West Virginia University Health Sciences has launched Blue Sky, a program aimed at building and maintaining strong communities.
Founded on three pillars – safety, curiosity and fun – Blue Sky features several initiatives to engage individuals who are learning and working in the Health Sciences community.
The goals of the program are to reduce burn out, increase retention of faculty, staff and students through being truly engaged, increase levels of innovation and happiness, and nurture an increased sense of community, purpose and well-being.
“Blue Sky initiatives are not ‘one size fits all’ but rather a shared set of common outcomes,” Laura Gibson, Ph.D., senior associate vice president for research and graduate education, said. “How we collectively increase our sense of community and connection to each other, and to a shared purpose, will differ across various individuals and units. Part of the fun is in sharing unique approaches and best practices to support each other at Health Sciences as we continue to grow as an amazing place to be and to work.”
Safety: Promote relationship building
It’s important that individuals feel empowered to safely contribute their ideas, opinions and beliefs, and trust is an essential component of their psychological safety.
Psychological safety is characterized by trust, belonging, appreciation of unique perspectives and comfort taking risks with new ideas, and resiliency is related to an individual’s response to risk. Research has shown that organizations that embrace psychological safety experience optimal engagement, maximized productivity and retention of top performers. Individually, those with high resiliency respond well to challenges and have a sense of optimism, influence and connectedness.
Blue Sky’s “2gether” initiative aims to increase the sense of community and belonging through activities such as seminars on trust and resilience, book clubs, social gatherings and conversational spaces to bring people together and build relationships.
Curiosity: Create opportunities for exploration
One of the biggest barriers to enabling curiosity during the workday is the lack of time people have that they can dedicate to being creative – thinking about new ways of doing things and innovative solutions to problems.
By incorporating curiosity into routine practice, teams improve engagement, collaboration and performance. Individuals then become more creative in developing solutions and are not held back by fear.
The “Find 4” initiative encourages faculty and staff to find four hours a week to be curious, without adding additional time at work. Individuals may choose to dedicate their time to consider innovative solutions, read, learn something new or simply reflect.
The initiative also challenges leaders to support this creative time through actions such as eliminating unnecessary meetings, creating a “meeting-free zone” or designating a day or week that non-essential meetings are discouraged, rewarding people for new ideas and reducing one-hour meetings to 50 minutes.
Fun: Let’s play
Fun at work is a key element of employee happiness. Fostering a sense of fun leads to a more positive mindset, higher levels of resilience and better overall well-being.
The “Let’s Play” initiative focuses on identifying and creating spaces that are dedicated to relaxing with others as a way to prioritize the value of having fun.
Future projects include creating a makerspace-type environment that will provide opportunities to do crafts, play games, relax and listen to music, among other activities, training coaches who can help plan group activities, and organizing activities such as gaming tournaments and concerts throughout the academic year.
Initiatives related to the Blue Sky program have already been implemented across WVU Health Sciences and will continue to expand, featuring opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate. The team welcomes ideas and input from all directions.
If you are interested in planning an event for members of the Health Sciences community related to safety, curiosity and fun and would like support, contact the Blue Sky team.
Photo: The Blue Sky program sponsored a recent Paint & Piano event in Pylons Commons at the Health Sciences Center, bringing together students, faculty and staff for a fun, creative activity.