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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

On being well
Healthy workplace week

by Julia Johnson

Did you know that October 25 to 30 was Canada’s Healthy Workplace Week? Since October 2001, this yearly event has been initiated by the National Quality Institute (NQI) to celebrate both organizational and personal health. During the week Canadian organizations are encouraged to learn about and participate in organizational health, and prevention and wellness strategies designed to increase awareness about the importance of healthy workplaces and the relationship a healthy workplace has to the long-term success of an organization. According to Dan Corbett, president and CEO of the NQI, research on workplace health is clear: "The lack of a comprehensive approach to workplace health is having a negative impact on all aspects of work and society. Low morale, employee absenteeism, decreased productivity, and high turnover create a ripple effect throughout society on families, businesses, and the healthcare system."

The World Health Organization states that the number-one world health issue is stress in the workplace. Lyle Hargrove, director of Health, Training, and Safety Fund, in Toronto, spoke to this issue in 2001 when he tried to negotiate wellness initiatives for the Canadian Auto Workers’ union. He said, "Stress in the workplace is the number one issue and the speed of change [which affects the degree of stress employees experience] is only going to accelerate." Hargrove believes that employers have an obligation to look after their employees at work and at home, and the way to do that is to make workplace wellness and health promotion a business priority.

From a business perspective, wellness in the workplace has become an issue for companies today because of their need to stay competitive in the global marketplace. The view being held by many business visionaries and some CEOs is that corporations need to reinvent themselves so the workplace attracts the most talented people. To do this, companies need to create the most nourishing environment for personal growth, where their employees can flourish. The belief of the business community is that companies without effective, comprehensive worksite wellness and health-promotion strategies will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. The Buffet Taylor National Wellness Survey Report of 2000 revealed that just 17% of the 414 employers surveyed were providing comprehensive wellness programs.

In education, the need for workplace wellness programs has never been greater. Daily stressors of increased class size, disregard for class composition, insufficient teaching resources, classrooms that no longer accommodate the increased number of students, decreased support for students with special needs, increased demand for testing and accountability, greater expectations for increasing student performance, devaluing of best teaching practices by political leaders, inadequately thought out initiatives, etc., all create a teaching and learning environment with low morale and conflict among colleagues—far from enabling or flourishing.

Dr. Martin Brokenleg, in his keynote address to teachers in Quesnel on October’s professional development day, stated, "every child is at risk today," and the way to reach an "at-risk child" is to focus on her or his wellness. With today’s teaching and learning conditions, in addition to every child’s being at risk so is every teacher.

Workplace wellness programs remind individuals to take care of themselves. For school districts that do not have a universal wellness program, for schools that are too busy to make wellness a workplace priority, I offer the "12 Gifts for Workplace Support" adapted from the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health.

1. The gift of helping out: Go out of your way to ask your neighbour at work if she or he needs help.

2. The gift of clear expectations: Make sure people know what is expected of them.

3. The gift of job fulfilment: A pay cheque buys bread for the table. Job fulfilment buys bread for the soul. Employers need to make sure that employees have the tools and the time they need to do the job they are qualified to do.

4. The gift of sharing success not just work: Make an effort to share the credit for the things that get done well at work.

5. The gift of inclusion: Make sure your colleagues at work are included in meetings, going to lunch, sharing information.

6. The gift of casual chat: Make an effort each day to connect with as many people as you can. Ask your colleagues how they feel about something that is important to them.

7. The gift of listening: Seek first to understand and then to be understood to avoid misperceptions.

8. The gift of trust: Co-workers need to show one another their trust.

9. The gift of being home: During these stressful and fast-paced times, each of us needs to be respectful of the various home demands for which our colleagues are responsible: an ill child, elderly parents at home or in the hospital, needing to be home when children return from school.

10. The gift of fairness: Ensure that fairness is an established practice.

11. The gift of humour: If laughter is the best medicine, then school environments are in need of heavy doses. Look for humour in the everyday things that are a part of your work life.

12. The gift of forgiveness: Be ready to say you are sorry when workplace conflict occurs. Stressful work environments are breeding grounds for a multitude of troubling situations.

It is important during these taxing times that we support each colleague with her or his teaching assignment. When we give one another the 12 gifts of workplace support we can create healthy workplaces together in spite of our working and learning conditions.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School, in Quesnel, is a BCTF-PD wellness associate. E-mail johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca

To book a BCTF wellness workshop or other workshops, call 1-800-663-9163 (local 1857), or 604-871-1857, or check the web site: www.bctf.ca.