Drexel University Prioritizes Authenticity and Approachability to Engage Faculty, Staff and Students in Wellness Activities
With approximately 24,000 students, Drexel University is one of America’s 15 largest private universities. Drexel serves three distinct populations: students, faculty, and professional staff. In some cases, a lack of integration among these groups can make wellness a little harder to deliver. “Although our program is mostly geared toward employees, we try to bring all our populations together whenever possible,” said Monica Fauble, wellness consultant for Drexel. “A few examples are our walking club and meditation groups, which are open to students, faculty, and staff.”
Despite these opportunities for coming together, at the end of the day, each population is entirely unique. Staff work year-round on a set schedule, while faculty members have varying schedules with many on nine-month appointments and differing times on campus. “This affects how we plan and how we present events,” Fauble said. “We are very thoughtful about how we avoid contributing to a culture of silos while making sure we are meeting the needs of each population.”
Being a part of a university creates certain advantages for wellness as well. “A great advantage we have as a research institution is that we can pull from internal experts on a wide range of topics,” Fauble said. “We recently had a graduate student who helped us address the science and stigma of depression and create a great learning opportunity for our employees. Also, one of our professors just published a cookbook on anti-inflammatory eating, so we also collaborated with him to bring his expertise to our population.”
Drexel was already focused on emotional well-being, but the university dialed up support during the pandemic after seeing a dramatic increase in mental health claims for therapy services. “When we saw the increased demand for mental health support, we doubled down on making sure our employees knew help was available and how to access it,” Fauble said. “We also wanted to make sure we were fully supporting acute mental health stressors as well as more chronic issues such as substance abuse, anxiety and depression. Many of the issues that popped up during the pandemic, such as suddenly having no childcare, were unprecedented. There were no experts in how to telework with young children at home because that issue was relatively new. We started support groups for employees who were working from home with young children to help them navigate some of the life challenges that were coming at them because of the pandemic. The key was giving our people a space where they could engage with their biggest challenges.”
Another key addition during the pandemic was the Ten at 10 Program. “Ten at 10 was an initiative we created to encourage employees to participate daily in self-care,” said Fauble. “Every morning at 10 a.m. we collectively take a break as a university and engage in wellness-minded activities.’ Here is a rundown of the Ten at 10 schedule. Mondays are reserved for mindfulness. Tuesdays, employees are encouraged to get outside and experience nature. Wednesdays are for virtual chats, gathering around the proverbial watercooler. Thursdays are for giving thanks, and Fridays are a self-directed “free for all”. Employees are encouraged to choose an activity that suits their unique needs.
Drexel has also transitioned to more remote events and will continue to stay virtual with a majority of programming for the foreseeable future. This includes a Microsoft Teams channel for wellness where employees can post recipes, ask questions and engage on their own time and their own terms. “We’ve really been rethinking what connection and engagement mean,” Fauble said. While Drexel has made many adjustments for the pandemic, it also has stayed true to long-standing wellness traditions. For the past eight years, the university has hosted an employee Olympics, both for competitive and non-competitive events, which include basketball, walking, table tennis, and dodgeball. Festivities for this year’s winter Olympics include hot chocolate and a cozy fire with marshmallow roasting. It’s a time when employees can cheer each other on and connect.
Fauble believes that making a wellness program authentic is one of the most important steps an organization can take. “It’s not about what you care about as a wellness coordinator; it’s what your employees care about and meeting them where they are,” she said. “You have to make sure you are listening, that you are receiving feedback about what is going well and what can be better. If you allow for active participation from your population and make your program true to your organization, good things will happen.” As a proof point, when a group of IT employees approached Fauble about taking over a walking club they started, she helped expand it to a university-wide initiative. The 30-minute, self-paced
stroll across campus to the Schuylkill River is currently a thriving part of the wellness program. And it all started organically within the organization.
A key strategy for wellness at Drexel is to keep it approachable. That is accomplished by making wellness simple and more accessible/comfortable. “We had someone recently who offered to do a workshop on making spaghetti squash, but that’s a fairly advanced cooking technique,” Fauble said. “In general, people need help that is more basic in nature, especially when it comes to nutrition. So, instead, let’s think about five ways to cook zucchini. It’s important to not overcomplicate your wellness messaging.’ As for accessibility, there’s no better way to accomplish that than to make it fun. “We found a dance instructor who led Afro-House dance workshops, and we offered this one-hour activity to our population,” Fauble said. “It was just a lot of fun. A really high-energy workout that actually really helps with preventing heart disease and diabetes, which are two of our more prevalent claims issues. Since it wasn’t just exercise, but something that was entertaining and interesting and got people moving, it was so much more well-received. We offer activities like this to help bring in people who aren’t already oriented toward wellness. It’s an effective way to help them take the first step and then more deeply engage them in the program moving forward.”
For Fauble, Benchmark 5, Choosing Initiatives that Support the Whole Employee, is a natural strength for Drexel based on her own experience. “I don’t have an HR background,” Fauble said. “I have Master’s Degrees in both English and Acupuncture. I’m trained in holistic health. As a result, I naturally think about how to make what we’re doing here as holistic as possible. I think my background has been a benefit to our program in that way. People bring what’s happening at home to work. And they take work home with them. They need holistic solutions because that’s the way we’re wired.”
In order to ensure Drexel’s program was holistic in nature, Fauble said she relied heavily on WELCOA resources. “The WELCOA Institute was incredibly helpful in terms of how to approach our program and what benchmarks we needed to focus on,” Fauble said. “I also really value the awards process, because it helps you uncover blind spots within your program so you can truly evaluate what you’re doing and make it better.”
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