Making wellness programs a personal experience.
Elim Village is a retirement community based in the lower mainland that offers senior’s housing and care options. Valentina Seale, Director of Human Resources, spoke with us about Elim’s approach to wellness in a challenging work environment that’s prone to burnout and emotional fatigue. Hint: It’s all about making it personal.
Elim Village values the willingness to innovate and fosters teamwork. How does the Elim Village team apply these values into creating a healthy workplace environment?
Over the last five years of running wellness initiatives, we have been intentional in incorporating a team or group element. This not only helps keep people accountable, but also makes it fun for everyone involved by adding a competitive element. We reward teams with group prizes and recognize people who work towards their goals with friends and peers from work.
Is there a workplace wellness initiative that has been your favourite so far?
I would have to say the very first one we initiated. It was a step challenge encouraging people to do 10,000 steps a day; either during their break, lunchtime or after work. If they reached the daily goal, they got one point; but if they did it with a co-worker or friend from work, they got double the points. It might have been harder for us to track, but people were really engaged in the challenge. We gave everyone a pedometer, which really helped get everyone involved.
Another one we did that people enjoyed was to encourage everyone to share a favourite healthy recipe and bring it to a potluck. Everyone got to eat together and judge which recipe was their favourite. The winning recipe got a prize and that recipe went into our newsletter. It was a fun initiative to do and everyone had a great time. We have also done a few ‘Lunch and Learns’ on healthy eating – trivia style, with lots of prizes, which always makes people happy.
It sounds like you have implemented some amazing initiatives focused on physical health and nutrition. Tell us about your initiatives around decreasing the chances of burnout and boosting mental health?
For sure. One that comes to mind is a series we did about two years ago that focused on building resilience. Our employee’s roles are draining and emotionally heavy. Working with seniors with high-needs and working with patient’s family members who are under a lot of stress – it’s definitely an environment that leads to a lot of burnout and fatigue. We hired a therapist who did five ‘Lunch and Learns’ – every two weeks over 3 months. The ‘Lunch and Learns’ built on each other and covered different aspects on how to overcome difficult situations, build strength and resilience, and how to recover from emotionally draining events. It was a great learning space and gave employees the opportunity to hear about how to maintain their mental wellbeing, how to refill their compassion tank, and how to take time to heal and maintain self-care. They were also able to learn and share their experiences with coworkers and share how they start their day, how they practice gratitude, or set goals.
We have also handed out surveys for employees to fill out anonymously. We asked them to share what was stressful and not conducive to their wellbeing. We got valuable feedback that was shared with management and we were able to make some changes.
What challenges have you faced in implementing workplace health and wellness?
There are a few challenges but the main one would be that it can be hard to get employees engaged. This is for a few different reasons;
- Lack of education. Their jobs are already active, and our employees are on their feet all day. Many feel like they don’t need to do more exercise. Or maybe they feel like they already eat healthy, so they don’t need to learn more about nutrition. It’s hard to make people aware of healthier practices that could be of benefit to them when they may think they don’t need it.
- Perception of what a wellness program is. Many employees think that wellness programs are mainly focused on losing weight, when in reality it is so much more than that. Again, that education piece is so important.
- Time is a factor. Our employees have busy lives. A lot of them are parents, so they have to leave right after work to pick up their kids. Some go onto another job somewhere else. This means if we were to implement something, it would have to be within their shifts. In addition, the typical work schedule is already tight so that is a big challenge.
- From an employer’s side, it’s hard to schedule something when it takes time from somebody’s workday. Plus, a lot of our employee’s schedules are shift-work, so breaks are all over the place and we always have to have someone on the floor. This makes it difficult to book an activity and have everyone attend at the same time. We would have to run it multiple times so that everyone has the chance to attend.
What advice or tips can you give to other organizations running seniors living communities around creating a healthy work environment?
For employers, if you really want to show that you care, you have to create space within the employees’ workday for wellness initiatives. It comes at a price but does communicate to your employees that you really care. Even facilitating 10 minutes at the beginning of a shift to do stretching or breathing can go a long way.
Another tip would be that when you start a program, make sure to do a self-test to see where everyone is at. We did a survey facilitated by Healthy Workplaces and we also did a small test that allowed employees to gauge their own wellbeing. These were small things, like ‘stand on one foot for 20 seconds,’ or ‘run on the spot for 1 minute’. These tests helped show our employees what level their personal wellbeing was at. If they couldn’t do them, then it showed that there were some things they could work on. It was a bit of a wakeup call for some of our employees and showed them that maybe they weren’t as fit as they thought they were. Again, these very small and practical exercises showed people where there was room to improve and what their baseline was.
Overall, I would say the biggest thing is to make wellness programs a personal experience. Otherwise, it is so easy to just sit down and listen. But when you make it personal, people are more likely to actively participate. Then, you have engagement. And that’s when you can really make an impact.