Workplace wellness programs have numerous benefits, including healthier and happier employees who are safer, more productive and loyal to their employers.
Health and wellness is a hot topic for many companies that are trying to lower rising health care costs while at the same time improving employee health and well-being. A healthy and happy workforce usually translates into fewer injuries, reduced absenteeism, higher retention rates and increased productivity, which in turn helps the company’s bottom line.
One thing that an organization can do to promote healthy lifestyles for its employees is to create a workplace wellness program and embed it into the company culture. FMI recently had the pleasure to speak with Diana Canzona-Hindman, human resource advisor at PCL Construction Enterprises, Inc., who led such an effort at PCL. As a leader in buildings, civil infrastructure and heavy industrial markets, PCL is employee-owned and has an annual construction volume of more than $5 billion.
PCL has been recognized by FORTUNE Magazine as one of the 100 Best Places to Work for six years in a row. PCL’s employee-owned structure, wellness initiatives, philanthropic efforts and training programs all contributed to this milestone achievement.
Chisholm: Please tell us more about making FORTUNE’s list the past six years.
Canzona-Hindman: For the past six consecutive years, PCL has been on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Places to Work List, and we are extremely proud of this recognition. The Great Place to Work (GPTW) Institute actually manages the process for FORTUNE, and each year the GPTW Institute hosts an annual conference. At the conference, companies that have made the list or are currently on the list are asked to give presentations.
Last year, PCL was asked to be a speaker at the conference for the second time, and our session focused specifically on our culture of wellness. We took a strategic approach with our presentation, but also gave the audience some tactical information. Many times people want to return from these conferences with turnkey ideas because creating long-term change happens over time.
After the session, many audience members came up to talk to us and asked more questions. They were appreciative that we spoke to both the strategic process and the tactical pieces so they could implement these ideas and see immediate impacts.
Chisholm: I think that is great for our readers to see some of the tactical information and see what is actually involved in establishing a wellness culture.
Canzona-Hindman: Most of the wellness initiatives we put into place were either no- cost or low-cost and very easy to execute. Providing fresh fruit each week for our employees for $.50 was one of the first wellness initiatives we implemented. It has, pardon the pun, the low-hanging fruit that you can use to start working toward your wellness journey. In addition, we wanted to integrate our wellness approach into our culture and not have wellness be a program or “flavor of the month”.
Chisholm: What was your motivation to integrate wellness into PCL’s culture?
Canzona-Hindman: People are the real motivation; they are our biggest asset. We truly believe that at PCL, and we are committed to their overall health, safety and well-being. We try to accomplish this through excellent medical, dental and vision plans, on-site health screenings, ongoing wellness education and awareness, work-life balance options and a comprehensive safety program.
We also are motivated through our employee-ownership model, where 95% of employees are the owners of PCL. Being owners, we are attuned to what the costs are to run our business, along with our profitability, because we are personally affected. We are aware of the rising health care costs, and that certainly was a motivation. Productivity improvements, along with reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, would benefit our bottom line.
The need for employees to embrace wellness was essential ultimately to have a positive impact to the rising health care costs. Several years ago, the director of HR approached the senior leaders and said, “You know, we really need to start conducting on-site blood pressure and health screenings.” However, at that time, the senior leaders did not approve the request.
Chisholm: How did you go about getting senior leadership buy-in?
Canzona-Hindman: We conducted more research and compiled additional data because the information confirmed what we suspected. The health-cost trends were continuing to rise, and implementing health screenings and other wellness initiatives would have a positive ROI in three to five years. We wanted to assist employees in becoming more aware of their risk factors and advocate for their overall health and well-being.
We worked in collaboration with the American Cancer Association, which came in and conducted a worksite environment study at no cost to us. We looked at different practices throughout many different organizations, including some of our competitors, to see what best practices they were using in the area of wellness.
After extensive research, another proposal was presented to senior leaders. The proposal included annual health screenings for the employees and their spouses, which would be paid by PCL. In addition, our districts were offering free on-site flu shots, but not in a consistent manner. The recommendation was that on-site flu shots be conducted annually to have better attendance.
Tobacco cessation was addressed through recommending enhancements to our medical health plan to have all tobacco-cessation-related treatments and prescriptions covered at 100%, including waiving plan deductibles and including nontraditional treatments such as acupuncture and hypnosis. These enhanced benefits included coverage for employees, spouses and dependents.
Another component to the wellness proposal was to reimburse employees for exercise costs at gyms because we did not have room for exercise facilities at our offices.
The recommendation suggested having ambassadors within each of the districts provide continuous education and awareness about disease management, nutrition and exercise, using the philosophy “Tell them about wellness, tell them again and keep telling them until it becomes a habit.”
Chisholm: What sort of message were you trying to send to senior leadership with these recommendations?
Canzona-Hindman: We wanted our senior leaders to know that we would have a healthier and fitter workforce, which would have positive financial outcomes.
In addition to having better financial outcomes, we wanted a culture of wellness that is just like our safety culture. You don’t go on the job without doing certain exercises or wearing safety glasses or gloves. We wanted wellness to be a part of our employees everyday thought process.
Chisholm: I like what you are saying about making this a part of the culture. Many companies have recognized the importance of having safety ingrained into their culture, and we are beginning to see this with ethics as well. Embracing wellness as part of your culture instead of just another “flavor of the month” is the way to go to get people onboard.
How did the senior leaders react to this proposal?
Canzona-Hindman: We anticipated many questions, conversation about ROI and some reluctance with the cost. The proposal was presented along with a timeline for implementation and funding requirements. Human Resources was ready to go; all we needed was its approval and buy-in. The COO said, “You know, this is absolutely the right thing to do. Go do it.”
Chisholm: It sounds like your research paid off. What were your next steps?
Canzona-Hindman: We needed to implement everything that was covered in the proposal with excitement, energy and enthusiasm. From day one, we needed to integrate wellness into our culture. Our vision, values and principles were used to guide us through the process. An inventory of our current programs was already in progress, and we needed to connect all the dots for employees to ensure that implementation did not look like another program add-on, and then we had to come up with a theme to create our own wellness brand. We looked at our vision statement, which states PCL wants to be renowned for excellence, leadership and unsurpassed value in everything we do. We said, “OK, this fits well.”
Then we looked at our values and started highlighting where wellness touched. Our values say, “We are always looking for new opportunities to learn, improve, teach and add value.” Wellness is certainly an opportunity to teach our employees. “We lead by example at PCL”, so as an employee, if you take the lead in wellness, you are leading by example not only to your colleagues, but also to your family members and even your friends and neighbors in the community.
We continued highlighting where wellness intersected with our guiding principles. “As owners, we are motivated to excel”, and it held true with our health and well-being. We are all in this together. If health care costs are not managed and reduced, money is taken from our own pockets. When employees understand that, it is highly motivating. There is also the accountability component — we are going to hold you accountable for your wellness, just like we do with safety. Safety and health, health and wellness, they all are connected.
Chisholm: It sounds like you laid a solid foundation to get your employees to buy in to this new wellness culture.
Canzona-Hindman: Being a construction company, we used a crane as a symbol of how to build our culture of wellness. When we started, we knew we needed the support and buy-in from the top, which we received through the proposal process. Then, the values and guiding principles were used for the concrete foundation — teamwork, communication, mutual obligation and diversity. The crane showed the culture of wellness starting to take shape.
Our culture of wellness embraces the entire person which has been a huge success factor. Our wellness initiatives include the body, mind and spirit — the whole person. And it looks to that whole person’s life, not just at work, but at home, his or her quiet time, own self and community. If your philosophy includes the whole person, at some point, he or she will make wellness a priority for himself or herself.
Chisholm: This is a wonderful graphic that perfectly illustrates this concept.
Canzona-Hindman: PCL has a great medical, dental, vision, EAP, life insurance benefit package — a strong core to build upon. We needed to recreate and rebuild our wellness committees and start conducting wellness awareness and education.
The wellness inventory revealed most districts were hosting financial fitness seminars, such as 401(k) education, Financial Planning 101 or retirement planning. Flu shots were offered in some districts, but not others. All districts had various social events, such as picnics, golf tournaments and holiday parties. Research shows fun events at work have a positive impact on people’s overall wellness because fun equates to happiness, and happiness is associated with strong emotional well-being and a positive mental outlook.
Social responsibility is a key component of PCL’s culture, and many community activities and volunteer events such as paint-a-thons, adopt-a-family for the holidays, Habitat for Humanity, United Way campaigns and much more are held annually.
Since we were already conducting awareness and education sessions, along with fun events and activities, I thought, “OK, so how do I leverage what we already are doing?” In addition, I thought many people gravitate to visual aids and icons, and we have taken our logo and adapted it to different organizations within PCL, such as our College of Construction, and we have a logo for sustainability “Building Green Inside and Out.” So I asked myself, “If I’m going to try to internally brand wellness, it needs its own logo; but what are the components that are absolutely instrumental and key to the success of a wellness culture?”
The word “key” jumped out at me, and keys are used to associate the four crucial wellness categories which were revealed through our internal audit. The key areas identified would be our focus and used for internal branding, and the “Keys to Wellness” theme evolved and is used in our wellness logo.
- Physical Health and Fitness
- Emotional and Mental Health
- Social and Community Well-Being
- Financial Fitness
Chisholm: This is a great logo to reinforce the wellness brand.
Canzona-Hindman: Again, I think branding internally is just as important as it is to your external customers. Employees are our internal customers, and it is extremely beneficial to make these connections and leverage the passions that many people have for social activities and volunteering in community, because if it gets them off the couch and into the community exercising and being active, we have achieved some of our goals.
One of the first successes we experienced was hiring a nutritionist to develop nutritional guidelines for PCL employees at work. Employees are at work the majority of their time, and PCL sponsors a variety of events, such as holiday parties, picnics, retirements, and fireside chat meetings. We wanted to have internal guidelines for good nutrition in the workplace, which would be available for planning meals for events and meetings that would include providing healthy options for employees.
Chisholm: How do you go about advertising all of this to your employees?
Canzona-Hindman: We initially set up a wellness Web page with the nutrition guidelines and hosted a conference call with the administrative assistants throughout the districts to make them aware of the guidelines and re-educate employees as necessary. We try to keep our Web page up-to-date and re-emphasize the nutrition options through emails and the wellness teams.
The nutritionist also did an audit/inventory of our vending machines. Our goal is to have 30% of healthy options in the machines. We still have the Snickers bars and the cookies in vending machines; however, good nutrition is about providing healthy alternatives, so Luna bars, nuts and other healthy choices are also available. I went to Costco and Sam’s Club with the person who buys food for the vending machines, and we read the PCL Nutrition Guidelines and the snack’s nutrition label to educate us on providing healthier options. We achieved our 30% goal.
Chisholm: It sounds like that may have taken some time, but well worth it.
Canzona-Hindman: It is a slow process, and a continuous one. Our wellness proposal was approved in September 2007; the nutrition program guidelines were complete and posted on our intranet by November 2007. The first health screens were that fall, where we had 42% participation the first year, which was great. The second year, it increased to 52% participation.
That first year our budget was $300,000, which was mostly for the health screens, flu shots and exercise reimbursement. Most educational and awareness sessions and financial fitness seminars are either low- or no-cost, simply our time and energy.
Currently, we are trying different incentives and rewards to increase participation with the goal to get employees to be ambassadors of their own health by understanding their health risks and health numbers. If you have high cholesterol, what does that mean? If you smoke, how does that affect your overall health, and what should you expect in the future? People have year-over-year results to compare, which has been fabulous for those who may move from one city to another or change doctors.
Employees now have four years of health history and data from which they can observe and compare year-over-year results. Physicians who get these records from the employees think it’s a wealth of current and history information and generally do not need to repeat the tests. Employees receive this information in a numerical format, but the information is also provided in an easy-to-understand narrative. It is one of the best summaries of health that employees have seen, and most employees look forward to attending the health screen every year.
Chisholm: This appears to be an informative and powerful tool.
Canzona-Hindman: It is a very powerful tool. Another goal of the health evaluation is to educate employees who may have an undiagnosed high-risk factor such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and offer them immediate advice and counsel from medical personnel. This process allows the person to get his or her health issues into a manageable state and not escalate to a high-risk/high-cost status. If you do not know you are at risk, then you can have serious consequences — heart disease, cancer, stroke — which costs more for treatment versus the $175 pro-active health screen and early interventions such as medication. Overall, the health screening process is less costly than what the alternative catastrophic results could be.
Chisholm: What a wonderful benefit.
Canzona-Hindman: It is a fantastic benefit!
While we were introducing our health evaluations, we tried hosting different nutrition programs and other awareness sessions each month, such as National Heart Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Lung Cancer Awareness Month and more. Our approach is to host and focus educational seminars, which correspond to the month’s theme, whether it is a lunch-and-learn session, activity or an educational email. There are very simple things that you can do to help continue to create awareness, and we focus on heart, cancer and diabetes because those affect our employees, their families and friends. Participating in “National Wear Red Day” for heart disease awareness for women was a huge success, and now we have “Wear Blue Day” in September for Prostate Awareness and “Wear Pink Day” in October for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Our approach to education and awareness is continuous and ongoing throughout the year, which reinforces wellness and provides visibility and more year-over-year connections, where employees do not just see wellness as a one-time event. The more they are aware and take a proactive approach to their own health, the better off they are going to be, and the profits are going to be, and so on.
Chisholm: So it’s win-win for everyone.
Canzona-Hindman: In July 2008, we started our $200 exercise reimbursement for employees who exercise on a regular basis at a gym or fitness center. The reimbursement is for monthly fees, special classes or trainer costs. When the exercise reimbursement plan was announced, we received extremely positive feedback and thanks from our employees. The usage of the plan has been steady and has increased each year since inception.
We also conduct financial fitness sessions. When the financial crisis peaked, you could see the anxiety on employees’ faces. We asked a vendor to come in and host a session to open up dialogue with the employees — “What are your questions? What are your concerns?” The dialogue allowed them to hear from an industry expert how to address and protect themselves financially now, and how to stay the course for long-term investments. It was a great way to invest in our employees’ health and wellness with no cost to PCL.
Chisholm: How do you know when you reach that culture of wellness?
Canzona-Hindman: It is my belief that wellness is only one part of PCL’s dynamic culture, and I look at wellness as a journey, not a destination. It is ongoing and continuous, and feedback from employees is essential. We survey our employees regularly. Feedback allows you to adjust and customize your initiatives to the needs and requests of employees.
You must continually update and refresh your approach; try new and creative ways to get employees physically and mentally fit, and then pay your success forward. For example, we recently updated our Exercise Reimbursement Plan and renamed it the Wellness Reimbursement Plan. The updated plan is more inclusive and continues to reimburse employees for exercise at gyms and fitness centers, while reimbursing employees for other wellness costs, such as weight management/loss membership fees, tobacco cessation costs not covered by PCL’s medical plan, and financial fitness sessions sponsored by PCL which have facilitator or book fees.
Chisholm: So it’s an ongoing process, but an extremely beneficial one.
Canzona-Hindman: The journey so far has been worth the work and effort. Healthier employees being proactive advocates for their overall well-being has been a positive outcome. PCL has received three Healthy Company awards since beginning this journey in late 2007. Another benefit of having a wellness culture is it helps you brand yourself as an employer of choice. People want to work for a company that cares about them as a person, as well as a professional.
However, the real reward and the real impact — are changing people’s lives for the better, and in some cases — saving lives!
Chisholm: I think that is what’s so great about this whole message — to let our readers know that they can start right away and have a positive effect on their most valuable assets — their people.
Workplace wellness programs have numerous benefits, including healthier and happier employees who are safer, more productive and loyal to their employers. By making wellness part of its culture, PCL demonstrates to its employees that it cares about their health and well-being.
Kelley Chisholm is editor of FMI Quarterly. She may be reached at 919.785.9215 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.