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Wellness at Work: Three Ways to Support School Employees

by Matthew Mitschke Alberta Health Services | May 21 2020

Since mid-March, we’ve experienced some pretty significant changes to our social and physical work environments. While many teachers and staff are now supporting student learning from home, we know there are plenty of others—from teachers and school administrators to maintenance staff—leading the way from school sites and buildings that are mostly empty.

There’s no doubt that these changes can impact your well-being, and it can be easy to feel defeated in these unusual circumstances. Just remember that a changing workplace environment also presents new opportunities to positively influence health and well-being in yours. As a wellness champion, you can still play a role in creating and maintaining a healthy workplace—especially for those working from school and office sites that might look and feel a bit different than normal.

To help you do that, I’ve compiled a few tips to support healthy work environments for school employees during COVID-19:

  • Promote healthy eating: Eating well is one way we can maintain and improve our health and keep feeling our best. While a lot has changed for school employees, there are still ways to support healthy eating at work. Try engaging your colleagues in a healthy eating challenge or do an assessment using these Healthy Eating Resources for Workplaces—many of which can be adapted for virtual use. You can find these and other ideas on the Alberta Health Services’ Healthy Eating Starts Here website and in the Healthier Together Workplaces Healthy Eating Strategy Kit.
  • Make movement an everyday practice: It’s recommended that school employees (and all adults, really) reduce their time spent being sedentary and get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week to stay at their healthiest. While it can be pretty easy to create efficiencies when you’re working in isolation (I can see your toothbrush on my webcam), getting stuck in a sedentary routine isn’t good for our physical or mental health. So encourage regular physical activity at work! Try engaging school employees with active energizers on Zoom meetings, walking phone calls, physical activity challenges and stretch reminders. And consider spreading out your workspace: getting your coffee or picking up your printing on the other side of the building might just help you win your Fitbit challenge with your co-workers. You could also do a workplace audit using the Active Workplace Audit Toolkit. Check out the Healthier Together Workplaces Physical Activity Strategy Kit and the Centre for Active Living to find other great strategies for encouraging more physical activity at work.
  • Cultivate a calm workplace: Keeping calm while trying to avoid COVID-19 can be challenging, but chilling out is one of the best things we can do for our health. A calm workplace helps employees to reduce stress, increase focus, boost their moods and sleep better. And with many school employees experiencing more stress right now, you can help by fostering this kind of environment: remind employees about the supports available through their Employee and Family Assistance Program, if they have one; support them in accessing help in tough times; respond to their anxieties about COVID-19; or simply connect with them by asking questions that are more than just “How are you doing right now?” You can also support your school employees by creating calm physical spaces where they can take a moment to find inner peace—consider including breathing exercises, books, soft blankets, music, plants, earplugs, a Zen garden, puzzles, art supplies, a tea stash or anything else that might help. For more ideas, check out the Healthier Together Workplaces Mental Health Toolkit, the Alberta Health Services Healthy Together webpage and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education

Supporting school employee wellness may not always be top of mind during times of crisis but, as wellness champions, you probably know that it’s worth the investment. While these are just a few ways to support school employees in staying well during these uncertain times, I hope you’ll help this list grow by adding your own tips in the comments below!

Matthew Mitschke

One of Alberta Health Services’ superstar health promotion coordinators, Matt works tirelessly with school jurisdictions in Edmonton to support them in their Comprehensive School Health journeys. A superhero with a fear of flying (what the?), Matt makes up for this in spades with his sense of adventure and the miracle that is his hair.