Despite the ups and downs that the wind industry has experienced in recent years, Renewable NRG Systems has worked hard to maintain a focus on employee wellness—something that we believe is core to our success as a company. We have received accolades both locally and nationally for our efforts, including a 2014 Worksite Wellness Silver Level Award from the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports and the Vermont Department of Health.
In light of this recent award, I spoke with CEO Jan Blomstrann about RNRG’s wellness initiatives—past and present—and what advice she can offer for businesses that are hoping to improve their own programs.
What is employee wellness? What does it encompass?
Jan: Employee wellness begins with the health of the individual. When an employee comes into work bringing his/her best self, it contributes to a vibrant and productive workplace. The effects cascade up and down the organizational structure, but it all starts at the individual level.
What has RNRG historically done to promote employee wellness?
Jan: We have always focused on the benefits package. Since organizational wellness is rooted in the health of employees, offering dental, health, and retirement benefits is essential.
I believe wellness also starts with hiring. Hiring should be a two-way process of making sure the candidate wants the job and that we want the candidate to work here. The result is a respectful environment where people enjoy each other, treat each other well, and promote a good atmosphere.
Finally, team building is important too. All along, we’ve encouraged staff to get to know each other—hosting parties, ski days, and so on. We’ve participated in community events as well, like the Penguin Plunge and Corporate Cup. More recently, the formation of NRGize, our volunteer wellness committee, points to the fact that we care about wellness enough to devote time to making it happen.
How have the programs evolved over time?
Jan: Going all the way back, our benefits package was built slowly and deliberately to ensure it was both financially possible and could be expanded. There are certain elements of the package that are unique and core to our mission—for example, providing reimbursement for home energy efficiency improvements. Over time, we’ve found ways to retain the benefits that are meaningful to the core of who we are and what we do.
We offer an onsite gym, a pool, and walking paths around the property. This has created opportunities for exercise right on site. We also aim to nurture a supportive and creative atmosphere, and one of our ongoing traditions is that employees play spontaneous music at lunchtime on Fridays.
Understanding that life events happen, we maintain an emergency fund for employees in crisis so we can support them as they return to a state of health.
In addition, one of our newest programs is called “Voice of the Employee.” Through this initiative, staff members can submit suggestions for every area of our business, from facility improvements to company processes. Since the program’s implementation, over one third of suggestions have been implemented, and more are currently under consideration.
What have been the biggest challenges for implementing wellness initiatives?
Jan: Frankly, it can be a challenge to sustain wellness practices during lean times. You have to be able to afford them. With changes in the industry, we had to focus on the benefits and programs that really matter.
Second, there’s the distraction factor – businesses must always navigate the tension between productivity and devoting time to the care and feeding of wellness programs. For example, staff members serving on our NRGize committee have to take time out of their busy days to meet. But we absolutely feel that it is worthwhile.
What do you envision for the future of RNRG’s wellness programs?
Jan: Our values are still the same. We will continue to do everything we can to encourage people to get to know each other, respect each other, and come to work healthy.
How does employee wellness fit with the overall vision and mission of the company?
Jan: Sustainability is the heart of our mission—from the industries we serve, to our LEED Gold facility. We take pride in manufacturing U.S.-made products that support the world’s efforts to develop a renewable energy future.
What would you recommend for other leaders who are considering starting wellness programs?
Jan: Customize it for your own business; figure out what that means. Do it from the spirit of creating better conditions—a better workplace—that will then translate to a better bottom line.