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how does zappos approach employee wellness? free-ranging conversation with hollie delaney, zappos senior HR manager

July 28, 2010

in culture,free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators),health communication,wellness

hollie delaney has worked at zappos.com, inc. for more than four years. she’s married with one child, so she knows first-hand the struggle of enjoying a full-throttle career while giving all to oneself and one’s family. as the senior HR manager at zappos.com, inc. in charge of their wellness effort, that knowledge comes in handy. i caught up with hollie by email and by phone to find out how zappos.com, inc. is approaching wellness. hint: it has something to do with delivering happiness.

fm: let’s start with the basics. how do you define wellness?

hd: right now, it’s a little different here than elsewhere. we don’t have a huge initiative. we’re focusing on how we get people excited about getting up and moving, eating right. i look at myself. i’m a person who used to be very healthy. but then i got married, had a family…something gives. from my standpoint, i think about what’s it going to take to get me to move and eat well? we’re focusing on this first, and as we get more established we can look at the tougher challenges, like focusing on the different health issues common in our population.

fm: why is it important to zappos.com, inc. to get people up and moving or eating well?

hd: well, we have a conflict with the mainstream about “why.” most are looking to help with rising health care costs. of course, that’s important to us as well, but our main focus is when you’re well, you’re happier. when you’re happier, you do your job better. we want to give people the knowledge and opportunity to see how much better they feel and how much happier they are when they’re healthy. that’s our main focus.

fm: given that, what does “wellness” look like at zappos.com, inc.?

hd: we look for things that work for everyone and that will bring a little more happiness into people’s lives. we want to show people that wellness is important but can be fun. we also want to cover everyone from the person just starting on the wellness track to the person who’s already on the track and looking to sustain their lifestyle.

we provide educational classes on nutrition, finances, parenting. we have weight watchers on-site and offer smoking cessation classes to employees, and we subsidize a portion of these classes if employees complete their commitment. our on-site exercise classes cover everything from hip hop dance classes to how to sit and be fit to laugh yoga to wii competitions. our insurance carriers come in to give employees a better idea of how their benefits work and what things are available that they may not be taking advantage of. we also provide different discounts to gyms and encourage people to walk, hike, bike, and play sports together.

our wellness council is made up of employees from all the different departments within our company who want to be part of what we’re doing. they help us find those vendors who’d work for us culturally and figure out how to take information we all know and make it memorable.

fm: make it memorable. exactly! i’m a big fan of your off-the-cuff youtube videos. how are you communicating with employees about wellness?

hd: video is a good way for us to reach people. we’ve been thinking more about how we can use it. we could do a video about something as fun and silly as parking farther away from an entrance. for our wellness fair, we created this “rock wild” wellness video.

our wellness program’s really just starting down this road. any campaign to date has been through video or email, and we do have a twitter account employees can follow to see what we’re doing. we’re not addressing family yet but are looking to in the future.

fm: your wellness fair video reminds me of healthymagination’s howcast videos. they’re campy fun, just like you’re talking about. your culture’s known as a really driving culture. fun but intense. and obviously, some units, like your call center, have unique stresses. how do you align these competing forces? and do you carve out units like your call center in any way?

hd: everything we do is dictated by our core values. then, as managers, we’re allowed to run our units like our own business. managers are given so much flexibility, it trickles down to everyone else.

one of the things we want to do is build relationships with each business so we can tailor our wellness services to their environment. this is a new road for us, and we’re just starting down it.  we’re looking to tailor programs that work best for different departments, so some may need help with work-life balance, some of the departments may want to focus more on stress management and so on. we haven’t started this process yet but are looking to start in the near future.

as far as the hours go, the way our culture’s set up, we hang out outside of work. so that piece, working tons of hours, fixes itself. i don’t mind; i’m having fun. i’m with my friends. when i first started working here four years ago, working was hanging with friends. now that i have a family and so do lots of others, we’re hanging as families. we’re building these relationships together. for me, this is the healthiest place i’ve ever worked. you can be who you are. you don’t have to fit into a certain mold.

fm: how are you measuring what you’re doing?

hd: we’re not a largely metrics-driven company. we are metrics-driven in certain areas, such as inventory, growth, etc. when it comes to the more subjective things that we do, we’re not as heavily metrics-driven. we know that wellness programs will have returns, but there are facets of the things that we want to do that are difficult to measure. we’re currently working on how to quantify the programs that we’re proposing.

fm: what will you be looking at to see if you’re moving things in the right direction?

hd: that’s a good question. we’re still working it out and trying to find what best works for us.  we’re looking at standard programs but also looking to break new ground, so…it’s a learning process!

check out other free-ranging interviews with health innovators.

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Leave a Comment

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew Hawkins July 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

Wellness programs are a bit of a touchy subject in some circles. It’s cool to see a large organization like Zappos being extremely transparent about how they do things. The employee wellness classes offered I think are a crucial step to the success of their wellness efforts

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fran July 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm

hey drew. it is *very* cool that they’re so open to sharing. that was something that holly highlighted about their use of twitter. they’ve been using twitter to let people know what they’re doing, hoping it might spark some thinking and reflecting on what’s happening in their organization. based on this post by china gorma about their new company, zappos insights, i’d say they’ve now taken this sharing a step further. http://bit.ly/aKEXTE

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Elizabeth July 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

So glad they were willing to share. Love the video…campy fun! Will be interesting to see what kind of metrics they end up using. Wellness is one of those things that you know intuitively that it’s worthwhile…but proving it to the Board room and Accountants is a bit tough.

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fran July 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm

i can’t decide which is my favorite part of the video — the woman rockin’ out during the 80s-style aerobics class until she gets whipped into line or the man slamming down ho hos until he sees the error of his ways. zappos’s in a great position to prove their theory, which is one that’s already supported by research (see: http://ow.ly/2hHnp), because of their leadership. we need to work on those less enlightened folk 😉

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Michael VanDervort July 29, 2010 at 8:57 am

Great post Fran,

I toured Zappos back in January 2009. They gave me free run of the place for like 2.5 hours including letting my shoot flipcam vids of with their staff. I wanted to quit my own job and stay there to work with them.

The only other business I know of that even comes close to the Zappos coolness factor is Zingerman’s deli in Ann Arbor Michigan. They have a great store AND a great story, but they don’t share as much of it. via social media.

http://zingermans.com

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fran July 29, 2010 at 3:59 pm

mmmm, i love a good deli. and that has all the markings of one!
f

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