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Innovations in Wellness: The 'Whole Person'

This is one of the Innovations in Wellness selected by editors of Human Resource Executive® magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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People are more than just a set of lungs, a heart and a stomach, but amid all the attention being paid to smoking cessation, body-mass indexes and clearing fatty foods out of company cafeterias, sometimes it's easy to overlook that. And yet, if the mind is continually stressed out and anxious, no amount of fat-free menu items or free blood screenings may be able to compensate for the negative effects of this on a person's health. 

At SAS Institute, a Cary, N.C.-based software firm that's long resided near the top of Fortune's Best Places to Work list, wellness is as much a matter of tending to the brain as it is to the rest of the body.

"As a software company, we produce a product of the mind," says Vice President of Human Resources Jenn Mann. "Our focus is on creating an innovative environment for our employees so they can continue to produce innovative products."

Toward that effort, the company has eight social workers on staff to help employees manage their stress by assisting them with everything from arranging for elder care for their parents to finding resources for their special-needs children to marriage counseling. Three years ago, SAS built a "meditation garden" on its corporate campus as part of its efforts to encourage "mindfulness-based stress reduction," which also include weekly meditation classes.

"We want them to focus on nurturing their mental health, so that they also have the energy to focus on their work," says Mann.

It's hard to miss the wellness efforts at Burlington, Vt.-based Dealer.com, which develops online marketing tools for auto dealers and manufacturers. In addition to its indoor tennis court, basketball court, ping-pong tables and fully-equipped gym, the 435-employee company also has five full-time wellness consultants on staff to help employees with everything from financial planning to family-care issues and stress management.

"These days, Americans are getting sicker and missing more days of work; it's up to businesses to change that, and creating healthy employees is one way to do it," says Heidi Brigham, Dealer.com's "life director," who estimates the company spends about $12,000 per year, per employee, on its wellness benefits. 

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In addition to offering the counseling service, Dealer.com encourages its workers (or "Earthlings," as they're also called) to involve their families in the wide variety of classes and exercise activities available on its campus. 

"We want our employees and their families to be happy and healthy -- it's important to have fun and be relaxed," she says.

At Dallas-based Sabre Holdings, which provides technology services for the travel industry, the company is seeking to alleviate stress among its 9,000 employees via a new program called the Financial Challenge. Launched this year, the Challenge tasks employees to keep track of their daily spending and credit-card use. Employees receive points for reading up on personal-finance topics and gathering data so they know where they stand, financially.

"Numerous reports and studies note that financial worries are one of the greatest causes of stress," says Matt Robbins, Sabre's director of employee benefits. "We want to help employees manage one of the key contributors to stress: worries over money."

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