If you tell Beth Thierer you're working to achieve work-life balance, you'll likely get a warm nod of understanding—and also a word of caution. "It's a phrase that gets used a lot, but for many people achieving a perfect balance is not realistic, especially in a pandemic," says Thierer, assistant director of JHU's Worklife programs. "I think what's better is to think of it as integrating your work with your life and having the tools to do so and be successful."
Ensuring that faculty and staff have those tools is a primary focus for Thierer, who joined Johns Hopkins in September 2021 and oversees all Worklife offerings, including the employee assistance program, mySupport; Wellness Programs; Lactation Support; Live Near Your Work; and Family and Caregiving Programs. Her team also hosts the twice-yearly Johns Hopkins Baby Shower, which connects Johns Hopkins experts with planning, expecting, and new parents to help them learn about Benefits & Worklife programs that can be of help. While all Worklife programs are offered to all faculty and staff, some of them—such as Care@Work, Lactation Support, mySupport, and Live Near Your Work—are available to health system employees as well.
Even before Thierer arrived at JHU, the pandemic brought to the forefront the need for certain services and required quick adaptation from the Worklife team. Whether it was shifting to virtual work, scrambling for child care amid closing schools, managing anxiety related to COVID, dealing with the aftereffects of being ill, or grappling with grief from the loss of a loved one, "the pandemic certainly caused a lot of burnout and other struggles," says Thierer, a licensed social worker and mom of two who saw firsthand some of the challenges. In response, the Worklife team worked to ensure it offered the most relevant services in an accessible way. "We had a Coping and Thriving webinar series and specific work supports that we offered, but we had to come up with additional tools and resources," Thierer says. That meant a renewed focus on support for mental health and child care, for example, as well as new efforts such as a partnership with BurnAlong that allowed for virtual, rather than in-person, fitness classes.
Though Worklife once functioned as its own department, in 2018 it was moved under the umbrella of the Benefits operation and integrated within the Benefits Service Center, a fitting change, according to Thierer. "The nice part about Worklife being under Benefits is that it's supporting your holistic well-being and it's a part of your full benefits package, not an add-on. It's really integrating benefits with the person as a whole."
Of course, the need for specific benefits and offerings is likely to change throughout the span of a person's work life, a reality the Worklife team strives to address. That means that whether you're in need of premarital counseling, lactation support, child care vouchers, help with parenting or elder care challenges, weight loss, or a host of other issues, you'll find support from Worklife programs. "We really cover your full lifespan, and I think that's easy to forget," says Thierer, who advises getting familiar with Worklife programs and benefits before you need them. "That way, when a need arises, you know where to turn and perhaps you don't let that little problem escalate into a big one," she says. "And if you haven't checked out our offerings recently, I think you might be pleasantly surprised at the breadth of services we provide."
Working together to provide Worklife programs and services are Essence Pierce, who manages wellness offerings; Yvette Bryant, mySupport; Jessica Lohmeyer, Family and Caregiving Programs, including vouchers, scholarships, and the child care centers; and Jeremy Hornberger, Family and Caregiving Programs, including Johns Hopkins' Care.com relationship, Lactation Support, and Live Near Your Work. The Worklife team also includes internal mySupport counselors Anthony Meek, Rachel Liccardo, Alyssa Toran, and clinical supervisor Kimberly Claiborne.
"Our team does a great job of advocating for employees and trying to really help people, but we're always looking for gaps in our offerings and seeking ways to continue to improve," Thierer says, so don't forget to keep checking back to the Benefits & Worklife website. Between helpful tweaks to existing programs, enhancements to the tools you need to access them, and brand-new services that offer additional support, you're sure to find resources that help you integrate work and life.