Wellness programs signal cultural shift in Twin Cities workplaces | Crain's Twin Cities

Wellness programs signal cultural shift in Twin Cities workplaces

St. Paul public relations agency Beehive Strategic Communication looks out for its employees’ health in the office, at home — and even on the way to work.

Workers there are empowered to work off-site with the aid of company-sponsored iPads, laptops, WiFi jetpacks and Smartphones.  On the way to the office, their commutes are eased through paid MnPass subscriptions. And once at work, they may access a cardio room, a meditation room, weekly yoga classes, multi-subject health education and free healthy snacks. The progressive company also funds Fitbits and, in season, supplies its employees with fresh-grown produce through a community-supported agriculture program.

All that probably costs Beehive a big chunk of change, but vice president of culture and talent Rebecca Martin says it’s paying off in worker productivity; employee retention has stayed above 90 percent over the past five years, and a mere 1.6 percent of PTO days logged in 2017 were attributed to illness. Neither does the bottom line appear to be suffering; the agency has grown by an average of 19 percent in each of the past three years.

“Employees [who are] supported in caring for themselves perform at higher levels and are more engaged and loyal, meaning less burnout and turnover,” Martin advises. “Physical strength, emotional stability and mental clarity give our team the energy, resilience and ability to be our best selves and do our best work.”

Such workplace perks would have been unheard of a generation ago, but today forward-thinking Twin Cities employers are brainstorming all kinds of incentives to promote worker health and happiness. Naturally, many are spurred by the chance to reduce skyrocketing healthcare costs; research shows workplace disease-prevention and wellness programs can produce returns of more than 300 percent.

But organizations are also motivated to pull out all the stops to attract and retain employees in light of the pending labor shortage.  As baby boomers retire en masse and younger workers increasingly find themselves in the employment driver’s seat, they’re using that influence to push for better work-life balance. Indeed, a recent Gallagher study predicts that 70 percent of U.S. employers will offer some kind of wellness program by 2019.

Making the job fit the worker

Financial concerns aside, many employers are now motivated to beef up their health and wellness offerings in response to cultural shifts, says Paul Terry, CEO of the Waconia-based Health Enhancement Research Organization. The national member-based group works to advance best practices in workplace health and well-being. Minnesota-based members include Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota.

Terry says that the first 20 years of the nation’s workplace wellness movement focused primarily on improving individuals’ health; now the focus has shifted to also encompass how jobs and work environments can become healthier. For example, as part of an Hennepin County initiative encompassing 11,000 employees, the medical industry–saturated municipality is trying to reduce physician burnout by addressing multiple workplace factors that adversely affect doctors’ mental, emotional and physical well-being.

Another wellness trend Terry mentions is employers’ attempts to create “companionate love” in the workplace to encourage better emotional health. The goal of creating a sense of affection and caring among co-workers is becoming more widespread, he says, in response to research suggesting colleagues who experience it perform better in the workplace.

 “Increasingly I’m seeing employers who don’t seem all that interested, frankly, in cost containment,” he remarks. “What really gets to be prime is employee engagement. It’s a pretty common-sense principle: If we rub our employees’ backs, they tend to rub ours back. If we show extraordinary effort beyond what they expect, [the] data is pretty clear that employees give back above and beyond.”

Other Minnesota-based employers proactive in offering a wide range of health and wellness benefits include Optum Inc., Medtronic, 3M and Cargill, Terry says.

Beehive's Martin notes that, for her company, the focus on keeping its workers happy and healthy has become a win-win.

“Whenever we’re asked how can a small company afford to do this, the answer is ‘How can we not?’” she says.

A sampling of other health and wellness offerings among Twin Cities–area employers

  • Ikea offers up to four months of paid parental leave to employees with a year’s tenure.
  • Amazon allows employees to share paid leave with their partner and a program called Ramp Back that lets new moms gradually return to work.
  • Target created a hub called Target Plaza Commons in Minneapolis where employees can participate in basketball, bocce, video games, life-sized chess or fitness classes or gather around a fire pit. A Health and Well-Being Center addresses worker health issues, and a “genius bar” helps them solve mobile-device issues.
  • Golden Valley-based General Mills offers many workers telecommuting options and flexible start times and work hours, as well as resources for childcare, elder care and adoption. 
    And a program called FUSE (Flexible User Shared Environment) allows some teams to design their own workspaces. 
  • 3M headquarters in Maplewood offers workers an on-site bank, pharmacy, medical center and fitness center with health classes, as well as programs to help employees quit smoking and manage stress. Bonus: worker “tranquility” break rooms in which electronics aren’t allowed.
  • Ad and marketing agency Carmichael Lynch frequently hosts concerts, yoga sessions, meetings and other employee events on its rooftop deck in Minneapolis. And company bikes are available for check-out.
  • The Nerdery in Bloomington periodically allows dogs in the office.
  • Minneapolis-based 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys Ltd. incorporates four well-being committees that focus on optimizing employees’ career prospects, personal finances, community relationships and health. 
January 18, 2018 - 4:37pm