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Dec 12, 2023
How Silver Oak Cellars built a fun, inclusive, and multipronged wellness program

At Silver Oak Cellars, employee health and wellness are always top of mind.

“We have been family owned for over 50 years, and providing care and amazing health benefits has always been a priority,” said Marla Apodaca, the company’s human resources manager. “The employees of Silver Oak are treated as part of the Duncan family, who are our owners. There's not a person in the company that the Duncans don't know.”

Silver Oak, which has wineries in California’s Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, provides healthy food and beverages in the breakrooms, offers wellness fairs, and finds numerous other ways to encourage and reward healthy behaviors. This fall, for example, the annual flu shot clinic included something extra. “To encourage better participation, we brought in three massage therapists,” Apodaca said. “We gave people who were getting a flu shot priority for the massages.”

With 300 employees working at different locations and in a variety of roles – including two pilots, office workers, retail staff, and winemakers – bringing people together is a key goal, she said, and company events are often focused on health and wellness. (Pictured left, Silver Oak harvest team.) 

Fun activities pave the way to better health and wellness

Silver Oak’s wellness committee brainstorms ways to make activities fun while helping people become healthier. “Adding the wellness committee to our benefits umbrella happened naturally,” she said. “It was an effort to showcase our benefits, encourage employees to use them, educate employees how to use them, and find fun ways for us to have challenges – and challenge each other. We're a relatively competitive company, and with multiple locations, it’s really important for us to be able to do team activities that unite everybody and continue to influence our amazing culture.”

The committee plans individual challenges, such as a hydration challenge and a reading challenge, and group challenges like relay races throughout the year. “One of our most popular challenges is the holiday hustle, where we've had 70 to 80 employees participate at one time. Employees are broken up into groups, and they basically pass the baton from one employee to the next. We make sure to diversify the groups so that you're working with people who aren't necessarily in your department. You're able to engage with people at other locations and hold each other accountable and have fun and win some amazing prizes.”

Silver Oak also defrays the cost of participating in external events, such as a recent walk for breast cancer awareness.

Morgan Gustas, Silver Oak’s Cigna engagement consultant, works closely with Apodaca and her team, brainstorming and collaborating on strategy and initiatives. “We're probably in touch once a week,” Apodaca said. “We keep her in the loop on all of our upcoming activities and work closely with her to figure out educational opportunities to share on a consistent basis with our employees.”

Bringing wellness activities to all employees

The company provided chartered buses to bring employees to a recent wellness fair that included vendors, including Cigna Healthcare, who helped employees understand their benefits and the options that might be best for them individually. “People were able to get a dental screening while they were there,” Apodaca said. “They were able to get a biometric screening. We had a vision doctor, and employees were able to use their vision benefit to order glasses on site.”

Dave in vineyard with dog

Everyday is "Bring Your Dog to Work Day" for Napa vineyard manager Dave Shein.

The fair encouraged other dimensions of health as well.  “We brought in dogs the employees could socialize with, because dogs are good for your mental health,” she said. “We brought in a chakras cleansing person. She was very popular. We did acupuncture. We did massages.”

Other activities included a rock-climbing wall, Zumba classes, and a catered healthy lunch. More than 150 employees attended. “It was a huge success,” she said.

Building a culture of health for all

Apodaca described Silver Oak’s culture as leading by example. “Our chairman and CEO sits on the wellness committee,” she said. “He's hearing what we're doing, he's coming up with ideas.”

Of course, good wine plays a part in the company culture, and the company stresses that wine is part of a healthy lifestyle. “Everything in moderation,” she said. “We actually have that in our handbook.”

Inclusivity is another important part of the culture. “We have a large Spanish-speaking population, and we make sure we're inclusive of them. We translate things into Spanish so that they feel included, participate, and know what we're offering.”

The wellness committee focuses on eight pillars: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. “We try to touch every single one of those when we're putting together our calendar for the year, because every single one contributes to how a person feels about their life and their happiness.”

Positive feedback from inside and outside the company

The company uses surveys and tracks participation to be sure their events resonate with employees. The feedback has been gratifying, she said. “We’ve heard that we’re doing a pretty awesome job. That's a great thing to learn.”

Since the pandemic began, feedback indicated that employees were looking for more mental health services. “We've worked with Morgan to find out more about the resources through Cigna, whether they're virtual or in person, just making sure that we were able to share and educate employees on all of the ways that they can get in touch with somebody if they need resources,” Apodaca said. For example, Silver Oak increased the number of sessions available at no cost to employees through their employee assistance program (EAP) from three to six and now offers a virtual platform that enables communication by text messages between employees and their mental health professionals.

Externally, Silver Oak and its sister company, Twomey, were recognized as the Bay Area’s Healthiest Employer and took third-place honors for all of Northern California. 

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