Magazine article HRMagazine


Magazine article HRMagazine


Article excerpt

The HR leaders at Cisco Systems believe that employee wellness is about far more than offering the occasional onsite Weight Watchers meeting. Wellness goes beyond even providing the disease management programs that became popular in the early 2000s. Indeed, for the tech company, the very concept of wellness has evolved to include all aspects of employees' well-being-from their finances to their social life. Cisco offers financial education (personal financial counseling is in the works), flexible work policies, five paid-time-off days a year for volunteer work, onsite mindfulness workshops and a generous paid-parental-leave program. And the business isn't giving short shrift to its workers' physical health, either: The 24,000-square-foot spa-like LifeConnections Center on its San Jose, Calif., campus offers onsite primary medical care, fitness centers, outdoor sports courts, hiking and biking paths, and a child care center.

Like Cisco, many companies today are dramatically expanding their vision of wellness. "The big thing in the HR world is that the industry is sort of rebranding, if you will, from wellness to well-being," says Sarah Sardella, senior director for global benefits at Akamai Technologies, an Internet service provider based in Cambridge, Mass., with more than 7,100 employees globally and 3,250 in the U.S. "There was this initial focus on health and fitness-physical health. Now everyone is saying 'What about financial wellness, emotional well-being and mental mindfulness?' " Sardella says.

These efforts may not always pay off quickly in cold, hard dollars saved on health care costs, but they can create happier, more productive and focused employees who are less stressed and less likely to miss work or leave the company, which may ultimately result in greater savings.

"We want people to be at their best. That brings value to our employees, to their families and, of course, to Cisco," says Karen Wiens, director of global benefits for the company's 76,000 employees, including nearly 37,000 workers in the U.S.

HR's Expanding Mission

Wellness programs have been a part of HR's mission since the 1970s, coinciding with a general culture of fitness and emerging research on the cost of poor employee health on businesses' bottom line. Today, these programs are popular and growing: More than 9 in 10 organizations surveyed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) offer at least one kind of wellness benefit. More than 3 in 5 have wellness budgets, with more than half expecting those budgets to increase in the next two years, the IFEBP report found.

Moreover, from 2016 to 2017, nearly onequarter of companies increased such offerings, while only 3 percent reduced them, according to the 2017 Employee Benefits survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Those additional benefits reflect the changing definition of workplace wellness-one that now "takes into perspective a more holistic view of health. It's treating the employee as a whole person," says Erin Seaverson, senior director of research and evaluation at StayWell, a Yardley, Pa.-based health education company.

Benefits managers often divide well-being into "pillars" that represent different aspects of employee health. "There has been a migration from traditional wellness programs to programs that actually have more facets and hopefully address the needs of different employees at different places in their lives," says Harvard Medical School professor Jeff Levin-Scherz, senior consultant of the health management practice of Willis Towers Watson in the greater Boston area.

The pillars can be thematic and goal-oriented, like those at Akamai, which seeks to provide programs that ensure workers are active, nourished, calm, healthy and balanced. Or they can be categorical. For example, the pillars might divide health into physical, social, financial, emotional and mental components. …

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