Technology puts Harmons Ahead of the Curve for Employee Wellness

Sarah Kiel, RDN, Wellness Champion, Harmons Grocery

Sarah Kiel, RDN, Wellness Champion, Harmons Grocery

Harmons has built a reputation of being the top grocer in Utah by offering its customers more. Things like fresh bread made daily from scratch or higher quality meat and cheeses. In-store dieticians and pharmacists, who go out of their way to help its customers make better decisions.

The grocer has also been ahead of the curve on employee wellness, offering its associates weekly opportunities to participate in walks or learn via healthy cooking demos. A Harmons pharmacist even created a smoking cessation program that has been in place for years.

Just over a year ago, Harmons introduced a mobile application to help align its 19 stores and support office under a unified goal of communicating wellness incentives and benefits to its associates. As of March this year, they’ve successfully encouraged adoption over 50 percent in all but three of their locations with some locations above 60%. Engagement figures continue to grow as well.

"Harmons even fuels the beneficial use of its wellness app by incentivizing their employees"

We already had a lot of great resources in place that a lot of other grocery stores don’t offer to its employees. Introducing mobile app technology into our wellness program was just a way for us to say ‘hey, here is everything we offer.’ We wanted to make it comprehensive and accessible. We wanted everyone to be aware of it.

I have a “pretty wild job title.” As Wellness Champion, I over see 19 wellness ambassadors, who double as any other role within the grocers’ organization. Due to how the associate population is dispersed, it was critically important to find technology that could allow access to digital communication anywhere, at any time. We have wellness ambassadors who work in bulk foods or who are checkers,” said Kiel. “They’re allotted a few hours each week to go and talk to their associates and see what kind of things they want to see in the wellness program.

The wellness ambassadors are able to intimately gauge what Harmons’ associates are going through. As Harmons looks to build the program to be more engaging and current, the grocer has found its associates to, once again, be its best resource—and by tracking localized engagement, Kiel has a detailed view of what’s working in the program and what’s not.

I always think I know what would be fun, but our local ambassadors tend to come up with better ideas than I do. We really needed to talk to all the different kinds of people in our company. We realized they don’t all want or need the same thing. People are interested in topics we hadn’t considered.

Harmons even fuels the beneficial use of its wellness app by incentivizing their employees. 

There are wellness apps that help people to stop smoking or to dial back their drinking. It’s as easy as creating a reminder to cut your smoking by one cigarette a day. Then Harmon's awards point for consistency in meeting those goals. The rewards structure includes money. We give away a lot of money.

One of Harmons’ most successful campaigns was its simplest – a challenge for employees to simply pack a vegetable with their lunch, which created a lot of interaction. Through the mobile app, they were able to track that daily goal and report their success as a group—in many ways, this accountability and “gamification” created a social element that made the challenge a lot of fun. Through similar digital challenges, people have also lost weight and made more time for emotional health.

This year, our real focus has been about emotional well-being, about depression and stress. We’ve created a lot of challenges about reducing stress. Things like a meditation moment challenge, where employees just take a minute to chill. Harmons also instructs its employees to download an app called Headspace and take time to focus on reducing their stress levels while at work.

The host has a super-soothing voice. He walks you through a meditation. A lot of it is encouraging deep breathing and trying to relax all of your muscles. People don’t realize that when they’re stressed, muscles get super tense. Taking a minute out of your day to kind of check in with your body and acknowledge what you’re feeling is pretty important.

The introduction of the technology itself initiated a conversation between Harmons’ Human Resources Department and employees.

Utilizing technology for emotional wellness makes it less taboo to talk about. It used to be that people did not talk about their emotional wellbeing. Now, there are so many cool apps out there that support emotional health. We recommend them to our associates all the time.

Exploring all avenues, I found that appealing to Utah’s competitive nature was advantageous.

Whether it’s a store vs. store competition or a department vs. department competition, we can use technology to create a fun competition. We can pit the bakery at our seventh street store vs. the bakery at our west store. People like to get competitive. It creates a fun vibe and a sense of unity within their teams.

Even with considerable adoptions rates with existing technology, the biggest challenge for Kiel continues to be communication – both between the company’s 19 stores spread state-wide and in discovering the best way to reach people on an individual level.

We’re now considering text messaging. We’re looking at ways to use email more effectively. We sent out a survey last month, which helped us realize a lot of our employees were interested in programs we already offered. Now we’re trying to figure out the best way to communicate to them that these programs exist and are available for free.

Grocery stores are not traditionally considered technology powerhouses, but we’re finding ways to use it to engage our employees in our wellness program. We can see that people are making changes. I’ve heard people say it helped them lose 30 pounds or that they’re now making better decisions about getting more restful sleep. We’re very aware that our associates are our most important asset so to see changes in their spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing is outstanding.

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