Teachers teaching teachers

On March 30th, 2017 we hosted the second annual Healthy Workplaces Extra Mile Awards, and we recently took some time to speak with one of our winners, West Vancouver Schools. As the winner of the 2017 Health Education Award, they are recognized for implementing innovative educational strategies in workplaces. To understand the challenges and rewards of promoting workplace health and wellness, we spoke to Amy Rafuse, Human Resources Advisor for West Vancouver Schools.

Amy highlighted the positive potential of workplace health and wellness programs by sharing the testimonial of an employee from a recent nutrition challenge.

“I chose the nutrition challenge for a few reasons. Recovering from a serious illness, I was rebuilding my body from the inside out…. I learned a lot from it, and found it easy that I did not need to research things on my own but rather information was provided to me with the weekly challenges.”

This story confirms the power of workplace health and wellness programs to transform the lives of employees. Our interview with Amy shares more about West Vancouver Schools’ inspiring wellness story!

What advice would you give to other organizations or school boards about workplace health and wellness?

Amy: Don’t get bogged down in planning every little detail before initiating workplace health and wellness. Find out what your employees are interested in, and what they need, and just start! Once you’ve started, the positive feedback and suggestions create a momentum that sustains workplace wellness. If you have a diverse employee demographic, like we do, then focus on the universal experiences that affect health and wellness. Factors like work-life balance, stress management, and relationships transcend the divisions of employee demographics, making it easier to plan workplace wellness initiatives.

How has your organization’s outlook on workplace health and wellness evolved over time?

Amy: Throughout the past year our focus has been on traditional aspects of health and wellness: exercise and healthy eating. After building internal buy-in and getting positive feedback from employees, we’re hoping to transition into a general holistic approach to workplace health and wellness. We’d like to offer mindfulness and meditation initiatives that address aspects of wellness beyond nutrition and fitness.

Have you encountered any challenges to implementing workplace health and wellness? If so, how did you approach them?

Amy: We are always challenged by budget. West Vancouver Schools is a publicly funded district so we have to balance the needs of employees and the expectations of taxpayers. It can be difficult to mitigate costs while providing good quality workplace wellness initiatives. One of the ways we cut costs is by looking for in-house experts. Since our employees are qualified across so many different subject areas we can harness their knowledge to provide workplace wellness initiatives. With our transitioning focus on mindfulness we want to arrange for a speaker to come in. After investigating options we found that a corporate professional might charge close to a thousand dollars to deliver a presentation, whereas a PhD student doing research in the field of mindfulness may be happy to speak for free.

With teaching at the core of your workplace culture how do you approach health education?

Amy: We emphasize the accessibility of information. Due to the busy schedule of school days we arrange wellness initiatives flexibly around the demands of different employee groups. We use multiple avenues to relay health and wellness information, and we engage in friendly competition across schools. With teaching being at our core, we have also used our students to educate our staff! One example of this is we had high school students prepare healthy snacks for staff during their cooking class. West Vancouver Schools are responsible for shaping the minds of future generations so it’s important for us to exemplify the benefits of maintaining health and wellness.

West Vancouver Schools excel in educating employees. They use information to inspire action in healthy living challenges and through discussions with health and wellness professionals. Navigating the challenges of budget and diverse employee demographics, they have committed to workplace wellness, and are rewarded with the enthusiasm and satisfaction of staff. We’d like to thank West Vancouver Schools for sharing their knowledge on workplace wellness!