April 20, 2016–If you’re struggling to lose those five pounds gained during the winter break or you are stressed by the daily demands of teaching or driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, a new University of Houston initiative may offer the boost you need to meet your health and wellness goals.
UH’s Department of Human Resources (HR) has partnered with Student Affairs – Health and Wellness, and the Department of Health and Human Performance to launch POWER UP, a comprehensive wellness program for faculty and staff that may bring resources such as Weight Watchers to campus. The program will focus primarily on physical activity, nutrition, weight management and stress, but also will address such factors as financial and emotional wellness.
“Because the University recognizes that faculty and staff are its most valuable resource, the program is being designed to promote a culture where employees can enjoy healthy, productive and more satisfying lives,” said Joan Nelson, associate vice president for human resources.
According to Nelson, POWER UP will contribute significantly to the University’s standing as an employer of choice.
“Employee health is a key contributor to work behavior, work attendance and on-the-job performance,” Nelson added. “More and more, employers are recognizing the strong connection between a healthy, happy workforce and on-the-job success. Evidence shows that work environments that foster employee well-being can result in improved employee productivity, creativity, loyalty and happiness.”
UH’s wellness program will work to incrementally increase employee awareness of health issues, support programs and services, and promote healthier lifestyle choices, explained Courtney Stein, human resources wellness manager.
“The program embraces a holistic approach in which all dimensions of health will be considered and strategies to support well-being in each will evolve,” Stein said.
Stein, who has more than 20 years of experience in the field including managing wellness programs for Louisiana State University and New York University, was hired in November to create and implement a wellness program for faculty and staff based on recommendations from the UH Wellness Planning Committee.
Formed at the behest of UH President Renu Khator and appointed by Richard Walker, vice president of student affairs and enrollment services, the committee began researching the wellness initiative last year. The POWER UP program strives to provide employees with resources in five areas: health and wellness, dependent care, counseling/support, financial and legal resources, and community service opportunities, Stein said.
Stein hasn’t wasted any time in implementing POWER UP. In March, the first monthly POWER UP electronic newsletter was distributed to all faculty and staff. He also is gauging interest in bringing several different resources to campus, including Weight Watchers and Farm to Work, a program which delivers baskets of farm-fresh, local produce to worksites weekly.
“Farm to Work is a very popular program,” Stein said. “It appeals to everyone. It’s a win-win for everybody. It supports healthy eating, local farmers and sustainability.”
Both ideas have been met with enthusiasm by the campus community, Stein said. More than 800 faculty and staff members indicated interest in participating in the Farm to Work program in the first few days of a recent HR poll, Stein noted.
Although Stein cautioned it may take some time to bring these programs to campus, he and the committee are moving forward. They are considering a range of other ideas from installing mile-marked walking routes on campus to sponsoring a summer indoor walking series to hosting bi-weekly lunch-and-learn wellness seminars.
Stein and the other committee members are not the only ones excited about UH’s new wellness initiative. Staff Council President Elsie Myers said she welcomes the program.
“I think the HR wellness program is a very positive move in the right direction for UH,” Myers said. “For years, Staff Council has proposed a fitness release time policy, which would allow staff members to take time off at work for fitness initiatives, and now it seems that this may be coming forward soon. These wellness initiatives are what staff members want to see on campus.”
By Francine Parker