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Building a Healthier Community from the Inside Out

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

As I recently reviewed the wonderful stories we’ve compiled about museums, food and community, I noticed that most of our attention has focused on museums helping their audiences become fitter and healthier. Wait—what about us!? This week’s “guest chef,” Kristen Greenwood, assistant curator of education and Staff Wellness Committee Coordinator at the Birmingham Museum of Art, helps fill this gap by sharing a “recipe for success” based on BMA’s staff wellness program. Kristen’s post is adapted from her contribution to the expanded edition of the Feeding the Spirit Cookbook that is in the works. Keep your eyes on this blog for more news about the Cookbook and other projects in CFM’s ongoing exploration of museums, food and community.

The Birmingham Museum of Art began incorporating wellness classes such as yoga and tai chi into its public offerings several years ago, but we realized that there were not any wellness initiatives in place for our own staff, who for the most part, have fairly sedentary jobs. The Museum was accepted into the free Corporate Wellness Pilot Program with YMCA of Greater Birmingham, which included an assessment of our organization’s commitment to health and wellness, lunch and learn sessions on health and wellness topics, health screenings for employees, and an eight-week wellness challenge with prizes for the winners. The program lasted approximately four months and over 30 staff members (40% of the staff) participated. Staff members lost weight, changed their eating habits, began incorporating more fitness into their daily lives, and in general became more conscious of their health. The program was so well received that after it ended, a committee for staff wellness was established.

Our Wellness Committee consists of 6 enthusiastic staff members who are committed to creating a healthy work environment at the Museum. Ideas generated by the committee range from very simple things such as unlocking the emergency exit stairs in a non-public area so staff can take the stairs instead of the elevator to simply fun activities such as an employee talent show. Daily walking clubs, fitness challenges, and healthy potluck lunches are just a few projects initiated by the Wellness Committee. The Museum continues to partner with YMCA Birmingham by subsidizing employee memberships and utilizing YMCA fitness instructors at onsite fitness classes for staff.
The initiatives developed through the Wellness Committee have boosted morale, made staff more health conscious, and have created a little “healthy competition” among colleagues.

If you decide to start an internal wellness initiative at your museum, be sure to assemble the following ingredients:

  • A core group of individuals who are committed to developing ideas and making positive changes
  • A supportive administration
  • Employees who have an interest in a healthy lifestyle
  • Local partner(s) that can offer discounts or incentives to keep the staff motivated (e.g., discounted gym memberships, free classes, healthy lunch options)
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As you implement the program:

  1. Assess your institution’s commitment to health and fitness, either formally or informally. Informal assessment can be as simple as polling colleagues to see if they have an interest in more at-work options for a healthier lifestyle. Gather ideas from colleagues about what they would like to see happen in terms of health and wellness options. Check with senior staff to make sure you have their support.
  2. Select a core group of dedicated individuals. It’s important to have staff that are truly committed and enthusiastic about a wellness program in order to see your efforts come to fruition.
  3. Experiment. The ideas that are developed in the committee will range from extremely simple (like BMA’s unlocking the stairwells) to things that take more effort (healthy employee picnics and getting healthier items in the vending machines). As non-profits, wellness programs may not be the first item to get internal funding, but there are plenty of low or no-budget options available once you start thinking creatively. Find what works for your group environment. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and keep trying.
  4. Share information.  Don’t forget to include staff who may not have access to e-mail. Sometimes the person you think the least likely to participate is the one who is most enthusiastic.
  5. Be patient. Give it a little time. If the committee members are doing this in addition to their full-time job during normal work hours, it means that although this is fun, it is something extra on their plate. Share responsibilities, meet on a regular schedule and be willing to accept that it may take a while to get everyone on board.

The most important ingredients in this recipe are staff commitment and time. Your human resources are your greatest assets. Get the right people on board and you’ll soon have a happier, healthier staff!
For more information on ways to incorporate health and wellness into the workplace, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Please share any ways you are promoting employee health and wellness at your museum in the comments section, below. If you tried such a program and it didn’t work, what did you learn from the experiment? Any success stories you can share?

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