Tonya Hayes and Trevor Thomas are benefits professionals at A+E Networks – the global content company that owns A&E, The HISTORY Channel, Lifetime, and other multi-platform media brands. In talking with Hayes and Thomas, it is clear that A+E prioritizes employee well-being.
And rightfully so. The global media and entertainment brand has just about 1,350 employees who create, develop, and illuminate entertaining, purpose-driven content that is accessible and captivating to audiences worldwide. Keeping them healthy and happy makes business sense.
Gallup research confirms that when employee well-being is thriving an organization directly benefits. Employees take fewer sick days, deliver higher performance and productivity, and have lower rates of burnout and turnover.
Let’s take a look at some of the components of the wellness program at A+E Networks, how it comes together, lessons learned, and more.
A Multidimensional Approach to Health and Well-Being
Employee wellness has always been top-of-mind at the organization, said Hayes, A+E’s director of benefits, but it became a more pronounced strategy at the onset of COVID-19.
“We’ve always recognized that wellness is multidimensional and have taken a holistic approach to our benefits strategy,” Hayes said. “We take into account the fact that a person’s health and well-being is impacted by more than just their physical health. Financial health, for example, and emotional well-being also contribute to a person’s overall health and wellness.”
She added that wellness means something different to each employee, so having a program that addresses every component of a person’s health is of utmost importance. A+E’s expanded view of well-being encompasses five aspects of employee health:
- Physical – Healthy behaviors (sleep, physical activity, healthy diet) that result in strength and energy from body and mind.
- Emotional – The ability to identify, assess, and express a full range of emotions and authenticity.
- Financial – The ability to assess and manage personal financial commitments and goals and to absorb a financial shock.
- Career – The feeling that you are growing and progressing in your career.
- Community – Connection with others and a feeling of belonging, acceptance, and support.
A+E Networks offers employees benefits, programming, and perks that align to these pillars in order to foster their whole-person health. And who better to help guide A+E’s strategy than employees themselves?
Employees Take the Lead in Shaping the Wellness Strategy
Right after the pandemic started, A+E launched an employee well-being committee called the Human Impact Team. The team is made up of a diverse set of people with different backgrounds, at different points in their careers, and from different walks of life. They work together to help shape the wellness strategy and set the wellness agenda for A+E, bringing new perks and benefits to employees.
“One of the main initiatives for the committee right off the bat was to figure out how we could continue to promote wellness when we were all on lock down and working from home during the early days of the pandemic,” Hayes said.
The committee was at the helm of creating awareness of the large suite of benefits offered at A+E by highlighting them in in channels such as a monthly newsletter and through interactive programming.
This collaborative approach to wellness trickles into many of the programs available today. For example, A+E employees are encouraged to set up passion-focused groups – where members united by the same cause are encouraged and empowered to develop programming and content and to serve as a resource for one another.
2022 A+E Networks company meeting at the Ford Amphitheater.
For example, the “Pathways Fertility” group was started by two women who were experiencing fertility issues. More than 500 employees joined their first meeting, which shows how important this topic is to the A+E workforce. Today, the group has 25 active members, who share their stories and act as a support system for one another. The insights A+E gathers from the group members help to shape its benefits offerings, which now includes a concierge-like fertility benefit for family planning.
Another group is “Open Minds,” which one employee launched at the start of the pandemic. The purpose was to get people together to help one another with mental health support. In just a few months, the group grew to 220 active members, and is an official Employee Resource Group (ERG) committed to helping people with work/life balance, prioritizing their mental health, and more.
“We know that our workforce wants help in prioritizing their mental health and in getting the behavioral health care that they need,” said Thomas, who is an associate benefits manager at A+E Networks. “This type of insight helps us to enhance our benefit strategy to meet the needs of our employees.”
Open Minds and its success is one of the reasons that, starting in January, A+E Networks employees will have access to a mental health care app that provides users with a personalized mental health care plan.
Letting employees take the lead in developing these groups helps A+E become more relevant in supporting employees’ needs and passions while giving them the space to be vulnerable with one another, Thomas said.
“To truly have an impact on the organization and to really improve the wellness of our employees, we needed to give them a platform to tell us what they are passionate about and how they define health and well-being,” he said. “We pay close attention to the employee-focused passion groups because they tell us the story of what’s important for our workforce.”
A+E Networks takes a data-driven approach to communicating to employees about their benefits, looking at employee data such as age, gender, cultural background, and family status (to name a few). This data-driven approach ensures the right message goes to the right employee at the right time, using their preferred communication channel.
Lessons Learned: Building a Successful Well-Being Program
Thomas and Hayes agree that building an employee wellness program that meets the needs of a large workforce is an art – and a science. Hayes’ advice: “Let data guide you, but don’t hold yourself back from thinking outside of the box and being creative.“
A+E Networks employees from all over the world gathered in Coney Island, New York for an in-person company update.
For Thomas, the biggest lesson learned is to stop and really listen to what employees want in their benefits plan. And remember, he said, “Be easy on yourself. There will always be people who want more perks and benefits, but we know from employee surveys and our top 20 placement in the America’s Most Loved Workplaces ranking that A+E Networks employees feel valued and are happy to be here.”
Hayes has learned that diversity on the team makes a big impact on building a diverse benefit plan – one that addresses all of the different dimensions of a person’s health. Members of a diverse team can represent their peers and ensure there is diversity in the programming and that it will resonate widely.
Both Hayes and Thomas said that a holistic approach to well-being is the key to success. “Know your employees and tailor your benefits for their individual needs.”
And finally, Thomas said, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, experiment, fail, learn from that failure, and keep going. “Take a risk because you never know what will resonate with people,” he said.
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