Berkeley Perk: A Team Dedicated to Employee Health and Wellness

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Kim Guess, UC Berkeley’s registered dietitian, teaches employees at the Haas School of Business how to make no-cook chia pudding, chia jam and an orange poppyseed salad, during a cooking class sponsored by Be Well at Work. (UC Berkeley photo by Jeremy Snowden)
Kim Guess, UC Berkeley’s registered dietitian, teaches employees at the Haas School of Business how to make no-cook chia pudding, chia jam and an orange poppyseed salad, during a cooking class sponsored by Be Well at Work. (UC Berkeley photo by Jeremy Snowden)

By Will Kane

Kim Guess works for UC Berkeley. Her job is to make sure her colleagues — all 8,300 staff and 3,800 faculty — eat enough fruits and vegetables. She offers cooking classes, runs an “Ask a Dietitian” email advice line and oversees a new policy ensuring the campus offers more healthy options.

Guess, a registered dietitian, works for Berkeley’s Be Well at Work program, a collection of services run through University Health Services to help staff and faculty with nettlesome issues like raising a family, balancing technology use, buying a house, dealing with the death of a loved one, caring for an aging parent or avoiding workplace injuries, among other topics.

All staff and faculty on campus have access to the classes, one-on-one counseling sessions and wellness programs. For free.

“When it comes to people’s finance, there can be a question of how you look for help or where you begin,” said Karen Patchell, who runs Be Well at Work’s financial literacy programs. “We try to make that easy for you.”

Patchell regularly gets questions about saving for retirement or building a down payment fund and connects employees with financial counselors from Fidelity Investments, Berkeley’s retirement plan administrator, or Bank of the West, the campus’s official bank.

“A lot of times people think buying a home in the Bay Area is impossible, and then they meet with one of the counselors and they start to see that it might be possible,” she said. The counselors can also help with issues like paying down credit card debt or saving money.

Mallory Lynch, meanwhile, spends her day making sure employees don’t get injured at work. She’s one of two full-time ergonomists — they call themselves the posture police — who coordinate a team of deputy workstation evaluators across the campus.

“Each office should have one,” she said of the evaluators. “Find out who they are and ask for an evaluation. Eighty-five percent of injuries come from people using their mouse incorrectly.”

And cost shouldn’t be a barrier. Lynch’s office has a matching fund to help cash-poor departments buy ergonomic mice, keyboards or new chairs.

“The stuff doesn’t cost that much,” she said. “You can’t afford not to do it because then you get hurt and then your morale suffers. The idea is to fit the job to the worker. If someone is having pain or discomfort, they should talk to their supervisor.”

And yes, you should eat more vegetables, said Guess, the campus dietitian.

“Whenever possible, try to make half your plate fruit or vegetables,” she recommended.

“That can make the biggest difference. Ask yourself at each meal, how am I going to get those vegetables in there?”

But changing diet can be easier said than done, Guess acknowledged. She can help with that too.

She runs a six-week behavior-change class called “I CAN!” that includes nutrition classes, a cooking seminar, a grocery store visit led by Guess and before-and-after fitness assessments.

“We want you to feel healthy and well,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”

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