Wellness at Work

CU wellness programs can boost both employee satisfaction and the bottom line.

April 1, 2015

Wellness at Work

Many U.S. companies continue to feel the effects of the deep recession and its slow recovery. These fluctuations in the economy and its impact on businesses are creating increased job pressures and leaving employees more stressed-out—and sicker—than they’ve ever been.

But many organizations have taken strides to improve the health and well-being of their employees—and to counter those rising healthcare costs.

Roughly 15% of credit unions with assets of $5 million or more currently offer wellness programs, which encourage good health practices, according to CUNA’s 2014-2015 Staff Benefits Report. That’s up from 13% in 2012.

Health insurer Aetna provides wellness programs to about 70% of employer customers, according to Paul Coppola, Aetna’s head of care management strategy, innovation, and design.

“We see a steady increase year over year in the number of employers who are either interested in offering wellness programs or would like to expand the type of programs being offered,” Coppola says.

Wellness programs can benefit both employees and credit unions by improving attendance, boosting productivity, and lowering health-care costs, according to “A Deeper Dive Into Wellness Programs,” a white paper published by the CUNA HR/TD Council.

Doing well by being well

Wellness programming is paying off for the $125 million asset Gerber Federal Credit Union in Fremont, Mich. The credit union sees lower employee turnover as a result.

“Offering a wellness program as part of a benefits package increases an employee’s satisfaction with an organization,” says Ellen Davis, assistant vice president of human resources at Gerber Federal.

Davis says the credit union measures the health and well-being of employees to ensure the programming is working.

“Our program administrator—in conjunction with our health coach—takes a look at our areas of higher risks and develops challenges for our employees to participate. This creates new habits and better educates employees on improved nutrition and activity levels,” Davis says.

Steve Crosby, senior vice president/chief operations officer, and Bryan Gribble, senior human resources administrator/recruiter, at $1.07 billion asset Harborstone Credit Union in Tacoma, Wash., also see positive results from their wellness efforts.

SIDEBAR The Five Essentials of Well-Being

Employees who are actively involved in the credit union’s wellness activities report higher energy levels and improved overall satisfaction, Crosby and Gribble say. They receive a range of feedback. Employees say they feel less tired at work, don’t require as much coffee to make it through the day, or have more energy on the weekends to play with their kids. One employee was excited about doing his first 5K walk, when a year prior he had difficulty using the stairs.

Harborstone offers incentives to get employees to participate—which is typical at credit unions with successful wellness programs, according to CUNA’s benefits report. Employees at Harborstone can win prizes such as a stationary bike, elliptical machine, or gift cards from the credit union’s “Biggest Loser” competitions, which track employee’s weight-loss efforts. Other credit unions offer incentives such as cash payments, and lower employee contributions to health insurance coverage.

Mental health

Although many wellness programs focus on nutrition, weight loss, and cardiovascular fitness, many also integrate mindfulness and mental health initiatives including yoga and meditation.

Matt Tenney is an advocate for mindfulness training. Tenney wrote “Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom” and was a speaker at the recent CUNA Community Credit Union & Growth Conference.

“For any wellness program to function over the long-term, the foundation has to be mindfulness training,” Tenney says. “Wellness encompasses physical well-being and emotional well-being. The physical isn’t that tough. It’s ‘exercise regularly,’ and, ‘eat well.’ But the psychological well-being is really tricky. That’s where people need the most work.”

Aetna makes mindfulness a chief focus of the wellness programs it develops for employers and for their own employees.

“We’ve seen a positive impact by incorporating mindfulness, including improvements in results, such as weight, blood pressure, improved sleep, and less stress among other measures,” says Coppola. “We’ve also seen improvements in productivity, especially where employees practice mindfulness to help stay present during a discussion and focus on what an individual is sharing.”

Harborstone’s wellness program integrates an emphasis on mental health because today’s workers are being asked to do more with less in both the workplace and at home, say Crosby and Gribble.

“We truly believe that mental health is an integral part of overall wellness. The mental, spiritual, and physical pyramid to good health needs appropriate nourishment. They’re all tied into an individual’s well-being. Therefore, a mental health focus is an integral part of a total health philosophy,” they say.

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  1. 2014-2015 Credit Union Staff Benefits Report:
  2. CUNA HR/TD Council:

Digital Benefit Advisors:

Matt Tenney:

Leadership matters

Participation by managers and company leaders is a big factor in making wellness programs successful, according to Tenney.

“If we start at the top of organizations, it can have the greatest effect to create leverage and make the greatest impact,” he says. “Leadership isn’t only achieving organizational objectives but also adding metrics such as: What is the well-being of the people on my team? How happy are they when they come to work every day?”

Crosby and Gribble both participate.

“We try to inspire our employees by ‘walking the walk,’ being compassionate and conveying the biggest and simplest of thoughts—always remember that everyone started somewhere,” they say. “The runner was once a walker, the walker was once a sitter, and no matter who you are or how you feel, there’s always someone who was exactly where you are when they started.”

Wellness at WorkAn investment

Wellness programs have almost become table stakes for a well-rounded employee benefits package, says David Martin, managing principal of credit union services for Digital Benefit Advisors.

“Credit union leadership currently offering a wellness solution or considering doing so shouldn’t insist on identifying or quantifying immediate ROI [return on investment],” he says. “Wellness solutions serve a more holistic benefit, including the perception that an employer cares about their employees holistic well-being, increased presenteeism, and decreased absenteeism,” he says.

While the bottom-line results will come over time, many employers with wellness programs just want to see employees lead happier, more fulfilling lives.

“I think the most important reason for offering a wellness plan is that it shows your employees that you care about their health and you’re willing to help support their efforts to live a healthier lifestyle,” Davis says. Productivity and employee satisfaction improves—and so does member satisfaction, the ultimate beneficiaries of wellness programs.

Tenney echoes the sentiment. “When people feel they’re truly cared for, that’s when you get these amazing business outcomes,” he says. “They go above and beyond what they’re asked to do because they want to. This happens when people know their leaders truly care about them.”

For more insight from digital benefit advisors on how CUs can use wellness programs effectively, visit