The research on workplace wellness programs points to mixed conclusions about their effectiveness, but they remain an increasingly popular perk in the corporate world. The programs typically offer employees an incentivize to ride public transit, go to the gym or exercise during the workday at an in-house facility, or de-stress in an office relaxation room.
Anyone who’s worked a political campaign might appreciate such perks. But until recently most decision makers on campaigns or at outside groups would scoff at the idea of a wellness program.
The naysayers would point to a time crunch, a lack of funding and, in the context of a campaign, the challenge of implementing a program at an organization that exists for only a short period.
What’s the point?, comes the refrain. Sleep when you’re dead.
“But if you’re missing the sleep, you’re actually going to die sooner.”
That’s the response from Jayson Sime, who managed congressional races, worked for state parties and ran state-level programs for groups before pivoting to become a wellness coach and consultant.
In fact, Sime has become an evangelist for wellness in the campaign industry after experiencing his own health scares related to overwork and unhealthy lifestyle.
“I was 75 pounds heavier than I am today,” he recalled about his in-the-field experience. “I had been taking anti-depressants to manage the stress and anxiety. I couldn’t control my drinking and some of my other habits.”
At the end of the 2008 cycle, he discovered yoga and incorporated organic produce into his diet. But it took a couple more cycles before he conceptualized what his experience could teach other practitioners.
After serving as the Colorado state director for the progressive group America Votes in 2016, he remembers thinking: “There’s another way we can do this work.”
Now, Sime said he tailors his programs to the needs of each client, and notes there’s still time to launch a wellness effort before the end of the cycle.
Hiring a field staff for a post-Labor Day push? Incorporate wellness during the on boarding, he advised.
An overall approach to wellness can be broken down into simple practices. Instead of sitting for a meeting, Sime suggested a walk and talk. If you’re in a field office, are there snacks available other than donuts or pizza? Are staff getting enough water to stay properly hydrated?
“Before I get into the tools, I have to really ground in, why do you want to do this? If I can’t connect it to an important reason why, they’re not going to take on these tools regardless of what science says.”
Consultants, he added, are easier to work with.
“They have more autonomy and flexibility on their schedules,” he said. “They’re so good at scheduling conference calls and meetings, schedule time for yourself. It’s not being selfish. If you take care of yourself, you can take care of your team better.”
There’s still education Sime has to do with potential clients.
“I’ve reached out to different organizations or people in DC, and they say, ‘This seems too much like fun or nice, it doesn’t seem like it’s necessary,’” said Sime.
In response, he points to examples of CEOs and top scientists — accomplished humans who’ve concluded: “What’s one of the most transformative things you can do for the mind? It’s exercise,” he said, before relating it back to campaigns.
“It it’s a game of energy. We can’t buy more time, but how we take care of ourselves can buy more energy. And if we have more energy, we can have more output.”
Sime recently spoke at an AAPC conference and said he’s seeing more practitioners become receptive to his pitch. “Slowly people and organizations are taking steps.”
Frieda Edgette, a government affairs specialist turned political wellbeing consultant, said she’s also getting more traction. She likens it to a light bulb going off above decision makers’ heads.
She said a program starts with realizing why wellness is important, getting buy-in from leadership and staff, and then incorporating the practical strategies that are right for the group.
“It is really challenging to be authentic, make sound decisions, connect with hearts and minds, and be resilient when operating under chronic stress,” said Edgette.
“More operatives are working with coaches. More campaigns are encouraging lunch offsite and mental health days — and taking them. More advocacy groups include self-care in their trainings. More associations are including mindfulness and resilience at conferences.
“The playbook is changing,” she said.