Infinium Spirits gives employees up to $600 a year for wellness purchases such as a stand-up desk or Peloton bike, both for the home.
Voit Real Estate Services also offers as large a stipend that can be used for diet programs like Noom or Lindora, 5k entry fees or running shoes.
STN Digital offers free healthy office snacks such as protein bars and fruit.
As health care costs continue to rise, local companies are dangling more perks to encourage employees, who they realize have varying views on fitness, to be healthy. Higher productivity and lower absenteeism have also traditionally driven businesses to implement improved wellness initiatives.
According to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, employers expect their costs for medical and pharmacy benefit expenses to go up 5.2 percent next year, even after taking cost management initiatives into account. That’s higher than the actual 2.1 percent increase in 2020. Last year’s increase was the smallest in decades as many people put off non-emergency care and embraced telemedicine during the pandemic, Willis said.
Hence the company wellness incentives. “We want them to balance their work life with staying healthy,” said Jessamyn Wilkinson, director of marketing for Voit. Fit employees mean savings in medical benefit costs to Voit, which pays 75 percent of their benefits. Wilkinson added: “Also, when our team members are healthy, it is reflected in their work production and their overall attitudes. We have less absenteeism and less turnover and our teams can see that we care about them.”
Broadening wellness scope
Red Door Interactive, a small marketing and advertising agency in San Diego, recently modified its wellness program. Prior to the pandemic, Red Door paid a portion or all of a gym membership based on usage.
But earlier this year, it expanded its decade-plus old gym benefit after workers felt it was limited. Now, it offers $30 a month ClassPass membership to use for the gym as well as on-demand video classes, guided meditations, nutritional classes, saunas, acupuncture, massages, facials, manicures and even hair services.
“We made sure to keep in mind that well-being means something different to each individual,” said Amy Carr, executive vice president for Red Door.
Infinium agrees. “Well-being is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Binali Mesri, vice president of business development and human resources for Young’s Holdings, which owns Infinium. “We wanted a well-being initiative that was all about employee choice on what works for them to manage their physical and mental health.”
Small San Diego businesses Infinium and Kuro Oncology give employees $50 and $75 each month, respectively, for wellness expenses. Kuro started doing this in 2020 and Infinium in 2018. Infinium employees use it for things like ski passes, personal trainers, toll roads and train passes. During the pandemic when gyms closed and folks worked remotely, Infinium added new wellness categories like at-home gym equipment, child online learning tools and food-delivery subscription fees.
“It’s the little things that can decrease stress and thereby promote mental well-being,” Mesri said. “If well-being means that some employees are less stressed because they don’t have to meal plan, then that’s significant. It’s the same with train passes and toll roads.”
The wellness program at Cognella, a small San Diego publishing company, has also evolved. About a decade ago, its health approach started with signing up for team sports like softball or soccer through recreational leagues. Now, employees earn points quarterly by participating in wellness activities through the company or on their own. Once a minimum number of points are earned, workers are eligible for a drawing for cash prizes.
Additionally, companies are trying to help employees eat healthier. STN, a small marketing and branding company in San Diego, doesn’t stock its fridge and cabinets with candies or sodas. Instead, they’re loaded with things like protein bars and fruit.
Likewise, Infinium has LaCroix sparkling waters as a soda alternative. Its other free snacks are granola bars, cheese and nuts, yogurt and hummus. This past June when it opened its offices for employees to come back, it made the shift to healthy snacks.
“Even before Covid, we have always offered our employees snacks,” Mesri said. “But we wanted to offer more than just sugary snacks and cookies at our workplace. Our employees work hard and healthy snacks can provide employees with energy, improved concentration and an improved mood during the day.”
Companies also hope free and convenient gyms entice employees to exercise. MadCap Software, a small San Diego business, has offered an on-site gym since moving to a larger office near Westfield UTC in April 2019.
CSC TCI, a property tax and business license compliance software developer, has been in a location with a fitness center for three years. It offers free instructor-led classes at the center for employees, “our most important asset,” said Scott Strauss, CSC TCI president. He said the company encourages exercise to increase productivity, relieve stress and manage weight.
About four years ago, STN began offering complimentary gym membership at 24 Hour Fitness. It has since added ClassPass that includes yoga and cycling classes.
“I’d personally go insane without working out consistently weekly,” STN CEO David Brickley said. “It serves as a version of therapy
Hang Nguyen is a freelance writer for the U-T.