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Professionals

Workplace Wellness Providers: Make The Connection

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An alliance between workplace wellness providers and members of the employee population can be the foundation of self-improvement, according to a mental health expert at the University of Kansas.

"Making human connections develops and fosters encouragement," said Priscilla Ridgway, program coordinator of the university’s School of Social Welfare.

"This is one of the most important services of a wellness provider in any capacity," she continued. "It tells the employee that he or she is worthwhile and that happiness and fulfillment are attainable."

Ridgway was a keynote speaker at Wellness: New Possibilities and Challenges, a conference sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Listen Well

When employees seek out wellness advice, it’s the job of the wellness specialist to "listen well and be fully present," Ridgway said.

"See the whole person, not just the problem," she advised. "Offer your support and encourage peer support. This is another valuable connection."

An assessment of an employee who is considering a healthy lifestyle change should include the end result, Ridgway added.

"Get the facts and then connect them to the concepts of improvement and recovery," she said. "People do recover and they can improve their lives, but this takes time. But the process begins when the wellness expert starts to overturn barriers and substitute encouragement instead. Now the employee can see things in a more positive light."

Support And Motivation

Workplace wellness concepts often involve dismantling stigmas, according to Ridgway.

"Sometimes you have to combat the employee’s and your own internal stigmas," she explained. "In so doing, you and the employee become advocates for the same cause."

It’s equally important to identify and support individual strengths, she added.

"Challenge the way [employees] approach a problem," said Ridgway. "Help employees reclaim and use their talents and their personal and group strengths and potential. Plant the seeds of positive expectancies and celebrate every positive step — even the tiny ones."

Perseverance

Part of a workplace wellness provider’s job is to help employees realize that setbacks are a part of the process and should be regarded as learning experiences, according to Ridgway.

"Wellness and self-improvement is a journey. It can be a real roller coaster ride," she said. "If you’re flexible and available when you’re needed, you are encouraging perseverance. And the employee can realize the value of hanging in there."

But uncertainty also is part of the process, she noted.

"You have to teach them to tolerate uncertainty about the future," Ridgway said. "This helps them persevere and avoid false optimism."

Find Meaning

Helping employees find ways to "give back" to others enhances the reasons for achieving a lifestyle enriched by wellness concepts, according to Ridgway.

"Help them develop a positive structure for their lives," she explained. "Help find sources of personal meaning and assist with the definition of meaningful goals."

Supporting dreams and aspirations also offers an anchor that is linked to future goals, she added.

"You can help [employees] make positive, though sometimes small, steps toward change," Ridgway said. "You’re helping give control back to them while helping them be open to challenges."

Empowerment

Incorporating the concept of self-management will empower anyone seeking behavioral change, Ridgway noted.

"Provide access to their improvement needs — diet, nutrition, stress management, whatever — and facilitate those services," she stressed. "Teach self-management of symptoms as a way of moving people forward and building a resource base. This is a recipe for hope and empowerment. In the end, you’ll deliver the goods."

Address: Priscilla Ridgway, University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare, 1545 Lilac Lane, Lawrence, KS 66044; (785) 864-2700, www.ku.edu.


© 2004 Health Resources Publishing