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 universitys 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.
When employees seek out wellness advice, its 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 employees and your own internal stigmas," she explained. "In so doing, you and the employee become advocates for the same cause."
Its 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."
Part of a workplace wellness providers 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 youre flexible and available when youre 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."
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. "Youre helping give control back to them while helping them be open to challenges."
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, youll 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.