Webinar presenters Joe Dulla and Mandy Nice answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Human Performance Optimization: Caring for Your Team. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: How would you tie this into a peer support team as far as spearheading this? We have a health and wellness committee, but I see the intersection between mental health and peer support as well. I can repeat that if you need to. I know I kind of butchered the question.
Joe Dulla: The key is building upon something Mandy mentioned earlier in the presentation – sitting down with all the stakeholders and determining what that larger definition of wellness is or will continue to be or can evolve from, in that particular agency. The next step is then looking at how all the pieces fit together best for the agency. There is an inextricable link between the peer support part, mental health, and physical support parts of a program. Another critical area mentioned by one of our great friends, Coach John Hofman, is addressing physical pain. All other efforts are impacted until we take care of physical pain first. All wellness components are connected. Another effective strategy is to take a step back, get that 50,000-foot view, and say, “Okay, what are we specifically trying to accomplish with our wellness program and how do we want to structure all the different components to support each other to be as holistic as possible.”
Mandy Nice: Great tips, Joe. I’d like to add onto what you shared. First, for the person asking the question, kudos for setting up a peer support team. That’s a great accomplishment. It’s very important to include peer support team members when establishing and/or expanding a wellness program. In summary, I’d recommend including peer support team members as key stakeholders and as onsite wellness leaders.
First, peer support team members are your agency’s greatest internal key stakeholders because they are on the front lines. They see the challenges that officers and public safety personnel are facing. They also hear and interact with those who are really looking for help. Over time, they can also see which wellness needs are trending at the agency. Input from peer support team members can help you understand what type of wellness support employees need now and what type of support they need most. I’d thus recommend bringing peer support team members to the table with some of the other internal key stakeholders (like maybe HR or Command staff) so that they can all discuss the agency’s most prominent wellness needs, then explore ways to accommodate them by expanding the peer support program and wellness program.
Second, I’d recommend including peer support team members as onsite wellness leaders. As the agency builds a greater “toolbox” of holistic health and wellness resources to support staff, the agency will become stronger and stronger. Designating peer support team members as the onsite leaders who can offer those holistic health and wellness resources will help de-stigmatize the act of going to a peer support member for help. For example, if agency members start going to peer support not just for mental health counseling, but also for other holistic health and wellness resources like physical fitness, nutrition, etc., it can normalize the act of going to peer support team members for all wellness resources. Of course, if someone is really hurting and in a dangerous spot, maybe even having suicidal thoughts, they too can go to peer support without fear or trepidation.
Overall, involving peer support team members in these ways can help create a great culture of wellness at your agency.
Audience Question: Once these programs have been implemented, do you recommend that participation becomes mandatory?
Mandy Nice: Not necessarily. In public safety, there are a lot of legal challenges that can arise from mandating any type of wellness program. Also, many of the most well-received wellness programs to date have been those that were designed to provide positive encouragement and support for employees, not necessarily those that were mandated and had harsh consequences.
Implementing a voluntary wellness program can be a great way to show employees that they are cared for as the agency’s most valuable resource. Wellness can be very unifying in that it shows everyone in the agency that when the agency says, “We got your six,” they mean it. For example, “We got your six” by protecting and supporting your health, wellness, and energy, all of which heavily impact your overall quality of life.
Overall, when agencies focus building voluntary wellness programs that support employee quality of life and correspond with what employees really need and want, agencies shouldn’t need to make participation mandatory. For example, if employees have back pain and there’s a high-quality, occupation-specific, trusted back pain reduction program, employees will use it. If they have anxiety and depression and you provide corresponding, easily-accessible, culturally competent counselors, psychologists, and resources (and destigmatize seeking help), they’ll use those resources.
Joe Dulla: It also goes back to the point we talked about earlier, about being very, very mindful about conducting an agency wellness survey. We found that agencies that conduct a deliberate and mindful survey also discovered things that were not on their initial radar. Some areas that surfaced were additional items that the employees reported they really needed. In another case, a survey revealed agency focus on a particular wellness effort that only a smaller percentage of the employees really wanted, and a larger percentage of the employees really wanted or needed something different. Agencies that are more successful with their wellness efforts, conduct an assessment at the beginning, then yearly, if not more often with follow-up assessments to assess the results of efforts. This also helps mitigate potentially limited program outcomes, stale content, or something that is not adapting or evolving with the operating environment that adapts and evolves. Another recent finding in public safety and law enforcement wellness programs revolves around the need to enhance efforts at musculoskeletal injuries. For example, more officers/employees might want the addition of sports massage, physical therapy, or other recovery options where agencies can secure outside contracts for services. Or some may prefer greater mindfulness training, as opposed to, maybe a nutritional intervention. As each agency has a unique operating environment, it is a matter of figuring out what the officers/employees of agencies really want, what they need, and then, where and how do all efforts align with the organizational perspectives? Informal small surveys can serve as an initial gap analysis followed by regularly checking in to see how efforts are impacting key metrics. For example, how are efforts impacting lost duty days? How are agency efforts capturing overall mental health optimization, potential precursors of depression and mitigation efforts? Are people reporting a high level of morale in an organization? How do we know that? How do we know that the wellness program is actually meeting the needs of as many people in an organization as possible? An answer is an organizational assessment. There are many effective approaches. It can be done on paper and pencil. It can be done anonymously. Some agencies elect to partner with a third party and perform the survey anonymously and electronically. The keys to any wellness effort include involving key stakeholders, critically and specifically assessing what is really needed, coordinating efforts, and evaluating program results. The IACP Agency Wellness Roadmap can assist with this process. Establishing a wellness committee with as much representation from all agency ranks and disciplines can also guide and boost organizational efforts.
Mandy Nice: One more small note that I’d add to that is that if you’re really eager to help build a culture of wellness at your agency, you can usually do so by embedding wellness training and healthy habits into the agency instead of implementing mandatory/punitive wellness standards. For example, you can integrate wellness training into in-service training. You can embed wellness support announcements into shift briefings and routinely spotlight/promote various wellness program resources/services each week. We’re currently developing more resources to help you do that with videos, etc. but all in all, it’s easier to create a culture of wellness when you embed it into the employees’ natural daily routine instead of implementing mandatory wellness standards or requirements.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Human Performance Optimization: Caring for Your Team.