New program helps reduce stress in the workplace for helping professionals

Set of policy resources is the result of a three-year UAlberta research project.


Workers in the helping professions providing services for children, youth, foster families, and individuals with disabilities often experience high levels of stress. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Reseachers conducted a three-year research project testing a package of wellness interventions, and found that participants experienced increases in general well-being.

“Our study showed that the interventions do work,” said Thomas Barker, a researcher with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension who specializes in organizational communication and leadership.

The Healthy Workplace for Helping Professionals project focused on 450 non-profit, human-service agencies in Alberta and their 14,000 employees.

The research team developed a customized, comprehensive wellness strategy after conducting a survey in which 600 respondents identified their workplace-related wellness challenges.

According to Barker, the strategy isn’t about isolated interventions, but a process-oriented, information management systems approach.

“That means if you have a wellness initiative in your workplace, it won’t be just about providing a few yoga classes or getting everybody to wear Fitbits. We need tools to measure people's activities and then feed the data back into an information system. That would then inform their next initiatives, so they’d get better and better.”

The bulk of the interventions were designed around five areas: understanding stress risks, learning about self-care, building strong teams, using agency resources and sharing knowledge about stressors.

“Sure enough, wellness outcomes improved among the groups that experienced intervention over a period of one year,” said Barker.

The interventions were adapted into a framework, a set of evidence-based policy resources for increasing wellness capacity in human-service agencies.

The framework allows organizations to structure their wellness initiatives in a way that ensures continual improvement.

“The resources were designed to be adopted by organizations, but they can also be useful for individuals who want to grow in their own wellness capacity,” explained Barker.

The resources developed as part of the project—instructional materials, assessment forms, workbooks and other documents—are available for free online at the HWHP website.

Though the framework was the primary outcome of the HWHP study, other initiatives emerged as direct results of the project.

“We're going to focus on supervising the implementation of the framework with a local charity, a large union and possibly other organizations,” said Barker.

The project also resulted in a workshop series, Workplace Wellness Leadership, which is now being offered by the Faculty of Extension.

The Healthy Workplaces for Helping Professions project is a joint initiative of the Faculty of Extension and the Alberta Ministry of Labour’s Occupational Health and Safety Futures grant program.