When Melanie Brasher looked over the results of an internal survey in the late summer of 2020, the results were telling and unsurprising. A few months into a global pandemic and a lockdown with horizons that were always over the next hill, stress had taken hold in America’s mental health.
Even in conditions outside public health emergencies, working to instill a culture of wellness presents unique challenges for Brasher as VP of People at CARROLL. As a company with wide national engagements in real estate investments, property management, and development, wellness policies must oversee teams as small as six, across seven states and ninety locations.
Implementing smoking cessation programs, weight loss programs, and providing tools for people to improve their physical and mental wellbeing were ongoing programs to serve a geographically and vocationally disparate organization. But it became clear that the mental stress of the pandemic was keeping people from using these tools.
“We have these programs supported by these [insurance provided] wellness funds, but if people don’t use them, the money isn’t spent. We realized that people weren’t using these programs,” Brasher recalled. They decided to launch a new wellness initiative using Burn Along, an employee wellness portal that offers classes on mental, physical, and financial wellness. But rather than relaying this through an email from corporate, they used an engagement program designed by Wellspring to make the initiative a focal point in the day of their employees.
Employees received a discovery kit full of wellness products delivered to their doorstep, along with insert cards detailing various wellness programs and a QR code that helped them learn more and sign up. Brasher’s goal here was to “bring awareness to the tools available to them… we did get more buzz and engagement around these programs.” Providing an array of tools for people to explore and use at home and discover what works best for them has improved the well-being of many employees, Brasher was enthusiastic to relay that one employee had even lost 60lbs since taking up the company’s wellness programs since.
Even less visible ways, results can be profound. Brasher noted that the biggest sentiment from teams receiving Wellspring kits was that “People showed a lot of appreciation for being recognized." Chatter and excitement about the kits swept up the virtual office water cooler. Recognition alone is a powerful tool Brasher and CARROLL are adept at. And for good reason; when companies spend at least 1% of their payroll budget on recognition, there’s an 85% increase in employee engagement, which boosts morale and helps elevate company culture- something often talked about but in practice is very difficult to manage effectively.
Later Brasher remarked on the impact of the gesture, “People appreciated the recognition that it was okay not to be okay. When people got the kits… people didn’t realize they had things bottled up they needed to address. The kits helped with that.”
Six months later Brasher asked Wellspring to design another program for CARROLL’s annual leadership summit, held virtually this year, with a theme focusing on how small acts of kindness can have a butterfly effect.
CARROLL’s corporate insurance plan, like many others, includes a wellness fund that allows for spending on wellness programs. Literature typically touts a 3:1 ROI ($3 saved on healthcare costs for every $1 spent on corporate wellness). It’s a resource that is often unknown or under-utilized by organizations, almost 8 billion wellness dollars are unspent every year. As Wellspring was a pre-approved vendor, the process was “convenient and easy.”
"When I mentioned our initiative, they quickly put it together. In 2 phone calls, we got it. I sent them the [address] list and they put it all together. The fact I didn't have to worry about was great. With insurance dollars, it's pretty easy for us. We just cut a check and sent the invoice to the broker and a week later we got the funds…. I get 25 emails a day from vendors trying to sell me something. Wellspring feels different. It feels like they are on a mission to promote everything ‘wellness.'”
On Day 1 of the Leadership Summit, the first topic on Brasher’s team call was the kits they had received. Everyone had a healthy cookie with the company’s logo with it, corporate swag, and wellness products that the team discussed. They began talking about their diets, and all agreed to eat healthier. A fig bar from the kit was for sale on the ground floor of the office, which Brasher had never tried before but now swaps out MnMs for. Since the summit, she’s pleased to say she and her team are still on their mission of eating well.
Brasher’s account of CARROLL's wellness journey during the pandemic also included reflections of the ripple effect a small gesture can make. Care and safety are paramount values in their customer service, as they deal with clients, residents, and prospective homeowners during a public health crisis. Taking time to curate a culture of care internally in the organization has a ripple effect outwards. Its velocity is exponential, even though it’s hard to measure. The idea of small acts of kindness being contagious and weighty. How CARROLL’s maintenance and outdoor workers could receive items relevant to their health and safety, and its impact on the communities they manage and are a part of. A conscious effort behind the unconscious impacts.
Top-down emphasis is crucial in getting culture right. Brasher’s direct supervisor, David Perez, was the person who initially introduced her to Wellspring’s services. CARROLL’s CEO, Patrick Carroll, is an enthusiastic advocate for wellness and employee well-being, something that’s even apparent to us here at Wellspring in our dealings with the organization.
"We are aligned in wellness, [Patrick Carroll] fully supports any initiatives we have. He was thrilled with the kits.” Carroll even suggested to Brasher to make videos to send out to the company to explain exactly what was in the kits and get into the what’s and the why’s of this wellness initiative.
Only about half of companies with 50 or more employees report that they have at least one health or wellness program in place. And, although the 3:1 ROI in wellness programs is widely cited, in truth this varies greatly in terms of the quality of programs in place. Studies show that creating a healthy company culture by placing wellness at the foundation of organizational values sets best-in-practice companies ahead of the rest. They are genuinely concerned about the well-being of everyone on the team, and they are seen as people, not just assets on a sheet where numbers are balanced.
A focus on well-being starts at the top, with executives and managers leading by example and letting employees know that they will not be penalized if they take time to exercise, eat healthier and focus on reducing stress. The overall message at these companies is that a healthier workforce is a key part of the corporate mission and ultimately, results in better performance at work. The culture of health isn’t limited to improving physical measures such as smoking rates, reducing cholesterol, and increasing logged fitness hours; at the best organizations, emotional and financial health are also part of the wellness equation. Employees are encouraged to volunteer in their communities, learn how to better manage their finances, reduce stress, and handle family or personal issues.
All in all- these are cultural outputs. A culture of care that is carefully managed and taken on by everyone within the organization. As the pandemic passes it's one year mark, the concept of organizational health continues to evolve to become a more holistic view of the financial, mental, and physical health of employees, their families, and communities that are served.