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Strategies: Wellness That Works: A Successful (and Affordable) Wellness Program

By Net Assets posted 05-15-2017 09:18 AM

Fay School wellness

Human Resources |

At Fay School, absenteeism is down, spirits are up.

Article by Leah Thayer

From the May/June 2017 Net Assets magazine

Photo above: Faculty and staff at Fay School participate in a wide range of wellness activities, including Habitat for Humanity.

What’s in a successful (and affordable) wellness program? At Fay School, you’ll find CrossFit, yoga and step-counting — physical fitness — along with opportunities focused on other types of wellness, such as emotional, spiritual, financial and intellectual. “A key is knowing your community,” said Diane Byrne, assistant director of finance and operations at the preK–9 day-and-boarding school in Southborough, Massachusetts. “And giving lots of choices.”

Byrne began researching wellness programs when she expanded her role to include HR responsibilities. “One of our core values is wellness of mind, body and spirit. I realized that we lived all of our values but didn’t have a focused wellness program,” which she knew had been shown to promote health, morale and productivity. In the program’s first three years, not every initiative has worked, but the benefits have been broader than she expected. Absenteeism has declined by about 10 percent, and growth in insurance premiums has slowed. Less quantifiably, there seems to be more campus camaraderie, and the school has tapped new sources of talent and generosity within its own community — most of whom donate their services.

Byrne’s recommendations to other schools:

    • Get buy-in. Byrne researched wellness programs extensively before presenting about 10 options to her head of school. “You need your head and senior administrators to promote the program and encourage faculty and staff to emulate their behavior.” She also formed a committee to help her plan activities.
    • Start with a bang. It’s best to make the initial activities mandatory so that everyone participates and does something that interests them, Byrne said. When introducing the program, Fay School set aside a full afternoon during opening-of-school meetings for all employees to engage in their choice of a dozen planned activities, from team competitions to meditation to nutrition to knitting. The day ended with a cookout. “They loved it. The place was buzzing for days, and many said they were so glad they did it and probably wouldn’t have participated if it hadn’t been mandatory.” That half-day is also helpful for introducing new employees to the full staff and building camaraderie generally. “An offshoot has been staff having great conversations with teachers who they otherwise may not have had the opportunity to spend time with. People have built new relationships.”
    • Make everything else optional. People are busy, and wellness shouldn’t be a burden.
    • Induce participation with prizes. A variety of competitions are for teams and individuals alike. Participants accrue points through activities from team “walking meetings” to attending classes to responding to quizzes in “wellness update” emails. “I think it’s important that the prizes be really nice,” she said. Most prizes cost at least $50; they have included Fitbits, smoothie machines, biometric scales and gift cards to healthy retailers.
    • Make it easy. Byrne schedules most activities during weekdays, so employees can enjoy their weekends. The email updates remind people to take care of themselves, and nice touches like emailing monthly birthday lists encourage them to reach out to each other as well.
    • Tap your community. Inviting people to share their interests or talents led to lunch-and-learns on landscaping, nutrition, guitar and knitting, among others. The school has also connected with a nearby massage school whose students need to accumulate practice hours. “We are working on a partnership where they come here once a week and give free massages to our faculty and staff,” Byrne said. “It's a win, win!”
  • Keep it fresh. Every few months Byrne introduces a new spin on wellness. She assembles healthy treat bags at holidays and organizes an annual “wellness fair” that brings in 20 or more local vendors, such as health clubs, a professional organizer and a business that sells jewelry made by women — along with biometric screening from the school’s health insurer and free flu shots.

Fay School budgets $10,000 a year for its wellness program, “but we haven’t hit that amount yet and usually come in closer to $8,000,” Byrne said. The biggest expenses are for instructors of yoga and sports classes, along with biometric screening at the wellness fair and the prizes. “But a lot of our programs cost nothing, or next to it.”

Download a PDF of the article.

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