The Principal’s office at Humber college Lakeshore launched a wellness initiative exclusively for all Humber employees September 2020. The series was hosted once a month throughout the academic year, with the intention of promoting virtual safe spaces for Humber employees to focus on various aspects of health and wellness during a time of isolation (Covid-19) Virtual wellness sessions from January 2021 to March 2021 were examined in the research to explore if the Wellness sessions had a positive impact on the program participants and if further changes needed to be implemented in order to help improve the virtual wellness initiative.
Sessions with hands-on activities were very successful, and gave participants a positive mental break from work related stress and an opportunity to reconnect with peers during a time of isolation. Over 80% of the participants consistently reported an improved mood after each virtual session.
The Covid-19 pandemic began as a physical health emergency, but has now rapidly evolved into a concurrent mental health emergency, referred to recently as the “Echo Pandemic” (Eaton, 2020). Academic institutions from all over the world have been unsure about when the pandemic will end and how it may affect their employees mental health. Most academic institutions in Canada have moved their school’s courses, services, events, and wellness initiatives online. Many employees are currently working remotely for the first time, isolated from co-workers, and friends. It is therefore crucial under these unprecedented times to encourage and facilitate efficient mental health initiatives for employees. The Principal’s office at Humber college Lakeshore introduced a new virtual initiative called “Wellness Wednesday Staff” series, exclusively for Humber college employees with an aim of promoting virtual safe spaces for individuals to focus on various aspects of health and wellness. The Wellness Wednesday Staff series runs once a month with various sessions that include embroidery, nutrition, virtual paint and art therapy to name a few. The Wellness Wednesday series initiative was a different wellness experience for many of the participants as this was one of the first virtual wellness series that had started in Fall 2020. There is merit in evaluating engagement and impact to see if the current online Wellness Wednesday series is having a positive impact on the program's participants, in light of Covid-19. The goal is to examine the feedback from the sessions, evaluate the data and give suggestions in order to make the Wellness Wednesdays Staff series more successful for the programs participants during Covid-19. Previous studies have shown that a good workplace wellness initiative can result in notably greater rates of positive self-reported health behaviors (Song & Baicker, 2019). Therefore a comprehensive study should be conducted on the effectiveness of virtual employee wellness programs for Humber employees, with recommendation as to how to improve its offerings.
The researcher used surveys as the data collection method. The format of the survey consisted of an information page, recruitment paragraph, consent form and survey questions. In which the researcher in collaboration with the Principal’s office created to be sent out after each session. Each survey took between 6-15 minutes to complete. The Principal office had an email registration requirement for participants who planned to attend the Humber Wellness Wednesday sessions, and sent out the information, recruitment, consent and survey forms via email to all wellness wednesday p articipants who had registered for the sessions. Furthermore, based on the “simple random sampling” method (Thomas, 2020) the researcher used a basic sampling technique where all participants who plan to attend the wellness sessions were sent online forms through email. The participants were then recruited randomly based on their consent to participate in the research. The sample for this research was from the larger group of Humber employees who attended the Wellness Wednesday Staff series. The surveys were strictly anonymous, so no responses could be traced back to any of the participants. Furthermore, the research was based on qualitative research, in which the survey consisted of open ended questions. Qualitative research that uses open-ended questions allows the researcher to look at the data from a more comprehensive viewpoint (Allen, 2017). Open-ended questions allows participants to give more of their opinions, providing data that is more diverse which would be difficult with a closed-question or forced-choice survey method (Allen, 2017). Furthermore the researcher set up meetings with the Principals’ office, to check in and go through the first survey process, and also listened to input to ensure that the researcher was conducting collaborative community based research with it’s partner agency (Israel et al.,1998). Moreover, the research analyzing method was conducted by using a mix of two types of methods to analyze the qualitative data. Color coding and hierarchical coding methods (Richards & Richards, 1995). Color coding was first used to identify various different ideas, opinions, feelings, and topics for each session and the hierarchical coding helped structure the data. The combination of these two research analyzing methods was quite efficient for the researcher to identify consistent patterns and themes from the data collection. Moreover, the combination of these two methods also helped the researcher identify the deeper meaning from the wellness sessions that were derived from the participants current p osition, experience, emotions and state of mind.
Overall the research suggests that wellness sessions that required hands on activity were very effective, since the Covid-19 restrictions have limited the opportunity for daily physical activity among Humber employees. Although minor changes/improvements need to be implemented (such as longer sessions, and improved visuals) Over 80% of participants consistently reported an improved mood and energy level after each wellness session. Participants learned how to become active at home in various ways by making a healthy salad, learning different embroidery techniques and discovering painting (art) as therapy. These hands-on sessions provided participants a healthy break from work related stress and an opportunity to reconnect with peers during a time of isolation. The data further revealed that the use of community-based approaches (working with the community) through collaborative virtual delivery, gave participants the opportunity to experience fun hands-on activities while practicing social distancing.
The research indicates that the current Covid-19 social distancing and regulations, may have put new barriers for some employees to engage in physical activity compared to pre pandemic times (Faulker et al., 2020). It is therefore crucial to structure wellness sessions that focus on various forms of hands on activity among participants during Covid-19. The virtual wellness series initiated by the Principal's Office implemented hands-on activities in their sessions, which suggested consistent improvement in mood and energy level of over 80% of the participants. The findings from this research correlate with previous study that show physical activity can reduce the risk of depression, and can improve an overall feeling of wellbeing (Sharma et al., 2006). Moreover, the data from the research suggested that the use of wellness initative through virtual delivery, provides a creative form of physical activity and communication for much needed social connection during a time of isolation. Previous studies show that any form of physical or hands on activity with colleagues plays a great role for staff wellness and mental health and should therefore be implemented in wellness initiatives for employees (Arena et al., 2017). In conclusion, the data from the research confirms that the collaborative hands on activities from the virtual wellness sessions has had a great positive impact on the participants. It is therefore strongly recommended that the virtual wellness wednesday series initiated by the Principal's Office at Humber Lakeshore college, continue to develop and implement collaborative hands on activities in their wellness sessions in order to improve staff wellness during Covid-19. Lastly, the research suggested that there were some participants from the same departments/faculty who attended the wellness sessions regularly while there were other participants from departments/faculty who attended once or not at all. The research did not reveal why participants from some departments/faculty attended the Wellness Wednesday sessions more regularly than others. Therefore it is reccommended to conduct future research in various departments/faculty at Humber college to examine what type of wellness activities would interest each department/faculty. This could help construct future sessions that would attract more participants from various departments/faculty.
Professor Christine McKenzie. Kavelle Maharaj and Sara Jouppi from the Principal's Office and the research participants from the Wellness Wednesday series at Humber College Lakeshore.
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