- Written by Jessica Riel
- Published: 13 August 2018
Workplace workshops connect coworkers to a circle of support
“Live knowing that setbacks are also chances to get it right,” says Greg Franceschi, offering a powerful attitude of resilience to take to the workplace, and an even more impressive outlook on life.
Just a year ago, however, Greg says he was in a state of deep depression after learning he was diabetic. But when an opportunity arose for Greg to learn ways to reshape how his diagnosis would affect his life, he signed up.
At the end of last year, Greg and several other folks gathered together at LifePath, where Greg’s wife Lisa Middents worked, to support each other as they sought to find new ways to manage the challenges in their lives through Healthy Living.
The Healthy Living Program at LifePath has been offering community workshops to help people with chronic health conditions improve their quality of life for about seven years, and under the leadership of Program Manager Andi Waisman, offerings have recently expanded to the workplace.
The first Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop
In the fall of 2017, Greg, Lisa, and others from the LifePath community gathered together for the first test run of a six-week Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management (CDSM) workshop series. It was a diverse group of ages, health conditions, job titles, and genders, all joining together in the hope of learning how to better balance work life with personal health care. They all made the choice to reveal personal details about their lives to the confidence of their colleagues, a potentially risky endeavor.
Fortunately, it worked.
Eight months after the first workshop session, attendees report feeling a greater sense of control over their lives and ability to reach their goals.
“I was just telling a friend how the program in the fall is still affecting me positively now,” says Janis Merrell, who reports that the workshops helped her take more control over her health and helped her to remember to pay attention to her nutrition and exercise habits. “The support of my coworkers in the program, in the form of taking walks together and checking in, has also helped me remain on a healthier path.”
Like Janis, Lisa felt supported by her coworkers. “The experience for me of having the CDSM workshop at my place of work with my colleagues was profound,” says Lisa. “I felt supported in a way that I don't think would have been as possible with people I'd just met.”
The Self-Management Toolbox
As the weeks went on, two volunteer workshop leaders shared information about the “Self-Management Toolbox,” a set of 11 tools that help you manage living with chronic health conditions. Greg says the workshop offered “simple, thoughtful lessons” on topics such as:
- Better breathing for stress management and relaxation
- Managing medications and communicating with medical providers
- Action planning, or identifying and taking small steps to reach big goals
- Problem solving and decision making
Greg also valued the “continuity of support within the group, and the experience of working with leaders who understood that meaningful changes, be they in diet, exercise, or one's perception of oneself, only last when they happen in small, manageable increments within a context where the recovering individuals are getting the support they need.”
Participants talked about the ups and downs of the unique challenges they faced, such as eating the right foods in the right amounts or getting a good night’s sleep, which were often universal across diagnoses, and brainstormed together ways to tackle problems. “It was moving how much trust people had about being vulnerable with each other,” says Lisa, “It gave me such a boost of hope that I could make changes in my life and get healthier and that I wasn't alone.”
Greg shares the “basics” he took away from the workshop:
- “SLOW down to a pace you can coexist with.”
- “Do not pretend you are or can be in control of more than you realistically can expect to be able to be in control of.”
- “Don't be so hard on yourself or others.”
- “Slow down some more.”
- “Notice all the amazingly beautiful people and things that abound independent of your frown (or mine).”
- “If things don't always go your way, don't be surprised.”
“And, last but definitely not least,” says Greg, “keep talking to your circle and tell them what you are trying to do, maybe even ask for some help.” Greg says that this important step creates a “feedback loop,” giving “a little support” along with “regular reminders that everyone else is struggling, too.”
Lisa appreciated that the shared workplace allowed her to continue to connect with her circle on a regular basis. “Being able to see people on an ongoing, daily basis who've been through the workshop also helps reinforce what I experienced and makes the personal breakthroughs I made during the workshop so much more lasting. I came to love and appreciate the other people in my workshop on a deeper level than would have been possible in the ordinary workday. I feel a lot of encouragement every time I see them at work that we can take charge of our health and make choices that make us stronger and happier.”
What are the benefits of the program to employers?
The Workplace Chronic Disease Self-Management Program not only benefits employees, but is also a boon to employers. Stronger, healthier, and happier employees are less likely to become ill, have accidents, and be absent from work; could have lower health insurance costs; and are more likely to maintain motivation and focus during the workday.
Greg shares his thanks for the support he received from the others in the workshop, who helped him to “strategize at a difficult time.”
“To all of us all,” Greg toasts, “who continue to try to make the best of it anyway.”