Health and wellness programs at large companies are not just hard-core boot camp classes and cardio exercises any more. Some of this year’s Top Workplaces have expanded their definition of “wellness” to include social, emotional and even financial well-being.
On the menu for employees at some of the firms: workshops on topics such as shame, resilience and stress relief; weekly fruit and vegetable deliveries from local farmers; and services brought directly to the workplace, including massages, blood testing, athletic shoe sales and farmers markets.
To be sure, fitness is still important. Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America offers 15 to 19 classes per week for employees in the fitness center at its Golden Valley headquarters. The financial services company that sells a variety of annuities and life insurance products revamped its focus in 2012 to its True Balance wellness program that emphasizes physical health and nutrition, as well as financial preparedness and social and personal development.
“Employees need to find balance in life, and each person’s balance will vary from others’,” said Suzanne Dowd Zeller, chief human resources officer for Allianz Life, which ranks ninth on this year’s Star Tribune Top Workplaces list of large companies. “And it’s not likely just one thing that they need.”
Besides the onsite fitness facility and healthy eating options in two cafes, Allianz organizes an annual 5K walk/run, and access to a worldwide program known as the Allianz World Run where employees track their activity which is logged across all global Allianz companies. The goals result in charitable contributions to SOS Children’s Villages with winners receiving various awards.
On the social side, the company offers programs that help employees going through personal or financial hardship, support groups for those becoming caretakers, and various opportunities to take time off work to volunteer.
The company also believes in “financial fitness,” with programs to help workers learn about money management, financial planning and retirement strategies.
Accenture, which ranks 26th on the list, also has broadened its wellness program to increase employee engagement, said Traci Egly, office managing director in Minneapolis.
“Not everyone wants the same thing,” she said. “You have your heavy cardio people and others who just want to get in a better mental place, so we try to offer that wide gamut of activities.”
The company employs more than 50,000 with operations in 42 U.S. cities, Egly said, so its workers are on the road a lot providing professional services in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations.
Its Accenture Active program offers discounts on health insurance premiums for those participating in annual biometric screenings with blood tests, but Egly said employees probably perceive that as a “have to do” rather than a “want to do.” So the company came up with a plan that offers workers a personalized mobile app to set a health goal, and then $150 to buy a Fitbit or other wearable device that tracks activity or food intake. The perk is also available to spouses and domestic partners. Workers also have a point system that provides rewards and allows company teams in places like Minneapolis, New York and Australia to compete against each other.
“It really drives the employee engagement overall, as well as saying that wellness is important for our employees,” Egly said.
New technology also fits the company culture since not everyone comes into the office every day, she said, and having programs and applications for mental health, meditation and brain training are all aspects of wellness that people can do at home or on the road.
“An employee that likes it here and is proud of where they work, performs better,” Egly said. And if they believe that their company cares about them and their family, and wants them to have a balanced and fulfilled life, she said, the more likely they are to remain in their jobs.
Wellness programs can also be an important recruiting tool, said Vanessa MacCallum, employment and wellness specialist at UCare, the nonprofit health plan with headquarters in northeast Minneapolis that ranked 12th on the list.
“We’re very fortunate to have a fitness center on site for our employees,” she said. “We also like to think about how we can operate outside the box of the typical wellness programs.”
That includes allowing employees to sign up for a community-supported agriculture program from a local farmer, and have the produce delivered weekly at work and through payroll deductions. A similar program also delivers organic fruit during the year, and company employees can shop at an onsite farmers' market between May and October. The company recently tried something new: It brought in a vendor for a workplace “shoe fit” program — basically an onsite store to help employees choose the right exercise shoes.
MacCallum estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the workforce participates in some aspect of its wellness programming.
The company had a downturn in employment in 2015, MacCallum said, and it inspired a number of workshops in resilience, shame and life lessons. “Building resilience comes from finding inner strength and capitalizing on what’s inside, and letting people know that they have the strength to be strong,” she said. “We talk about some hard things here, and it’s amazing what people will dive into. We were very sensitive to how much people might gravitate toward something like that, but it’s actually been well received.”
Also popular has been a daily e-mail to employees that includes activities for the day featuring classes, onsite massage, and updates on enrollment and registration for upcoming programs.
“It also provides motivational quotes and comments, so it sets the tone for the day for people,” MacCallum said. “What I’ve heard back is that it’s a unique piece that helps build community, and just a very positive environment.”