The University Students’ Council (USC) at Western University was one of the very first clients we signed on in 2013 and since then they have become one of our biggest supporters. From instructing yoga to USC staff over the lunch break and stress resiliency sessions with each year’s executive team to offering samples of our services at their employee wellness fair, the USC is not afraid of finding ways to incorporate our offerings into their wellness culture. We caught up with Cassandra Rodenhurst, Coordinator, Human Resources and wellness committee member to find out more about how they promote well being to their staff beyond their work with us.
Prana: While working alongside your team, we’ve noticed team members getting a wellness card stamped. Can you tell us what this card is about and how the idea got started? Is it effective?
USC: We launched our incentive program a few years ago called the Wellness Bingo Card, which is a program based upon the accrual of stamps for each initiative our employees participate in over the year. The ultimate goal is to receive fifty stamps on the card to qualify for an additional value to their wellness benefit. Our wellness benefit is a monetary amount which allows the individual to go into the London community and try new services or products which will enhance their lives (i.e. yoga classes or gym memberships). Last year, we had fourteen people complete this Program. We reward participation along the way by providing healthy breakfasts and lunches, physical activities and recognition for their efforts.
The biggest benefit is seeing our staff able to handle stressful periods with the techniques they have learned, the genuine happiness of participating and a sense of accomplishment. This has translated into zero short-term and long-term disability claims, a decrease in absenteeism and workplace injuries. These are huge accomplishments in themselves and we love being able to help provide this lifestyle change.The biggest benefit can be seen with our culture change in how we execute our events and business.
Full-time employees now request healthy snacks at meetings; they take the time to walk even when our walking group is not scheduled and taking these strategies, like deep breathing, into their personal lives.
Prana: How does the USC define employee wellness and how it’s addressed?
USC: Wellness is not only a form of being physically active; it also includes maintaining mental and social well-being for an individual. We strive to maintain a balance between work and living by rewarding and acknowledging our members through the various programs we have in place to supplement the Wellness Program. The Wellness Committee meets quarterly to discuss planning and implementation of upcoming events which reflect the survey findings taken each year. Our strategy is to marry the creative initiatives of the group with the corporation’s needs. The University Students’ Council’s overall aim is to provide a diversity of programs to appeal to our sixty members. This strategy can be seen with the detailed programming we have offered in the last two years and supplemented with our benefit plan, wellness benefit, professional development and educational staff courses.
We encourage employees to get involved, get healthy and get active by subsidizing the cost of participating in the various opportunities outside of work, such as yoga, intramurals, cooking classes, bubble soccer, the Big Bike and so many more. We also offer workshops, seminars, yoga sessions and nutritional lunches throughout the workday to help balance out their day.
Prana: How is wellness programming initiated and implemented?
USC: The University Students’ Council believes in transparency across all levels of the organization. We begin each year with our annual Wellness Survey to see how employees are feeling about previous programming and to gauge which activities are instrumental in helping them achieve their own health and wellness needs. The Wellness Program was initiated a few years ago with monthly newsletters and activities were incorporated into social events. The Wellness Program was formalized two years ago with an initial committee of three individuals who oversaw the surveying and programming for the corporation. This has grown to now include an entire committee, who meet on a quarterly basis to go over current programming and plan for the upcoming four months. This has allowed us to explore many avenues such as cooking classes, the Big Bike, yoga refreshers, Couch 2 5K runs after work and demands for stress management. At each meeting, the group determines the upcoming programming and everyone actively takes ownership in running the event, session or activity. Our programming is possible
thanks to the countless efforts of the volunteers on the committee.
Prana: Have there been challenges while implementing employee wellness programming? If so, how do you overcome them?
USC: The only way to continue to grow and improve is to engage members in its development. We have completed two wellness surveys, one in January 2014 and another more recently in May 2015. Through the comparisons of the two surveys it clearly demonstrates the increase in health and wellness for our employees. There are always challenges when implementing new programs to make sure the activities reflect and match the corporate objectives with our employee needs. There can also be difficulty in obtaining large participation in a diverse work environment like the USC where we are involved in government, retail and hospitality industries. With these conflicting schedules it can be difficult to have the various departments attend. We try to counteract this difficulty by asking our members what interests them, from choosing which intramural sports team they would like to be involved in to when they would like these activities, such as yoga, to take place throughout the work day. We ask for feedback on previous programming and how the initiatives we offered compared with the results they were looking for. Through this we gained the understanding that our employees are looking for variety and are not just interested in the physical activity but the education surrounding nutrition, stress
management and lifestyle. We have incorporated these findings to offer new programs and work with incredible providers, like Prana, to help us achieve our goals.
Prana: What has been the impact of the USC’s employee wellness initiatives?
USC: Our leadership team has been our biggest advocates in maintaining the programming we have been able to provide. With the various USC operations and services it is challenging to offer programming which appeals to the masses while allowing employees with different demands the opportunity to participate. The same can be said with our intergenerational workplace, where we strive to offer programs which reflect the various needs of staff who take care of their parents, children and selves. We are working on improving our sessions with alternative times outside of the lunch hour or after work options. With these improvements to engage every department, we have seen a positive case for increased health in the workplace. Our leadership team can see this with low absenteeism, low turn-over rates and increased enthusiasm to participate. This positive shift has over 50% of our staff implementing these skills into their daily lives and an increase of 31.43% feeling better compared to this time last year.
Prana: As you continue to expand your services with us, what value do we offer to your team that is different from other wellness offerings you engage in?
USC: We offer an all-encompassing program at the University Students’ Council which focuses on all domains of wellness. We began our Wellness Program two years ago with the help of Prana Yoga & Wellness. We were able to incorporate stress management sessions, physical activity and deep breathing into our employees’ lives. The weekly yoga classes and meditative aspects of yoga have allowed our employees to take the break they need and teach them valuable skills to bring into their work and personal lives.The diversity of programming offered by Prana allows us to meet the needs of physical activity, maintaining body and spirit, while incorporating techniques they can take with them outside of the session. Teaching resiliency, how to feed our bodies, how to properly breathe and how our body reacts creates the awareness that has been vital in creating our cultural change over the last few years. The diversity of Prana programming, allows us each year to tailor programming to meet the needs of our staff. The (RE)boot camps, holistic nutrition, meditation, stress management and yoga offerings allows us the chance to touch on the physical, mental and social well-being of our staff. We are a diverse corporation with our various services and having a partnership with Prana allows us to cater to this so
we can maintain our commitment to our employees’ health and well-being.
Prana: What advice would you offer to organizations that may still be hesitating about initiating a corporate wellness program- specifically one that addresses mental wellness in the workplace?
USC: See what your employees are looking for. It can become a daunting task to come up with programming on your own and to understand why some activities are a huge success, while others flop. The best advice is to have an open dialogue with your employees by having a suggestion box, forming a volunteer committee or distributing an annual wellness survey. A survey is a great way to see where employees are and where they want to go. Once you are aware that they may desire more physical activities around the office or quiet time to decompress, this is a great to know which direction to go in first. Once you have an initial idea, the best is to partner with other passionate individuals who are able to help you realize your goal and formalize your plan. We did this with Prana Yoga & Wellness a few years ago, and we have continued our open dialogue. With your help we were able to grow our Wellness Fair, and contact fellow providers regarding health assessments or programming. The biggest step is to ask for help. If a specific program is out of your comfort zone it is always best to approach a professional. The best thing to do is to just start. A Wellness Program doesn’t have to be flashy; it just needs to make a difference for one individual.