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Discover Aurora: Building a Holistic Wellness Program From the Ground Up

Dad and son campingIt’s always great when we get to showcase our clients’ well-being program achievements. For this week’s blog, we shine a spotlight on the City of Aurora, Colorado and learn how they’ve created a well-being program that stays relevant for their ever-changing, growing and diverse employee population.

First a little background…

Aurora sits about 10 miles east of Denver and is known as the “Gateway to the Rockies.” It’s famous for its outdoor recreation and natural attractions—including beautiful parks and open spaces, picturesque reservoirs, extensive trail systems, and world-class golf courses.

With an annual population growth rate of nearly 3%, Aurora is one of the country’s fastest growing suburbs and home to a thriving arts and cultural scene.1 Aurora is also the most culturally diverse city in Colorado. Twenty-two percent of residents were born outside the U.S., and Aurora’s public school students speak over 160 languages.2

A wellness program that serves all kinds of employees.

As the most culturally diverse city in Colorado, Aurora strives to unify communities and be a leader in creative outcomes and economic development. They carry this same innovative spirit and creativity into their employee wellness program.

City employees form the backbone of the community. About one-third are first-responders, including police, fire, and public safety. The rest of the workforce holds positions in utilities, engineering, finance, communications, parks and recreation, planning, and more.

For the past four years, WebMD Health Services has partnered with the City to develop and refine a wellness program that stays relevant for their ever-changing, growing, and diverse employee population.

A holistic focus on well-being anchors the program.

The City of Aurora’s Wellness Coordinator, Jennifer Hickey, believes that “by supporting and caring for the whole person— mind, body and spirit—we can enhance the health and engagement of our valued employees and build a culture of well-being in our organization.”

This sentiment is evident in the City’s approach to well-being, which is built around five elements: career, social, financial, physical/mental and community. This approach is grounded in Gallup research showing that all aspects of well-being are interconnected: when an employee is struggling in one area, it impacts their quality of life in other areas, too. The City also recognizes that increased overall well-being can boost job satisfaction and engagement.

A key aspect of the wellness program is “Win With Wellness,” an incentive program which includes a variety of ways—across all the elements of well-being—to earn points. The incentive period runs from March through October each year, and employees who earn 200 points on the WebMD ONE portal receive a $200 Visa gift card. Read more on the types of activities across the dimensions of well-being that earn employees points.

Spotlight on mental health.

Like workers all over the world, the pandemic took a toll on City employees’ mental health—particularly for essential workers. City data showed an increase in stress and burnout. And, the shift to remote and hybrid work resulted in a decrease in social connections and employee engagement.

To address these concerns, the City increased its mental health support with:
• More education about EAP and medical plan mental health offerings.
• Stress management tips and education in monthly newsletters, with links to mental health resources.
• The Total Brain Program, a neuroscience-based mental health and brain performance app.
• Additional community-building activities and events to help bring workers together—whether they’re remote or in person.

A special focus on manager well-being.

The City has found that engaging middle managers in the wellness program is key to empowering employees to participate themselves. The organization encourages managers to:

• Practice and promote all five elements of well-being.
• Take a “wellness for supervisors” course that teaches them how to support employee well-being and create a positive, supportive environment where employees can thrive.
• Build strong relationships and trust with direct reports.
• Demonstrate care and empathy in tandem with City-wide values: integrity, customer service, respect and professionalism.

Perhaps most importantly, managers are encouraged to lead by example by taking breaks, weaving well-being into the workday and engaging in self-care.

A Wellness Committee plays a key role in the City’s wellness program.

The Committee has over 20 wellness champions representing different departments within the City. They meet monthly to review the wellness program and plan events, like the popular Bike to Work Day, Benefits Expo, team challenges and Wellness Walks. They’re responsible for promoting wellness programs and events, including posting flyers, sending emails, and giving presentations. They also solicit feedback from peers about wellness program offerings to help create buy-in and build a culture of well-being.

A good communication strategy is essential.

The City of Aurora relies on different modes of communication so that every employee hears about the wellness program on a regular basis. Some of their go-to tactics include:

A monthly wellness newsletter. The newsletter is emailed to every employee, and is a source of well-being info that employees have come to expect.
SharePoint site. The intranet site is a one-stop shop for all of Aurora’s well-being offerings. Managers also use the site to direct employees to the right well-being resources.
Communication for non-desk workers. The team still uses print for hard-to-reach populations, including flyers for breakrooms and mailings to homes.

They’ve also leaned on these communication best practices:

• Keep up a regular cadence of communication so employees know when to expect it.
• Use a variety of media to reach people in different ways.
• Share success stories. People love to hear about employees who have achieved their well-being goals.
• Use print as a “disrupter” to get employees’ attention—like postcards to homes, tent cards in cafeterias or breakrooms.

What can other employers learn from the City of Aurora’s wellness program?

The City of Aurora’s Employee Wellness Program is successful because it doesn’t just address one aspect of health, rather it considers multiple dimensions of employee well-being. An active Wellness Committee and a special focus on manager well-being, along with a steady stream of communication, makes it easy for employees to engage with the wellness program and helps create a true culture of well-being.

The results speak for themselves:
• 3 in 4 employees say employees say the Wellness Program has had a positive impact on them;
• 87% are satisfied with the wellness program; and
• 90% reported that the wellness program is a valuable benefit.

What’s next: continued program evaluation and reinvention.

Never one to rest on their laurels, the City reviews and evaluates their wellness program each year, using data on participation, WebMD ONE health assessment data, medical plan utilization, engagement survey results and employee satisfaction feedback.

In the coming years, they plan on including a mental health awareness training for leadership, promoting additional mental health programs through their medical plan and continuing weight management and health coaching options. They’re also refocusing on preventive screenings, which declined during the pandemic.

Finally, they plan to work on strengthening social connections between employees through community-building events and activities.

And, because the City is hiring new employees all the time, they want to make sure new hires get engaged in the wellness program right away. So, they are actively promoting their wellness portal and all of their wellness program offerings both during recruitment and onboarding.

It all adds up to a wellness program that continuously evolves to meet the needs of the City’s changing population. WebMD looks forward to continuing to partner with the City to empower well-being in everyone and keep Aurora a healthy, vibrant place to live and work. Click here to read more about the City of Aurora’s wellness program.

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