From Jason Grant (Winter Term, 2021):
Before 2020 many companies allowed workers to telecommute or work from home. Some allowed several days, while others may be a day or two. COVID-19 forced many companies to a fully remote platform that took many by surprise.
Not Buffer. You see, as a social media management company for over 75,000 companies globally, the company of just over eighty employees started as and still works 100 percent remotely. The same challenges face Buffer that most international corporations encounter. The relatively small company attracts people to remote working focusing on one key lesson learned by Co-founder Joel Gascoigne’s battle with the condition that affects many people. Gascoigne battled burnout and related mental illness leading to a company benefits package designed around mental health.
The Program or Initiative
By the end of 2017 the company laid off many employees and because of disagreements lost the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. Trying to keep the company in business Gascoigne recalls running on adrenaline thinking physical fitness kept him healthy (Greenwood, 2019). Once the company stabilized Gascoigne realized the heavyweight he still felt was burnout. After admitting he felt the CEO of a company should never openly display vulnerability (Greenwood, 2019) Gascoigne took a leave of absence from the company to focus on his mental health. To his surprise the company supported him. Thus, they began a concentrated benefit program focused on the mental health of all employees.
Buffer’s mental health program revolves around a core value that all employees are allowed authenticity (Grrenwood,2019). Not exactly an easy task considering the stress caused by loneliness and isolation frequently encountered in a remote environment. People lose motivation when faced with constraints (Graduate Studies, 2019). Employees have shared the story of Gascoigne’s mental illness during the onboarding process (Seiter-Buffer, 2019) as a demonstration of trust, authenticity, and a connection to the firm’s core value that employees are free to discuss problems at home as well as work problems.
The attractive self-health benefits package afforded to all employees includes $1500 per year of accounting services, free laptops, a Kindle for the employee, and s dependant (for education or general reading). More benefits include education stipends and $200 per month to employees who do their work in a coffee shop (Griffis, 2020). The focus, though, is the company’s employee well-being benefits. Unlimited vacation time (including a required three-week minimum), access to a virtual mental health coach, and the “unsick day” program is cutting-edge benefits. Unsicks days are a required day off each year specifically spent seeking preventative health care. Surveyed employees found that before the unsick program, seventy-eight percent did not see a doctor annually. Leadership still awaits data on the new initiative, but many employees have had positive reactions to the program (Seiter, 2019).
Another essential benefit designed to help employees balance life and work was unveiling the four-day workweek program. Buffer knew remote working supplied flexibility, but something was missing. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift in employee responsibilities. Many are parents that found themselves unwillingly converted to teachers. The company moved from five-eight hours days to four in early 2020. Employees have responded well. One extra day off yields an employee productivity increase of forty percent (Miller, 2021).
Connection to Course Concepts
Burnout can happen to anyone no matter their title (Seiter-Buffer, 2019), especially in careers serving others with heavy interaction requirements (Graduate Studies, 2019). Unfortunately for humans, we typically chalk up stress as a price to pay for success. We feel specific jobs include pressure as a job requirement. Instead of confronting stress, we usually compartmentalize it and continue to build walls around standing walls (Hanna, 2018). Buffer offers stress reduction tools through virtual counselors that they can access anywhere, anytime. As a sidebar, the company spends $12,000 per year offering the service to employees (Griffis, 2020).
One disadvantage of working remotely is the urge to stay connected. Phones, computers, and anything else with an internet connection entices people to log on and work when they remain unplugged. On average, people spend eight hours a week doing work at home (Graduate Studies, 2019). Buffer offers a ton of (paid) time off for almost any reason imaginable because it has a core value of mental wellness. Corporate values show it believes people should confront stress. Chronic stress is unhealthy (Rose, 2019). Modern life seems to invite and even inject stress through technology, media, and increasing social demands. Buffer challenges employees to recognize and confront stress.
We all should take a moment and assess the totality of wellness programs. Ask yourself a question: With all the companies on Earth, why do so many companies look for new ways to incentivize employees to care for themselves? Individual factors, environmental factors, and organizational factors all contribute to a person’s stress (Gradaute Studies, 2019), and the common denominator for all three is work! Like it on not, our careers intrude and impact our lives. The other reason companies seek wellness program improvements has much to do with financial impacts. Increased productivity scores companies to implement programs, but perhaps companies keep searching because people do not want to participate.
As a small company working in a unique structure (entirely remote), Buffer values employee health and realizes the challenges of working remotely despite advertised advantages by other companies. Buffer invites other companies to share their unique employee benefits (Griffis, 2019).
The company also advocates for the 450 million people worldwide living with a mental illness (Seiter-Buffer, 2019). It has a goal of being a stigma-free organization that helps build resiliency from associated discrimination.
The uniquely generous benefits package was designed to recognize that introverts and extroverts sometimes need help talking to each other. Employees are encouraged to speak to each other casually, and working from a coffee shop encourages social interactions. If they travel together, employees are not allowed to share rooms or bathrooms to maximize downtime. But the main feature is the time-off package. Buffer normalizes and prioritizes time off (Seiter-Buffer, 2019) instead of standardized leave packages found elsewhere. We live in a copy-cat world. Once other companies see the strides Buffer uses to watch over mental health, other companies will likely follow.
Graduate Studies, Granite State College. (2019). Organizational Behavior. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://granite.pressbooks.pub/mgmt805/
Griffis, H. (2020, June 30). How We Do Team Benefits As A Remote and International Company. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://buffer.com/resources/benefits-remote-company/
Hanna, H. (2018, September 15). How to channel your stress to help you succeed [Video file]. Retrieved March 9, 2021, from https://youtu.be/yrwWvdM_Yns
Greenwood, K. (2019, August 27). How One CEO Used His Experience With Burnout To Better Support His Employees’ Mental Health. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mindsharepartners/2019/08/26/how-one-ceo-used-his-experience-with-burnout-to-better-support-his-employees-mental-health/?sh=7f1ef51d57a4
Miller, N. (2021, March 01). 4-Day Work Weeks: Results From 2020 and Our Plan for 2021. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://buffer.com/resources/4-day-workweek-2021/
Rose, R. (2019, May 7). From stress to resilience [Video file]. Retrieved March 9, 2021, from https://youtu.be/Q7vYuKvpneM
Seiter—Buffer, C. (2019, May 24). 7 things this tech company does to improve mental health in the workplace. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90355287/7-ways-this-tech-company-does-to-improve-mental-health-in-the-workplace
From Ty Gioacchini (Winter Term, 2021):
Mass General Brigham is an integrated healthcare system based in Massachusetts. The system is comprised of several academic medical centers and community-based hospitals and health centers, as well as many affiliated private-physician medical practices. Originally founded in 1994 as Partners HealthCare, the system has grown significantly and currently employs approximately 75,000 employees system-wide. (Mass General Brigham)
The Program or Initiative
Mass General Brigham has made a strong effort to promote employee health and wellness. The work to bring this to the forefront for employees has been an ongoing project, and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic was expanded and highlighted tremendously. Employees have access to many resources to help them maintain personal wellness which, in turn, promotes the wellness of the workplace. One resource is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides free and confidential counseling and education for hard times and personal struggles. Another resource is a robust employee perks program that provides financial reimbursement for fitness club/class membership and equipment. Other resources include blogs to support healthy lifestyles, presentations during all-staff “Town Hall” meetings about topics such as getting better sleep, substance abuse, mental health, social issues, and more. Mass General Brigham also has interest groups, such as the Young Professional Group, which create communities to socialize and network with one another through events. (Employee Health and Wellness Hub).
The health and wellness programs at Mass General Brigham, like many initiatives, can be measured as successful based on their use. If employees use the programs regularly and in high numbers, then they are successful. Employees at Mass General Brigham do not only make use of these programs, but they demand more from them. After using these programs for currently available offerings, employees request and suggest new areas for these programs to focus on and offer support. When employees were sent home to work remote in response to Covid-19, outreach to the EAP increased as people sought out support for coping with the major change, and participation in employer-offered fitness classes such as yoga increased as employees tried to keep their bodies and minds active.
These programs can also see their success based on how present they are in the organization’s culture. Employees talk with one another about the programs, educate one another on what is available through them, and use them as a time to socialize and connect. Since these programs have been adopted by employees with such open arms and have been normalized as part of the organizational identity, they should be considered successful.
Connection to Course Concepts
These programs help address numerous sources of stress, including the four common stresses of money, work, family responsibilities, and health concerns (Graduate Studies, p. 394). They provide employees with resources to manage time better, be physically active, relax, and balance their work and personal lives (Graduate Studies, section 7.3)
This is an excellent example of an organization using wellness programs to support its employees. It is evident that employees value these programs and believe the employer cares about them as so many colleagues turn to the programs and are repeat/frequent users and dedicated employees.
Based on Mass General Brigham as an example, other organizations can see the value of employee programs that promote and support wellness. It is also demonstrated that these programs do not need to be cookie-cutter and prescriptive. A diverse offering of employee wellness programs supports a diverse workforce. This attention to employee needs can help alleviate some of the stressors that could otherwise have an impact on performance.
Employee Health & Wellness Hub. https://pulse.massgeneralbrigham.org/hub/departments/partners_population_health/employee_wellness_hub.
Mass General Brigham. https://www.massgeneralbrigham.org/.
From Erlon Jones (Summer Term, 2021):
IBM (International Business Machines) is a company formed in 1911 by Charles Ranlett Flint. The purpose of the company was to develop and produce payroll machines and punch card systems for businesses. Flint did not create the company out of nothing. Instead it was formed by the merger of three companies that had existed since the late 1800s: the Computing Scale Company, the Tabulating Machine Company, and the Time Recording Company. The newly merged firm was based in New York City with about 1,300 total employees (Reed, 2020).
After developing many business machines over the years, including calculators, IBM eventually began to develop personal desktop computers and large mainframe computers, even before the age of the microchip. IBM eventually dominated the computer market well into the 1990’s. However, this dominance was eventually diminished by the rapid advancement of technology. The company was ill-equipped to respond to an era in which mainframes were replaced by small servers (Reed, 2020). As a result, IBM today mostly provides business services and cloud computing storage. It does still maintain a foothold in the large mainframe computer field for government and large corporate contracts and employs about 120,000 people.
The term “wellness program” typically refers to employer-sponsored health promotion and disease prevention programs offered to employees. Some wellness programs are part of an employer-sponsored group health plan, while others are not (Maciejewsky, 2020). IBM chose to tie their wellness program to the employee health care program, with the approach of realizing large savings in health care premiums and costs, but also include factors that positively affect employees. The need for cost savings and increased profits does not necessarily need to be exclusive from one another.
Recently, IBM initiated the wellness program to assist its employees to enhance wellness and encourage healthy life decisions. The intention of IBM’s Wellness for Life program strategy is to create a culture of health that fosters long-term commitment to healthy lifestyles and reduces health risks among its 120,000 active employees. The comprehensive approach includes interventions for major risk areas such as, physical activity, weight management, nutrition, tobacco cessation, stress management, and clinical preventive care. It provides four different twelve-week programs (diet & nutrition, children & family health, physical fitness, and personal vitality) in-line with the average time taken by an individual to institute real, meaningful change (Basumallick, 2019). IBM motivates its workforce to make healthier decisions by offering them financial incentives and can receive $150 as part of their paychecks.
IBM has experienced exceptional participation rates with this new program, with 80% of their 432,000 strong work force signing up for at least one program every year. While nearly half successfully complete the program (leading to a direct cost to the company), IBM saved close to $190 million in just two year by improving employee wellness levels, reducing healthcare reimbursements, and pushing overall productivity (Basumallick, 2019). Employees have also reported increased positive levels of fitness, mood, and productivity at work.
Success was measured across a spectrum of benchmarks, to avoid having one particular factor affect the outcome. The success of wellness programs, in large part, rests on employers’ presumptions that wellness programs decrease employer-borne health insurance costs, bolster employee health through weight management regimens and smoking cessation programs, and lead to a more productive workforce (Maciejewsky, 2020) With factors measured that included clear scientific data, as well as employee feedback mechanisms, IBM developed the ability to evaluate the wellness program to determine its success and cost analysis. Computers can determine how many employees are enrolled in a program, but the employee feedback confirms non-measurable data such as whether of not employees actually stopped smoking or gaining weight. This will ensure the sustainability and permanency of the program going forward.
Connection to Course Concepts
The wellness initiative (Wellness for Life) that IBM implemented has direct bearing on multiple course concepts. Stress management is an important factor in any employee wellness program. When stress is chronically present, it begins to do damage to a person’s body and his mental state. High blood pressure, higher risk of heart attack and stroke are just some of the physical ramifications. Anxiety and depression are the hallmarks of psychological symptoms of stress but can also include cognitive symptoms like forgetfulness and indecisiveness. Behaviorally, a person suffering from stress may be prone to sudden verbal outbursts, hostility, drug and alcohol abuse and even violence (Granite State College, n.d.). These can all be costly factors for the organization’s health care insurance company. When the wellness program participates alongside employees, this will alleviate many factors that induce stress.
Additionally, IBM not only saved itself health care costs with a new wellness program, but hidden costs as well. A study conducted by Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) suggests that stress costs US employers an estimated $500 billion dollars in lost productivity annually (Granite State College, n.d.). These losses are especially triggered by absenteeism, high turnover, or hostile situations in the workplace. Stress manifests itself in a variety of ways, so the Wellness for Life program is suitable by covering differing areas to reduce illness or workplace stress. For instance, an employee may experience less stress or anxiety if they lose weight or give up an addictive substance, like smoking or alcohol.
IBM’s success with its wellness program has the ability to serve as a model for other organizations that seek to reduce healthcare costs and improve employee quality of life. As the national focus has shifted more and more to topics in health—from the obesity epidemic facing the United States to the rapidly rising costs of health insurance—employers are increasingly turning to employee wellness programs as a creative solution for controlling costs and encouraging employee health and well-being (Smith and Duffy, 2013). With savings in excess of $190 million, IBM has shown that organizations would be negligent to their overall mission and profit expectations if they do not promote and implement an employee wellness program. Employees are also important factors to corporate success, not just executives that sit in a board room all day. Further, effective leadership of organizations will require considering employee wellness as an important concept.
Basumallick, C. (2019, January 16) 4 Companies with Brilliant Workplace Wellness Strategies. HR Technologist.
Granite State College. (n.d.) Organizational Behavior: Text for MGMT 805 in MS for Management at Granite State College, NH (USA)
Maciejewski, Z. (2020). Saving Money on Health Insurance Just Got a lot Easier . . . Or Did It? The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act and its Impact on the Future of
Employee Health. Indiana Law Journal, 95, 28–49
Reed, E. (2020, February 24) History of IBM: Timeline and Facts. The Street.
Smith, K. J., & Duffy, R. (2013). Avoiding the Legal Pitfalls in Designing and Implementing Employee Wellness Programs. Employment Relations Today (Wiley), 39(4), 81–88.