staff wellness? Look at the number of sick days taken and consider disability rates. Kirk McIntyre, Vice-President with Medavie Blue Cross in Ontario suggests that, “to address an organization’s health, there must be a clear understanding of its current issues and trends.” Explore your staff’s benefit spending to give you a sense of the trends in your group.

  • ASEBP can generate a Health Profile Report for your school jurisdiction. It provides information specific to your district on the prevalence of four common conditions: depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It can be a great start to inform your district wellness priorities.

Gather insight from your group. How do you know what staff want or need when it comes to proactive health? Ask administrators to consult with their staff and gather their input, host online focus group conversations or create a staff survey.

Kick-start a committee. Once you know there’s a need and evidence to support a staff wellness initiative, gather an interested group together and put some of your ideas in action. ASEBP and Alberta Health Services can support your committee in creating a plan—based on your determined strategies—to address staff wellness. Look for helpful resources on The Sandbox too. 

Share your ideas. The Sandbox has a handful of discussions on the forum where you can bounce wellness ideas off of other like-minded people. It can be a great place to spark inspiration and try out an idea that’s already tested. The following are other ideas we have heard about in Central Alberta:

  • Order your FREE copies of the ASEBP Calendar & Health Planner for your staff each summer. Use the monthly themes embedded in the Planner to promote wellness messages through an internal staff newsletter.
  • Encourage site-based wellness initiatives like pot luck lunches and after school walking/exercise clubs.
  • Host a wellness day where staff can explore and take part in activities and sessions that support their personal well-being.
  • Support and celebrate staff at the school or jurisdictional level. Many schools have a Student of the Month program. Why not start a Staff of the Month program too?

Track change. Reporting success and learnings from your staff wellness initiatives to senior leaders and trustees is important. Engagement rates, focus groups and program participation are all valuable tools for measurement. Be sure to track sick days, disability rates and staff satisfaction over time. You can use ideas from this survey blog or  information from Dr. Jeff Johnson's blog on evaluation to help you analyze and report on your findings. 

It’s important to remember that any one of the above strategies has the potential to make a difference but it’s a systematic and multi-pronged approach that will have long-lasting effects. Your staff are your greatest resources and greatest assets. Getting as many angles for input as you can will help create a solid base for staff wellness. Use the School Employee Wellness Tips on the Wellness Wiki as a resource from our Zone 4 School Heath Regional Team to help leaders discover ways to engage with their staff. Each page of the resource is targeted to a different audience (page 3 has tips for school administrators and page 6 includes tips for jurisdiction leaders and trustees. Try out one—or a few—of the above ideas and see what impacts your staff for the better!

Lorna Muise

As a school health promotion coordinator with Alberta Health Services and a long term passion for health promotion, Lorna is one of Alberta’s central zone superheroes! Her superpower? Lorna can mimic the sound of a water drop. We’ve yet to determine the benefits of this talent but are sure they are widespread and amazing.

Jennifer C. ASEBP - | November 14 2016 5:49 PM
Thanks for the excellent blog, Lorna!  Its a great reminder of all the resources that are available and FREE to help schools and jurisdictions who are supporting employee wellness.  Ps:  Zone 4 rocks.