Jennifer Borislow, founder (1982) and president of Massachusetts-based Borislow Insurance, realized — along with co-founder Mark Gaunya — that employees needed help to thrive in an intense industry. Notes Travis Horne, Borislow’s Director of Health and Well-Being, “Our staff was not 9-5ers. They worked long hours and senior management knew it would ultimately be detrimental to productivity and their personal lives. Jen and Mark were determined to give them more control and flexibility.”
Out of this commitment grew Borislow’s employee wellness program, which started out like many others with walking programs and classes, then grew to address specific employees’ needs. Travis explains: “We put in a fully equipped fitness center with showers, subsidize a personal trainer as well as massage therapist, and offer programs/competitions such as those developed by HES. A Quiet Room… which also doubles as a lactation room… allows employees to take time during their busy day to relax. These resources remain highly popular. Our fitness center sees 85% usage, 60% use the personal trainer, 50% get periodic biometric screening, 55% received flu shots last year, and 65% take advantage of the onsite chair massage. We host a walking club and a popular Peloton® bike club that allows participants to compete with other bikers around the world through livestream technology.”
“We focus on the whole person, fostering meaningful relationships and experiences. Employees can manage their schedule; if they want to work from home, they can. As long as they are productive, they don’t need to be in the office every day. In fact, we lock down the business after a certain time to discourage employees from working long hours. We feel balancing their personal lives with work will likely make them more productive… not less.”
To make telecommuting even easier, Borislow now uses Beam® technology; mobile robots allow an employee to Skype or phone in using a special phone app to participate in a meeting or move around the building. “The actual face of the user is on a screen and can converse with others in the room. The Beam also empowers users to instantly connect and collaborate with anyone around the world in a realistic, natural way.”
Guiding Principle of Gratitude
Travis describes Borislow’s program as experiential and culture-based. “About 6 years ago we realized our employees relate on a very personal level with their clients, so we formed a Charitable Giving team which supports those inclined to work in the community to make it better. For instance, over the holidays we went to a local nursing home to sing Christmas carols, make ornaments for their trees, and play games with the residents. Earlier in the year, we went to a local camp to do some painting and generally spruced up the place before the season started.”
Both Jen and Mark have written books encouraging businesses to work from a position of gratitude, which means getting employees involved in the company and community. A few years ago, Jen gave each employee $100 to use in any random act of kindness. They then came back and reported how the money was used. Other times she simply buys everyone lunch.
A popular spinoff of the gratitude concept is the “salad in a jar” initiative, conceived by an employee committed to combatting hunger. Each day a team makes salads for the company and charges $10 a piece — $6 goes toward the cost of the salad and $4 to a charity to feed the hungry.
Valuing, Advancing, and Retaining Employees
In addition to community gratitude, Travis describes ways Borislow shows employees appreciation:
- Meetings start with going around the room to hear each team member share something positive about their personal life, a client, or their career. At the end special events are announced.
- Employees participate in frequent potluck lunches where everyone brings an item to share. And they can recognize each other for accomplishments: A team reviews the recommendation; if leadership approves, the employee receives some type of acknowledgment such as a gift card.
- Borislow’s organization structure is flat — senior leadership, middle managers, and employees. Managers meet with employees over coffee for quarterly coaching sessions to discuss individual strengths and skills along with how they can progress in the company. Travis emphasizes the goal is to see every employee rise as high as possible. “Employees who started at the front desk as greeters have gone on to become client consultants… maybe even a producer of sales. We work with them to set realistic career goals and revisit progress.”
- To reduce pressure on employees, the company has gotten away from emails; there were too many coming in, so they didn’t get read. Instead, the owners share information in a quarterly video, developed internally about an innovation or where the company is going. Employees are comfortable with this approach.
- Twice a year, Borislow sponsors a team-building theme event. Last year, they brought in a vendor who set up 9-hole putt-putt golf throughout the building, while team members answered questions about themselves. Travis laughs, “We shut down the entire company for an hour while they created the course… including in my office. At every hole would be a question for the team from the employee survey. Each correct answer deducted points from their score. At the end of the 9 holes, the teams did singalongs about their team spirit and name… and then we had margaritas.”
- Travis clarifies the importance of getting employees out of their seats: “We strive to get people away from their desks. But when they are at their work stations, standing desks are available. We built an outside picnic area with a barbecue. Couches are located around the office as an alternative to working at your desk. The kitchen is in the center of the building to encourage everyone to come together and socialize. Smoothies, flavored waters, specialty coffees and teas make it a natural gathering place.”
- He sees the generous budget dedicated to his program as an example of Borislow’s commitment to employee well-being. “We realize a lot of employees want to do things on their own. Our Healthy Rewards program pays up to $100/year for any desired wellness-related item or service… like a Fitbit®, our personal trainer, or massage therapy. Employees get an additional $300 toward their Health Savings Account if they accomplish certain wellness prevention goals.”
- In addition, Borislow:
- Contributes a 50% match to employee vacation savings accounts
- Offers counseling on estate planning or writing wills and financial advice for 401(k) and gap insurance
- Matches employee contributions to their favorite charity.
As part of strategic planning, Travis created an online 10-question culture assessment. “Areas like benefits, wellness, and what participants have done or not done are covered. An algorithm allows us to analyze our strengths and provides a personalized assessment of where we need to focus future programs and initiatives.”
Management solicits employee feedback in a variety of ways, such as a quarterly Engagement Multiplier to fill out online, managed by a third party and an internal committee of employees. The survey asks about senior leadership, where the company is moving, and where it’s not moving. Results are discussed with employees, and if an issue can’t be fixed, they look for an alternative to accomplish the identified need or want. For example, employees pointed out principals are often unavailable; now, a 2-hour block of time is automatically scheduled every month for them to meet. Decisions are very culture-driven.
Travis acknowledges that an underlying reason for Borislow’s focus on participation, productivity, work/life balance, and culture has to do with where the world is now and uncertainties surrounding healthcare. “This innovative approach for developing a culture of health and well-being is why we are consistently recognized as being a healthy workplace.”