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Meeting Members’ Workplace Well-Being Needs

The topic among more than 20 in last fall’s surveys chosen most frequently as helping to “improve job performance” was “mindfulness.” This through-line was consistent across all constituencies — teachers, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs), healthcare, higher education and public employees — and reinforced the value of emotional well-being at work.
Click here for our previous PD program report, which included the latest surveys.
For professionals from such a diverse array of backgrounds to express the same top priority may seem surprising, but the shared focus on mindfulness is not.
State and municipal employees are expected to provide top quality services for taxpayers despite restricted resources and increased workloads. Nurses and health professionals are treating patients with higher acuities despite dangerously low staffing levels. Students are demanding more from a higher education system that is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Parents are expecting test scores to rise and their children’s individual learning needs to be met as class sizes grow and school funding is cut.
Our state and national union have for the past four years documented the impact of rising pressures on educators across Connecticut and the country. The most recent findings demonstrated that “a supportive work environment is vital to creating schools that are places where teachers want to teach and kids want to learn.”
Click here for our report-back on the “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey.”
In an increasingly modernized, technologized world that promises to reduce daily workloads, for many the opposite is occurring. Employers are demanding more and more of all our members. The constant barrage of e-mails and texts leave them in a state of being perpetually “wired.” As they become more connected, many find less time for solitude.
Click here for a recent analysis on the impact of technology on American workplaces.
To address the critical need, AFT Connecticut field representative Elizabeth Guerra was tapped to share her personal skills and strengths outside of her traditional labor organizing role. She has devoted over 200 hours to training in mindfulness and yoga techniques in a program called “Breathe for Change,” which is directed at educators.
Guerra in late October presented an initial workshop for PreK-12 teachers and which she since adapted for two additional sessions open to members of all affiliated unions. Her approach introduces participants to mindfulness, while also teaching them to apply their newly learned wellness and social-emotional practices to their worksites.
Click here to learn more about the “Breathe for Change” program.
Kari Baransky, a math teacher in Meriden Public Schools, attended the most recent session to build on her experience in 2017 observing educators in Wales. During a trip supported by a Dalio Foundation grant though its “Fund for Teacher” initiative, she saw firsthand mindfulness techniques applied to restorative practices.
“There are several ways to get students involved in mindfulness activities,” said Baransky, who serves as secretary/treasurer of our affiliated Meriden Federation of Teachers. “I went back to my classes after the workshop and had each of my students create a ‘Post-It’ listing what they are grateful for. It was a very deep conversation that the students appreciated,” Baransky added. 
Click here for photos from the session last month that Baransky attended.
Another wellness issue that members — particularly hospital and clinical setting-based health professionals — ranked high on last fall’s survey was “workplace bullying.” AFT Connecticut Professional Development Coordinator Jennifer Benevento in late November responded by organizing a workshop presented by staff from our national union’s safety and well-being department. 
The course, “Stopping Workplace Bullying in Healthcare,” provided members continuing education “contact hours” for their participation, in addition to solutions for protecting themselves and their colleagues. Participants also received guidance for working with management to change a culture that all too often permits abuse and intimidation of caregivers.
Janice Stauffer, RN, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Danbury Hospital, attended the workshop because the “safety of caretakers is so important.” Incidents of workplace violence involving assault on staff by patients or their families have in recent years created a hostile climate at the acute care facility.
According to Stauffer, the president of our Danbury Nurses Union, “there are times when families become verbally aggressive; this may be caused by stress, fear or lack of sleep.” She added, “this type of workplace bullying towards staff members is something to watch out for and it’s important to notify management and/or security if it occurs.”
Stauffer and her colleagues have long advocated for policies to reduce bullying and harassment of caregivers at their worksite, in the state legislature and even in the nation’s capitol. This PD workshop serves as an example of how our federation is providing skills and training for immediate relief while supporting efforts to achieve more permanent solutions.
Click here for our previous report on wider efforts to reduce violence in health settings.

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