Bringing an Old World perspective to employee wellness
Three years ago, when Cameron Black’s supervisors asked him if he’d consider taking up benefit advising at their firm he replied, in jest, “under no circumstances am I joining the dark side.” Now, he can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It's been a blessing because now I can really combine what I know in the wellness field, what I've learned through the benefits field, and make sure that I'm really providing my clients with with the very best skills, tools and strategies to improve their programs, contain their costs and retain their employees,” he says.
Black, an adviser at Ollis Akers Arney Insurance Business Advisors, a Missouri-based firm, says health and wellness has always been a lifelong passion of his. Growing up, his mom worked as a nurse, and in 1989 his dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“It had a major impact on our family,” says Black, EBA’s Wellness Adviser of the Year. “And so, just being in the wellness field, understanding it, and trying to give back a little was my main reason for staying in the field.”
Being born and raised in Scotland — where healthcare benefits are provided by the government, rather than employers — Black says he was apprehensive about getting involved with insurance and the U.S. health system. He already had a fulfilling role as the wellness director at the firm and didn’t want any distractions from his goals. But he would discover that his European roots, and professional wellness background, gave him a unique perspective on the value of wellness programs, and why they’re essential to the American workplace.
“Getting sick in America is very worrying because it's so expensive,” Black says. “I do think there's got to be some serious policy changes. But I think people need to take some personal responsibility for their health.”
Black’s colleagues at Ollis Akers Arney say he’s been helping them focus on wellness programs, like nutrition and exercise, since he started with the company in 2010. Some of his internal projects revolve around decreasing sugar consumption, drinking more water and encouraging his colleagues to stand at their desks. Kevin Robbins, chief sales officer at Ollis Akers Arney, says the work Black does can be life changing for clients and their employees.
“Cameron is really good at building personal motivation, both for us internally and for clients,” Robbins says. “An individual working for one of our clients was having weight issues; Cameron was able to help this individual get motivated and engaged to the point where he lost a significant amount of weight and improved his heart condition — this person actually said it helped save his life.”
Black has also helped increase his firm’s profile by partnering with Bass Pro Shops to help organize their annual fitness festival and wellness conference for employers in Missouri. The event features physical fitness challenges, including a marathon, and guest speakers from around the country. Black served as a keynote speaker for the past two years, and even convinced representatives from the Wellness Council of America to participate. He’s currently working with Bass Pro to help transform the event to a digital platform due to the pandemic.
“Cameron gave his own speech about why we need to be passionate about caring about the people with whom we work,” says Melissa Bondi, program director of community and corporate well-being at Bass Pro Shops. “He has an incredible sense of why he does what he does, and I think that’s extremely powerful.”
But to Black, the definition of “wellness” goes beyond weight management; he says he always encourages his clients to consider programs focusing on financial wellness and mental health too. While many employers and brokers are starting to focus on these programs nowadays to help workers cope with the pandemic, Black believes these programs have always been essential, and will continue to be after COVID.
His advice for getting the workforce to participate in these programs?
Make them fun and offer rewards like more vacation time and money — anything to let them know you care.
“There's nothing that goes above a manager or owner writing a note, or taking a minute to make a phone call to an employee and just congratulate them on whatever their achievement would be,” Black says. “Being an empathetic leader is very, very important. Having great conversations with your staff about their life outside of the office is critically important to improving your culture and letting your employees know, quite frankly, that you care about them.”