When studying the corporate culture of highly successful workplace wellness programs, one striking similarity is commitment to doing the right thing for employees. This is certainly true of Delta Air Lines.
According to Jae Kullar, Manager of Health and Wellbeing, “In 1929, our founder, C.E. Woolman, created a list of guiding principles that later became known as Delta’s Rules of the Road. These principles still reign true today and are used as a guidebook for all Delta employees, defining the company’s basic core values of honesty, integrity, respect, staying competitive, and leadership. These guidelines are reflected by senior management’s corporate goal of investing in our culture through wellness. We live and work by these rules and pride ourselves on building a strong network of support for each other and our community. The evolution of the wellness movement was a natural fit into how we’ve always done business.”
Jae took on the new role in December 2013. “We already had a cadre of 200 wellness champions in place with a personal interest in the program and a willingness to help increase coworker participation. One of the first things I did was add a leadership layer, drawn from each major division, I can contact directly. In addition to organizing their champions, these leaders develop an action plan and calendar to move our goals forward. Depending on available resources, they may develop their own initiatives and programs that complement the corporate plan. For example, one leader is passionate about healthier options in vending machines, so he spearheads that project. We have another interested in promoting men’s health, so we have an entire campaign growing from her efforts.” Jae is extremely proud of the results.
Jae emphasizes that emotional health is an important wellness goal for Delta.
“Delta’s culture is very people-oriented. Unless you feel good about yourself and your life, it’s difficult to give your best at work or at home. We offer a wealth of formal individual and group resources. Employees can receive telephonic counseling sessions with a licensed social worker or therapist up to 3 times a year. We have a virtual EAP service in Atlanta where employees can interact with a mental health professional via audiovisual feed. We provide individual counseling for employees or family members in crisis. There’s a peer support group process for inflight incidents. During Hurricane Katrina, we sent a peer support group to help affected employees. Our European sites requested more on stress management and mindfulness, so we rolled out a special initiative for them at a July summit in London.”
Jae recognizes financial problems as being a major cause of stress. “We offer many free classes on a wide variety of financial management topics, especially around tax or healthcare benefit enrollment time. Financial counselors help employees plan for a goal such as saving for a child’s education or retirement or how they can use incentive dollars by investing in a Health Savings Account.
Jae is pleased with the popularity of Delta’s walking and fitness initiatives.
“Internally, we’ve used the Health Enhancement Systems Walktober campaign. Last year more than 10,000 Delta employees and family members participated from across the globe. Due to the success, we’re planning another campaign this year. In addition to company-wide initiatives, running and walking activities happen throughout the year. Informal groups coordinate activities on the weekends such as preparing for a local 5K race or going on a hiking trip. In order to get more activity, employees incorporate work spaces and environment into their daily routine. For example, instead of taking the terminal train, many crews walk between concourses to increase their steps. We’ve set up fitness centers at larger facilities, but when that’s not feasible, we find space for at least a few pieces of fitness equipment.”
Jae points out Delta’s decentralized approach to wellness. “This year the running clubs are expanding to allow different locations to form their own chapters. Company executives challenge counterparts at other Delta locations to field teams in organizational and communitywide fitness events. When we do corporate campaigns, onsite wellness leaders and champions can access companywide programs but often develop their own challenges. For example, following the companywide Walktober campaign, our Reservations and Customer Care division sponsored a challenge over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.”
Jae is rightfully proud of Delta’s involvement in worthy causes. “As part of community outreach, employees help pay for scholarships and Care Funds through voluntary paycheck deductions. If a Delta family loses a home due to fire or natural disaster or experiences a catastrophic illness, the Care Fund provides monetary assistance.”
Delta also focuses on supporting communities where employees live, work, and serve through arts and culture, education, environment, health/wellness, and military/veteran efforts. The Delta Air Lines Foundation and employees contribute millions of dollars and thousands of hours to a host of causes such as the American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Children’s Miracle Network, Covenant House, Fisher House Foundation, Habitat for Humanity International, Junior Achievement, KaBOOM!, Marine Toys for Tots, the USO, and the YMCA — to name a few.
Jae described just a few examples of Delta’s commitment to improving the world and the communities they serve. “Delta employees donate more than $1.6 million annually to the United Way. In the past 12 months, employees donated 6642 pints of blood to the American Red Cross making Delta one of the largest corporate blood donors in the U.S. Delta employees have fed thousands of hungry people with hot meals through community food banks. Through Habitat for Humanity International, Delta helped build or rehab 214 homes in 11 countries. In partnership with KaBOOM! Delta employees built 8 playgrounds in key communities.”
Jae described Delta’s employee development programs. “To help employees be great at their current jobs and prepare them for career opportunities, we offer a variety of resources and programs, including rotational development programs, MBA programs, internships, mentoring, and more. Most new employees go through an orientation that includes information about our culture, history, and Rules of the Road. RISE, Delta’s premiere mentoring program and the Employee Network Groups, promote career growth and professional development.”
“Through our partnership with Junior Achievement we expose students to financial literacy, entrepreneurship, business readiness, and economics. Junior Achievement students and participants in our World of Work internship program for high school students spend time ‘job shadowing’ Delta employees to learn what it takes to succeed in the business world.”
Not surprisingly, with more than 80,000 employees at 65 sites in the US and overseas, the greatest organizational barrier to the wellness program is communications. Jae relies heavily on the Internet and social media to promote initiatives and resources. “We solicit feedback on existing programs. Stations with a small contingent of employees find these services particularly valuable. For instance, a 12-week virtual weight loss program provided online videos, weekly coaching calls, a virtual coach, and connections through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.”
Jae’s wellness management philosophy focuses on outcomes. “In my experience, compliance is higher when we give participants the option to make little changes. This requires a multi-pronged approach. The Delta culture is very competitive. My guidance to leaders is to recognize not everyone can participate at the same level — like walking 10,000 steps. They do periodic surveys to find out what employees want to see and do at their locations. We design programs that allow employees to progress at their own pace and reward consistency. We consider anything they do that is an improvement over what they were doing as being a success story and worthy of celebration.”