Igniting Change: Building Wellness into Workplace Culture

First sparked in 2001 as The Light of Wellness Award, Ignite Awards by The Wellbeing Partners now recognizes, on a monthly basis, our Midlands neighbors who are bettering overall health — one person, organization, and community at a time.

Lori Thomas, director of workplace culture & wellbeing,  said the award recognizes a pioneer in the worksite wellness movement: the late William M. Kizer, chairman emeritus of Central States Indemnity and founder of what would become The Wellbeing Partners (previously Wellness Council of the Midlands or WELLCOM).

Clockwise from upper left, A QLI podcast recording, graduates of the Canopy South Ambassador Program, Team QLI’s appreciation station and UBT Wellbeing Officer Sam Dolezal and associate Andrea Howard.
Clockwise from upper left, A QLI podcast recording, graduates of the Canopy South Ambassador Program, Team QLI’s appreciation station and UBT Wellbeing Officer Sam Dolezal and associate Andrea Howard.

“Forty years later, the mission continues reaching thousands of employees across the Midwest,” Thomas said. 

Historically, winners were recognized annually during a signature event. 

“Due to the pandemic, the gala moved to a virtual event in 2020,” Thomas explained. “In 2022, we decided to move to recognizing a winner every month throughout the year.”

Its evolution is deeper than a name or format change. 

“We welcomed a new CEO and several new team members,” Thomas said. “We know that our members live, work and play in our communities. And we aim to be the connector for them to integrate workplace and community well-being, and connect the people that need resources to the people that are providing the resources.”

Thomas also looked ahead to recognizing Ignite Award and Governor’s Wellness Award winners at its annual Xchange Summit in the fall  — winners like Union Bank & Trust’s Stephanie Pitner. 

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Stephanie Pitner, UBT

Pitner embodies the transformations that movers and shakers in workplace wellness strive for. In a video featured on The Wellbeing Partners website, Pitner shared her lifelong struggles with self-confidence, anxiety, and depression. Taking advantage of workplace offerings like yoga and strength training, Pitner has changed. She feels better. She moves better. She keeps up with her niece and nephew. 

“It’s wonderful that UBT realizes there is more to health than just the physical aspects,” Pitner said. “I love the monthly wellness seminars offered to employees, which cover a vast range of topics to help folks learn, grow and ask any questions they might have regarding said topic.”

Employee Wellness Advocate, Sam Dolezal, represents those who support Pitner and others on their wellness journeys.

It all stemmed from UBTwell, a worksite program formed by a committee in 1993.

“UBTwell has evolved to incorporate many different dimensions of wellness and strategies in helping associates make choices today for a healthier tomorrow,” Dolezal said. 

She highlighted virtual and digital offerings and shifts from physical wellness to “holistic” wellness. Strides are reflected by personal stories like Pitner’s.

“Associates are appreciative of the opportunities to improve their professional and personal selves, along with continued associate engagement in the program,” she said, while a recent increase in annual wellness exams, flu shots and preventive services was also noted.

Pitner further applauded the efforts of team members like Dolezal.

“Having leadership within the wellness program who genuinely care about your health, are there to answer any questions you might have, who encourage and motivate you, and help you adjust any workouts or make suggestions … is also an essential ingredient,” she said. “When I let friends know about our wellness program and our classes/facility, they are quite amazed.”

Dolezal indicated organizations of all sizes can “do it” —  encourage positive success among associates. Such successes don’t require a health and wellness background.

“Your passion, drive and ability to see the positive can be enough to get your program off the ground or to the next level,” she said.

Johanna Dunlevy, EFR 

The roots of wellness nonprofit EFR Employee & Family Resources traces back to 2011, as a complement to an existing Employee Assistance Program benefit in place for many decades prior, according to Johanna Dunlevy, wellness manager. 

“More employers have begun to understand the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace,” she stated. “Workplace well-being programs are no longer walking campaigns and tobacco cessation. Employers are starting to recognize the importance of EAP benefits and how they can be integrated in the overall well-being approach.”

Furthermore, Dunlevy said EFR has been involved with The Wellbeing Partners since 2016, collaborating on many networking events in Iowa, and forums and panels. Its success, too, was attributed to emotional well-being as the foundation of total well-being.

Dunlevy further underscored how one in five adults in the U.S. live with diagnosable mental illnesses. 

“When you think about your workforce, think about the 20% of individuals who are likely in need of additional support or resources but aren’t sure where or how to access help,” she said. “Having a full-service EAP in place and promoting it is one way you can provide access to mental health services.”

She acknowledged lingering stigmas, saying “the more we can normalize that it exists, there are ways to address it, and it is not something to hide, the greater our chances are to improve the lives of those struggling now and those who may encounter a mental illness in the future.”

Lulu Rangel, clinical director at Completely KIDS.
Lulu Rangel, clinical director at Completely KIDS.

Lulu Rangel, Completely KIDS

The Completely KIDS Mental Health program has grown from Clinical Director Lulu Rangel and two part-time therapists to two full-time bilingual therapists, three part-timers and a mindfulness specialist. 

Rangel said expansion meant its preventative services could be offered year-round. Plus, its individual therapy capacity increased.

“We served close to 700 kids and adults in 2021 and are on target to exceed that for 2022,” she said. 

Furthermore, its mental health initiative supports the staff who further support families – including any vicarious trauma experienced through work.

“We strive to provide a culture where staff know their well-being is a priority,” Rangel said. “We hold weekly yoga/meditation sessions where staff have the space to unwind and allow themselves to slow down. We also try to incorporate mindfulness into our culture by starting meetings with breathwork, meditation or some sort of mindful awareness activity.”

Additionally, Completely KIDS models the culture it wishes to see.

“Another thing that makes us stand out is the ability for our clients to see themselves in us,” she said. “We have three bilingual, Latinx therapists, two male plus myself. We are able to understand the complexities of issues our families bring to us because we have walked a similar life to theirs. It helps bring a sense of trust and understanding from the very beginning.”

Rangel further imparted words of encouragement that, while working on oneself requires time and commitment, “it doesn’t have to be huge strides if it’s not something you already do. Taking small steps to take care of your overall well-being will have ripple effects in your life.”

Stacey Centarri, wellness specialist, human capital, AND Robin Keller, customer billing analyst, AT OPPD (Courtesy of OPPD)
Stacey Centarri, wellness specialist, human capital, AND
Robin Keller, customer billing analyst, AT OPPD (Courtesy of OPPD)

OPPD’s Stacey Centarri and Robin Keller

Wellness Specialist Stacey Centarri said Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) has become more flexible and understanding of remote work, and how to engage employees physically and mentally “in a new world” as its wellness has evolved. 

“In 2023, OPPD Wellness and Safety are taking the next step in expanding efforts to ensure a workplace culture that recognizes and supports positive employees and their family’s mental health,” Centarri said. 

In conjunction with The Wellbeing Partners, its Mental Health Campaign will involve the creation of a mental health toolkit, quarterly coffee chats and mental health first aid to “increase awareness and support of mental health issues,” “reduce stigma around mental health” and “make mental health a priority,” according to Centarri.

Customer Billing Analyst Robin Keller also referred to its new employee resource group: Empowering Working Families.

“OPPD’s Empowering Working Families was established to give support in a multitude of ways for the things that happen outside of work and career development — the issues that impact their lives and impact their families,” she said. “Our core focus areas are family wellness, mental health and suicide prevention, and elder/sandwich generation caregiving.”

Centarri further spoke to three key ingredients to OPPD Wellness success: “One size does not fit all approach in all we do to support the holistic well-being and work-life balance; listening to our employees and supporting them wherever they may be on their wellness journey; and physical and mental health are equally important components of overall health.”

Keller added that readers should “walk the talk.”

“The things that happen at home are equally (if not more) impactful on their mental health, their physical health and their ability to perform their day-to-day responsibilities,” she stated. “In order to truly support our employees, we must acknowledge life beyond the nine-to-five workday. In doing so, we learn how to better communicate with one another, how to navigate challenges more effectively, and how to empower them to be fully engaged and thriving employees.”

Quality Living Inc. 

A positive and healthy work culture has always been a priority at QLI, according to President and CEO Patricia Kearns. 

“We’ve promoted a number of physical wellness programs over the years that had an impact on some of our team members,” she said. “Over recent years, our focus has turned toward partnering with local community resources focused on emotional wellness and skills for navigating life disruptions.”

Additionally, Kearns said by cultivating strategies that create camaraderie, trust and respect, optimism and even fun in the workday, has further created a sense of belonging and an emotionally safe community.

“With this safety and belonging comes an opportunity for each of our team members to be their best selves and to thrive,” she said. “Our team members have to lean into it. But it helps that they are surrounded by people who are invested in their success and in an environment that is supportive of positive change.”

Buy-in from leadership and direct supervisors is also an essential element.

“I am equally proud to recognize the dedication of our supervisors to these efforts for the team members they supervise,” Kearns added. “Our supervisors are empowered to make in-the-moment decisions that support the well-being of our team members.”

She encouraged readers to seek out community resources, like The Wellbeing Partners. 

“They have expertise that most of our businesses don’t have, but our team members desperately need,” Kearns said.

And consider how well-being transcends a one-time program.

“Well-being is a way of being,” she said. “Formal programs may have value in starting a new routine, but real impact and progress comes from the steady, positive shifts that can be sustained. If you prioritize building optimism, gratitude, trust, respect and believing in people into the routines of your workplace culture, you will make a big impact on the well-being of your team members.”

Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare

Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare supports a network of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers who treat the uninsured and underinsured. As such, Senior Manager of Prevention Services Crystal Fuller said wellness is highly valued for its employees. Its long-standing wellness committee has driven notables, such as its Wellness Points Program where staff is rewarded for healthy behaviors, like getting flu shots and annual exams. As they go along they accrue points, which add up to paid time off (up to one full day) at the end of the year. 

Furthermore, it has provided Mental Health First Aid training, which equips participants with a five-step action plan on how to connect, listen, and support individuals who are experiencing mental health challenges. 

In 10 years, the organization’s trainings have spanned 330 courses and nearly 5,000 participants. 

Today, Region 6 is a partner with The Wellbeing Partners on its mental health stigma reduction initiatives.

“Consistent leadership across several years helps for sustainability,” Fuller said, when asked about the ingredients of success for employee programs. 

“As for our community training initiatives … passionate, dedicated trainers are vital for the success of trainings. Skilled facilitation skills, understanding of the landscape of mental health system, and connection with the materials are also important and success drivers for our course instructors.”

Flexibility in tailoring materials and supporting individuals with tangible, applicable tools is also key.

“Really listening to individuals and group needs helps to incorporate relevant and creative programming,” she said. “Consistency and having a sustainability mindset are additional items to consider for success.”

More information on all winners, as well as more insights into the award recipients featured here, can be found in the “Events” tab at The Wellbeing Partners website.