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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 3, Nov./Dec. 2006

On being well
Workplace wellness

by Julia Johnson

The National Quality Institute, an independent, not-for-profit organization, is the leading authority in Canada on workplace excellence and healthy workplace criteria. To promote workplace health they set aside October 23 to 29 as Healthy Workplace Week. During this time, Canadian organizations are encouraged to participate in wellness strategies designed to increase awareness of the importance of healthy workplaces and the relationship a healthy workplace has to the long-term success of an organization. Recent surveys in the United Kingdom indicate that stress is the number one workplace health issue and 60% of our waking hours are at work.

The October 14 edition of The Vancouver Sun featured an article on Canada’s top 100 employers for 2007 as determined by Mediacorp Canada Inc. For seven years this organization has produced a reference guide for job seekers listing the best practices of businesses because the increased number of retired baby boomers has created a highly competitive job market. As a result, employers are struggling to find ways to attract and keep skilled employees. In determining which companies across Canada would make the Top 100 list, Mediacorp reviewed seven key areas: (1) physical workplace, (2) social atmosphere, (3) health, financial, and family benefits, (4) vacation and time off, (5) employee communications, (6) performance and management, and (7) training, skills, and development.

These evaluative categories illustrate a paradigm shift in the way employees are presently choosing their employers. No longer is an attractive salary the driver of employment. People are striving to achieve a balance between their work and other aspects of their life in response to their increased stress levels. High on the list of benefits being sought is improvement of working conditions that permit flexible work hours, on-site daycare, tuition subsidies for upgrading, and paid leave for professional development. Employers attempting to be attractive, sweeten the pot with programs that address the personal well being of their employees. Some of these incentives include subsidized fitness activities, in-house health education courses, and financial and consultative support for family issues. New to the benefit package is the more innovative idea of some companies to demonstrate their philanthropy and community involvement by providing paid time-off for employees to volunteer. It would appear that the world of business, in its efforts to attract highly skilled and creative employees is responding to the work-life balance issue that confronts many of us today.

For those of us in teaching, this issue is of paramount concern because the daily professional demands made on teachers have many layers that create stress in our lives. The layer that is up close and personal is how teachers respond to the emotional baggage that each student carries into school. Within each classroom there are students who have experienced troubled home lives because of divorce, neglect, poverty, drugs and alcohol, abuse that is emotional, sexual, or physical, or environments that are violent. In addition, teachers must attend to the needs of the students in class who have special requirements, who have learning disabilities, and whose first language is not English. In preparing to teach this diverse group a layer of stress is added by the expectation to embrace research on such topics as: student learning disabilities, multiple intelligences, learning styles, student strengths, student life experiences, and brain research. When the curriculum layer is considered, additional stress is experienced if resources are lacking, or if curriculum is new and training is inadequate. Stress and frustration are close companions when working with each of these layers in the context of time because each situation requires time for consulting, meeting, reflecting, and planning, and there are insufficient hours in a work day to perform all of these tasks with care. And when a work day is finished and one returns to the safety of home, waiting are the additional responsibilities that come with the many roles of wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, friend, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandparent, and caregiver of children, parents, and grandparents.

A teacher’s life is an integral part of each life that makes a school community. To acknowledge this is to accept the precept that our personal wellness has an effect on all of those around us and we have a responsibility to ensure that our workplace supports a vision of work-life balance.

Julia Johnson, a retired learning resource teacher in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate and a member of the Teacher Newsmagazine Advisory Board. livingjewels@shaw.ca.

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