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How one university’s wellness program is fuelling both research and results.

The story of many wellness committees starts with the passion of individuals with an interest in fostering wellness in their workplace. But when the Université de Moncton (UdeM) founded their Wellness Committee 10 years ago, they didn’t just have people passionate about wellness involved, they made use of the assets available to them and included healthcare professionals from the Faculty of Health Sciences and Community Work – nursing, nutrition and family sciences, kinesiology and leisure, and psychology.

“When I talk about our wellness program, I kind of think of us as the Cadillac of wellness programs because we have the opportunity of having our core membership being mainly healthcare professionals,” says Suzanne Harrison, Interim Dean of the School of Nursing and current Wellness Committee President. “We benefit from having these resources at our fingertips, including their education and experience, when we do activities.”

With such a wealth of knowledge, this committee was able to do something unique: marry workplace wellness activities with important academic research.

While not every activity is research-based or focused, the past 10 years have seen three different initiatives also served as studies, one of which  led to a published article. “It’s a win-win. People participate and they’re also subjects in our study.”

For example, an activity where results were tracked was a pedometer challenge held for faculty members on campus. The committee bought pedometers and 150 employees participated in 15 teams of ten. For Suzanne, who is recognized on campus for her wellness work, this particular challenge was one of the most “revealing”. “I’d be walking on campus and people would partially flash me, lifting up their shirts to show me their pedometer!”

One of their latest interest was aimed at the trend of colouring books for adults, which are said to be calming and relaxing – a claim that hasn’t really been tested scientifically. The committee did an activity with colouring books, did a survey with the participants and hosted a Lunch and Learn about stress and how coloring books might help. They even created a self-run coloring book club! They didn’t do it as a study per say, but are interested in looking at the lived experiences of people in the coloring book club after some time and may publish those results if they reveal interesting findings.

From the committee’s beginning, the members looked at best practices, and one of the first things they saw was the importance of employer buy-in. “Buy-in was there from the beginning,” notes Suzanne regarding the administration’s support of the committee. “They knew it was a good thing to do, a thing that they had to do—they recognized it as something important.”

Being on a university campus also has its perks! Having such a roster of talent means that they can do many activities for free, like Lunch and Learns, because they have subject matter experts who work for the university. Not to mention infrastructure like the gym and stadium for activities.

The downside to being on campus has been the challenge of getting the word out to everyone working in 12 different buildings. Suzanne makes sure to send the Workplace Wellness Message of the Week newsletter out at the same time every Monday morning so it doesn’t get lost in the email inboxes of the 800+ full-time employees plus part-time staff. The committee also started a Facebook page recently and have been moving events around campus as much as possible. They also try to stagger the times for the activities so that they can reach daytime as well as evening shift employees. This past year they even did an apple-picking event for staff on a weekend.

To make it all work, Suzanne says you have to know your audience and come up with new ideas. “Patience, Passion and Perseverance – those are really the three P’s of workplace wellness.”

The committee hasn’t held back when it comes to the variety of activities they offer either. From Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball and Zumba, to heart health clinics, an Amazing Race around campus, active parking spaces, and Pink Shirt Day – they’ve made sure to keep their activities fresh in order to appeal to different people.

“For me, the activity is a success if I get one new person,” says Suzanne. “Because one new person means they leave excited and with new ideas that they will share with others. Then maybe the next time, they’ll come again and bring one or two more colleagues.”

Over the years, the committee has grown and now includes a WorkSafeNB representative, a representative from the nearby medical school, and someone from Human Resources. They meet 3-4 times a year to work and often benefit from students’ clinical placements to help offer various activities. And the work they are doing is spreading! The Shippagan Campus of UdeM campus saw the work they’re doing in Moncton and asked if they could follow their lead!

While Suzanne will be leaving the committee soon, she’s looking forward to seeing what new ideas the next generation of committee members will bring. Through its 10-year history, the committee has written a wellness story that has leveraged the rich expertise available to them to provide first-rate activities that not only helped employees but also managed to grow the field of knowledge around wellness. A win-win for sure!

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