June 8, 2023

If the pandemic taught the region’s leading employers a lesson about healthy workplaces, it’s that mental health and wellbeing demands as much attention as physical health.
In the Orlando Business Journal’s recent Healthiest Employers edition, honorees discussed how they’re including more EAPs, apps and internal initiatives designed to help identify, address and hopefully curb issues related to mental health, including stress, anxiety, even employee burnout.
They’re not alone. Wellable Labs 2022 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report found that 90% of employers were increasing their investment in mental health programs, with 76% spending more on efforts surrounding stress management and resilience, and 71% upping their spend on programs for mindfulness and mediation.
In this Healthiest Employers panel discussion hosted by Florida Blue and Orlando Business Journal, human resources professionals from some of the area’s “healthiest employers” discussed their challenges and successes in using health and benefits in recruiting and keeping top talent.
Moderated by Tony Jenkins, Central Florida Market President for Florida Blue, they explored how companies’ focus on traditional health, as well as more holistic mental wellness, is creating more engaging workplaces that achieve “healthiest employer” status.
‘A different world’
Jenkins acknowledged that the workplace and society are not where they were just two years ago.
“We’re in a different world today. The challenges we’re facing are not the same challenges of 10 or 15 years ago,” he said. “Think about the challenges our employees bring to the workplace. We want to be a place where we are listening, we are understanding. It’s about servant leadership.”
The panelists agreed. In many ways, when trying to recruit, hire and retain top talent, employers are making sure they have the latest, market-leading perks and are stepping up their offerings. How do they know what employees want in terms of benefits? They ask.
At Nemours Children’s Health, annual surveys give feedback on the health and benefits program, and quarterly discussions with new hires and managers alike make sure benefits are living up to expectations and needs. Advent Health spends two days of onboarding to share the provider’s health philosophy and wellbeing offerings. Chenmed offers a retreat-style session focused on culture, values and a sense of belonging, and leaders share their belief in wellness and personal time for selfcare.
The goal is on “making day one memorable,” said Joel Palau, the provider’s manager of employee health and wellness.
What have these inquiries and engagements delivered? Westgate Resorts has improved its maternity leave, added paternity benefits, and now offers adoption assistance. Engineering firm Terracon expanded its “compassion” or bereavement leave to cover loved one’s deaths, terminal illnesses, even handling estate affairs. “If a person is important to you,” said HR manager Sarah Gilliand, “they’re important to us.”
Nemours has added six weeks of 100% paid parental leave to go with short-term disability, as well as two cycles of in vitro fertilization, even guidance related to student loan forgiveness. The company also offers a PTO buy back for those health care professionals who amass too much PTO to reasonably use.
The compensation team regularly reviews the marketplace to ensure “our associates are getting paid equitably and competitively,” said Liza Derbalian-Cordero, the company’s wellness program manager.
The rise of mental health
Mental health and wellbeing take a variety of faces at healthy employers, depending on the company. Terracon has long been committed to workplace safety, the company has expanded that approach to mental and emotional wellbeing. Leadership focused on creating a competitive salary structure to help ensure “pay isn’t getting in the way of their well being,” Gilliand said.
Some employers brought on new professionals, or reassigned others, to address the growing scope and prevalence of mental health needs. Advent Health hired licensed mental health counselors as part of a wholeness response team that includes chaplains and HR members. They reach out regularly, whether in response to a critical incident or just to touch base. The goal is to remind employees that resources are available.
At Nemours, a number of employees have been trained to become the “internal peer support team.” They’re not licensed to counsel, just “trained to have an ear, to listen about stress at home, or if a coworker has experienced something at work,” Derbalian-Cordero said.
Others perform “wellbeing rounding,” visiting floors with cards, snacks or drinks. There may be a walk around the hospital grounds with a therapy dog, or a visit by “Code Lavender,” which provides stressed workers with self-care products, like lavender oil, snacks, mints or mouthwash.
All seem on a mission to “break the stigma” of mental health, as Pamau said. At City Furniture, a mental health campaign includes discussions at orientation and hand-out cards that list the company’s health resources, said Daniela Imbimbo, City’s senior manager of benefits. Associates frequently walk the office or showroom with shirts that read, “Are You OK?”
Chenmed requires wellbeing check-ins with leadership at every level. When a manager and report meet, the first question is, “how are you doing?” Palau said. “That’s been very powerful.”
The app connection
Several employers faced a similar challenge: How can technology help engage and keep informed all its employees, especially those who don’t have regular access to computers? Seminole County Public Schools uses a variety of tools, from scheduling sessions with the nurse practitioner, to virtual mental health services and EAP services, on-demand webinars, lunch and learns, and financial wellness sessions, with many linked from the district’s software, said Amy Smith, the HR coordinator of benefits.
“It’s an easy way to get people engaged in things that actually help their wellbeing,” she said.
Florida Blue expedited its rollout of wellness apps and digital mental wellness support, Jenkins said. A partnership with Sanitas Medical Centers offers members 24/7 digital access to a clinician and at their doctor’s office. City Furniture provides Headspace for meditation, and most employers’ apps allow employees to track their health, physical and wellness results, health assessment – especially if participation brings savings on insurance premiums for the employees.
During the pandemic, Westgate Resorts opened its timeshare owners and guests mobile app to its employees. It eased communications with the team, and today allows workers to more easily access company information. This is critical for those employees who may not have access to online resources at Westgate, and similarly at Terracon, Gilliand said “Any levers we can pull,” she said.
Looking toward tomorrow, much of the technology and practices these healthiest employers put in place over the past several years will be expanded upon. At Chenmed, excessive, long or unnecessary meetings or outreach to employees off hours are frowned upon. It’s part of a deliberate distinction between “work” and “life” designed to ensure that “time outside of work…is not necessarily influenced by work,” Palau said. “It’s a crucial thing.”
At Advent Health, webinars, educational programs, speakers and other in-person and virtual offerings have been shortened or condensed at Advent Health, sometimes from four hours to one, Abril said.
The goal is to increase engagement, improve outcomes and create a healthier workforce and community. Seminole County Schools, with its wellness champions and advocates, is often in the community with its programs, “trying to keep everybody engaged internally and externally,” Smith said.
To Gilliand, with Terracon, community is critical because it drives engagement. Leadership isn’t seeking work-life “balance,” she said. They seek “integration,” where creating equilibrium between work and personal, and incorporating community involvement on the journey, drives a greater embrace.
“You’re on the right path. It’s meaningful. It’s authentic,” Jenkins said to the panelists. “You’re not doing this because it’s written in a policy book. You’re doing it because you’re seeing it in the faces of your people. Keep doing this and our community will be a better place.”
Lightning Round
It’s Dec. 31, 2022. What health and wellness goals do you hope you will have met in the past year – or goals for the year ahead?
Tony Jenkins: We want to be a place where we are listening, we are understanding. It’s about servant leadership, and being in a position where it’s our jobs to make sure we’re meeting the needs of people who are putting their trust in us.
Stephanie Abril: We’ve created an environment where our team members can be whole. While we’ve engaged over half the population, even if we’ve saved one life, it was a successful year.
Liza Derbalian-Cordero: We have to be very open minded, explore options and think outside the box. Going forward, if we keep doing what was always done we might not see the results we are looking for.
Sarah Gilliand: We’d look back and say we’re engaging them every day in their whole personal health. The question for 2023 would be, did we leave the situation, person or task healthier than how we found it and are we better for having experienced it?
Daniela Imbimbo: We’ve really made some strikes for mental health and wellbeing. As we look forward, we want to create a medical home for our associates.
Joel Palau: It’s all about that same level of care and attention that we give to our patient, and making sure we’re always giving it to our people.
Amy Smith: We want to continue to provide the impeccable health programs for our employees by being creative in the way we’ve handled things.
John Williams: How can we get our team members more engaged with health and wellness, with all the other distractions of life?
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