How (and why) one company successfully revamped its wellness program

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Looking to shake up your workplace and infuse your employees with a new sense of excitement? A corporate wellness program that emphasizes teamwork and community spirit may be just what the doctor ordered.

That’s what Bazaarvoice discovered as it set out to increase employee engagement.
The leaders at this large-scale marketing and advertising software company knew they had a problem inside a blessing: As their employee base grew, their wellness programs engagement rates shrank.

The problem wasn’t necessarily the programs themselves, but rather their organization and method of rewards.

“BazaarVoice had many great programs in place — one was a wellness program, another was their recognition and rewards [subset] that focused on culture and engagement — but they were very disparate and one didn’t talk to the other,” explains Autumn Manning, CEO of YouEarnedIt.

Before joining forces with YouEarnedIt, Bazaarvoice was giving money to employees to spend on wellness, but not tying it to healthy behaviors. Each year they would gift each employee $500 in reward money, of which $250 had to be spent on wellness. Some might spend it on a gym membership, while many were spending it on spa days and massages, which “is technically wellness, but not changing behavior,” as Kathy Smith-Willman, director of people and talent at Bazaarvoice, freely admits.

“Instead of giving dollars away to what might have been [called] ‘fluffy stuff’ [such as massages],” explains Smith-Willman, Bazaarvoice changed its reward system so that employees used their wellness dollars “to really change behavior.”

YouEarnedIt set up a comprehensive platform that put all the wellness and reward silos in one place. In addition, the company used a robust peer-to-peer network to reinforce healthy behavior and foster a sense of community across the global company.

For example, the YouEarnedIt platform’s “Behavior Bonus” feature instantly rewards employees for completing behaviors the company encourages. The company identifies target behaviors covered in its corporate wellness program, such as annual medical exams, group exercises, or health risk assessments. Workers can see other workers earning “Behavior Bonuses” in the company’s YouEarnedIt feed, generating awareness and interest organically.

Bazaarvoice took the idea one step further by encouraging a team element around its wellness program. Teamwork is a lauded value at the social networking company.

Employees can earn more points together than they could on their own when participating in healthy activities or community service.

“Doing things with a team yields stronger relationships and connections,” Manning says. “We look for ways to facilitate how we can drive deeper levels of connection with each other and also with the community, because that absolutely has an impact on their levels of engagement at work.”

It became clear that community mindset was spreading when employees began using their own rewards to give back to others. Many employees have chosen to pool points together as a team to help a co-worker in need as their reward, or to participate in executive networking sessions.

“We’ve found that many employees would prefer to spend their hard-earned points on things that are team-oriented than individual, or things that have an impact on others rather than themselves,” says Manning.

After Bazaarvoice started incentivizing employees with wellness-based rewards through YouEarnedIt’s mobile and desktop platform, the company saw a huge jump in participation. After only one year, their participation rate jumped to 70%. That’s night and day compared to the average workplace wellness program, which garners a mere 24% participation rate, according to RAND’s Workplace Wellness Study.

These strong participation rates have already influenced healthy behaviors in employees. Health risk assessments increased dramatically — from less than 10 to more than 100 year-over-year. Because of this uptick, Bazaarvoice anticipates a direct influence on premiums and medical costs.

Many employers view wellness as a holistic program that goes beyond step challenges into financial well-being, charitable generosity and mindfulness. Bazaarvoice is no exception.

In addition to promoting healthy lifestyles, the company’s wellness program looks beyond physical health and encourages employees to embody company-valued behavior.

Community service is a keystone of the Bazaarvoice profile, so the company not only rewards employees for participating in community service; it lets employees choose rewards that give back. Many elect to redeem their points for a charity choice card or for their child’s classroom instead of an Amazon or Whole Foods gift card.

“[Bazaarvoice leadership wants] a way to reward employees for things that are good for the company, like giving back to the community or being healthy — things that create a healthier and more satisfied and engaged workplace,” explains Manning.

Wellness consultant Rose Stanley, a senior practice leader at WorldatWork, agrees that employers should tie their corporate wellness programs to their employees’ needs, and not necessarily to what happens to be the hippest industry trend.

“Organizations need to understand their own demographics.”

“Organizations need to understand their own demographics,” Stanley says. “They should never be putting something together just because it’s popular out in the general public. They want to make sure it’s focused in what the needs are of their organization.”
For example, step challenges are always a popular staple, but employers can spur competitions beyond physical wellness, depending on their employees’ interest. If workers want to eat better, for example, employers can foster recipe challenges. Points can be given to how many recipes employees can create or try, how creative they are, or to the healthiest recipe that still tastes good. Employees can even bring in samples if there’s no office cafeteria.

Stanley says the most successful wellness initiatives expand beyond the physical — from educating around college loan repayment for a workforce struggling with college debt to a strong off-boarding initiative for places with a large population of retiring baby boomers — to help them grasp a better understanding of Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Even emotional intelligence and mindfulness can be promoted under the banner of wellness to help employees reduce stress and to help managers to become better leaders — for example, empowering managers to encourage employees to take longer lunches to use the company gym.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense sometimes to say we’re an organization [that offers a gym membership or discount and] that’s trying to get our employees more physically active if we’re doing nothing about helping them to create time to do that,” says Stanley.

Bazaarvoice used the YouEarnedIt platform to keep managers apprised of the success of the program over their population and with individuals. A manager could see if a new hire was on-boarding successfully by her activity participation and peer-to-peer feedback.

“A big part of feeling engaged at work is having a relationship with a manager that’s personable and personalized,” says YouEarnedIt’s Manning. “[Our platform] can notify managers when an employee has done something or redeemed points.” And they can congratulate the employee over the platform, as well as reward them for embodying a company value.

Furthermore, when an employee or manager recognizes a peer for an activity, he can tag company values to that activity, thereby reinforcing what’s important to the company, such as teamwork or community service.

Teamwork is one of the most important values at Bazaarvoice, Manning says, but it’s also the company’s biggest challenge.

Leaders at Bazaarvoice wanted to retain a small family office feel while they grew to more than 1,000 employees in nine locations, from their Austin headquarters to offices in Chicago, London, Munich, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, and Sydney.

Before the YouEarnedIt platform, employee engagement and recognition got lost in the mix of day-to-day operations.

“Large offices struggle to promote visibility about what’s happening with wellness,” says Manning. “They struggle to drive awareness,” she adds, and to spread a feeling of inclusiveness.

Whether they’re used to decrease health care costs or increase productivity and engagement, wellness programs are becoming an increasingly important aspect of employers’ benefits strategies. Speaking at EBN’s annual Benefits Forum & Expo in Orlando, Fla., Ann Wyatt, regional vice president with HealthFitness and Kimberly Shotwell, health & wellness services efficiency manager at Mars, Inc., shared ways employers can help create an engaging and successful wellness program.
October 6

But with the peer-to-peer program in place, three-fourths of employees were actively recognizing one another after only a year.

Employees can give virtual high-fives across country lines and view what other locations and workers are doing in real time. They can give each other reward points and tag a company core value that gets them to reflect on their company culture and valued skills.

Besides the obvious buckets (volunteering and step counts), Bazaarvoice also wanted to make sure its employees were getting rewarded for healthy behaviors that were important to them.

The question that Manning focuses on while working with Bazaarvoice is: “How do we reward employees to do company-friendly behaviors that lead to huge ROI, but also enable employees to have a voice to tell BazaarVoice what they do for wellness and get rewarded for it?”

Stanley recommends having a cross-functional wellness team that works with HR to keep the wellness program alive and fresh. She recommends having competitions that cross functional teams or have one department compete against another. She also advises keeping a visible leader board so everyone stays aware of progress and stays in the game.

Employers can ask employees for stories about how the program has affected their daily life, and can even post these on their intranet or wellness platform like YouEarnedIt.

“What we’ve learned from BazaarVoice is that it takes a strong company culture and voice from company leadership to admit we know we don’t know everything,” Stanley says. “There’s a framework we can follow, but we’re open to hearing from employees about what’s meaningful to them.”

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