UM named among state’s healthiest workplaces

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The University of Mississippi, which has aggressively implemented many health and wellness initiatives for its more than 2,900 employees, has again been named one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Workplaces.

The Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi Department of Health hand out the designation each year. The university was honored during a banquet today at the Old Capitol Inn

in Jackson, along with other 2016 recipients of the award. An overall winner will be announced there and other awards will be given.

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UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said many on campus have worked hard for several years to improve the health and well-being of all university employees, and this honor is an acknowledgment of their efforts.

“We take the welfare of all our employees very seriously, and it is our responsibility to take the lead in providing the healthiest environment possible for all our faculty, staff and students,” Vitter said. “I encourage all of the Ole Miss family to join us in creating a culture of wellness that will benefit individuals across Mississippi.”


The university developed the RebelWell program, which provides a range of opportunities for employees to become educated about living a healthy lifestyle and also offers group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling, among other services.

The recognition honors the Ole Miss community’s work on health issues, said Andrea M. Jekabsons, UM assistant director of employment, professional development and engagement. Jekabsons is also a project manager with RebelWell.

Working with the RebelWell team to improve workplace wellness is rewarding, she said. It’s also great to see employees sharing their success stories with coworkers, which in turn inspires them to work on fitness.

Besides benefits to health, there are other positive developments when a workforce gets healthy, she said.

“We continue to read of surveys that show employees who eat healthy all day and exercise regularly are more productive as well as experience lower absenteeism,”Jekabsons said. “Just as importantly, healthy employees serve as great role models for their families.”

Campus health programs have benefited from $575,000 in wellness grants from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The funding came through a $326,000 grant earlier this year and a $250,000 wellness grant from the foundation in 2014.

Grants have been used for nutrition educational expenses and to buy physical activity equipment and supplies, buying educational equipment for school-age children and promotional items and funding for campaigns, contracted services, community programs and sponsorships for major events. There’s also funding for fresh fruit for school programs and a national certification for a strength program aimed at women over 40.

RebelWell offers nutrition education through counseling sessions, seminars and demonstrations and also executes programs to highlight local wellness role models.

In 2016, the university again made the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” list, which measures employee overall satisfaction. Ole Miss has made the list for the eight out of the nine years it has existed.

Campuswide effort

Creating a healthy workplace is a campuswide effort that supports UM’s vision, said Brandi Hephner LaBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs and chair of the RebelWell Campus Committee.

“The initiatives and key messages help to transform lives,” Hephner LaBanc said. “When individuals simply feel well, they are more engaged intellectually, more creative and we are a better campus community. The focus on wellness also facilitates an environment that people want to be a part of – faculty, staff and students alike.”

University leaders created the UM2020 strategic plan with specific wellness objectives. They included developing and implementing a multiyear plan for promoting and advancing health, nutrition, exercise and individual wellness among all workers.

The university’s leadership has also made changes to two employee policies in 2015 to promote a healthier work environment. Department heads are allowed to be flexible with scheduling to let employees participate in physical activity and UM wellness programs. Employees are also allowed breaks twice per day to encourage them to stretch, walk or take short bike rides around campus, which can benefit work performance and individual health.

“As charged in the university’s strategic plan, UM2020, our goal is to set the university as a beacon of leadership throughout the state by educating and fostering a community that is committed to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and campus environment,” Jekabsons said.

Alan Turner, Mississippi Business Journal publisher, said his publication is honored to be able to support healthy workplaces across the state.

“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of healthy workplace practices in today’s world,” Turner said. “We’re delighted to be able to support the Mississippi Healthiest Workplaces awards and recognize so many great institutions, such as the University of Mississippi, who are working hard to make a positive difference in the quality of life for Mississippians.”