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6 Expert Tips to Create a Culture of Health and Wellbeing

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on May 04, 2017 10:15 AM

Do you have a culture of health and wellbeing at work? Could it be stronger?

For those of us who are passionate about and charged with effectively supporting our workforce, these are critical questions.  And we’re always on the hunt for the best answers.

What practical steps can you take to make a culture of health and wellbeing a reality for your organization?  

I recently sat in on the panel discussion, “Creating a Culture of Health: Challenges and Opportunities,” at the Health and Benefits Leadership Conference in April. I walked away with several compelling, real-life examples from executives at Delta, Owens Corning, National Van Lines, and The Breakers.

Here’s a summary of their advice that will provide you with both inspiration and practical ideas to build and grow your culture of health and wellbeing:

  1. Poll your employees to establish a baseline and goals

Gale Tedhams, the Director of Sustainability for Owens Corning, stressed the importance of safety in the workplace. They are working towards a goal of 0 injuries, and removing non-communicable lifestyle diseases in the workplace. In 2014, they conducted a survey with the Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE), part of the Center for Health and the Global Environment based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to establish a global wellness baseline. They took the feedback from 33% of their employees and used it to expand their wellness program to include Preventative Care, Healthy Mind, Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Tobacco-free initiatives. They later added Financial Health to this mix. Owens Corning went one step further and publicly listed their goals on their website.

  1. Incorporate wellness into employee development

Denise Bober, Vice President of Human Resources from The Breakers noted that their employee population is almost 50% millennials.  Recent studies show that  millennials are the most receptive generation to wellness in the workplace.  More than 50% have said that working in a healthy environment is influential to their personal health – they’re also very open to a direct manager having a role in encouraging their wellness. She takes great pride in seeing this generation develop, blossom, and take on leadership roles. To support millennials and all employees, she runs what she called an “intense” 3-day development program. She works with employees to dig deep on topics related to the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of employees’ lives. Bober encourages them to find their true passion in life. She truly appreciates that their culture is one that supports taking 3 days to focus on this kind of employee development. 

RELATED:  Do You Have a Stealth Plan for Corporate Wellness?

  1. Go cross-functional with wellness

Jae Kullar, Manager of Health and Wellbeing at Delta Air Lines, Inc., takes a cross-functional approach to her wellness strategy, collaborating with their safety, community affairs, finance and compensation teams.  Kullar noted there can be a bit of resistance at first, if responsibilities seem to overlap with what HR focuses on, but she realized that she could accomplish a lot more by creating a team of stakeholders, connected by their goals for wellness. This approach was echoed in another session at the conference, where teams outside of HR contributed their budgetary resources to the wellness cause and increased its chances for adoption and effectiveness. 

Owens Corning created groups led by key leaders globally to focus on wellness, and included representation from business and various corporate functional groups. The strategies and goals that result are then shared with a Wellness Leadership Council of eight senior leaders, who prioritize solutions and ensure proper resourcing to bring these ideas to life. 

  1. Community Service - leaders should lead by example

At The Breakers, new hires get together as a team for a community service event, and are accompanied by an executive. The participation of a senior leader, in any wellness initiative, including community service, shows employees how important overall wellness is to the company.  Bober finds that, “Those that are happiest are the ones that give back. Our culture brings that alive.” Her experience is further supported by current research – one recent study found that 79% of people prefer to work for a socially responsible company.   

Maureen Beal, CEO and Chairman of National Van Lines, Inc. echoed this, “You have to do community service yourself. Practice what you preach and employees will follow without hesitation.”

While incorporating community service and giving is important throughout the year, National Volunteer Week (just wrapped up for 2017) is a great time to boost awareness of and participation in your organization’s programs.  Mark your calendars now for (April 15-22, 2018) and assemble a team of employees to bring ideas to the table and help put them into action that week.

  1. Identify unexpected champions at work – and let them drive

When Kullar wanted to build engagement for wellness programs, she asked Delta’s executive council to provide her with accountable leaders within the organization who could be wellness champions. Now her core group consists of 35 wellness leaders. When she wants to raise awareness or further an initiative, these wellness leaders approach VPs, rather than the “ask” being made by HR. She said HR has become more of a coach, and provides the tools and information they need as responsible leaders.

The Breakers is a family-run business, and the owners want employees to participate. Bober feels ambassadors can come from anywhere. In her case, it could be someone on the landscaping team or a restaurant manager. She’s found that lots of little ideas from employees can result in larger, more strategic initiatives. She also mentioned that it’s not enough to have a culture of care. You need a culture that’s disciplined to really drive employee performance, wellness, and business results, and ambassadors are one way to get there. 

RELATED: Workplace Wellness - How to be The Best

  1. Listen to employees – on a local level

Several panelists stressed the importance of supporting initiatives that are directly tied to what employees are most passionate about.  Beal has an open door policy at National Van Lines. She said it’s the best thing you can have when you want to involve employees in your company’s wellness, “They will sit down and tell you things that you’d never get just by sitting in your office.”

Kullar had an employee come to her at Delta, wanting to do something in memory of a friend who recently died from cancer. He wanted to raise one Euro for each day of that friend's life, and asked her for support.  As a result, they are sponsoring a bike race in Brussels at the end of May.  Kullar will participate.  

Creating and expanding a vibrant culture of health and wellbeing at your organization is within your reach. Like a lot of things in work and life, getting started is the hardest part. As each of these experts have shown us, begin by focusing on just one area that feels relevant and meaningful to your employees, while echoing your organization’s mission.  Lay out simple, practical steps, and set attainable goals that are shared by cross-functional stakeholders.   

Before you know it, you’ll be writing your own expert tips on health and wellbeing in the workplace.

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.