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Creating a Well-being Programme at the American University of Beirut

In recent years, Lebanon has faced a series of external challenges, impacting the social, economic, and political spheres of the country. These challenges include the October 2019 revolution, the economic downturn beginning in August 2019, the global COVID-19 pandemic starting in March 2020, ongoing political instability, energy crises, the Beirut Port explosion in August 2020, and the repercussions of the Gaza War in October 2023. Amidst this complex backdrop, the American University of Beirut (AUB) has demonstrated a firm commitment to supporting its faculty, staff, and students, prioritizing their safety, health, and well-being.

In September 2020, the TARGETED-MPI team at the Suliman Olayan School of Business (OSB) at AUB engaged stakeholders to identify gender-related issues within the institution for the purpose of developing contextually relevant gender equality plans (GEP). Through this engagement, it became evident that the concept of well-being, though not directly related to gender, had become increasingly pertinent due to the ongoing external crises. Notably, women, who predominantly occupied junior staff and support roles, were disproportionately affected, experiencing heightened levels of stress and a lack of well-being.

In fact, the thematic analysis of data collected from internal stakeholders revealed several critical concerns: a significant increase in employee and staff departures attributed to the aforementioned external factors, a prevailing sense of job insecurity following extensive layoffs by the institution, a dichotomy faced by many in choosing between continuing their careers at AUB and Lebanon or seeking opportunities abroad, and challenges in maintaining a work-life balance exacerbated by increased workloads due to staff attrition and augmented family responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This disproportionate impact on women brought the issue of well-being into the realm of gender equality. The TARGETED-MPI project at OSB, therefore, incorporated the promotion of faculty and staff well-being as a key objective of its Gender Equality Plan (GEP).  Over the last few months, the TARGETED-MPI AUB team has been busy developing and implementing well-being activities, particularly addressing the needs of female faculty and staff. Such initiatives revolve around organizing extracurricular activities, creating interaction opportunities, and encouraging participation in university-wide well-being programs are part of this plan. The Well-being Programme, features activities such as monthly wellbeing breakfasts for staff and faculty in order to get together, enjoy a healthy breakfast and connect with one another, hiking trips and step challenge that allow OSB community to delve into mindfulness breathing and walking exercises and the family well-being day that was organized with the aim of creating an informal space for colleagues to connect outside the regular work setting, nurturing a sense of community and mutual support. This program has significantly improved the work environment at OSB, fostering a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, enhancing communication, morale, and job satisfaction, especially among female staff.

Testimonials from faculty and staff affirm the positive impact of these initiatives, particularly in improving health, engagement, and team spirit among women.

Below as some of the testimonials of the faculty and staff:

“I want to thank Targeted MPI team, the mastermind behind the nutritious and delicious breakfast that leaves us feeling energized and ready to tackle the day ahead. This thoughtful and consistent approach to fostering good eating habits and gathering us all, staff and team members, to engage in a group discussion and catch up on the latest news means a lot and gives us the space to get to know each other more. Thank you for your efforts to promoting a healthier lifestyle!”

“Thank you Targeted-MPI team for this memorable family well-being day. Looking forward to more fun and engaging activities to spend time together outside work.”

“Thank you all indeed for allowing us to create unforgettable memories.”

In essence, the TARGETED-MPI AUB team’s Well-being Programme exemplifies a commitment to nurturing a workplace culture that values the comprehensive welfare of its community, with a particular focus on addressing gender-specific challenges.