Using diverse in-house programming to engage employees, L.L. Bean encourages healthy living through its employee outdoor club, stretch-break programs and pilot programs that include paying employees to exercise on company time. Over time, the company has achieved a 4.4 to 1 medical cost return on investment, showing significant health and productivity gains while lowering claim costs.

However, its robust programming and impressive results didn't happen overnight. L.L. Bean had a history of a commitment to wellness long before it became a benefits buzzword.

"In the 1980s, [Leon Gorman, CEO and grandson to company founder Leon Bean] stated that a business is in a responsible position to positively affect the health of its employees," says Susan Tufts, wellness manager, L.L. Bean, Inc. "That's how we got started [with wellness]. He wanted to provide an opportunity for employees to achieve a healthy lifestyle so that they could enjoy the outdoors and the activities that we promote at our company."

For example, by providing smoking cessation classes and subsidizing the cost of quitting tools for employees, the company has 16% fewer smokers than in 1985, reducing its current smoking population to 7%.

But what really made the difference, says Tufts, was "when we changed our environment along with those other programs." Indeed, L.L. Bean saw a 25% reduction in smoking rates after going tobacco-free in company buildings in 1993 - a rate it maintained over the next 10 years. Further, when the company went tobacco-free on all properties in 2005, smoking rates decreased yet again by 40%.

"When you really change the environment and still provide that support, you gently push people to make those changes ... and we saw greater success," Tufts adds.

 

 

Get up and get out

In addition to supporting smokers in quitting the habit, L.L. Bean also sought to improve employee health by cultivating their interests in exploring the outdoors. While the outsider may imagine all L.L. Bean employees as active outdoorspeople, this isn't necessarily true. Some workers may want to become avid hikers, but don't know where to start.

Thus, the company's Employee Outdoor Club encourages people from different parts of the company and their family members to sign up for kayaking or hiking trips, where they can receive guidance.

"It's a grassroots initiative. The biggest incentive is that people get to pursue what interests them at no cost," Tufts says.

The club leaders plan trips and provide information to workers about upcoming activities. Examples include short mountain climbs with employees' children, morning kayak trips before work and a winter Mt. Washington climbing trip for more experienced climbers.

While the club encourages workers to stretch their limits outside, L.L. Bean's mandatory stretch breaks - implemented in 1989 - do the same within the company walls. All operation areas of the company - including distribution centers, manufacturing centers and call centers - have five-minute stretches offered two to three times during the day between regular break times for both sedentary and active employee positions. Trained leaders guide workers through the stretches that have been developed specifically for each department.

"Everything is interrelated; when you're trying to improve the health of your population, it will impact safety as well," says Tufts.

 

 

Pilot programs take off

Also helping to reduce injuries is L.L. Bean's JumpStart work conditioning program, a pilot initiative started in the returns facility that allows employees to exercise during company time at full pay. Participants attended classes three times a week for 45 minutes over a 12-week period, aiming to improve cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility.

L.L. Bean focused the pilot on distribution centers first because these employees have physically demanding jobs and are an aging population. The average age of company employees and plan participants is 49. Many workers in the distribution center began in their 20s and are still working these demanding jobs in their late 40s.

Tufts admits she had doubts about whether these workers would continue to exercise after the program ended and they were no longer paid to work out. However, six months after the program ended, participants had increased their amount of exercise time by 318% and maintained it over time. After five more pilot groups, she saw the same results. L.L. Bean estimates it can avoid $44,281 annually in potential health care costs based on those results.

"I think I learned the most from things that I didn't think would work but was still willing to try - that was one of them," Tufts says of her initial skepticism.

 

 

Departmental involvement

Another successful pilot is the Journey to the Sea program, started in the facilities department. The year-long health improvement program focused on health metrics like blood pressure, exercise, nutrition and smoking. At the end of a year, participants were eligible to earn a day off with pay.

The facilities group is more than 75% male, a demographic that is often difficult to engage with wellness programs. In this case, employees fully engaged with the program and, at the end, two-thirds of the department had earned days off with pay.

"When there is buy-in, involvement and engagement from [a department], and they ask for our help in developing it, that's when you know you're succeeding," says Tufts.

Tufts explains that pilot programs are great ways to try new things before implementing them company-wide. She also insists on sharing the results with everyone involved.

"Gathering data is not just to show your senior leaders, but also to prove to yourself you're doing the right things," Tufts says. "It's so important to share that data with the employees so they can see the changes and what is happening. It's just as important as sharing results with senior leadership."

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