Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, and employing approximately 200 people, M Financial Group offers financial design and distribution services to 145 Member Firms spread throughout the world. As an insurance, investment, and executive benefits advisor, M Financial Group’s employees are skilled at crunching numbers and analyzing risk.
To attract the best talent, M Financial Group takes taking care of its employees seriously. Among other things, the organization supports employees’ physical, emotional, social, and financial well-being by offering voluntary benefits such as a bike-commute subsidy, tuition reimbursement, an employee assistance program, a matching program for charitable giving, and an on-site wellness program.
M Financial Group’s efforts to provide employees with a great place to work has paid off. In 2015, the company was named as one of the 100 best companies to work for in Oregon.
In this case study, we’re taking a look back at where it all began.
M Financial Group’s first steps into wellness
Shortly after M Financial Group’s wellness program took off, we had a chance to talk to Diane O’Malley. She served as a compensation and benefits analyst at M Financial Group until November of 2017. We were joined during our discussion by another member of the M Financial Group, Rhonda [Last Name].  These two women were present during the wellness program’s early days and shared with us how they developed the program one step at a time.
Step 1: Working with what you have
M Financial’s wellness program began with its Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This program was included as part of the organization’s insurance benefits package and offered employees support services for achieving wellness goals such as weight loss or stress reduction. However, like many other companies whose employees have access to an EAP through their insurance, the program was not well known or widely used by employees. M Financial’s wellness team emphasized that communicating this benefit to your employees is important, as it can be a valuable tool to help them improve their well-being.
Step 2: Find out what your employees want
The best wellness programs are ones that are designed to serve the needs of a specific population. That’s because, without employee interest and engagement, your wellness offerings will go unused. So, as the team began to consider developing a wellness program to supplement M Financial’s EAP benefits and the company’s softball and volleyball teams, the first step was to ask employees what they wanted. They accomplished this step by using a benefits survey that asked employees if they would be interested in a wellness program.
This first survey also asked employees to indicate which activities from a selection of approximately 25 options they would enjoy. Other questions asked about when and how often employees would like to see the activities offered, and asked for volunteers to serve on the wellness committee. The response to the survey was very positive with approximately 10% of M Financial’s employees indicating that they were not only interested in the program but wanted to volunteer to serve on the wellness committee.
Step 3: Start with one or two programs and expand as you go
One of the first initiatives the team at M Financial introduced to the wellness program was a step challenge. To promote the challenge, they relied on email and word of mouth. The challenge incorporated analog and digital assets to achieve success. Employees joined teams to compete to achieve specific distance goals. Their steps were recorded using pedometers.
What made the challenge really fun was the use of a large bulletin board located in the company cafeteria to display participants’ progress. During the first year of the challenge, the goal was to move each team along a trail from Portland to the Grand Canyon. Milestone destinations, such as Chinatown, were marked on the board and each team had a mascot.
In a subsequent year, teams were given the goal of traveling around the world in 80 days. By associating the challenge with a fun theme, the wellness committee was able to entice more employees to participate.
Following the success of the first step challenge, the team added a water and nutrition challenge. Each year, they try to produce at least four activities that encourage employees to reach specific wellness goals.
Step 4: Seek–and respond to–feedback for continual improvement
Following the first year’s step challenge, the wellness committee surveyed employees again, asking for their feedback. Through this process, they learned that employees weren’t always happy competing against one another when they had different fitness levels. So, the team created individualized goals and levels. Using a tiered system allowed individual participants to receive recognition and rewards for meeting their individual wellness goals. Additionally, the wellness team decided to change the name of the activities from challenges to initiatives to shift the focus from competition to cooperation.
Step 5: Encourage participation through involvement in the process
When we spoke with Diane and Rhonda, participation in M Financial’s wellness activities was voluntary, and employees didn’t receive a financial incentive (such as lowered insurance premiums) for participation. The wellness team at M Financial used email, flyers, and posters to communicate their wellness initiatives.
They also encouraged participation by involving employees in the process. The initial wellness committee was supplemented by sub-committees for each initiative. This allowed more employees to participate in developing wellness activities while allowing them to limit their time commitment. In one initiative–a bingo game to encourage employees to move more during the day–committee members and volunteers led various activities and exercises at scheduled times.
For other employees, engagement came in the form of helping calculate distances for the step challenges or trying out new wellness technology. Employees also encouraged one another by teaming up to complete activities as the company’s culture began to change.
Step 6: Keeping track of it all
In addition to surveys and other methods for collecting feedback, the M Financial wellness committee is able to review anonymized biometric screening results. This information helps them assess how well their programs are performing. Each year the wellness committee analyzes the available data about the employees’ health, the wellness initiatives’ participation rates, and other input to determine where improvements can be made.
On responding to this information and keeping everyone happy, the team members we spoke with said, “It’s definitely something to work through…when you’re creating these initiatives and challenges, you have to prepare for so many external factors.”
Making wellness work for your organization
To create a program that encouraged participation and improved employee well-being, the team at M Financial Group did their homework, then took the first steps. The programs they initiated included various annual wellness challenges or initiatives, plus a wellness fair and on-site activities such as yoga and mindfulness exercises. They benefited along the way from a workforce that was responsive and engaged.
Our interviewees told us that the engagement started at the top. M Financial’s CEO enjoyed the health benefits of walking daily. So, he kicked off their first step challenge by leading a walk with employees. The challenge closed with another walk with the CEO. His participation helped set the tone for the company’s focus on shifting to a culture of wellness.
As you create your wellness program, don’t forget to make it unique to your organization. Who are your company’s leaders and influencers? What are your employees’ needs and preferences? What can your team do to encourage your workforce to embrace new well-being goals this year?