During a pandemic that has taken a global toll on both physical and mental health, investment in human capital is essential now more than ever before. Through the employee wellness program, BeWell, the University of Central Arkansas invests in the physical and mental well-being of more than 1,500 faculty and staff members.
BeWell uses an evidence-based, multifaceted approach that seeks to reduce health risk factors and absenteeism, increase healthy behaviors and productivity and ultimately lower costs for the university’s self-funded health insurance plan.
Promoting a worksite culture of wellness at UCA that enables student learning and success and attracts and retains high-quality faculty and staff relies on innovative and adaptive programming to meet the diverse and ever-changing needs of the university’s workforce.
When the pandemic began, worksite wellness programs across the nation braced for drastic decreases in participation. Major concerns centered around deferred preventative health care and mental health stressors that could lead to illness, burnout and high-cost medical claims. BeWell was ready to face these challenges and immediately pivoted to virtual programming using Zoom. That helped curb feelings of isolation during remote operations and encouraged employees to prioritize both their physical and mental well-being. Offering convenient virtual programming reduced barriers to participation and led to a more than 340% increase in participation in wellness programming. Engagement has remained high throughout the pandemic.
COVID-19 also prompted new partnerships for providing employee wellness services. The first wave of COVID-19 in Arkansas coincided with annual health screenings, and many employees initially had concerns about visiting their medical providers for fear of exposure. BeWell established a new partnership with the UCA Student Health Clinic, bringing annual employee biometric screenings in-house which offered enhanced convenience and safety for faculty and staff and reduced costs for UCA’s health plan. The onsite screenings were extremely popular, with 64% of total screenings in 2020 taking place at the Student Health Clinic. Defying industry expectations, the 2020 BeWell year ended with a 3% increase in eligible employees participating in the screenings. The partnership between BeWell and the Student Health Clinic continues in 2021.
While the pandemic has complicated the challenge of building a healthy workplace culture, it has also created new opportunities for BeWell and campus leaders to drive awareness of mental health resources and initiate open and candid dialogue with UCA employees about how they are feeling.
BeWell has always taken a holistic approach to wellness, embracing the interconnectedness of physical and mental health and working to mitigate mental health stigma. Now more than ever, mental and emotional well-being is at the forefront of BeWell’s strategic priorities.
Targeted outreach efforts promote the university’s Employee Assistance Program, which offers short-term counseling and mental health support at no cost to benefits-eligible employees and their family members. Expanded mental health programming includes support and resource groups, guided mindfulness sessions and other opportunities.
Through employee wellness initiatives, BeWell also supports UCA’s mission to improve the wellness of all Arkansans by offering field-based experiential learning opportunities to students in the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. BeWell invites students to contribute to programming related to health promotion, health communication, fitness, nutrition, mental health, workplace ergonomics and interdisciplinary collaboration.
In fall 2020, BeWell and the Department of Nutrition and Family Sciences collaborated to design two new condition management programs: one to support employees diagnosed or at risk for type 2 diabetes and one for employees wanting to lose or better manage their weight. These programs are offered virtually via Zoom at no cost to employees and are led by dietetic interns and counseling psychology doctoral students with supervision by faculty and staff. As students experience a real-world interdisciplinary approach to worksite wellness, employees learn strategies for self-monitoring of diet and physical activity and build self-efficacy and social support to maintain lifestyle changes.
In fall 2021, these programs were expanded to include optional one-on-one nutrition coaching with dietetic interns and fitness coaching with exercise and sport science students. This provided additional opportunities for students to hone their professional skill sets and employees to receive individualized support to improve their well-being. More than 100 employees have participated in these programs in just three semesters.
The pandemic’s impact on well-being will be felt for years to come. BeWell is committed to providing faculty and staff the resources they need to successfully navigate these ongoing challenges so that they will thrive in the workplace, at home and beyond.
Moriah Bruner is wellness coordinator in UCA’s Office of Human Resources and Risk Management. She also serves on the Pandemic Planning and Response Team.