Exploring Retail and Remote Work Wellness With L.L.Bean
Andrea Herron 00:01
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea heron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces, because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Welcome back to the podcast everyone. Today. We are very fortunate to have with us. Rick Fortier Wellness Program Coordinator with LL Bean. Welcome, Rick. Oh, thanks, Andrea.
Rick Fortier 00:49
Thank you for having me here.
Andrea Herron 00:50
Yeah, I think most all of us have heard of LL Bean. So it’ll be great to hear a little bit about your perspective from the the wellness space.
Rick Fortier 01:00
Yeah, sounds good. We’ll talk a little bit more than just about, you know, our comfy slippers and, and amazing booths, right?
Andrea Herron 01:07
Absolutely. But those are important, too. Especially in the past year, we’ve all been wearing comfy clothes for sure. So Well, before we get into it, I would love if you could walk us through kind of your career journey and how you ended up there at LLB.
Rick Fortier 01:22
Yeah, sure. I don’t know how far back I go with this. But I think I’ll start with where my passion to impact people through wellness and well being started. You know, as a child, some of the most amazing people in my life that I was really close to, I lost due to preventable disease, things that could have been prevented, and went through oppressive, not just not just losing them, but watching them lose the ability to do the things that they love doing in life, and caring about somebody and not being able to see them really fulfill all these things that that that they these passions that they have in their life really impacted me. And so I kind of grew up wanting to be able to support people through a path that would help them avoid preventable disease and be able to, to live fully, and to be around people to care for and and do the things that they love doing and hopefully do it for a longer period of time. And so that translated to a friend of mine letting me know that a college nearby was offering community health education. And so that was the major I went for. We’re having a great conversation about where I thought I’d take that health career. And he’s like, What if you could prevent, what if you could help prevent these things from happening? And I feel like that sounds great, you know, how do I do that? And he’s like, Well, I’m going to college here for this major. And that was it. I, you know, got my Bachelor’s in community health education, primarily worked in nonprofits, for most of my career. And about six years ago, I wanted to switch gears and do something different and something, you know, challenging, but in a different way. And so, one of the locations I applied for was LL Bean, because I knew they had a great reputation for caring for their employees, and this really great well being program. And it was actually it was actually my wife who discovered she came home and she knew me, and she knew what I, you know what I was interested in. And she said, I think I found your new job. And I applied, I met the most amazing group of people, I think I’ve ever met with the biggest hearts in terms of when it comes to really caring about the employees that are being and wanting to provide them the best resources to care for themselves. And I was fortunate enough that, you know, they want to be to be a part of the team. And I’ve been doing this work for six, amazing years now and still loving it.
Andrea Herron 03:55
Awesome. Another example of how our spouses and partners sometimes know what’s best, or what might be a really great fit. Yeah, and I, I mean, I don’t love that you had to go through the heartache, but I love this story. Because a lot of times, you know, heartbreak or hardship can be our greatest motivator to make change in the world through our work and advocacy. So it sounds like you were able to combine those and really make a difference. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So speaking of LL Bean, you know, it seems as though there’s a strong internal culture, maybe physical activity and emphasis on outdoor activity. But I’m wondering in your six years there, you know, how has the culture of wellness evolved over time and where are y’all at right now?
Rick Fortier 04:44
Yeah, thanks for asking. So that’s a really good story, too. I think the evolution started, you know, all the way back with ll himself and just having a really great understanding of community and that people matter and that shared love of the outdoors, you know, it’s why he would encourage the employees to provide, you know, advice on the best fishing areas and, and, and in different, you know, tips on on being in the outdoors, even if somebody wasn’t, you know, buying anything from the store. And that translated, you know, into Leon Gorman. You know, his grandchild who eventually became our president Chairman, the board, started back in probably 19, actually 1982, where he really wanted to support the well being for employees. And at a wellbeing conference, he was quoted as saying, a business’s in a unique and responsible position to effectively enhance the well being of his employees. And I love that he put that responsible word in there, he knew that he had this community of people, and that they were coming to this place, you know, to support this shared love of the outdoors. And that it was important to him to make sure that they were well taken care of. And that was, you know, that was back in 1982. Before well being sort of became a niche or something, I think that was utilized for employment, you know, to attract people or as a way to retain employees, it was really, really, you know, for him about caring. And I think one of the, you know, one of the first things I heard when I came on board here was that that motto of people matter. And I think that really translated down from Leon and his passion for caring for employees. But we started it too with a handful of fitness centers. And that started to evolve into well being programming, smoke free campuses, and policies, environmental changes to provide healthier foods. And now we’re at a place where we are providing prior to COVID, you know, we had on site fitness classes, and nutrition and wellbeing classes, tobacco cessation, we’re now doing more virtual classes for all of those topics in support, weight management, and then also providing an annual well being program utilizes WebMD as resources, where people get to understand what their health risks are, and doing an annual screening and participating in a program to help walk that helps walk them through the process of behavior change and supporting their well being from managing chronic disease to you know, being a fairly healthy person and just wanting to maintain,
Andrea Herron 07:30
there’s so much there, right? I mean, in the 80s, the whole well being industry as we know, it did not exist. So this thought was futuristic and innovative, probably among, especially businesses, I’m sure people would have loved it. But business industry hadn’t caught up yet. And so I think it also highlights the difference between checking a box or saying we care about your well being or we care about our employees, and actually putting the resources, the words and the actions behind it from the top down. And it seems to me through conversations I’ve had and experiences I’ve had that only when that last part happens. Is it sustainable? well funded it people actually benefit from it, versus just saying, oh, yeah, we have a wellness program. And people could totally use it. I mean, I don’t know if they do and we don’t really talk about it, but it’s there.
Rick Fortier 08:24
Right? Yeah, exactly. You know, yeah. 1982, short of owning, you know, Jane Fonda Workout record, there were there were not a lot of resources for personal well being so you know, to go from from that accompany realizing that it was important to just put in, you know, a fitness center, to evolving to something that was really meaningful to employees that they can engage in is important.
Andrea Herron 08:51
So what are some of the key ways that you all are able to maintain that strong internal culture aside from you know, it’s just a legacy at this point, but in the day to day, you know, how do you approach that culture of caring, it sounds like in to really see the benefit to the employee, but also the company?
Rick Fortier 09:10
You know, I think it goes back to that model of people matter. And realizing that you are a part of this culture, you’re not outside of it, you’re not separate from it, bringing something into it. So it’s it’s important to know the communities that are within that culture, and know how they’re, you know, outside of work lives as well as their their work lives, impact them. Whether it’s knowing how, you know, home life or work life supports their well being and maybe what challenges that those two environments bring to them meeting their well being goals, and then understanding you know, which of those needs and those passions are most important to them and delivering it? I know, we focus on three key fundamentals and we talk about culture, environment, and programs and so on. You have to know the culture, you have to know the environment that culture is in and how it impacts them. And you know, you have to use those various ways of getting information, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative to know okay, well, what are the? What are the programs? What are the resources that we need to provide to them to best support their needs? And and how do you do it? I think the biggest thing is, how do you do it in an authentic way, you mentioned checking the box. And, you know, that’s a personal pet peeve for me. And I think it’s the same for everybody on our team, when it comes to well being, you don’t want to just do it for the sake of doing it, you know, you don’t want just a banner, you you want something meaningful, that, you know, the, the community that you’re working with, is passionate about, and helps them meet those needs in a fun and engaging way. Where they can feel good about the changes that they’re making through that. And if there’s some authentic way for you to share that with them, you know, for us, it’s easier with those employees that are around us here in Maine. But, you know, through leadership and through connections that we have, with our stores out of state and you know, call centers, it’s really important that we outreach and share those successes with them as well.
Andrea Herron 11:12
Yeah, it’s a good point, because like many other businesses, you do have a diversity of job profile and job location. So I’m assuming what’s in your retail store is probably different than your headquarters, which might be different than your call center, and then layer on top of that in different states in different communities and different groups of people. So it just reiterates that wellness is not one size fits all, as we say here, and yeah, I’m curious how, over the past year, plus now, how did you outreach to specifically those retail places, or as everyone went remote? You know, how did you all navigate that?
Rick Fortier 11:53
Yeah, so that was outreaching to specifically, you know, retail locations for us in terms of providing well being resources and support was both a challenging task. But what we learned from it and how we approached it, I think, was a really beneficial process. And and one that we celebrate now, I think the first was realizing that, you know, what you might consider physical health needs might not have been the most important support we needed to provide. So one of the first things el bien did was provide pandemic pay, you know, we provided a way for them, you know, while things were shut down, or slowed down, to still have the financial support that they needed to live life and to be able to take care of themselves. That came first and foremost. So I think that was not only the the most important thing to do, but I think it was, it was the most caring thing to do to realize this is a priority. You know, without this, it’s gonna be really difficult to take care of yourself in in the other ways that you need to. So we approach the pandemic and financial epidemic pay in financial support first. And then we started utilizing new and different ways to communicate our resources to them. So we have stream, which is video access that we can provide to retail outlets. We provided online fitness classes and nutrition classes. I think another thing that we’ve primarily focused on that was really important was mental and emotional well being that was really key, I should have said that secondary to the pandemic pay, I think we realized really quickly, that change is hard. And add to that, that not only was everything changing drastically for people, it was being done in a in a in the context of social isolation for a lot of people. And so that needs to be addressed as well. And so, thanks to our already existing strong ties with EAP resources, we were able to quickly provide mindfulness and emotional well being and social supports. Typically we have a Yammer application has to be used for internal social communications. stores at the time utilized a different set of communications, but Yammer was opened up to all of the retail locations so that they could engage socially with all other employees here at LL Bean and allow us to be able to promote through Yammer some of our well being resources. And then again, just being able to communicate, you know, and provide our classes through new media to do the classes live. Participants could do it from home employees could do it from home with their family members. That was the best part. Either jump into some of these classes and see children and spouses and partners participating in you know, these fitness and wellbeing classes that maybe they wouldn’t have before was really fun and in It made you feel good to see that. It was he was bringing everything back to that sense of community and culture that we have of, you know, we’ve got this great thing. So let’s share it. And so it provided employees the opportunity to share those, those resources with others.
Andrea Herron 15:17
That’s really awesome. Did you see a pretty high utilization rate of the online classes? Were people doing it?
Rick Fortier 15:24
Yeah, yeah, we definitely did I off top my head, I couldn’t tell you participation rates. But we, you know, there’s definitely those classes that were popular when they were in person were just as popular when we were doing them virtually. And I, what I found interesting was the most popular classes also tended to be the ones that met very specific needs. So you know, we might have an instructor who’s a very social person was very talkative during the classes and connected really well with participants. You know, when we went online that was popular, because it was it was a more personal class, more social, the classes that were more geared towards mindfulness and meditation, like Yoga also had good participation. And I think because people realize they needed that time to just sort of step away and take care of, you know, the other parts of their well being that took care of the physical, but also the, the emotional as well. So that was, that was a fun evolution to see. And to see that they’re still utilizing it now. And that we’re, we’re using that as a springboard to see how can we continue to outreach, the most meaningful programs to do those areas.
Andrea Herron 16:38
That’s great. And I’m glad people were participating. And certainly, if they were getting more than just the physical workout, that’s a bonus. And I found and I think this is probably pretty common that even if you offer something, and people don’t actively log in or participate, they like that you offered it. And so there’s even a side benefit, say my company is offering these things, even if I’m not interested in it, they’re trying, they’re putting it out there, they’re creating ways for people to connect. And I’ve noticed, and it’s well documented in the research, that both loneliness and financial stress have huge implications on physical and mental health and well being. So you know, your, your two points about the panoramic pay, and in the social and emotional support, are spot on. Because if people are lonely and super stressed out about their finances, you can’t give your best your job, you can’t give your best to your family, you, you really can’t get out of that negative spin, if you’re lonely and really stressed if you could pay your bills or put food on the table.
Rick Fortier 17:42
Right? Absolutely. At you know, and I, you know, I think you’re right, I think just being able to provide it, I think, provided the space to tell employees, you know, even during these really challenging times, we still care about you. And we still want to provide a meaningful, useful resource and understand that, for some people, that might be your thing. And for others, they may be looking for something different. And I think one of the one of the unexpected benefits of that approach that came out of the pandemic was these retail locations that saw this outreach for well being in this, this caring for quality of life, and making sure that they have what they needed to continue to live life live a well take care of themselves, they actually started creating their own wellness groups by district and started pulling together and providing their own tailored resources based on what was new and meaningful to them. So it’s this great offspring of you know, what was a really difficult time button, just providing our outreach in and keeping focus on this challenge, these challenging times are happening and you can’t get around them. And it’s still important to take care of yourself, and we’re going to be here for you. And we’re going to help you out with that, that they started taking hold of it for themselves and started having the self ownership and, and providing their their own support and resources, which is amazing. So I’m excited to see where that goes.
Andrea Herron 19:12
Yeah, that’s a great reminder that you know, not every company can do pandemic pay, or can facilitate at the level that y’all are able to, but, you know, every company can create the space and the opportunity for their people to connect and make it what they want it to be, which a lot of times is where most of the success lies anyway because it’s meeting people where they are and with what they want. So I think no matter what size of company or how robust or not your, you know, offerings are even creating space time and encouraging people to rally for their needs to get together to put something on the calendar that seems fun and they look forward to has a huge benefit.
Rick Fortier 19:55
Absolutely. As you were saying that I my one thought was, you don’t regard Listen, the resources you have, you can always show people you care, there’s, you know, there’s always a way to show them, that you’re there for them, you know, through whatever circumstances. And, and you know, it’s funny as I’m just in talking to other people you know about workplace wellness is sometimes others you may not know where to go, other companies may not know where to go, I think it’s important to say it’s okay to ask, you know, if you want to show that you care, but you don’t know how are you want to support well being if you don’t know how, you know, ask ask your employees, what their need is, at that moment, how you can best support them and find out what you can provide within, you know, the context of the resources you have,
Andrea Herron 20:39
right, it could be totally different than what you were imagining it could be easier or more simplistic even. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, I am curious, you know, you’ve been in this industry for a while you’ve been there for six years, but just over time, you know, have you seen any interesting trends, either pro or con, any trends in kind of just the wellness and benefits space in retail, or, you know, stores or call centers, specifically, except, like, That’s a harder group to reach just because they don’t get specific times to where they can be off, right? If they’re on the floor, or they’re at the cash register? They’re busy. So has there been anything that’s really worked overtime? Or alternately not worked? Yeah. So
Rick Fortier 21:22
I, you know, I think that’s where asking right comes in, and getting to know that that particular part of your community. So pre COVID, I’ll start there, using our call centers, as a great example is, you know, realizing that they don’t get a lot of time necessarily to step away, we started a program within the call center, that we called chilga, which was chair yoga. And there were set times where employees could step aside sort of in rotation, so that there were still, you know, some, some people on the phones, providing support and resources for our customers. But others could step away and do a five minute chair yoga session. And, you know, and then we also had walking breaks, it’s very common in different buildings to see stretch breaks throughout the day. So it’s those little wins, I think sometimes they make a big difference and keep well being top of mind. So I think that was part of the trend is people learn to capture well being where they could in small doses if you needed to, I think the other trend is the increased focus on mental and emotional well being. I think a lot of times when we say well being people were focused on, you know, physical well being eating well, staying active, watching your cholesterol and blood sugar. But I think in recent years, for us, which was really fortunate that we were starting down that road prior to the pandemic, was recognizing, as you said, you know, if there’s a financial need, that’s bigger, you know, or somehow impacting your, your physical well being need, you need to address that first. And I think we’re starting our employees and in our retail populations, also realizing that that’s important as well, you know, I have to take care of my mental, emotional, mental and emotional well being, it’s important that I have really strong healthy social relationships, and that we’re in the space now where we’re able to provide resources to guide them through that.
Andrea Herron 23:27
Those are some great tips. And I agree with you that it doesn’t have to be an hour class or 45 minute webinar or this, that and the other, that’s really time consuming. It can be a stretch break, or walking on your break or encouraging that. Or having some kind of incentive, even my no and some of our meetings, occasionally we’ll do wall sets. And you know, it’s a love hate relationship.
Rick Fortier 23:52
I was gonna say, How do you like the wall sets? Yeah,
Andrea Herron 23:55
I don’t love them. But for me, so I mean, it can be whatever is fun and different and keeps people interested in like you said, top of mind that this isn’t a once a year at Open Enrollment. We’re going to talk about your benefits and your well being but it is an everyday thing, because you’re a human person every day. Spoiler alert, you know, every day, so we should make it interesting and fun and take care of ourselves every day.
Rick Fortier 24:20
Absolutely. Yeah, I think another thing I’ll throw in that I thought has been creative and helpful for us was we started a Quick Fit class, which is a shorter, no, probably no wall sits in this class, but it’s it’s easier format of a typical class you’d take here, just realizing that some people might be a little intimidated to join a full blown physical activity class and may need a space to sort of dip their toes in the water and and see what it’s like and realize that you can you can start with some pretty basic but helpful movements and work your way up from there. So that that was I think that was a really creative approach for us. I think it’s been working out really well.
Andrea Herron 25:03
I love that. I mean, we’ve all been the new person in class, like, how do you know the steps? I don’t know the steps. I’m off and behind the back. But it just takes time and practice. It’s similar. It reminds me of meditating where people think, Oh, I have to sit this way. And I have to do this for 30 minutes. It’s like, No, you can look out the window at something beautiful. And just breathe for 60 seconds. And that counts. Like you don’t have to go at it full in, you can work your way up to it. Absolutely. Yeah. So before we let you go, I just have to ask you the one thing that we ask all of our guests here, which is to tell us something that we may not know about you? Oh, my
Rick Fortier 25:43
goodness. And I feel like that was probably the one thing I didn’t think about or prepare for. For this. I probably should have one thing that they that’s quirky and fun. That they don’t know about me. Let’s see here. i Let’s I’m trying to think of what relevant.
Andrea Herron 26:02
Gonna be juice I can tell. Yeah.
Rick Fortier 26:06
Well, I’m just trying to think I’ve had a lot of experiences in this life
Andrea Herron 26:10
and share more than one I’ll allow it if you want more than one pops to mind. Sure. Yeah.
Rick Fortier 26:14
So let’s see here. Okay, I know I need to wrap it up here. No worries. Let’s see something that’s quirky and fun. So one of my before I was in full blown wellness trying to make ends meet. For I got my first well, you know, well, being coordinator job years and years ago, I worked at a what they called, at the time a theater bar where you could, you can go and eat. But they were like these little mini shows. So there’s like either a comedy skit or like a dance show. And that was like, it was sort of really fun and entertaining. It was short lived. Only because I found you know, my, my, my job in well, wellness and put my focus there. But that was fun. And I think the maybe something else quirky and fun is I was not a lover of long distance running when I was younger. And two years ago, now I ran my first half marathon. I was nice. Yeah, in high school. I was a sprinter, you know, shortest distance from point A to point B. And, again, my wife encouraged me to do a half marathon and I did it and I actually really, really enjoyed it.
Andrea Herron 27:33
Awesome. Well, all the laughter and social interaction from the job and the running is physical. So check, check mental, there you go. Yeah, I mean, the thought of even going to a show and being around people in listening to live music or dance or comedy just sounds like the most amazing thing I can even think of right now. So I cannot wait to do those things again. Exactly. Me too. Awesome. Well, thank you again for joining us today. I think a lot of this will be really resonant and helpful to our audience. So we appreciate your time and sharing all your knowledge with us today.
Rick Fortier 28:14
Excellent. Thank you so much for the time as well. I appreciate it.
Andrea Herron 28:19
Thank you for listening to the HR scoop podcast. Please take a moment to rate and subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google or directly at WebMD health services.com/podcasts