Business of Well-being

An Interview with Todd Lombardi, Director of Compensation and Benefits at Wawa, Inc.

Corporate Wellness Magazine: Todd, tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Wawa.

Todd: My current position is the Director of Compensation and Benefits and that encompasses everything from all the pay programs for all of our 17,000 associates, all of the health and welfare plans in addition to the retirement plans. It is really a whole foundation and baseline of why people would come to an organization because we have that stable foundation of excellent pay, great benefits and excellent retirement plans to supplement the employment brand and the retail brand that we have as well.

CWM: How important is corporate wellness? Is it one of the only ways to reduce healthcare costs for a self-funded health plan?

Todd: Corporate wellness in my opinion is very important because I think that when you are a self funded plan you've got only a couple of levers when you are thinking about how you can reduce overall costs, one of which being changing and eligibility. We have a large portion of our population that does not work full time hours so we have an eligibility threshold that is pretty close to the standard full time hours rates.

If we want to make more people eligible we would have to lower the hours threshold and therefore we are bringing on extra cost. We are hesitant to do that until we are able to get our current cost profile under control. Another opportunity would be to change cost sharing, so now where the company is picking up a large portion of the total healthcare cost, associates would be picking up a much greater portion of it and we do have a lot of lower wage earners in our population and the burden on them would be difficult to manage.

What we really want to go after is the claims experience, we really want associates to use the benefits that we have for them, but we want them to use them in a way that is most effective. That means anything from being a good consumer in benefits, when do I go to the ER versus when do I go to my primary care versus when I do go to the urgent care facility, etc. and then beyond that how do I avoid having to go to those things?  

I go to my primary care doctor a couple times a year and get the right screenings, tests and physicals so that hopefully you can avoid some of those other situations. What we really want to do is focus on helping our population understand the benefits they have, using them effectively but then really focusing on the health and well-being side so that if you have a chronic condition you can manage it appropriately, but even more so how do we keep the population that's healthy, healthy, so that they don't slide into the unhealthy category.

CWM: How many employees do you have at Wawa?

Todd: We've got 17,000 roughly associates, it varies based on the seasons. Obviously in the summer we hire a lot more, but of that number we have around 8,000 that are eligible for the benefits plans and of those 8,000 we have about 6,500 or so associates that elect to be on the plans and then we cover 11,000 or 12,000 total members, so there is a large percentage of the population that is covered by the plans.

CWM: What corporate wellness programs have you implemented or will you be implementing at Wawa?

Todd: We are just about to launch our newly branded 'Fit to Fly' wellness campaign, it goes with our goose logo that we have on all of our signs. It fits in very nicely and what that campaign is all about is it's really a custom approach, it's not an off the shelf approach that we've seen out in the marketplace.

What we really wanted to do is come up with an approach that would work for our associates and what that is is really bringing is wellness to them at one of the 575 sites that they might be working at. What we've done is created a partnership with a local company called Cardio Kinetics out of Newark, DE, they have a 37-foot mobile unit that they can do all health risk assessments, biometric screenings and coaching's right in that mobile unit that they can take to as many of our sites as possible.

We wanted to remove any of the barriers that our associates would have to getting the information and bringing it to them so that all they had to do was walk out of the store into this very inviting mobile unit to really begin this process.What we also wanted to do was incorporate the entire first encounter into one package, so rather then send someone to a lab or doing the HRA online before the session, whatever it was, we wanted to encapsulate it all so it was one coachable moment with the associate so that they go into the unit and they do their HRA, do the biometrics and the quick finger prick that gets all the data that is needed.

The HRA produces a report that is a little bit different than most traditional HRA's in that it gives you a prediction of the likelihood of developing a preventable disease state in the next 5 years and then compares that to national norms and gives you the lifestyle factors that are contributing to that risk.

What you really have is, here is your risk profile and then if you look at the lifestyle factors, a prescription for change. The Cardio Kinetics staff sits with each associate, helps them understand their report and results and works on a prescriptive program with each associate at that time. What we didn't want to do was say, okay here is your information, here are your results, here is your prescription and good luck.

What we wanted to do was build the other programs that would support those efforts so if you were a smoker and the number one lifestyle factor you have to change is smoking, we put a tobacco cessation program in place. There are those referral partners in place for Cardio Kinetics to use along the way to help associates address some of the challenging lifestyle issues.

CWM: What programs have had the most success?

Todd: For us the programs that have had the most success are the ones that have bubbled up from the stores or from the groups of associates that are really trying to do something. We get a lot of requests into the benefits area about supporting things like, we want to challenge another store in a Biggest Loser competition or we have a group that is looking to do a 10-mile run, can you help us with the training or get something set up in that aspect?

That is really what we find is that in addition to the structure that we are trying to put around the wellness program and knowing your numbers and participating in the programs, it's really about providing the associates an opportunity to make suggestions and then having us support them in the programs that they are trying to put together.

CWM: What is the best way to get employee engagement in wellness programs?

Todd: I think the best way to get employee engagement is to meet them where they are and remove the barriers. This may vary by organization, but for us we need to provide an incentive to get the associate to walk out of the store into the mobile unit. We provide incentives for being a participant in the programs, but really it is about meeting them where they are and meeting their needs.

That is one of the reasons why we wanted to partner with Cardio Kinetics because their interaction model is not the one size fits all, they will have a different conversation with each associate that they meet.

That in turn is going to be the right type of experience that the associate is going to have that they are going to go back into their store and they are going to tell the other 10-12 people that is working that shift that they need to get out there, that it was terrific, that it was a great experience, it didn't hurt it was just a finger prick, they aren't going to make you do push-ups in the parking lot, it's nothing embarrassing or humiliating, it's really beneficial and prescriptive.

I think it's about getting the right group of people in the beginning and then letting them really spread the word for you.

CWM: What would you say to another employer that is interested in wellness programs, what advice would you give them?

Todd: The advice that I would give other employers is to really take the time before you start a big campaign, program or effort to really understand what it is that you are trying to do and achieve and then decide the best way to do that based on your organization and your employee population.

What we are doing at our organization might not work at all at another place that has a different profile or that has a more centralized structure as opposed to more of a distributed structure. It's really about understanding the drivers and goals and what you are trying to achieve out of it and then understanding your population to make sure that it is the right type of program for you.

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