In the decade that Educational Service Unit 6 has received the Governor's Wellness Award, it's the little lifestyle changes that have stood out the most -- increased walks, reusable water bottles, even more frequent trips to the optometrist and dentist.
ESU 6 implemented the wellness challenge when the rest of the Educators Alliance Wellness Program did over a decade ago. The challenge is a pre-arranged set of statistics that groups have to surpass in order to be considered for the Governor's Wellness Award. Through that friendly competition, some members of ESU 6 enjoyed the benefits from those healthy habits and implemented them into their everyday routine.
That's partly why, according to ESU 6 Director of Human Resources Nichole Hall, ESU 6 has earned yet another Governor's Wellness Award.
“You focus on participation rates and the numbers sometimes measure success but also measure success by the culture changes within the organization,” she said. “Healthier foods, focusing on more water – we have big water bottles sitting on our desks – and you talk about getting steps in. We do have lots that try and we encourage that.”
The Governor's Wellness Award is broken down into three categories. The Sower Award, recognizes workplaces that have established quality wellness programs, The Grower Award, honors businesses and organizations demonstrating significant improvement in employee health behaviors, and The Harvester Award, which was added in 2019, recognizes businesses that are experiencing documented value and return on investment. ESU 6 won the Grower Award.
It was the third time ESU 6 earned the award, which lasts for three years. After each three years the recipient must re-apply to be considered for the award again.
“Basically, they make us talk about our wellness program and statistics we can share,” Hall said.
Diet and water aren't the only factors. Hall said they've also done wellness screenings through preventative clinics in Milford and Geneva where people can get blood work done. There's also Elevate Challenges through the Educators Health Alliance where they can receive a $5,000 wellness grant if over half of the staff participates. ESU 6 has received that grant five years in a row. There's also personal health assessments involved, which ESU 6 had a 78% completion rate on.
“We all get busy in a day,” Hall said. “It's been great for our workforce. Then with COVID and the pandemic, people are healthy, they should get fewer symptoms and get healthier quickly.”
Another aspect of the challenge that the pandemic has cast light on is the mental aspect of health. Through partnerships, members of ESU 6 receive a free subscription to the Headspace app, a mindfulness and meditation application. They've also participated in stress and anxiety-management webinars.
“With mental health we're seeing a lot more with everyone in our lives, just how stressful people are,” Hall said. “Maybe working from home has been a challenge or maybe they're not having that connection.
“We're focusing on taking care of each other and reaching out. Try to give everyone a little grace. It's a fun and positive thing.”
Through those changes, Hall was able to speak at Gov. Pete Ricketts' press conference in September to accept their Wellness Award. She can do it again in three years when ESU 6 is eligible again.