Johnson Beth-El faculty published in Journal of American College Health

Paige Whitney, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, Director of the Center for Active Living and Assistant Dean of Interprofessional Education, and her colleagues were recently published in the prestigious Journal of American College Health for their research on employee health and wellbeing in higher education.

Whitney contends that while a large portion of campus discourse around health and wellbeing is, rightfully so, focused on the student population, it is just as important to promote and support the wellbeing of employees.

“Employees are a constant on campus, they are the foundation,” Whitney said. “Therefore, acknowledging their critical role and better understanding their perceptions of health and wellbeing is essential to strengthen the culture of wellbeing on campus.”

To better understand the physical, mental and environmental health factors that contribute to employee wellbeing, Whitney studied data from over 400 UCCS staff and faculty. The participants, with the support of the UCCS Recreation and Wellness Center, completed the American College Health Association National Faculty and Staff Health Assessment (NFSHA), the results of which Whitney explored in her article “Determinants of perceived health in university employees.”

The article aimed to understand what factors most significantly contributed to higher levels of perceived health in this population. The four most prominent aspects that came through were sleep, body mass index (BMI), flourishing (based on the Diener Scale) and the extent to which employees felt the university cared about their health and wellbeing.

“I was a little surprised with the significant factors that predicted higher levels of perceived health,” said Whitney. “As an exploratory study, I wasn’t sure what we were going to find. I imagined things like physical activity and healthy eating – the physical health factors that most people assume would have been significant. It was interesting and validating to see that specific physical, mental, and environmental factors were found to significantly impact perceived health of this population.”

In addition to factors which predict higher levels of perceived health, the descriptive statistics of the study also provided insight into identified barriers to engaging in wellness activities. The four main barriers were identified to be time management, program scheduling, job responsibilities and lack of motivation.

“When looking at both the predictors to perceived health and the barriers to wellness engagement, we can see various levels of influence are at play,” Whitney said. “The perceived health predictors demonstrate the reciprocal interdependence of the physical, mental, and environmental factors which significantly predict higher levels of perceived health. Moreover, the barriers illustrate a combination of individual and organizational aspects which can impede engagement in wellness opportunities.”

Employer awareness on employee welfare was also significant, and Whitney noted that employees simply being made aware that employers care about their wellbeing was an important way to increase health levels on its own, even before implementing more active measures.

“It is important to remember that the extent to which the university cares about the health and wellbeing of the employees was a key predictor of higher employee perceived health,” Whitney stated. “Acknowledgment goes a long way. Sometimes it’s just having that conversation and asking ‘how can I better support your health and wellbeing?'”

Considering this interconnection of health and wellbeing factors, several aspects need attention and care to improve and maintain one’s wellness. Whitney pointed out that while everyone has different needs regarding wellness, communication is a starting point.

“Luckily, our campus has several initiatives in place to support employees at different levels of their interest and readiness to activate wellness,” she said. “Giving people different ways to engage in their wellness is important because we are all individuals. What wellness means, and what each of us needs to support our health and wellbeing varies by employee. UCCS already offers some great wellness opportunities such as art, cooking, and movement through C.R.E.A.T.E., Center for Active Living programs such as Lifestyle Refresh, and initiatives like wellness breaks and wellness champions promoted through the UCCS Recreation and Wellness Center.”

While it’s not a quick or easy undertaking, this support combined with active wellness efforts on campus are the first measures in improving overall wellbeing.

“There is positive momentum and energy to create a culture of wellbeing on campus, and evidence from this article has been used to inform next step practices to support employees,” Whitney shared. “Acknowledgement, permission, and normalizing of prioritizing employee health in our departments, colleges, and on campus may significantly increase the perceived health of employees and further cultivate a culture of health and wellbeing on campus.”

Learn more about Whitney’s research and read “Determinants of perceived health in university employees” here.

To share health and wellbeing ideas with Dr. Whitney, contact her at [email protected].