Aéropostale, a mall-based clothing store geared to preteens, employs a young, mostly female, workforce. As with many organizations that employ a largely female workforce, the company's No. 1 medical plan costs are related to pregnancy and childbirth, accounting for 23% of all medical claims.

 Aéropostale saw costs related to pregnancy and childbirth increase year after year and identified a real need to educate mothers-to-be about receiving the right medical care as early as possible in pregnancy. Aéropostale partnered with My Baby Experts, an online provider of maternal and infant health and wellness education, and Buck Consultants, the global HR consulting firm, to launch AeroBabies, a maternity program that moves beyond the traditional medical-only focus on pregnancy.

 

Unique workforce

Recognizing the unique characteristics of its workforce - young, computer-savvy but without email access at work, and working in more than 900 stores nationwide - Aéropostale designed AeroBabies to include features of both a traditional maternity program and the appeal and community support of social media in order to connect with employees. The program includes information about the medical insurance choices, individual support, coaching and education throughout the pregnancy and beyond, and a community of other parents and experts to support the mother-to-be.

The company wanted its employees and their spouses or partners to be healthy and have healthy babies, but felt that the literature from medical providers was not resonating with its younger population.

"We wanted to catch their attention in a nonintimidating way," says Rochelle May, benefits manager with Aéropostale. "By launching a program like this, we want our employees to know that we know who they are, we know how they like to communicate and socialize, and we really care about their well-being."

 

'Friend' the experts

Inspired by the approach used at an independent firm, My Baby Experts, and the reach and impact it had on new and expectant moms, Aéropostale teamed up with the firm's owner, Shari Criso, a registered obstetrical nurse, lactation consultant and certified nurse midwife with more than 20 years' experience. My Baby Experts reaches a large national audience of millennial parents using social media, live Web shows, educational videos and full-length DVD programs.

  Aéropostalelaunched AeroBabies in September 2011. The program consists of:

* Medical insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield;

* Individual coaching with OptumHealth; and

* A financial incentive that reduces the hospital copay under the Aéropostale-provided medical plans. If enrolled from the first trimester, the total financial incentive can be as high as $300.

All employees and their spouses or partners are eligible to participate in AeroBabies shower and fun events, as well as Optum's coaching program.

 

Program launch

In addition to collaborating with Criso to customize her material for Aéropostale, the company partnered with Buck Consultants to strategize the program's launch and help create the communications. Aéropostale developed a strategy to define the program's goals and objectives, create the mission statement and guiding principles, determine budget, identify challenges, design program features and determine metrics for measurement.

Key communication pieces included a launch postcard mailed to the employee's home, posters for display in the stores and a highlight brochure posted on the company intranet. In addition, Buck drafted manager talking points, giving managers the information they need to promote the program.

 

Leveraging social media

 Aéropostale also knew that, given its employee demographic, traditional, one-way communication would not engage parents-to-be over the long term. So it decided to use social media to build community support and facilitate real dialogue among participants. The first initiative was Facebook because it's so widely known.

Together with Criso, Aéropostale maintains a regularly updated Facebook page that includes educational videos, bi-annual virtual baby showers for employees and spouses or partners to really engage them in the process and make the program interactive and fun, articles and tips, games, and a forum to ask questions and share baby pictures and advice. Going forward, Criso is working on a private portal where Aéropostale employees can access My Baby Experts' existing library of materials.

From an engagement perspective, of the 149 maternity leaves Aéropostale has had since September 2011, about two-thirds of these expectant mothers joined the AeroBabies program. And this past April, more than 100 employees participated in the first virtual baby shower on the AeroBabies Facebook page.

 

Avoiding preterm births

From a financial perspective, experts agree that the most cost-effective way to reduce maternity costs is to avoid preterm births and other pregnancy complications through prenatal care and education. It's estimated that one less premature birth could save anywhere from $120,000 to more than $800,000 for high-cost deliveries that involve the neonatal intensive care unit. With one fewer premature birth, the program has paid for itself - without even considering the additional costs associated with the life-long disabilities that many of these little ones often experience.

In addition to the assumed reduction in premature births attributed to the program, Caesarean-section rates for AeroBabies participants have fallen from 44% to below the 2010 national average of 32.8%. Caesarean delivery, which involves major abdominal surgery, is associated with higher rates of surgical complications (nearly double those for a vaginal delivery) and maternal rehospitalization, as well as with complications requiring NICU admissions for newborns.

Patricia Goodwin-Peters is the vice president of AeroRewards, Aéropostale, Inc., working in Aéropostale's headquarters in New York City. Diane Leary is a communication principal in Buck Consultants' New York City office.

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