Inside An HR Overhaul

HR professional Dawn Cacciotti recently won an award for her efforts to increase employee engagement and participation in wellness programs at the National Restaurant Association. Find out how she did it.

Studies have shown that higher employee engagement and an emphasis on employee wellness can boost productivity and lead to better bottom lines. But what does it actually take to achieve those objectives?

For Dawn Cacciotti, who recently served as senior vice president of human resources at the National Restaurant Association, it took a three-year revamp of the organization’s HR strategy that resulted in a 45 percent increase in employee engagement, a 2.2-year drop in employees’ overall health age, and a 15 percent increase in employee participation in NRA’s 401(k) plan.

For her efforts, Cacciotti recently received the 2014 Judges’ Choice Benny Award from Employee Benefit News (ebn). In an interview with the news site, she shared some insights into the overhaul.

To start, Cacciotti sent out a confidential employee survey that included more than 100 questions on organizational culture, benefits, compensation, communication, training, and job satisfaction. And from the responses, she learned she needed to create a well-rounded program that focused on the financial, physical, and emotional well-being of NRA employees.

To address their physical health, Cacciotti and partners Orriant and United Healthcare initiated a voluntary biometric screening program in which those who fall below a baseline are paired with a wellness coach to set fitness and nutrition goals. Eighty percent of NRA employees participate in the program, and since it started, 62 percent of employees have reported increasing their fitness routines.

“As an organization, having healthier people [means] your productivity improves, your medical costs go down,” Cacciotti said. “We’re down again on all our costs for this quarter as compared to last year. The health of our organization is improving.”

Another way to support employee physical wellness is to offer access to onsite fitness options. For example, the Oncology Nursing Society, which started out by converting extra space in its building to a workout area, now offers an onsite gym with access to multiple machines, weights, and other equipment.

Yet another option: employee-initiated wellness activities. At the American Medical Association, a cross-departmental wellness committee develops activities, including a Healthy Lunch Club, Employee TV Turn-Off Week, and walks to a local farmer’s market, to help keep employees healthy throughout the year.

In addition to physical wellness, Cacciotti wanted to help improve NRA employees’ financial well-being. So, to increase employee participation in NRA’s 401(k) plan, she teamed up with two financial organizations to offer financial literacy classes.

“A lot of times people get used to [a 401(k) plan] just being there,” Cacciotti said. “When you don’t have any education or follow-up, people think other organizations just do it.”

With benefits often a strong factor in employee retention (a 2014 MetLife study found that 50 percent of employees reported benefits were an important reason to stay with an employer), communicating  the programs your association offers is important. Organizations should use a variety of methods, such as handbooks, one-on-one sessions with agency representatives, and lunch-and-learns, to communicate benefits, Audrey Boone Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services at Aflac, told the Society for Human Resource Management.

After implementing the new HR strategies at the NRA, the association’s turnover rate dropped below 15 percent, and its employee engagement scores rose by 45 percent, Cacciotti told ebn.

“It helped change the lives of our people, and it solidified for me how important an effective human resources people strategy is to achieving the overall results of each and every organization,” she said.

Has your association had success implementing an employee wellness program? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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