MACPA working to reduce stress, promote laughter, improve relationships

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The Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants (MACPA) recently initiated a wellness program at its office to encourage staff to be healthy and happy. It isn’t a weight-loss program or even a fitness program as much as it is a way to reduce stress, connect with others in the workplace, and just be healthier. It includes fitness, laughter, and the benefits of positive relationships at work.

“As I started thinking about how we could begin to put something in place for our small staff that would be of most benefit to them individually and provide more opportunities to enjoy doing things together, it became clear that our team would know more,” said Jackie Brown, MACPA deputy executive director/chief operating officer.

“I sent an e-mail out asking who would be interested in joining the conversation…and hands went up! What was great is we had a variety of folks interested, managers to support staff, new staff and seasoned team members, all ages and even a telecommuter from St. Louis,” Brown said. “The first meeting we had was just a brainstorm of ideas and then they put together a quick and fun survey to get some input from all staff. It turned out to be a really fun tool with great results.”

Surveying the staff

The survey was fun and comprehensive, asking people to rate their interest in various different types of activities including free weights in the office, yoga class, someone to stop them from eating the donuts in the kitchen, salsa dancing lessons, and charts comparing fast food menu items.

“MACPA's wellness program is a wonderful addition to our already wonderful corporate culture. I joined the wellness committee in developing this program because I knew it would be something positive and encouraging for both co-workers and myself,” said Donna Lewis, professional development manager.

“It is important to me to make sure that folks understand that this is not a program to get us all to lose weight. There are many aspects of wellness that we want to encourage co-workers to explore,” Lewis said. “I enjoy concentrating on ways to reduce stress. Stress is impossible to avoid and can do much damage. It is my pleasure to find activities to share that will help us reduce stress and keep us well.”

Lewis has taken the lead in organizing Lunch and Laugh programming, as well as a recent Guess Who contest where the staff had to match baby pictures to staff members.

Even off-site employees saw this as an opportunity for health, wellness, and a connection.

“I telecommute full time from my home in St. Louis, and that's a huge boost for my own personal wellness on many levels,” said Bill Sheridan, CAE, e-communications manager and editor. “One drawback, though, is being physically isolated from the rest of the staff, so I jumped at the chance to participate on the wellness team. I think it will be a great way to stay connected to the team in a fun, low-stress and meaningful way – and there's another big dose of wellness right there.”

The survey was well received and the responses reflected the interest of the staff and assisted the committee in coming up with appropriate opportunities for them.

“Based on that feedback, we started a couple of things last spring, including walking groups, yoga breaks, Lunch and Laugh, [which is] great for reducing stress, links to good nutrition Web sites and eat-this-not-that books in the break room…just a few fun and easy things to do,” Brown said.

“We started out strong but then, like the rest of the world, found ourselves having to do more with less and busyness got the best of us,” Brown admitted. “Even then, some staff put together an impromptu aerobics class just using a DVD they had at home.”

Ramping up the program

Now that tax season has ended, the team has regrouped and added more volunteers to the Wellness Team. They are in the process of creating walks to the local Farmer’s Market, self-defense demonstrations, a food journaling class, and are considering joining ThePresident’s Challenge program, which is a national program promoting fitness. The team is hoping to become a little more structured and encouraging even more participation among the staff.

As Brown said, it is about encouraging wellness and good health for the participants, and the team is looking to keep moving forward with that in mind.

“This year the team created a vision statement for what we want to do,” Brown said. “Simply put: To create a culture that supports the total well-being of its team members. That says it all. They have done a terrific job and we look forward to more fun and healthy choices, adding programs and participants as we grow.”

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