Benefits Strategy

Sacred Heart University Reduces Workplace Stress with a Holistic Approach to Mental Health

Calm Business helps Sacred Heart University cultivate a supportive culture around mental health and well-being.

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Dan Warzoha, Manager of Employee Wellness, Sacred Heart University

7 min read

At Sacred Heart University, our community is the driving force behind everything we do. Founded in 1963 in Fairfield, Connecticut, we’re the first Catholic University in the United States to be led and staffed by lay people. Our 2,300 faculty and staff serve more than 10,000 students across our campus, bringing together people from different backgrounds to support each other in a caring, creative, and inclusive environment. Part of our mission and our purpose is to educate the mind, body, and spirit. 

The university landscape creates unique mental health challenges

Higher education was a high-stress environment even before the pandemic, and it’s become more so. Our students need support beyond the classroom: with their social life, their health, and  navigating the challenges of growing up in today’s world. There isn’t a lot of opportunity for the typical nine-to-five role, as many of our faculty work early mornings, late nights, and weekends. Like many other industries, we’re experiencing high rates of turnover in addition to labor shortages, and while we don’t have a true measure of burnout, we know it’s there.  
Our commitment to growing our community and providing a world-class education means that Sacred Heart is also a rapidly expanding university, with new facilities under construction and more students than ever enrolling year after year. Yet the number of faculty and staff isn’t growing. This is leading to high stress and burnout among our staff as they juggle heavier workloads.

In addition, with many buildings, people, and programs spread out across our 311-acre campus, getting from one place to another is a struggle and adds extra stress that goes beyond the duties of any specific job description. It also makes communication difficult, especially when it comes to our wellness program.

Broadening mental health resources beyond an EAP

By training and education, I’m an exercise physiologist. When I first started at Sacred Heart, I was the supervisor of our employee-dedicated fitness center. My main focus was always on physical activity as the primary way to maintain a healthy mind and body. But as it became increasingly challenging to navigate our expanding campus and maintain work–life balance, it was clear that providing access to a gym wasn’t enough to support employee well-being. Additionally, we noticed that utilization of our employee assistance program was low and realized we needed to expand our mental health resources, so we focused on building holistic wellness culture from the ground up.

A total wellness tool for employee self-care

First, we wanted a preventive mental health tool to help our workforce manage stress and prevent burnout. We explored a few vendors but, ultimately, decided to partner with Calm Business because it was a trusted and well-known brand. We liked the overall appearance of the app and the wide variety of content. 

Calm allows our workforce to give back to themselves in a simple, quick, easy way. It’s something they can use at any time of day, whether it’s first thing in the morning to find some inspiration, during the workday to take a micro break, or in the evening to wind down right before bed. Because family is also tied to mental wellness, the Calm Kids content is extremely popular and something I use with my own children. We also love the dependents feature that allows us to share the gift of Calm with our families.

With our Calm Business partnership, I have access to reporting tools and engagement strategies through the dashboard. One of the first things I do every morning is log into the Partner Portal to see what’s going on with our population. I look at overall sign-ups, engagement rates, and the top 10 in all content categories to see what’s resonating with our employees. From there, if I know a lot of users are listening to a certain meditation or music, I directly push it out to our population in my wellness communications. If many of our employees are engaging with a particular piece of content, I know more will enjoy it. I use the data I find on the dashboard to tailor my communications and inspire my wellness programming.

Our holistic approach to making mental well-being relatable

Part of my holistic approach is making our benefits as relevant and relatable as possible. Wellness should be enjoyable and fun and allow us to be the best versions of ourselves. Here are some of my programs:

  • Connecting Calm to key events on our calendar: I use my own life as inspiration and connect the Calm content to current events, times of year, and things that may be going on in our personal lives. For example, during daylight saving time, I focused on sleep health. During our Spring Fitness Initiative, we added a wellness task, such as a breathing exercise, to the physical challenges every week. We encouraged everyone to open the Calm app and try something new. I also use the engagement strategies and resources that Calm provides, such as its Mindful Minutes Challenges, Gratitude Toolkit, Mindful Eating Journal, and Sleep Toolkit. We always see usage go up when we do these activities.  
  • Thank-You Thursday program: One of our most popular initiatives is our Thank-You Thursday program inspired by the gratitude content on the Calm app. The idea started as a once-per-month wellness campaign to reach out to someone in the community and thank them for who they are and what they do at SHU. It wasn’t long before the program was championed by senior leadership and embraced by our entire community. Each week, our official university email account sends out a reminder, and we see enthusiastic participation from our faculty, staff, and students. These are just some of the many ways Calm has inspired us to drive engagement and encourage employee self-care within our university.
  • Lunch and Learns: In addition to Calm, we offer regular lunch-and-learn sessions (both virtually and in person) on a wide variety of topics, such as resilience, sleep, nutrition, and many more. We feature faculty members from various departments to connect people across the university and share resources.
  • Social events: We also take advantage of the facilities on campus by organizing social events, such as bowling nights at our rec center or a game night in our virtual reality lab.
  • Regular wellness communications: We make twice-weekly communications about our wellness resources and programs a priority to ensure that we’re keeping wellness top of mind. 
  • Manager training: Because manager behavior is an important factor in employee well-being, we offer a leadership training program to foster a whole-person approach to managing both teams and individuals.

Sacred Heart University realizes high engagement with Calm

I fully supported our partnership with Calm, but when we first launched in the fall of 2021, I didn’t think it would be something I’d personally use or need. However, I’ve engaged in some type of meditation almost every single day, and it’s made a difference in my life. After using the app for a few weeks, I started to notice that I was smiling more, I was generally happier, I was feeling more present with my family, and I was enjoying every moment. I also noticed I was more resilient despite stress—it’s still there, it hasn’t changed, but it doesn’t get to me as much. 

I love having this benefit, and our employees agree. We’ve realized really high engagement with Calm: 46% of our eligible employees are enrolled, and we see a 76% engagement rate. Here are just a few of the testimonials our employees have shared:

  • I have been using Calm every day—multiple times per day. This has been one of the best benefits that SHU has offered. I hope it will continue!
  • It is a great benefit, and I feel valued as an employee to be included in access to this app.”
  • It’s the difference between a good night’s sleep and tossing and turning. It helps keep me focused and better prepared for what the day brings.”
  • The free Calm subscription convinces me SHU values the health and well-being of its employees. I love Calm and I don’t feel guilty taking time to use it. It makes me happier and, as a result, more creative and productive.”

Growing stronger with a “we” mindset around mental health

At our organization, we all have the same mission, purpose, and goals. We’re all facing the same challenges. We’re all dealing with similar stress. We as a community can support each other to overcome those challenges, be more, and do better together. Workplace stress is inevitable, but when you’re tied to mission, purpose, and community, you can become more resilient. When a community is bonded in a common goal, you can get through it together.

Calm Business is an incredibly valuable tool that makes Sacred Heart as a university stronger, brings us together, inspires us to be healthier, and supports us in our mission. Our wellness program has really been boosted by using Calm and all the resources our partnership provides. As a result, our employees are happier and more engaged, which ultimately enhances our ability to retain and recruit talent.

About Sacred Heart University

Founded in 1963, SHU was the first Catholic university in America to be led and staffed by lay people. SHU’s main campus sits on more than 100 acres, with an additional 200 nearby, including a University-owned golf course and West Campus—the former General Electric world headquarters and now home to many SHU STEM programs. Sacred Heart University is centrally located less than 60 miles from Manhattan and approximately 150 miles from Boston. 

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