Pictured: Daniel Hatcher, senior director of strategic partnerships at Alliance for a Healthier Generation, presents the Hot Topic: Supporting Staff Well-Being session to attendees at the 2023 NRPA Annual Conference in Dallas.
It is no secret that our nation’s mental health crisis has grown rapidly over the last several years. Park and recreation professionals are not exempt from this issue. Mental health affects each of us. It affects our families, friends, neighbors, coworkers and our future workforce.
So, how can park and recreation agencies better prioritize the mental health and well-being of themselves and their colleagues? How do we catalyze a workplace culture shift that centers staff well-being and normalizes mental health in the workplace?
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2023 Work in America Survey, workers want to work for an organization that values their psychological well-being, provides support for mental health and respects work-life boundaries. This aligns with The Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. The Framework calls upon workplaces to center staff well-being efforts on worker voice and equity and focus on Five Workplace Essentials to leverage their role as “engines of well-being.” The Five Essentials include:
- Protection from Harm: Create the conditions for physical and psychological safety and job security.
- Connection & Community: Foster positive social interactions and relationships in the workplace to promote social support and belonging.
- Work-Life Harmony: Ensure that workers can balance work and non-work demands. Allow for flexibility and autonomy over work.
- Mattering at Work: People want to know they matter and their work matters. Make sure that workers have a sense of purpose and meaning and have dignity in their work.
- Opportunity for Growth: Promote pathways for growth. Workers want the ability to learn new skills and knowledge, have leadership opportunities, and contribute to an organization’s mission.
Last week at the 2023 NRPA Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas, we explored this topic further. More than 200 attendees joined our Hot Topic: Supporting Staff Well-Being session to discuss well-being in the workplace, the importance of self-care and mindfulness, and work alongside their peers to identify actionable strategies to advance the five workplace essentials and promote staff well-being holistically. Using NRPA’s seven dimensions of well-being as a guide, park and recreation professionals brainstormed dozens of creative ideas to support staff well-being.
Supporting Cultural Well-Being in the Workplace
- Practice active listening, relationship building and transparent communication
- Host DEI workshops and staff training
- Ensure different voices are at the table
- Encourage new ideas and diversity of thought
- Ensure the ability of staff to innovate
- Provide culturally relevant food during staff meetings
- Host cultural cooking classes
- Ensure staff can take and participate in cultural programs and activities offered through the agency
- Provide tickets to cultural arts events and celebrations
- Assess internal language and references to ensure cultural relevancy and humility
- Celebrate life events and holidays
- Host culturally themed staff meetings led by staff from different cultures
Supporting Economic Well-Being in the Workplace
- Provide discounted/free access to agency programs
- Conduct an equity-based salary analysis
- Assess hiring practices
- Provide financial literacy resources and services through employee benefit programs
- Ensure fairness in career growth
- Provide professional development opportunities for all employees
- Establish an internal mentoring program for staff
Supporting Emotional Well-Being in the Workplace
- Adopt mental health days as an employee benefit (1x quarter)
- Allow for flexible schedules, when possible, to ensure work-life balance
- Engage with employees beyond work – check in on them, ask them how their weekend was, how their family is, etc.
- Show grace for colleagues and employees
- Promote a greater awareness of mental health in the workplace
- Support staff in the wake of traumatic events/have a plan in place for how to respond to traumatic events that may impact staff
- Create a calm workplace
- Provide staff training and resources on mental health first aid, suicide prevention and identifying signs and symptoms of mental health conditions
Supporting Environmental Well-Being in the Workplace
- Promote the benefits of spending time outside and encourage staff to spend time outdoors
- Encourage staff and reduce barriers for staff to participate in nature-based programs offered to the community
- Schedule staff meetings for 45 minutes vs. an hour and spend the last 15 minutes outdoors
- Schedule staff meetings outside or at a local park or nature trail
- Provide outdoor space for employees to work outside in nature
- Encourage walking meetings
- Host employee volunteer opportunities in nature
- Provide an annual staff “yay-day” where staff can participate in an outdoor recreation opportunity
- Acknowledge the impacts of climate change on mental health
Supporting Intellectual Well-Being in the Workplace
- Offer staff opportunities to learn new skills and gain knowledge
- Ensure professional development funds are available for all staff
- Cross-train with staff - encourage staff to share skills and knowledge with others via staff meetings, TED talks, etc.
- Offer training on soft skills (people and social-emotional skills) in addition to tactical workplace skills
- Expose staff to different jobs, roles and responsibilities to explore different career pathways
Supporting Physical Well-Being in the Workplace
- Encourage staff to participate in department fitness and exercise offerings
- Encourage walking meetings
- Provide reimbursement for fitness activities
- Ensure meetings and celebrations have healthy food options
- Provide discounts or reimbursements for walking/standing desks
- Ensure staff have the safety supplies they need
- Promote shorter meetings to allow for staff to take a physical activity break in between them
- Host health fairs or on-site health screenings/vaccinations
- Provide incentives for physical activity (walking contest, etc.)
Supporting Social Well-Being in the Workplace
- Provide staff training on team-building and promoting a culture of belonging
- Host staff social activities
- Provide volunteer time off or team-based volunteer projects
- Assess the current sense of belonging and inclusion across the agency and ensure that all staff have opportunities to socialize
- Create inclusive and welcoming spaces
- Establish an onboarding program that provides new staff with social connections
In addition to using the seven dimensions to guide staff well-being efforts, we shared several activities and resources that professionals can use to focus internally:
- Healthy at Home Text Messaging Service
- I Love Worksheet from Young Storyteller’s Story Time Tool-Kit
- Mindfulness Tools with the US Surgeon General
- Mix and Mingle & Identity Map
- Virtual Me Moments Hub
As you develop your staff well-being initiatives and work to prioritize a focus on mental health in the workplace, we encourage you to explore the data, reflect on these creative ideas and approaches, and engage with the resources and activities above. If you maintain a focus on the Surgeon General’s Five Workplace Essentials and keep worker voice and equity at the forefront, you’ll be taking positive steps toward a thriving workplace and a thriving workforce.
We’d love to hear from you about how your agency is advancing staff well-being! Get in touch with us or share your ideas in the comments below!
Daniel Hatcher (he/him) is the senior director of strategic partnerships at Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
Allison Colman (she/her) is the senior director of programs at NRPA.