The Times Square ball has dropped; calendars have flipped from December to January; festive out-of-office messages have been retired. For many — perhaps bouncing back from months of holiday treats — this season is one for planning ambitious health goals for the year ahead. A few of us might even see those goals survive until February.
For Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), a focus on employee health is a year-round commitment. Led by Wellness Coordinator Caroline Kahnk and supported by a volunteer committee, the health insurer’s wellness initiative is as much an investment in the team as a model for its peers in the business community.
Investing in Employees’ Physical Wellness
BCBSNE’s headquarters in Omaha’s Aksarben Village features a Wellness Center where employees have 24/7 access to exercise machines, free weights, and fitness equipment. The building overlooks Omaha’s Keystone Trail, giving team members the option to run, walk, or bike outside during more pleasant weather. Locker and shower facilities allow workers to fit in physical activity throughout the day.
Since the pandemic, BCBSNE’s workforce has shifted to a hybrid model. As a result, the company has innovated its wellness program to help employees stay active and attain their fitness goals, wherever they are.
Wellbeats, a digital app, hosts a library of exercise videos and guided workouts so users can find content tailored to them, on-demand.
“We want to meet our team wherever they are,” Kahnk noted.
Vitality, another platform, awards users points for completing activities and tracking their workouts.
“Vitality is like a game,” said Melissa Young, clinical operations program manager at BCBSNE. “I am trying to earn as many points as I possibly can throughout the year. The ultimate reward of all this work and effort has been seeing my ‘Vitality age’ (which is calculated by an online assessment measuring the user’s health) be lower than my actual birth age. It has reinforced the work and choices I am making daily are having a positive impact on both my physical and mental health.”
Recognizing the business case for employee wellness, BCBSNE goes further. The company offers cash rewards to employees who reach certain point thresholds.
The virtual aspect of the wellness program at BCBSNE has allowed for more inclusivity and for those who work exclusively at home to participate in wellness events. One such recent event is the “Scale to Better Health Challenge,” a 12-week weight loss challenge that saw 81 participants lose a combined total of 1,104 pounds.
Steps to Build a Culture of Wellness
Kahnk is quick to offer some pointers for companies who want to promote a healthy team but can’t provide a full Fitness Center experience.
“There are concrete steps you can take this year to promote a culture of wellness. Obviously not every company can make room for on-site treadmills and showers,” Kahnk explained, “but maybe you can partner with the gym down the road to give your employees access.”
Leadership has an opportunity to foster wellness through daily interactions, Kahnk noted. When possible, managers could encourage their reports to flex wellness time into their day. For example, a busy parent’s only opportunity for a short run might be midday. “Maybe you encourage that person to block their calendar for a short jog before lunch. You seemingly lose a half-hour of productivity, but in reality, the benefits the company gets back are so much greater.”
Employees and companies both benefit from a clearer mind, sharper focus, fewer sick days, better morale and increased employee retention, to name just a few benefits.
‘We Want to Walk the Walk’
With the hybrid schedule at BCBSNE, Kahnk and the rest of the Wellness team are working to bring back the activities and events that on-site workers miss the most, like group fitness classes.
“Overall, BCBSNE’s wellness program has changed, but its mission has not,” Kahnk said. “The Wellness team is still dedicated to meeting people where they are, and providing employees with the best experience possible.”
And while fitness centers are an attractive employee perk, BCBSNE leadership is clear about the purpose behind their program.
“An important part of our program is to ‘walk the walk,’ so to speak. We want to be a force for good in this state and help every Nebraskan to live healthier and happier — to have more good years,” said Kahnk. “That starts with us as an employer supporting healthy habits among our team. Then they carry the mission to our neighbors across the state.”
Vitality Health is an independent company providing workplace wellness services for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Wellbeats™ provides virtual fitness training for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.