Kimberley Hogan, Christie Canada
bh IN BRIEF
Christie is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a leader in visual display technologies and solutions. Its engineering and operations headquarters are in Kitchener, ON, home to about half its 500 employees worldwide.
Kimberley Hogan, Vice President, Human Resources, talks about the expected and unexpected successes of the "Christie Cares" healthy workplace initiative.
A high energy, highly creative workforce, significant participation, and surprisingly low program costs all describe this initiative. And while the company’s much lower rate of increase for its health benefit costs hasn’t been formally tied to the wellness program, it helps demonstrate Christie is headed in the right direction.
Q: Kimberley, when did you begin your workplace health initiative and what was your motivation?
It began in February 2000 after Electrohome was purchased by Ushio, a Japanese company, and became Christie Canada. We wanted to be different, to create a new external brand but also a new internal brand to demonstrate to employees that "Christie Cares". Our wellness program is part of this strategy, and remains a key factor in attracting and retaining great employees.
Q: Were you successful in your efforts? Is recruitment and retention still the key driver?
There’s no question "Christie Cares" was a hit with our employees, but we’re not standing still. Our environment has changed. We are facing extreme market pressure – competition in pricing and technology, and reduced product development cycles, all of which results in a stressful, high pressure environment. We now see the program as a way to help employees have some fun and stay energized.
Q: Tell us about the "Christie Cares" program. Is there a focal point for the program?
We try to provide variety in services and coverage of topical issues based on our employee surveys. About half our folks participate in the fitness program in our small, but well-equipped gym. Every second week our external (TriFit) wellness coordinator visits each workstation to answer questions and promote different health-related themes. By taking the information straight to employees, we get 100% participation in wellness education.
Q: How does the wellness program link to your Human Resources management strategy and overall corporate objectives? How do you define "success" for this program?
Overall, from an HR and corporate perspective, the "Christie Cares" program is designed to make Christie a great place to work and create a high energy, highly creative and sustaining environment. Our program is highly valued by our employees, in part because we aim to have their interests drive our content.
Success has not been formally measured, but we know our turnover rate is low – less that 3% per year – and, despite our stressed environment, we have had no LTD claims in the past five years. We have enthusiastic and engaged employees and as an unexpected result, the annual increases in our benefit plan renewal rates have gone from about 12% to about 6% last year. Our benefit advisor has been telling us this is very unusual, and we expect more good news again this year!
Q: Sounds like you have been very successful. Were there any challenges in initiating the program? Is it difficult to keep it going?
Fortunately, our president is a "believer" and understood right from the beginning that a healthy workplace would be good for business. That enabled us to build our gym (nice, but not a necessity). Our ongoing costs net out at $16,000 per year, or just over $65 per employee – a pretty reasonable investment. Our outside agency manages the program, which keeps it simple and using their staff avoids a headcount issue for us.
Q: We might assume that, with an average age of about 40, the combined effects of work and family stress has to be a big issue for your group. Is it?
A culture scan helped us understand how stressed and burnt-out some of our folks were. The wellness program specifically focuses there, in pretty conventional ways. We have also tried some "out of the box" things to reach people. Though not everything works, we try to learn by experimenting. For example, we introduced a "High Performance Centre" to provide a quiet zone, a "cocoon" with a biometric relaxation chair and a series of CDs with relaxation and creativity exercises. We marketed it to death, did demos, and folks loved the concept. But the chair was never used and we closed the room. People did not want to be seen as unproductive or weak, or admit they needed to relax…this was an education for us.
Q: As a Human Resource executive, what advice would you give your peers in other organizations?
I am most proud that the change in my own health has been an example for other employees. It is very satisfying for me to see people take more responsibility for their health and to know that Wallwin Electric has helped encourage that change. I hope that other employers in this community take a stronger interest in the health and well-being of their employees. Our families and our businesses and the whole community depends on it.
THE "CHRISTIE CARES" PROGRAM
Categories: View from the Top