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UM Named Among ‘Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces’

The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications
The University has been named one of the healthiest places to work for in Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communications

The University of Mississippi, which has aggressively implemented many health and wellness initiatives for its nearly 2,900 employees, has been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces for 2015.

The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health hand out the designation each year. The university will be honored at a banquet Friday (July 31) in Jackson along with other recipients of the award. 

“The University of Mississippi is pleased to be recognized for its efforts in improving the health and well-being of our faculty and staff,” Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks said. “This is a great achievement and could not have been done without the joint efforts of many throughout our university who have worked to improve the health and quality of life for all of us.”

The recognition honors the UM community’s hard work on health issues, said Andrea M. Jekabsons, UM assistant director of employment and training and project manager with RebelWell.

“The recognition as one of the ‘Healthiest Workplaces’ is an honor,” she said. “The RebelWell team is working to create a culture of wellness. This includes physical activity opportunities, health screenings, general wellness education and nutrition services, as well as constant visual reminders to encourage healthier habits.” 

The university benefits from healthy employees for several reasons, Jekabsons said. 

Healthy employees are likely to be more productive, actively engaged and fully present when at work, and may experience improved job satisfaction and organizational commitment,” she said. “These may seem like benefits to the university, but more importantly, an improved health status is a benefit to the individual.”

Campus health programs have benefited from a $250,000 wellness grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The American Heart Association has also consistently recognized UM as a “Fit Friendly” employer, either at the gold or platinum level since 2009. The university has also made the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which measures employee overall satisfaction, seven of the eight years the list has existed.

The university developed the RebelWell program, which provides a range of opportunities for employees to become educated about living a healthy lifestyle and also offers group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling, among other services.

Last year, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc joined the RebelWell team, representing the university’s senior leadership. LaBanc is chair of the RebelWell Campus Committee.

“This is such a critical organizational initiative as evidenced by its inclusion in our strategic plan,”LaBanc said. “Efforts like these reinforce the Ole Miss way – we are a place that cares about one another and wants faculty, staff and students to have a positive and rewarding life experience. I believe the work of the RebelWell has contributed to employee wellness and happiness, and in turn, contributes to a more engaging academic environment for students.”

The university has also updated its employee policies to allow more flexibility and time for employees to work on their health.

University leaders created the UM2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers. UM also set itself as a beacon of leadership on health issues across Mississippi by educating and fostering a community that is committed to healthy and sustainable lifestyles and campus environment. The vision also included developing and integrating industry-leading programs and initiatives that will transform nutrition, health promotion, exercise and employee wellness.

In an effort to enhance the university’s individual health, community well-being and positive work life balance, the university’s leadership has also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a more healthy work environment.

Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs. Managers are also allowed to let their employees participate for up to three hours each month in approved wellness-related activities such as university-hosted walks, cooking demonstrations and physical fitness activities on campus. Employees can also be allowed to attend on-campus wellness seminars.

Employees are also allowed breaks twice per day to encourage them to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health.

Each “Healthiest Workplace” honoree will be featured and recognized and will receive their award during the presentation program, said Alan Turner, Mississippi Business Journal publisher. The program is slated for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Jackson Hilton Hotel. The Mississippi Business Journal will publish a special glossy magazine in August with profiles of all honorees that will be sent to all MBJ print and digital subscribers and will also be available on the MSBusiness.com website. 

“We’re delighted to see Ole Miss participating in this event and taking the lead in providing a healthy working environment for staff, as well as students,” Turner said. “We’re excited and hope this will translate to many other employers, agencies and institutions, as the importance to our state of improving the physical health and well-being of our citizens can hardly be overstated.”


Courtesy of Michael Newsom and the Ole Miss News Desk


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