Whether it’s the latest apps, onsite innovations, or even cool swag intended to increase engagement, today’s employers are exploring new approaches to engaging their workforce in health and wellness.

In this Healthiest Employers panel discussion hosted by Florida Blue and Jacksonville Business Journal, wellness and human resources professionals from some of the area’s healthiest employers shared the tools, tips and insights that have helped them create and nurture a continual culture of health.

More than just lowering claims and premiums, these efforts have helped them recruit and retain top talent in challenging times and become important community citizens.

Moderated by Darnell Smith, North Florida Market President for Florida Blue, they revealed how comprehensive benefits and a culture of caring helped stave off the effects of the “great resignation” or “great retirement,” while keeping people engaged as companies ponder their return-to-work strategies.

At insurance brokerage and risk management firm BKS Partners, innovation has driven engagement and success, said Isaac Cruz, the company’s wellbeing consultant. This has included solutions for onsite and remote workers, like mobile apps, virtual programs, and telemedicine.

A culture of wellness

With four generations of success in the local market, the Tom Bush Family of Dealerships is always exploring ways its culture of family and wellness can lure top talent eager to be part of a healthy company, said Brian Bush, the company’s VP. Beyond looking within their company, the organization partnered with Baptist Health and First Coast YMCA to tap the Personalized Approach To Health (PATH) program to meet its employees’ unique health and wellness needs, he said.

Darnell Smith, North Florida market president for Florida Blue, called culture “the big C.” Successful companies have discovered how to bring culture and engagement together to achieve wellness, he said.

Nemours Children’s Health’s challenge is to engage the wellness needs of some 8,000 employees. To do it best, all of its programs are offered enterprise-wide, with its comprehensive wellness program seeking constant innovation based on associate feedback, said Liza Debalian-Cordero, the organization’s wellness program manager.

Along with six weeks of parental leave, fertility coverage, and loan forgiveness, other benefits include up to a 20% premium discount for participation. Still, engagement remains a challenge, she said.

To boost involvement, the wellness team incentivizes employees with gift cards and swag to encourage participation in nutrition or step challenges. They also regularly ask employees what they want. Since the pandemic, quarterly roundtables with existing employees and new hires alike have sought input and engagement.

Safety as a core value

Safety is a core value at Superior Construction. The company continually seeks ways to weave safety, as well as health, wellness and a culture of “family” across the organization, said Bernadette Overstreet, the firm’s benefits and wellness analyst. Beyond their “Safety Briefs” and “Toolbox Talks” that regularly explore jobsite safety, benefits offerings, even the availability of its EAP, leadership tries to take health and wellness to the jobsite itself, she said.

To show “top-down” support of health and wellness efforts, Overstreet, company leadership and site managers will get their screenings done at the jobsite, she said. “If superintendents are participating, everyone else will,” she said. “We all like to make sure we’re engaging together.”

Mental health remains a growing concern since the pandemic. Florida Blue enhanced its already robust offering of mental health options to its employer groups. In January, the Florida Blue Foundation invested $3.8 million to 12 nonprofit organizations across the state to address mental well-being in children, families and seniors in innovative and creative ways. Smith asked what resources the panelists are offering employees to support their mental well-being, and whether they started anything new during or because of the pandemic.

Nemours increased the number of visits allowed through its EAP from six to eight. A new chief wellness officer hired during the height of the pandemic has overseen the introduction of “huge changes and initiatives,” Debalian-Cordero said. They also brought on two onsite psychologists and increased confidential peer support that had been available since before the pandemic.

Tools, such as the Mequilibrium app, and other programs available to its people address resiliency and stress management. They also offer loan forgiveness; when Nemours partnered with Tuition.IO, which enables companies to provide employer-paid student loan contributions as an employee benefit, they had 500 applicants.

“This goes with financial wellness,” Debalian-Cordero said, “Everybody has a different need for wellness.”

Keeping tools top of mind

This holistic approach to health and wellness, including financial and mental wellbeing, needn’t favor those larger organizations with the resources to fund teams, tools and perks. Bush offers an EAP, with telemedicine, and additional in person and virtual mental health offerings and counseling. It has created wellness champions who help encourage others across the dealerships to pursue healthy goals and to recognize those who stand out, Brian Bush said. Even having “someone just show up at the store once a week to see how you’re doing is great for engagement,” he said.

Superior Construction offers a host of leading benefits. But to encourage participation, Overstreet launched an EAP campaign, creating insurance cards and key tags with the log-in information to serve as a reminder, and delivering them to job sites to help employees better understand how to use the service, she said.

The firm also brought in its 401(k) administrator to help employees better understand their investment resources.

“Our benefits don’t stop after open enrollment,” Overstreet said.

Similarly at BKS Partners, the epiphany was the realization that they need to continually reeducate their members as to the services available to them, Cruz said. The firm brought in a wellness coach and experts, offered webinars, and offered up other services to help employees manage their wellness tools, and access the EAP and mental health benefits available through the health insurance program.

Sometimes, it was as simple – yet critical – as managing moments of stress. Counselors showed employees mental health and breathing techniques and instilled the practice of focusing on what they can control in their immediate surroundings versus those events outside their control, he said.

Lasting pandemic lessons

About five years ago, Overstreet went to her company and asked to push back her start time at work to accommodate her child’s school drop-off schedule. The company had never faced that before. Actually, nobody had ever asked, she said. Similarly, when the pandemic came and much of the office staff had to work remotely, that was another new twist for the workplace model.

Then, the pandemic brought about a cultural shift. Beyond permanent hybrid models, the company offers other time-off and flexibility scheduling. What had been frowned upon today plays a role in employee retention, she said.

“Organizations are willing to learn midflight how to do things differently with their employees,” Smith said.

Before the pandemic, Florida Blue was already rolling out more digital offerings to its employer groups. COVID-19 expedited its timeline to provide wellness apps, doctors appointments online and digital mental wellness support. The insurer also partnered with Sanitas Medical Centers to start offering members 24/7 digital access to a clinic at their doctor’s office.

This helps boost employee engagement and participation, which Smith noted was the only way a health and wellness program can be successful. He wondered what others believe the secret to their programs’ success is.

Cruz’s answer was simple. “Our secret is not being secretive,” he said. BKS Partners is “transparent” about benefits and plans While they cannot focus on tailoring their wellness efforts to any particular desire, the starting point is what people say they need. The wellness committee and cultants are “always looking to the big picture for success,” he said.

To earn the team’s trust, seek their feedback, program the best you can to their needs, and be honest about what you offer, Debalian-Cordero said. Don’t rely on the wellness team to do all the programming; engage people from across the organization, and invite their input on topics from physical and mental health, to financial wellness, and be sure to ask what their family unit may need. Then, be flexible.

“You have to be able to adjust from year to year and address your population’s needs,” she said.

“A culture of health really starts at the top,” said Bush, who’s one of the executive team who at 2 p.m. every day leads pushups on the showroom floor.

As Smith concluded, “It’s about doing the little things better than anybody else and showing that you care.”

Lightning round

It’s December 31, 2022. You’re reflecting on your strides in health and wellness over the past year. What would you like to accomplish going forward?

Brian Bush: We have good engagement, but our biometrics are getting worse. So reprioritizing some people’s habits to kick start the new year right.

Isaac Cruz: I’m just thinking about the bacon double cheeseburger and the milkshake that I’m going to celebrate with and welcome in the new year and all the new initiatives we have planned.

Liza Debalian-Cordero: I’d want to make sure we’re open minded and thinking outside the box. A top priority will be to pay attention to mental health. If you don’t pay attention to mental health, your physical health won’t get any better.

Bernadette Overstreet: When we put out surveys or ask for employee feedback, I’m always thinking about, “How am I going to deliver?”