'Whole Person' Approach Leads to National Award for UA

LWC offers a slate of services that covers the milestones employees are likely to mark on their career paths and in their personal lives.
May 30, 2012

Do you live to work? Does your personal life interfere with all the things you need to get done at the office? Do you sometimes wish you had just a few more hours in the day so you could spend them at your desk?

We didn't think so. And neither does Life & Work Connections, which recently received national recognition, on behalf of the University of Arizona, for a slate of programs aimed at helping employees be successful in both their professional and personal lives. 

"We honor the idea that employees are whole people, with lives outside of work," said Darci Thompson, director of Life & Work Connections, which is part of Human Resources.

The UA was honored in April with the 2012 Work-Life Seal of Distinction from the Alliance for Work-Life Progress. The award commends the University of Arizona for "providing a wide variety of workplace policies, programs and practices that support employees in all major aspects of work-life navigation," according to the alliance.

What makes the UA's work-life programs unique – and a national model – is an approach that looks at the point where a person's life cycle intersects with his or her work cycle, Thompson said. The former can include marriage, raising children and caring for aging parents. The latter moves from starting a career at the UA, to advancing or getting tenure, potentially taking on a leadership role and planning for retirement.

Life & Work Connections considers how those two continuums are lining up to help employees be happy in their personal lives and successful in their professional lives – simply put, achieving harmony between home and work, she explained.

Some of the tools needed to accomplish that are problem-solving, mastering self-care and being resilient in the face of change – all skills that Life & Work Connections aims to help employees develop, Thompson said.

Five integrated components

Life & Work Connections' offerings revolve around five integrated components and its employees are cross-trained so they can recognize when someone coming in for a particular service or consultation might benefit from a referral to another.

Thompson underlines the fact that the services are voluntary, confidential and low-cost or no-cost.

In 2010, Life & Work Connections had more than 24,000 contacts with employees, with the most-utilized services being counseling and worksite wellness and health promotion.

"We come to you," Thompson said. "We've done screenings in closets, we've been up to Mount Graham, we've been to Sierra Vista, Yuma. We go to where our colleagues are."

There also are 149 "wellness liaisons" in units across campus, charged with acting as the bridge between LWC programs and services and the people in their own offices.

The value of UA work-life programs

Claudia Arias has taken advantage of the counseling services to help her deal with the challenges of working while caring for four kids – her own two plus a niece and a nephew.

Life & Work Connections services help employees "to be grounded, to be happy," said Arias, an administrative associate in the College of Engineering. What the unit's employees are especially skilled at, she said, is reading between the lines and sensing when underlying issues are contributing to the situations that bring people in to talk.

"Sometimes the issue goes deeper, and they can help you figure out what you can control and what you can't," Arias said.

"Our LWC program is unusual in that it takes a 'whole person' approach," said Allison Vaillancourt, vice president for Human Resources. "An employee might visit one of our employee assistance counselors because marriage troubles are compromising their work productivity and learn that bad sleep patterns are causing irritability that is exacerbating relationship stress."

Managing stress, getting enough sleep and exercise, maintaining effective relationships with colleagues – they're all facets of life for most people who work at the UA.

But what about when catastrophes or other out-of-the-ordinary events happen? Life & Work Connections steps in to help then, too.

That includes the emotional devastation that resulted from the deadly 2002 College of Nursing shooting and the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six. When wildfires turned life upside-down in Sierra Vista – the home of UA South – Life & Work was there to help. LWC also was on hand to provide guidance on sleep, nutrition and exercise during the 2008 Phoenix Mars Mission, when UA and NASA employees recalibrated their internal clocks to the Martian day – which is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.

"Our folks are innovative and responsive," Thompson said.

What sets the UA apart

The programs run by Life & Work Connections, combined with outstanding benefits, make the University an "employer of choice," Vaillancourt said.

"Our suite of benefit options is one of the best deals in Tucson and our employees pay less for their health insurance than most of their higher education peers across the country," she said.

While the benefits package is often what draws people to the UA, Life & Work Connections programs help keep them here.

"Based on the letters of appreciation I've received in the last year, I can tell you that several faculty members have stayed in Tucson rather than relocating to their parents' cities thanks to the excellent elder care assistance they've received from LWC," Vaillancourt said. "Others have weighed job offers from other institutions but have noted that their experience with LWC demonstrates that the UA appreciates the complexity of their lives and is available to lend support."

What makes the UA successful, she said, is its extraordinary people.

"We must never forget that extraordinary people can go anywhere they like," Vaillancourt said. "We have to work together collectively to ensure that outstanding faculty and staff feel connected and valued. This award recognizes our efforts to create and sustain a vital and engaging culture in which people can learn and work."