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Workplace Wellness as an Inclusion Strategy

Workplace Wellness and Inclusion

We spend at least one third of our lives at our workplace. Research has proven that social and emotional well-being at work is directly related to productivity and retention.

The best D&I initiatives always have ‘Wellness’ as one of their initiatives, but mental health and social, emotional well-being is one of the least discussed topics in D&I.

Before COVID-19, this topic was probably associated with a select few individuals or groups. With the dramatic change in the way we had to adapt to COVID-19 and a large number of people now working from home, this is a topic that is relatable to all individuals and even more important while working with individuals who are marginalized or who have a pre-existing mental health issue or disability.

Employers now have to make sure that each of their employees working remotely feel supported, understood, heard and belonged in the organization while potentially managing various stressors in their lives — parenting, home schooling, caring for a loved one, lack of income or anything else. 

Identify Trauma + Understand the Impact on Overall Wellness

Zachary Harper, director of training and development at Easterseals Iowa, provided information on identifying and understanding trauma and its effects.

Trauma is an emotional response, normally to a stressful or shocking event. It is commonly grouped with stress or anxiety but can cause lifelong negative effects. Trauma can be caused by a major event or little trauma that can accumulate. If prolonged, little trauma can have the same effect as a major trauma. Examples of little trauma are lack of stability, fear for safety, social exclusion/isolation and financial stress. Due to the pandemic, the health and well-being of everyone is at risk.

Two effects of trauma are immediate and delayed, and they can be physical, cognitive, behavioral or existential. Examples of immediate effects could be difficulty concentrating, lack of sleep, withdraw, argumentative behavior, etc.

Some of the ways the workplace could be affected by trauma are an increase in unrelated sickness, reduction in productivity, tension within previous well-working teams prior to COVID-19, loss of personal drive or professional development, disruption to decision making and creativity and difficulties with trust.

To prevent a national mental health crisis, employers will need to address trauma and help people develop healthy coping mechanisms to move forward in our workplaces.

Develop Tools for Supporting + Growing Resiliency for Your Team Members, Community

Sherri Nielsen, president/CEO at Easterseals Iowa, spoke to the importance of developing resiliency.

Before COVID-19, 66% of the general population had experienced trauma, 50-70% of disease was related to stress and 80% of people reported high levels of stress associated with their jobs. With the added stress from the pandemic, developing resiliency skills will be vital to living healthy.

Social distancing has been part of the response to the pandemic. Social distancing can turn into social isolation which causes more long-term health-related issues than any other vice. Isolation is not about being alone, but about not being included or connected.

Resiliency is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy and threats. Personal resiliency drives how we react and looks differently for everyone. Resiliency can be taught, but takes time to build, like a muscle, and we do so at different rates. The road to developing resiliency involves emotional distress, but with the right thoughts, behaviors and actions, everyone can develop resiliency.

Practices to build personal resiliency include having healthy relationships, eliminating rumination, practicing wellness, practicing mindfulness and identifying purpose.

Building organizational resiliency involves leadership playing a role, creating opportunities for employees to prosper when they experience success, providing access to cross-functional teams and input into decisions, having relationships and connections with team members (encouragement, support and mentoring), innovating in times of adversity and investing in our leaders and all levels of the workforce (teaching personal resiliency skills).

Wellness as a Workplace Strategy

Jessica Lemberg, benefits and wellness analyst at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, shared information about wellness in the workplace.

Focusing on mental well-being enhances morale, reduces feelings of stress, aids in pain management and creates better physical well-being. Long-term impacts of COVID-19 for employers include changes in physical environment, supporting remotely and finding ways to keep mental health in front of employees. Employers offering mental wellness opportunities to help with the stressors of COVID-19 can enhance workplace morale and allow staff to work better. When people are mentally strong and resilient, overall health is impacted.

Wellmark has a holistic wellness program and have focused on communicating and marketing the options available in a way that’s more impactful now. They have also increased overall communication with teams to keep them connected during this time. 

Additional Resources

View the entire webinar below:


You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

The Greater Des Moines Partnership is the economic and community development organization that serves Greater Des Moines (DSM), Iowa. Together with 23 Affiliate Chambers of Commerce, more than 6,500 Regional Business Members and more than 400 Investors, The Partnership drives economic growth with one voice, one mission and as one region. Through innovation, strategic planning and global collaboration, The Partnership grows opportunity, helps create jobs and promotes DSM as the best place to build a business, a career and a future. Learn more at DSMpartnership.com.