Health & wellness: A shared journey toward a healthy future – The Business Journals

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To the casual observer, the past two-plus years have been a challenge for employers hoping to keep employees healthy and engaged. But far more has occurred behind the scenes that has required HR and wellness teams to elevate their health and wellness offerings.
Between the pandemic itself, the remote-work movement it spawned, and then the dynamic “great resignation” and sometimes reluctant return to work process, organizations have been challenged to keep talented workers – and recruit and hire employees.
For many, the culture of health and wellness, with the benefits, camaraderie and commitment that come in tow, have been the answer to retaining their “employer of choice” status.
In this Healthiest Employers panel discussion hosted by Florida Blue and Orlando Business Journal, human resources professionals from several of the area’s “healthiest employers” discussed their challenges and successes in using health and benefits in recruiting and keeping top talent.
Moderated by Tony Jenkins, Central Florida Market President for Florida Blue, they explored how companies’ focus on traditional health, as well as more holistic mental wellness, is creating more engaging workplaces that achieve “healthiest employer” status. As employers face the recruitment, hiring and retention challenges, some have found a culture of health and wellness is one of their strongest selling points to keep employees healthy and aligned with the organization’s mission.
Wellness as ‘foundational’
Long before the pandemic, health and wellness were essential to recruitment and retention at the Orlando Utilities Commission, said Latisha Thompson, the Chief Employee Experience Officer. By partnering the wellbeing team with the talent acquisition team, they share an elevated and advanced role in hiring. This has especially been the case since the great resignation, she said. They’re quick to share program benefits, as early as recruitment. These include paid time off and cash incentives earned for participation in wellness programs, but more importantly, the role wellness plays in the organization itself, she said.
“It’s a very foundational concept that health and wellbeing really reflect our core values,” she said. “Our number one core value is ‘make safety first.’ When employees see that value made practical through our wellbeing programs, and just how we conduct our business day in and day out, it really resonates with them that this is a way of being for us at OUC.”
Since it was first implemented in 2009, NASCAR’s wellness program has grown and evolved, said Joy Mahon, the organization’s senior director of wellness and benefits. At the helm from the start, Mahon has nurtured and grown the program, creating a strong recruiting and retention effort for NASCAR at its Daytona headquarters and every market the organization reaches across the country.
With the great resignation and the return to the office, Mahon has continued to explore program improvements and ways to communicate it to the workforce, she said. Whether locally or in a far-flung market, office-based or remote, Mahon’s team has boosted employee engagement opportunities, with in-person and virtual platforms suited to employees and their families. Offerings include lunch and learns, wellness hours, even chair yoga, breathing exercises, and creating a health charcuterie board. Some of the programs are offered later in the day, to catch workers in the home setting
“We invite families to join and to get young kids involved,” she said. “For many, our workspace and living space are overlapping, so we definitely want to encourage health and wellness for our employees and their families. We have to get in front of our employees in a different way.”
Regular employee surveys at Children’s Home Society help the organization stay atop its workforce’s needs and health and wellness expectations, said Lisa Hall, director of Total Rewards. Especially with the pandemic and the changes it brought, staying attuned to employees’ concerns has helped create an evolving package of health and wellness benefits – and how they’re delivered.
Of course, programs are more virtual, and have included recruitment and hiring fairs. Its benefits are presented in wellness brochures, showcasing offerings beyond salaries, she said. Literature on their Total Rewards program highlights the scope, including increased EAP services that now include text therapy for those who prefer it. Working with the talent acquisition team, the goal is to reveal “what their real, true benefit is,” she said.
Solutions for heightened engagement
At Florida Blue, the pandemic heightened the need to provide strong mental health support to employees. The insurer enhanced its already robust offering of mental health options to its employer groups. Jenkins wondered what resources healthy employers were offering employees to support their mental well-being.
Like Children’s Home Society, the Orlando Utilities Commission has been looking at every component of its program and comparing it to results and suggestions from the quarterly employee feedback program to determine what should be added, Thompson said. Asking for feedback serves another purpose, she said. It boosts engagement.
This is important at an organization where a quarter of the workforce was working from home, and half couldn’t, because of their operational roles. But what managers discovered was that employees have similar needs. The commission added a “mindful moment” with trained counselors. They held mental health wellness training with medical experts to help leaders and managers attend to the needs of their teams. They encourage their employees to take vacations or time away from work to relax and recharge.
The EAP always was a core benefit. But the commission added Talkspace, allowing employees and family members to engage virtually with trained therapists at no cost. All this harkened back to the commission’s “make safety first” core value.
“We were very intentional through the pandemic that employees understood it was more than physical safety,” Thompson said. “It was also about their mental state of being.”
Offerings continue to vary, even as the pandemic becomes endemic. At NASCAR, Covid still is adding a “layer of complexity on already complex HR jobs,” said Mahon, whose team is responsible for Covid-related resource development and team communications. In addition to gathering all Covid resources, they then responded as the need for heightened mental health programs became clear. Employees can access and share with their families the EAP and Mindcheck tool. As a mother of school-aged kids, Mahon made sure there was specific communications for young adults, as well as parents and caregivers.
“As a mom and working parent, that’s always in my mind,” she said. The offerings continue to evolve, and now include meditation, breathing exercises and stress relief.
Communication is essential, said Hall with Children’s Home Society. The organization changed its EAP, bringing in a new vendor and adding new services, negotiating lower copays, and introducing heightened group and individual therapy. To help share the offerings with the workforce, they created a guidebook highlighting all the resources available to employees. “We have something for everyone, but getting that communicated to everyone can be difficult,” she said. “The guidebook helped.”
An eye on tomorrow
Health and wellness program managers see their programs as evolutionary. At NASCAR, with so many of its people traveling the country to different races and events, health and wellness programs historically have alternated sites, Mahon said. The success of virtual health fairs, with “virtual passports” employees can get signed to be entered into prize drawings, means they’ll likely be a permanent addition.
The latest tool, the BurnAlong holistic corporate wellness app, was a new addition designed to “keep content fresh,” Mahon said. “When it comes to wellness, it’s the same employees who tend to participate.” New apps can draw new users.
Children’s Home Society used to do health fairs in all its 50 locations. Remote work drove the transition to virtual fairs, with employees accessing speakers on any of three “stages” and five different breakout groups, including yoga, art therapy and other offerings. It also works with its provider to elevate its wellness efforts, with reminders regarding exercising, a water challenge, and motivation.
The Orlando Utilities Commission continues to host its program live and in person, Thompson said. But with the Talkspace app, Propel, and Les Mills fitness program, employees can participate in guided mindful moments, yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, healthy cooking and other programs ¬ all accessible through the commission’s wellness portal.
With leadership setting an example, and wellness champions helping communicate the message, engagement and enthusiasm grow. How does Thompson’s team know it’s a success? They track, measure and report engagement – and have been pleased with the KPIs and reports they’ve seen.
“Overall, it’s making employees much more aware of things they can do healthwise to improve their lives,” said Thompson, who mirrored comments from her peers that engagement rises when employees know leadership is committed. “My team can’t do it alone. The executive team is engaged and models the way to wellness.”
Lightning round
It’s December 31, 2022. What health and wellness goals do you hope you will have met in the past year?
Joy Mahon, NASCAR: First, I would like to say kudos to my health and wellness team. They do an amazing, tireless job. And kudos to our executive leadership team, including our new CHRO, and our old one, too. They’ve been walking the talk. Since day one, we’ve been meeting employees where they are in their wellness journey. If we can bring them one step further in their journey, then we’ve been successful.
Lisa Hall, Children’s Home Society: I’m alway happy when I can reach one person and help their success story. If they’re healthy and where they need to be, then I’m really happy.
Latisha Thompson, Orlando Utilities Commission: I would say congratulations. We have brought the entire focus on the importance of mental wellness across OUC and engaged our employees and leadership. That has really fostered participation at all levels. The journey is continuous, but our employees are leading the way to healthy outcomes, not only for themselves, but for their families.
Tony Jenkins, Florida Blue: It’s not just about wellness in your organization. It’s about taking it home to your families and having an impact on their wellness journeys.
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