9 Reasons School Wellness Programs are a Smart School Strategy

9 Reasons School Wellness Programs are a Smart School Strategy

9 Reasons School Wellness Programs are a Smart School Strategy

Here’s a quick peek at the 9 reasons why school wellness programs are a smart wellness strategy

  1. Absenteeism Costs Schools More Than It Costs Other Worksites
  2. Schools Need to Watch Their Finances More Closely Than Other Worksites
  3. School Employees Are Like Family
  4. Schools Have Great Fitness and Healthy Eating Facilities
  5. Schools Do Great Wellness Training and Communication
  6. School-based Wellness Programs Have Great Leadership
  7. Wellness Takes on a Life of Its Own in Schools
  8. School Wellness Starts With Employees But Grows to Include Students and Communities
  9. Published Research Proves That School Wellness Programs Can Work

There are 3.7 million people who work in schools. Schools are the single largest employer in the United States. Even the federal government only has 2.7 million employed individuals. In many ways schools are just like any other workplace; they need access to wellness programs for many of the same reasons.

But schools, including universities, have some very special challenges and advantages that make them ideal locations to offer school wellness programs. Just like any other worksite, schools need help controlling employee health care costs and keeping employees healthy.

School employees represent an extremely diverse workforce with both ethnic and geographic diversity. You can find educators and school staff in every corner and county of the United States. Some school districts are relatively small with fewer than 50 employees while others can have tens of thousands of employees and serve over 1 million students. New York City has a school district with over 1 million students.

School employees require medical care just like any other employees and schools have to control healthcare costs. For the most part, school employees use about the same amount of healthcare as other employees. School employees also have average health risks. In the chart below we can see that the prevalence of obesity among those who work in the education system is about average.

Fortunately, those who work in education have much lower obesity prevalence than public administrators or even healthcare workers.

Individuals who work in schools have average health risks and healthcare costs – this fact alone is an excellent reason to offer school wellness programs. But there are even better reasons why schools are some of the best places to offer employee and staff wellness programs.

Based on the published scientific research and over three decades of workplace wellness experience, I have compiled a list of reasons why school wellness programs are a very smart business strategy.

9 Reasons School Wellness Programs are a Smart School Strategy

1. Absenteeism Costs Schools More Than It Costs Other Worksites

Surveys show that one in four teachers misses 10 or more school days per year. Schools have some of the highest rates of absenteeism of any workplace. Absenteeism is a direct cost to every employer.

Absenteeism is a more important problem in schools because when an employee is absent, a replacement or substitute has to be hired in their stead. Someone has to drive the buses and someone has to teach the classes.

Unlike other worksites when an employee is absent either the workload gets shared by the remaining employees or the work goes undone. But, not so in schools. Schools have to pay both the salary of the absent employee and the salary of the substitute or replacement.

The cost of having an absent employee in schools is often double the cost of absenteeism experienced in other worksites. This problem with absenteeism represents an excellent reason to have a school wellness program.

Recent surveys show the various reasons why employees are absent from work. As you can see in the graph below personal illness is the biggest single cause of employees missing work. This is followed by family needs, personal needs, entitlement mentality, and stress, in that order.

When you look at all of these reasons for absenteeism ask yourself which ones could be directly impacted by a wellness program? Personal illness can be caused by diseases or conditions that are 100% preventable with a healthy lifestyle. The same is true for the diseases and conditions of family members. Wellness programs can also reduce stress and wellness programs can greatly improve employee morale.

If you have employees who really like their work and who feel valued as a contributing employee, they will be less likely to be absent. On the flipside, employees who don’t like their work or their boss will find a reason to be absent from work. A good school wellness program can greatly reduce the entitlement mentality and thus reduce the prevalence of absenteeism.

Employee wellness for school employees has the ability to improve employee health and this can have an impact on whether or not individuals are absent from work.

2. Schools Need to Watch Their Finances More Closely Than Other Worksites

Most schools are just like other municipalities in that all of their operating money comes from taxes. Only about 10% of schools are private, and even some of those schools are funded with public tax dollars. All public schools are revenue consuming not revenue generating.

They fill a special role in society and provide vital services. Unlike other worksites, they are not in the business of making money, they are in the business of educating and expanding minds. Because schools rely entirely on public funding they do not take financial risks.

Most schools are very conservative with their accounting and budgeting processes. Unlike worksites, schools don’t heavily invest in untested or high risk projects. Unlike worksites, schools rarely face bankruptcy

Funding for schools is hard to come by. Typically the public must vote to issue school bonds or they depend upon state legislatures for continued funding. Because schools rely so heavily upon public funding they are very careful with the funds they do receive.

Careful accounting and budgeting are needed to make sure there are no disruptions in service and that they complete their mission of educating people. Schools are particularly interested in getting a positive ROI on their wellness investment.  This also encourages them to only look at wellness vendors that offer a performance guarantee.

This is another reason why wellness programs in schools have such an advantage. Good school-based wellness programs can have a direct impact on employee related expenses such as lower rates of absenteeism, improved employee health and productivity, and lower medical costs.

3. School Employees Are Like Family

Even though a school district might have tens of thousands of employees, all school employees work at smaller, more manageable local schools and offices. In reality working for a school is very much like working for a small business. All of the employees know each other.

Wellness programs in small businesses have an advantage. They have greater participation and program engagement than larger companies.

Because schools are very much like small businesses, they are ideal locations for wellness programs. There is, however, a small disadvantage that is often seen in school-based wellness programs. Most schools and universities have two categories of employees faculty: professional employees and staff members. Participation in wellness programs varies between these two groups.

Typically staff is more likely to participate in a wellness program than faculty. Staff are more likely to engage in all of the programs and include their spouses or significant others.

Faculty and staff wellness programs work well because most of the employees work together on a daily basis. They are like family.

4. Schools Have Great Fitness and Healthy Eating Facilities

Traditional wellbeing programs are designed to help employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviours. If done correctly, school wellness programs can prevent chronic diseases. To do this school employees need regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and tobacco avoidance. These three healthy behaviours should be the core of most wellness programs.

Between 70 and 90% of all strokes, heart attacks, cancers, and type II diabetes are directly related to what we eat, whether or not we exercise, and whether or not we use tobacco. (see below)

It just so happens that schools already have access to a variety of facilities and tools needed to maintain a habit of regular physical activity and good nutrition. Every high school and junior high and many elementary schools have fitness facilities, gymnasiums, sport courts, outdoor and indoor tracks, exercise equipment, and weight training equipment. Even though these are used mostly by students, in most communities these facilities are also made available to school employees and sometimes the public.

Unlike most worksites, schools have ready-made fitness assets that can be used for employee wellness challenges, yoga classes, morning exercise classes, and holiday weight loss challenges.

Schools also have access to cafeterias and healthy options vending machines. Granted, it takes some work to get food services to prepare healthy meals, but in most cases it can be done. School employees often eat food from their schools.

Once the food service people are on board with your wellness program they will begin to offer many more healthy options. School wellness programs are outstanding places to create and support a health promoting environment.

If you work at a school that has a school employee wellness program, there should be lots of opportunities for physical activity and a healthy diet.

5. Schools Do Great Wellness Training and Communication

Schools are run by professional educators. These are people who make a living teaching concepts, ideas, and life skills. Students aren’t the only ones receiving an education at schools.

School well-being programs are really nothing more than educational programs geared towards health. An effective school wellness program can make wellness training and healthy living and integrated part of all the other communications that they do.

Schools with effective wellness programs almost always offer wellness related training as part of their mandatory school meetings. I have personally taken part in many mandatory school district trainings where the focus of the meeting was wellness.

This does take a commitment from district leadership, but if they’re serious about helping employees improve health and lowering employee related healthcare costs these meetings are scheduled.

Some schools will have a dedicated section of the district newsletter or online communications that focuses on current wellness topics and challenges. These are also great ways to communicate team-based competitions between different schools.

6. School-based Wellness Programs Have Great Leadership

School wellness programs for staff and faculty are successful when support for the program starts at the superintendent’s office. Every worksite has HR professionals, benefits committees, and its ministers.

But schools have even more support for wellness. Schools have physical education teachers, nutrition experts, nurses, health educators, and food service experts.

Today’s physical activity instructors are not just throwing out playground balls, they are receiving outstanding training on how to have a healthy lifestyle. Universities and colleges that train PE teachers have modified their curriculum to include wellness and lifestyle management.

They realise that physical education in schools is most effective when students form lifelong habits of fitness. The same physical education instructors should be part of every wellness committee and should be identified as school wellness champions.

When combined with the nutrition teachers, health teachers, and nurses, schools have a very strong wellness support staff.

These individuals should be part of a schools wellness committee. They have great ideas and experience on how to make a wellness program fun and effective. In short, schools have the leadership and content expertise they need to create and administer great school wellness programs.

7. Wellness Takes on a Life of Its Own in Schools

After a few months of participating in a school well-being program, school employees often start many of their own wellness activities. An effective school wellness program can create a sense of camaraderie between employees.

When combined with access to school fitness facilities and kitchens it’s almost natural for school wellness programs to start to see spontaneous wellness activities popping up at schools throughout the district.

Employees will participate in the wellness campaigns and challenges but will often want to do more. School employees have been known to organize healthy potluck lunches, before work and have to work exercise classes or walking clubs.

Some schools have special fitness classes like zumba or yoga specifically for other employees. In the summer months when school is out employees will often create hiking clubs. Obviously any employees at any worksite can put together their own health and fitness activities.

What makes schools so special is the access to fitness and nutrition facilities, close-knit working groups that are almost like family, and access to faculty and staff who are experts at exercise, fitness, unhealthy eating.

8. School Wellness Starts With Employees But Grows to Include Students and Communities

Once school employees begin to participate in school wellness programs, they start to desire to share their good health transformations with others, especially students and their communities. Students see school employees participating in wellness and start asking questions.

Teachers start to include more of the healthy living and healthy lifestyles information in their classes. Some schools have even started student-based wellness programs to complement the school wellness program that is offered to employees.

Instead of just including employees, individuals start to include others. Some schools support and promote local fun runs or races. These are shared with not just school employees but also students and members of the community. Some schools have started school-based farmers markets.

What starts as an effort within the school district to improve employee health and reduce healthcare costs transforms into a community effort to help both students and their families live healthier lives.

9. Published Research Proves That School Wellness Programs Can Work

Researchers have published a serious of research articles showing the impact of a school wellness program. There is more research published on this school wellness program at Boise school district than perhaps any other wellness program in existence.  When done right, these programs can improve health behaviours, reduce elevated health risks, dramatically control healthcare costs, and improve productivity.

After 12 and 24 months, dramatic improvements were seen in those employees who had previously reported low levels of baseline exercise, fruit and vegetable consumption, days of restful sleep, and high levels of tobacco and alcohol use.

In 2016 a school wellness program was awarded the C Everett Koop award as America’s most effective wellness program through WellSteps.

Article by Dr. Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps.


Find out more about the WellSteps Wellness Program for schools and universities.

No Cost Ways To Treat Depression Yourself

No Cost Ways To Treat Depression Yourself

Although therapy and anti-depressant medication are the most effective treatments for depression, home treatment is also important. There are many things you can do to help yourself during a depressive episode and to prevent future episodes. Remember there are not always therapists to help you in your area.

  • Make sure to get up out of bed and dress everyday– even if you are not doing anything. It may sound simple but it is at least a step in the right direction, as staying in bed all day will make you feel even worse.
  • Get adequate sleep. If you have problems sleeping:
    • Go to bed at the same time every night and, more importantly, get up at the same time every morning.
    • Keep your bedroom dark and free of noise
    • Don’t exercise after 5:00 pm.
    • Avoid caffeinated beverages after 5:00 pm (e.g. coffee, coke, redbull, etc.)
    • Avoid the use of nonprescription sleeping pills or alcohol, because they can make your sleep restless and may interact with your depression medications
  • Try to establish a routine that is easy to follow and not stressful. This will keep you engaged with reality, help you to cope and get through the days.
  • Make sure you eat a balanced diet. If you lack an appetite, eat small snacks rather than large meals.
  •  Avoid drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs or medications that have not been prescribed to you. They may interfere with your medications or make your depression worse.
  • Try to do the things you remember enjoying before the onset of your depression. Reading, listening to music, sewing, woodwork, painting, watching TV.
  • Even if you don’t feel motivated, try to participate in religious, social or other activities.
  • Get regular exercise, even walking around the block…
  • Keep a journal and write your feelings down. This is cathartic and will help put things into perspective.
  • Let your family and friends help you.
  • Surround yourself with positive influences, avoid negativity.
  • Try to share your feelings with someone. It is usually better than being alone and secretive.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself and take on a reasonable amount of responsibility even around the home like cooking or shopping, or ironing. .
  • Break large tasks into small ones and set priorities. Do what you can when you are able.Postpone major life decisions such as changing jobs, moving or getting married or divorced when you are depressed.

Read as much as you can about your illness, so you are fully aware of it, which can help you not let it take control of your life.  

  • Be patient and kind to yourself. Remember that depression is not your fault and is not something you can overcome with willpower alone. Treatment is necessary for depression, just like for any other illness.
  • Try to maintain a positive attitude – remember that feeling better takes time, and your mood will improve little by little. Try and focus on the positive aspects in your life and do not dwell on the negative aspects. If you are always thinking about the negative aspects in your life it will make you more depressed.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and don’t necessarily live for the moment, think of the future and of things you would like to accomplish- Tomorrow, “today” will be gone forever.
  • Always keep yourself occupied so as not to allow yourself to think about negative and upsetting things. Remove yourself from places and people that don’t bring out the best in you or make you feel good.
  • Start or join a support group and talk to people who have overcome depression to find out what they did to beat it. If there is no group in your area speak to your doctor, or friends about the two of you starting a group in your area, with help from SADAG.
  • Do volunteer work. Help others, go to an old age home, a hospital, a church, a school and see what help they need even if it is just once or twice a week. Remember you are an important part of your community.

Source: SADEG

When the Mind Causes Pain

When the Mind Causes Pain

Chronic pain is a serious public health concern.  Chronic pain affects more that 40 million Americans.  Anxiety disorders affect more than 17 million Americans, with an additional 19 million suffering from depressive illnesses.  The cost to the economy as a result of these disorders is billions of dollars each year.  The cost in human suffering is Immeasurable. 

Recent scientific studies clearly defined the relationship between physical pain and emotional pain.  Both the symptoms of physical pain and an individual’s mood must be evaluated when an individual seeks treatment and relief from aches and pains to the body.  The pain is real, but there is a mind body link and body and mind must work together harmoniously to obtain the best treatment result.  The body may experience pain, but often the pain can be emanating from emotional distress.  Often the body knows a person’s emotional state before they do and responds with aches, pains and other physical symptoms.

  • Among patients with depression, 80% (four out of five) first present to their doctors exclusively with physical symptoms.  The most common are: joint and back pain, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness and headaches.
  • Patients with painful physical symptoms are nearly three times as likely to experience high depressive symptoms.
  • In treated depressed patients, those with residual symptoms were three times more likely to relapse than those without.  Of the patients with residual symptoms, 90% had mild to moderate physical symptoms.

In a recent study conducted by Freedom From Fear, the impact of physical symptoms on work, social life and family life were explored.  Almost 90% believe that depression or anxiety could cause painful physical symptoms.  Among the findings are:

  • Nearly 40% of patients visiting primary care physicians have symptoms of depression.  Of these, 80% also experience pain.
  • 89% of the participants believe anxiety and depression can cause painful symptoms.
  • 40% of the participants said their physical symptoms disrupt their work moderately to extremely.
  • 50% of the participants, who were diagnosed with medical conditions, such as arthritis, migraines, diabetes and other medical conditions that have painful symptoms, reported that on days when they felt anxious or depressed their pain is more severe.
  • 60% of the participants with un-diagnosed medical conditions said that on days they feel anxious or depressed there is a moderate to severe change in their physical symptoms.
  • 43% of the patients said their physical symptoms disrupt their social lives moderately to extremely.
  • 47% of the participants said their physical symptoms disrupt their family life/home responsibilities moderately to extremely.

Source: The South African Depression and Anxiety Group:

Coronavirus: Laughter in a Crisis can Help You Cope

Coronavirus: Laughter in a Crisis can Help You Cope

Laughter can help in a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic – and people should not feel guilt about it, according to a university professor.

Psychologist Prof Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, says “finding the funny” is a “common way” of coping.

“Laughing in households while following government advice to stay at home is also good for you”, he said. “Don’t feel guilty, it’s a human thing and if it helps it’s OK,” he said.

Laughter is ‘Contagious’

For people staying at home to help curb the spread of Covid-19, watching a TV program, a film or reading a book that they find funny is good “partly because it distracts you and also because it puts you in a good mood”, he said.

“Laughter is contagious: you hear people laugh and you laugh as well.

“In your household, if you find something funny, sit and watch that or tell jokes to each other. They don’t even have to be particularly funny – they are all good for promoting mood.”

He also said joking about the current situation was acceptable, as people often do what comedians call “finding the funny” to deal with stressful events. “You may feel bad about that but as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else it’s a common way of coping,” he said. “There are studies which show that those who find the funny are psychologically and physically healthier.

“There are lots of jokes about our anxieties, such as getting old and our health. It’s not about being vindictive – it’s about getting through the day with a light touch.”

If you find it difficult to laugh at jokes, comedy or humour, then maybe your are experiencing stress in your life!

How CEO’s Can Support Employee Mental Health in a Crisis


Business leaders are justifiably focused on the here and now of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there’s a looming second-order mental health crisis that is only beginning to emerge as a result of global quarantines and a massive, sudden shift to working from home.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic:

  • 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated,
  • 67% of people report higher stress,
  • 57% are feeling greater anxiety,
  • 53% say they feel more emotionally exhausted, according to a global study of over 2,700 employees across more than 10 industries undertaken by Qualtrics and SAP during March and April 2020.

As humans we can handle change, but we do not do well with uncertainty. Given the enormous uncertainty everyone is facing —economically, personally, and professionally — these mental health statistics are as predictable as they are alarming. Using the data from the study and our own experience as CEOs, we have identified five steps every leader and manager should take to make an immediate impact:

1. Open the Door

Nearly 40% of people say their company has not even asked them how they’re doing since the pandemic began. That’s shocking. People in this group are 38% more likely to say their mental health has declined since the outbreak of the pandemic. How can we expect to help our people if we don’t even ask how they are doing? So step one is to simply ask, “Are you okay?”

I suspect that a desire to respect privacy is inhibiting these manager-employee conversations. But in our study, nearly three out five of people said they are comfortable with their manager proactively asking them about their mental health. Even more importantly, more than 40% of people said they want their manager to broach the subject. So open the door to a conversation by asking if people are okay, and then let them walk through that door in the way they are most comfortable, accepting that around 40 percent of employees will choose not to engage. That’s okay, too.

Our research shows that the mental health of your reports should not be outsourced to human resources. In fact, when people were asked to rank who they were willing to talk to about mental health concerns, (selecting from a list including their manager, peers, subordinates, HR, and company executives), people listed HR as the group they were least willing to talk to about mental health. Peers and managers were the two groups with whom people were most willing to address mental health.

2. Demonstrate Supportive Listening

For employees who do choose to talk about their mental health, managers need to practice supportive listening. Don’t try to solve everything all at once. Instead just listen, seek to genuinely understand, and ensure that people feel heard. And don’t be afraid to open up yourself. Reciprocation can be a powerful tool to build trust. Share how you personally are handling the new normal. Be vulnerable. According to our data, roughly 40% of people at every seniority level of a company have seen a decrease in mental health. That means that whether you’re the CEO, a mid-level manager, or a frontline employee, you are just as likely to be suffering. The sooner people realize they are not alone in this, the better we’ll be at supporting each other.

I think back to recent conversations I had with two members of our team. One is a single mother who is balancing home school for her two kids (one of whom is in French immersion), her job, and concern for an elderly parent who lives far away. The other is an employee who is single, lives alone, and talked about the crushing isolation he is feeling. My challenges are different, but we all have them. For all of us, this has been one of the weirdest and most emotional times of our lives. We all need to learn to demonstrate supportive listening and be appropriately vulnerable with each other, recognizing that while all of our situations are different, they are all difficult in their own way.

3. Be Consistent

Talking about mental health is not a one and done conversation. One way to help people deal with uncertainty is by providing consistency, especially in how and when you communicate. When it comes to the pandemic, more than 90% of people said they wanted at least weekly communication from their company; 29% said they prefer daily communication. When it comes to discussing mental health specifically, people say that far and away the most effective form of company communication is a phone call directly from one’s manager. Employees who say their manager is not good at communicating are 23% more likely to experience mental health declines. Regular, consistent communication from managers is essential to ensuring people feel supported.

4. Keep a Constant Pulse

It’s not just about helping our managers take care of their teams, we need to take care of our managers as well — and we need to do it while keeping a constant pulse on the company as a whole. To best do that at scale, companies should be sending a regular employee pulse survey to understand how each team, department, and the company as a whole are doing. This is not a moment to be reactive as a leader: You need to get ahead of trends and understand the sentiment of your workforce so you can take action quickly.

Our study found that nearly one in three employees say their team does not maintain informal contact while working from home. People who are lacking informal contact are 19% more likely to report a decline in mental health since the pandemic began. So much of this stems from the fact that with so many people quarantined in their own homes, we have lost the opportunity for water cooler conversations and impromptu run-ins that give us energy and spark new ideas and collaboration. We can’t replicate that exactly, but we have seen many of our teams hosting virtual happy hours to end the week or having a virtual lunch where people can just catch up, share stories, and maintain connection. By regularly running employee pulse surveys you can begin to spot problems early.

5. Communicate Available Resources

Lastly, make sure you are very clear about the mental health resources available to everyone at your company. Almost half of workers said their company has not proactively shared what mental health resources are available to them. To be sure, some people want and need to leverage those resources, but many more people just want to know that the resources are there. As we noted, people don’t do well with uncertainty. That’s why just knowing that resources are available goes a long way to ease anxiety and stress. People who said their company has proactively shared how to access mental health resources are 60% more likely to say that their company cares about their wellbeing.

The mental health crisis stemming from Covid-19 is serious and will be with us for some time to come. Let’s approach it with compassion, honesty, and openness. We will emerge from this as better leaders, better people, and better companies.

by  Ryan Smith