Promega’s wellness program could be called the product of organic growth. The program is rooted in what employees want and need, watered with resources, and then nurtured over time to become part of the “social norm” within a wellness culture.
Benefits Manager Liz Melin and Nurse Practitioner Jan Zimmerman shared an overview of Promega’s Workplace Wellness Culture at The Alliance Learning Circle “The Wellness Culture Conundrum” on Jan. 13 at The Monona Terrace.
“It’s been a natural progression,” Melin said. “We didn’t start out where we are today. We grew over time.”
Based in Madison, Promega makes the tools required for scientific research, analysis and diagnosis. The company has 1,300 employees worldwide, including 800 in Madison. Its wellness efforts are primarily directed at its Madison workforce.
Melin noted that key attributes of Promega create a natural environment for wellness. The company:
- Values long-term thinking. For example, the buildings on its Madison campus are designed to last 100 years and have space to accommodate growth.
- Appreciates the contribution of each employee, including the value each employee brings to the company.
- Constantly problem-solves. The company’s success rests on investing things that don’t currently exist, so Promega must encourage employees to take risks and use imagination and creativity.
- Believes employees should enjoy their work and their work environment. The design of Promega buildings attempts to “bring the outside inside.”
- Is part of an industry that is about improving human life and rendering it more meaningful.
Listening to Employees
Listening to employees’ wants and needs – and letting employees direct programs whenever possible – helps wellness efforts remain vital. Promega’s culture encourages employees to help develop programming, which is how Promega came to have a “Zen zone” for yoga. A group of employees who wanted to play sand volleyball at lunchtime created – and still organize and run – the May to October volleyball league.
Every two to three years, Promega conducts a wellness survey of all employees to find out what they like and dislike, what they are using and what they want in the future. They also conduct a survey after every wellness event.
“We’ve gotten really great feedback from that,” Melin said. A 12-member wellness team helps develop programming. While Promega cannot offer everything employees ask for, they try to respond to suggestions when it makes sense based on timing or demand.
Promega’s wellness program started small. For example, yoga classes were first held in a conference room. In those early years, wellness enthusiasts managed the program, which later was coordinated by Human Resources. When Promega opened its free, 24-hour onsite wellness facility, the nurse practitioner also managed wellness. Last year, Promega hired a corporate health promotion specialist, who now coordinates wellness efforts at fitness facilities that are open 24 hours a day.
Melin emphasized that Promega knows it cannot do all things well. Instead, it relies on internal resources – employees with expertise – as well as outside resources.
For example, Promega works with a local bicycle shop to provide onsite tune-up events for employees who use their bicycle to commute to work. It helped add an optometrist business by buying equipment for an office in a Promega building, which means all employees now get free eye exams.
Experiment with Ideas
Zimmerman noted that Promega has had some “novel” yet successful lunch-and-learn events due to following up on unusual employee suggestions. A doula led a program about her role in pregnancy, delivery and postpartum care. A physical therapist did a workshop on trigger point therapy. A 12-week course in cognition therapy for employees coping with anxiety drew 55 participants.
The Wellness Center’s health services have also grown steadily through experimentation. Wellness Center health services are free, including blood work, for employees and spouses on the company’s health plan. Beyond the health services provided by Zimmerman, Promega employees can get regularly-scheduled onsite appointments for acupuncture, chiropractor care, physical therapy and massage.
Zimmerman noted that some experiments don’t draw employees. For example, Tai Chi classes were dropped due to low participation. Wellness Week activities were discontinued because they took much time to plan but had low participation.
Zimmerman noted that Promega aims to create “complementary programs with similar goals.” The Couch to 5K Program starts in July before the annual 5K run in September. A smartphone app helps group plans their training runs. By training every other day, even people who are new runners can be ready for the September event.
A healthy eating program with their online challenge vendor, Rally On, kicked off a program with free fruit in all buildings and a lunch and learn on health eating, reinforced by specials offered in the onsite cafeteria. It coincided with the opening of the Fitchburg Farmer’s Market and signups for Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) orders for vegetables.
Making wellness part of the “social norm” at Promega makes it easier to spread positive change. It’s easier to encourage people to walk for wellness, for example, when they work on a campus that includes walking trails.
“Creating a cultural shift within organizations is a very powerful thing,” Zimmerman said. Start with small steps, build on employee ideas, use the power of social norms and draw leaders into the program to create a wellness culture over time.
Dernovsek has more than 25 years' experience in communications, public relations and marketing. From 1992 until joining The Alliance, Dernovsek owned her own freelance marketing and writing business to provide marketing consulting and writing for health-care related entities and credit union organizations. Earlier, she was the director of public relations for Rockford Memorial Hospital and city editor for the Beloit Daily News.
Dernovsek graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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