Promoting Healthy Lifestyles (including during COVID-19) – School of Economics and Business, University of Ljubljana

At School of Economics and Business at the University of Ljubljana (SEB LU) in Slovenia health promotion is key. The School has put in place an impressive range of activities, from lectures and workshops, healthy eating options, and a unique sports programme, to support staff and students alike. I recently spoke with Manca Smolej about these initiative, including how these have changed or been adapted to the new COVID-19 reality.

What is your school’s approach to healthy lifestyles and why did you decide as a school to start focusing on this further?

In 2017 we decided to focus as an institution on health promotion. Many colleagues at SEB LU practice active and healthy lifestyles, however we did have an occurrence when a colleague of ours had to take a 4-month sick leave due to burnout. Upon returning to work, she put forward the idea of ensuring that staff and students had access to healthy lifestyle guidance and support. Slovenian legislation requires all employers with more than 10 employees to have health programmes in place as well. Our primary asset and source of value is the knowledge, experience and skills of everyone that belongs to our academic community. We are in all aspects dependent on human capital. Because of this, to us,  good health and physical fitness are, naturally, the most important elements of our sustainability.

How do you promote this with students and staff?

SEB LU’s healthy lifestyle programme is implemented at four different levels. Lectures and workshops inform and provide a consultation platform, and also lead to changes in nutritional choices at home and in the office. We also support participation in sports activities and raise awareness through special campaigns.

We provide a number of lectures and workshops to inform and provide a consultative platform. Theh focus of these is to make the information participants to apply healthy lifestyle tips immediately to their professional and personal situations. The focus is on enhancing competencies, and managing various types of risks, for example illness prevention, stress reduction and emotional resilience. For example we had workshops on planning a diet for sedentary professionals and another on self-management at the workplace. SEB LU has a health screening programme in place for its employees and organises Flu vaccination shots every autumn. All employees are required to undergo fire and safety training and ten employees have been trained by the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide civic emergency medical care to our students, visitors and colleagues.

Offering healthy meal choices at SEB LU’s premises is of a paramount importance to our academic community. Following a special workshop on “Organising meals at the workplace”, 10 menus, 5 of those vegetarian, were added to in-house restaurant options. They are prepared fresh, using high quality oils and a diverse and plentiful vegetable. To reduce excessive use of sugar, sugar-counters were removed from the free coffee machines at SEB LU’s professors’ and staff rooms and 2 times a week staff receive deliveries of fresh fruit to the offices and staff rooms. Vending machines’ choice of snacks is monitored to include healthier snacks.

We also have a number of campaigns focused on promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout the year; including “Health for you, Energy for SEB LU”, “Sufficient hydration at work”, “Weekly fresh fruit at work”, “Temperature training at work” and “The Traditional Slovenian Breakfast”.

What about physical activity?

Several recreational activities are organised for employees on SEB LU’s premises including swimming, aerobics, pilates, skiing, dancing lessons at professional facilities to name but a few. Vinko Zovko, a colleague from the Academic Unit for Sports with the help of SEB LU students prepared a fun and engaging series of short videos with follow-along demonstrations of active break exercises. These exercises are available on-line and frequently used during lecture and meeting breaks (see above).

Our students have an obligatory physical education course in first year of their undergraduate study. They choose from 15 different sport activities, provided on 6 different locations. Almost all activities are free of charge. Students can also engage in sport competitions and SEB LU students are among the most successful teams and individuals at the university. Though sports in not obligatory after the first year, students are welcome to continue participating in SEB LU’s provided sports activities. SEB LU employs three full-time physical education teachers.

You seem to have quite a few professional athletes at SEB LU. Why is this and how do you support them?

SEB LU not only promotes healthy lifestyles, but also highly encourages students and employees who take part in sports activities. In 2019, SEB LU received official recognition as an athlete- and sports-friendly educational institution, which, with various adjustments enables students to have a dual career. SEB LU received the Athlete-Friendly Educational Certificate by the Olympic Committee of Slovenia. Professional athletes are awarded a special professional athlete status, which offers them additional assistance with managing their studies and sports activities. SEB LU’s “Sports Class” includes students who hold the status of a professional athlete in the current academic year. In 2019, SEB LU recognized 36 professional athletes. The sports class is a virtual class which brings together all students with the athlete status into one group, which is coordinated by a SEB LU’s professor.

In 2018, SEB LU signed an institutional agreement on cooperation with the Olympic Committee of Slovenia – the Association of Sports Federations, thus formally confirming already good cooperation between the two institutions in the field of developing knowledge about management in sports. We have been successfully running a Masters programme in Sports Management together with the Faculty of Sport of the University of Ljubljana since 2007, ranked as the 5th best programme in the world by Eduniversal ranking in 2019. We are proud to be together with the Faculty of Sport in Slovenia the leading educational and research institution in the field of sports management.

How does this connect with other responsible management initiatives on campus?

Our lifestyle programmes connect closely with our other sustainability focused work on campus. In 2019, with the intention of raising awareness about the importance of bees and the key role they play in the environment and for the human race generally, SEB LU has two beehives that are home to 120,000 bees. Our bees already produced 20kilos of honey which we could offer to our employees during our traditional Slovenian breakfast event. In 2019, the SEB LU signed the Climate Crisis petition calling on the Government of the Republic of Slovenia to recognise climate change as a national crisis that must be regarded as a priority and addressed as such. In 2018, the SEB LU was awarded the ‘Green Flag,’ an international environmental acknowledgment as part of the Eco-Schools programme. SEB LU was included among the top 20 business schools whose operations have a high impact on society by Financial Times

How has this been adapted for the current COVID-19 reality?

With help of a psychotherapist, we prepared a special video lectures with practical exercises of autogenic training and for reducing anxiety. Due to global outbreak of the corona virus and obligatory isolation we prepared ZOOM body gym. Every day employees and students spend 45 minutes in an online gym. We do exercises like Pilates, Body Shape, and Body Art under the supervision of our teacher for sports education.

We created 4 different communication categories in time of this crisis:

  1.  SEB LU Informs (We share all important information regarding studies, exams, application periods)
  2. SEB LU Helps (We share articles and options that can help you in your time of need, FAQ for students)
  3. SEB LU Contributes (We seek to contribute to a better understanding of the current social realities we are facing during the COVID-19 epidemic. To this end, almost every day with help of our professors and wider society we prepare webinars related to current topics. Up until now we organized 13 different webinars. For example: Learn the best from East and West during Corona-virus, E-talk: Tourism after COVID-19, Fraud in time of COVID -19, How to stay physically and mentally fit in time of COVID-19, Dieting during the corona crisis.
  4. SEB LU Personally (We share student stories and how are our students facing social distancing and what/who helps them when the going gets tough?)

Finally, our professors have established a special forum for sharing the experience in using Canvas, the learning management tool and other video-conferencing tools.

Any advice for other schools looking to put more of an emphasis on healthy lifestyles?

In 2018 we surveyed staff to find out how our lifestyle programmes were being received. They stressed that lack of time is the biggest issue for better participation in the program, and a result, we are always searching for new ways to encourage employees to more actively participate in our activities.

At the beginning it is very difficult and hard but it really makes a difference, not just for the person who is dedicated, but for the co-workers and the whole academic community. You need at least one passionate and dedicated full-time person to develop, promote and organise Health at the Workplace, someone who is a good listener and a good communicator. Then, you need to listen to what they are telling you.

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