In late 2010, high-tech company Brocade consolidated its operations and moved a large group of employees to a brand new set of buildings in San Jose, Calif. With the move, the firm had the luxury of building what Leanne Bernhardt, senior director of compensation and benefits, calls a "state-of-the-art" fitness center. At the same time, like many other organizations, Brocade was faced with rising health care costs.

Wanting to leverage the new fitness facility to better help employees manage their work-life balance, the company launched a WellFit council made up of a cross-functional group of about 10 people. The council was tasked with developing a strategy to "address this global problem that we had around improving the health and well-being of employees while managing the rising health care costs," says Bernhardt.

The WellFit council decided to build a strategy based on five pillars: physical health and wellness, emotional and mental health, financial health, sustainable health and family health.

"When we first started, we weren't quite sure what would really stick, what people were most interested in, and we didn't have a budget," says Bernhardt.

First up? Wellness champions. "What we thought would help us tremendously was this whole idea around WellFit champions," explains Bernhardt. It's a global program, so there are about six or seven WellFit champions around the world who help tailor wellness initiatives to local interests.

"Although we have a global strategy, what we found is that the uniqueness at each of our sites, whether they be in North America or around the globe, is really different," says Bernhardt. "As an example, you might have a very successful bike challenge in the U.S., but you might not find the same interest in India."

But what has really sparked interest in wellness at Brocade is the company's use of gaming and its inherent competitiveness. "Brocade is in an industry that is very competitive, and what I found is that the more competitive our challenges and contests are, the more engaged people will be," says Bernhardt.

Brocade partnered with RallyOn, a wellness firm that helps organizations set up wellness challenges and promotes participation through technology and gamification.

"We use that as part of our infrastructure, and it is something you can access on any mobile device - your computer, your iPad or iPhone - wherever you are, to see how people are doing," says Bernhardt.

Brocade's most successful challenge was an executive fitness challenge in which a team of 12 executives competed against other teams of 12 to see which team could complete 30-minute workouts at least five days a week. It used the RallyOn platform to sign up teams and the challenge garnered a 10% participation rate globally.

The gaming aspect brings "a little banter and it goes on message boards, which is really fun," says Bernhardt. "We have just found that because our environment, and where we work and how we work, is very competitive this has been a really successful mechanism for us."

Two years ago, Brocade reorganized its benefits team to add a full-time person who is focused solely on employee wellness at the company and who manages all of the programs globally. Since introducing its wellness program, the company didn't have to increase employee contributions to health premiums in 2012, and 2013 increases were kept low. "We had slight increase in certain premiums [in 2013], but the small increases were still far less than the average increase in the rest of the industry," says Bernhardt.

Brocade has also expanded its wellness initiatives beyond its employee base. The company is planning a 2014 healthy living calendar containing artwork from employees' children, a repeat of a successful 2012 calendar of the same theme.

"It served as a year-long reminder of all the small steps that can be taken to positively affect health and well-being," says Bernhardt. "That was one example of how we took it into the home, because we believe that if you can engage the parents or the children, there is a commonality involved that is a support unit that you wouldn't have if you're just trying to reach your employees."

The company even incorporated wellness into its Bring Your Kids to Work Day, giving employees' children a tour of the gym and teaching them how to use some of the equipment.

In addition, Brocade offers healthy eating seminars with the cafeteria's chef and financial seminars on such topics as how to write a will and estate planning.

The company's always switching its programming up, keeping track of the five components on a color-coded calendar to ensure equal weight is given to the various pillars because, as Bernhardt notes, "everyone looks at health differently, and that's why we have this strategy."

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