ICology: Communicating health and wellness

Ep #42 with Hilary Gabso, Reebok

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Coincidence that at the same time health and wellness is at an all-time low in the US so is employee engagement? Maybe. But there's all sorts of data that point to healthier employees being more engaged and productive employees. 

In a 2015 survey from the National Business Group on Health, companies spent around $700 per employee on wellness programs, up from $600 in 2014. And the larger the employer, the more being spent. Why are they doing this? Here are some simple stats. 

  • Employees who eat healthy are 25% more likely to have higher job performance (source)
  • Employees who exercise for at least 30 minutes, three times a week, are 15% more likely to have higher job performance (source)
  • Absenteeism is 27% lower for those workers who eat healthy and regularly exercise (source)
  • Employees are 10% more engaged when provided health food options and 18% more engaged when provided time for healthy activities (source)

The next challenge for companies is to continue to find ways to increase participation in these programs and encourage employees participate, which will contribute to their financial well-being as well as their physical health. Health and wellness are now part of the employee experience and it’s time for communicators to use the investment and channels to maximize employee involvement. It’s also time to be more innovative and I think the guest today will inspire you with ideas.

In this episode of ICology, listen to Reebok's corporate communications manager Hilary Gabso share details on their internal culture that focuses on health and wellness.  And before you think, "Oh of course Reebok can," her lessons can be adopted by any company of any size. Hilary outlines some a few very basic things any company can do to capitalize on improving employee health and wellness. 


One of the smarter tactics employed by Reebok is to ensure their external brand messaging - Be More Human - reinforced internally. And while they do embrace a fitness culture, we can all be more human in our in how we work with "humans." 

Episode Transcript

Chuck Gose: In a 2015 survey from The National Business Group on health companies spend around $700 per employee on wellness programs. That's up from $600 in 2014. The larger the employer the more is being spent. Why are they doing this? Well, here's some data I was able to find for you. Employees who eat healthy are 25% more likely to have a higher job performance, one survey found.

That same survey also found that employees who exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week are 15% more likely to have a higher job performance, and no surprise to anyone, healthy employees take fewer sick days. Absenteeism is 27% lower for those workers who eat healthy and regularly exercise. According to a Quantum Workplace report, employees are 10% more engaged when provided healthy food options and 18% more engaged when provided time for healthy activities. Healthy employees also reduce healthcare cost. According to Willis, 61% of employers say employees health habits are a top challenge to controlling healthcare costs.

Again, that's $700 per employee, but look at all this amazing opportunity that's out there. The next challenge for companies is to continue to find ways to increase participation in wellness programs and encourage employees to participate, which will contribute to their financial well-being as well as their physical health. Health and wellness are now part of the employee experience, and it's time for communicators to use this investment and the channels they have to maximize employee involvement. It's also time to be more innovative when it comes to this communication, and I think today's guest will inspire you with some new ideas.

I'd like to welcome to ICology Hilary Gabso, Corporate Communications Manager at Reebok. Hilary, welcome to ICology.

Hilary Gabso: Thank you so much for having me Chuck. I'm very excited about the opportunity to talk a little bit about what we've got going on at Reebok.

Chuck: Now, some of that data that I ran through there, did any of that surprise you?

Hilary: Absolutely not. We have a really thriving fitness culture here at Reebok, and definitely think that a lot of the numbers are reflected in our day to day operations. People are very involved in our fitness culture and people are always working out throughout the day. I think it's very important from an engagement perspective to make sure that employees have a chance to do something that's passionate. Also, it betters you in a couple of different ways with the health at the forefront.

Chuck: Now, so people understand your role there, and I know it can be a bit confusing based on some of our earlier conversations. Describe your role there at Reebok and where it fits in the Adidas Group universe.

Hilary: Sure. Reebok as a brand is part of the Adidas Group. Myself, I have the pleasure of being a part of our larger team that's based out of Germany, where Adidas Group is headquartered. Here in Massachusetts there's a smaller group of us that is part of that larger team. We're devoted to the Reebok brand and making sure that we're managing both internal and external corporate communications. For our responsibilities we manage our social based internet, which is a SharePoint internet. We also make sure that employees are engaged with what the brand is doing. We make sure that people have any questions answered.

We deal with executive engagement. We host corporate events to keep people excited about some of the things we've got going on, and of course to keep them moving. We send of course emails, memos, newsletters. Just keeping everyone engaged and excited about the business.

Chuck: Now, Reebok is determined to become the fittest company on the planet. What I'm curious here is how have employees responded to this? As well as speak to some of your own personal devotion to this brand mission.

Hilary: Our brand campaign, our biggest platform right now is called Be More Human. That's something that every little part of our business really points back to. We have this special viewpoint on fitness that no matter what you do you should really love what you do. We're not about just going to the gym and cranking out miles and miles on the treadmill. As a brand we're really about finding something that you love and that you enjoy so that it's a part of your day. It's a positive part of your day and it's not just another chore. We call that tough fitness. Anything from running a Spartan race, which is like you jump in the mud and you get dirty and gritty to we have CrossFit as a major brand partner.

We have Ragnar Relay and Les Mills. All of these different partnerships as well as UFC. All of these different partnerships allows our employees and our consumers to find those passions and to really enjoy everything that they're doing. At the heart of this is our brand message, Be More Human. Personally, every day I come to work and I have a chance to work out alongside my colleagues, and to get to know them in a different light than most people would ordinarily get to know their colleagues. I found new passions that I never ordinarily would have explored thanks to my time here at Reebok. I know that other people feel similar ways.

I for example had never lifted a weight before working at Reebok, and now I go to the CrossFit box a couple of times a week. Every couple of weeks I'm hitting a new personal best, which is really something that I had never had a chance to do before. It does great things for you on a social level, especially when it's a part of your day at work, because you go to the gym and you get to work out alongside people who you might not ordinarily meet in a large corporation. You're discussing really deeper topics. You're talking about ways that you can smash your next PR. You're discussing the workout that you went to that morning.

Or you're scheduling time with people on different teams to meet up and go to a spin class together. It's really brought out corporate culture to life.

Chuck: Now, I really like the Be More Human brand message. I love its simplicity. I'm really curious, how have you permeated this through your communication channels or how have you seen it manifest itself in employees?

Hilary: We really try to bring the messaging into every different channel that we have. Whether it's our newsletter that we send out a couple of times each month, or it's messaging throughout the building and signage. We make sure that the brand message is first, and that people never forget that we're here for a reason and we're here to make sure that we're encouraging people to be the best versions of themselves. When it comes to employee engagement this culture that has been cultivated over the last couple of years, and has really grown and is now pretty much self-sustaining. This culture speaks to that Be More Human messaging and continues to bring it to life in ways where maybe a memo or a newsletter might not do the job on its own.

We also have incredible engagement on behalf of our executives and they're definitely a part of that brand message, everyone here believes in that brand message. We're seeing executives going to the gym alongside people of all levels. They're showing that they also live that same lifestyle and we're all in this together, which really I think ties together all of the different people who are working together towards that same mission.

Chuck: Now, in an earlier conversation you had mentioned to me the importance of the Delta, which is the symbol for change to your brand and communication. Explain that significance there at Reebok.

Hilary: Sure. Our brand mark is in the shape of a delta, which as you know is a symbol of change, but we've taken it one step further and we've defined the three different sides of that brand mark. We say that when you get involved in that kind of gritty tough fitness and you follow your passions, you're going to see changes happening in three different arenas of your life. The mental, the physical and the social. I think that everyone at Reebok can definitely say that they see those benefits on the daily. Not only are you having really great mental benefits. You go to the gym during your lunch break for example, you come back to your desk afterwards with a renewed energy and you're refreshed.

You're ready to tackle the rest of your day. Physical, that's obviously the more you take on those passionate forms of fitness the more you're going to see the physical benefits. Then finally social. I touched upon this just a moment ago, but when you're working out and especially if it's community-based fitness like we really push for, you're going to be alongside your gym partners, your friends. Those are people who have similar viewpoints and are working towards a common goal. It's not just a singular activity. Fitness is something that's shared and that everyone should really do together. It's something that really unites people of all kinds.

Chuck: Well, and I think it's a really nice holistic approach to the mistake a lot of companies make when they look at engagement, which is one, they try to assign a score to it. Two, they look at it just as the employee relationship to a company or their manager. I think what you guys have done here is provided a nice I would say a roundabout way because a triangle though is not round. This three-sided symbol as a way to give a very holistic approach, to not just that person as an employee but to the tagline, Be More Human.

Hilary: Right, and to the community it's important that people have relationships in their office place. You don't want to just be showing up every day and just getting your work done and not talking to anyone and going home. You really want to feel like you're part of something bigger. That's kind of what the fitness culture here has helped us or our culture in general to be more close-knit. People come to work with a purpose every single day.

Chuck: You'd mentioned working out next to coworkers and maybe a little bit of exercise conversation, but I imagine some of that bleeds into work. I'm really curious too, how have the leaders there been involved in this fitness movement?

Hilary: Participation is phenomenal when it comes to executive engagement. I think it's very important that this is a top-down thing. We're lucky to have facilities that feature really great fitness spaces, but without the social stigma of going to work out during your lunch break. Without that being lifted people wouldn't get involved in it of course. The leaders need to be a part of that, and every day at twelve o'clock you can go to the CrossFit gym just for example and you will see the president of the brand working out. It's great because earlier this week we have a new intern that just started. She went to her intro to CrossFit class and she said, "I saw the president working out in there."

I was like, "Yeah, that's not uncommon at all. He's always there." I think it's a great message to send when you have leaders working out alongside people of all levels and getting engaged with people. It's not just CrossFit of course. We have fitness classes of all kinds here at our headquarters. We've got spin classes, we have yoga, we have dance classes. It's really important to see those leaders taking part in all of those different types of fitness, because it shows that we're all in this together and we all love everything that we're doing. It's all leading towards that similar passion, that community that we're all a part of.

Chuck: At a time when trust and leadership is at a low in a lot of organizations, I think the fact that not only are they visible in this world but they're very participatory in that world. That has to help with trust there at Reebok.

Hilary: If you have a question and you see someone who ordinarily you would never interact with, but you see them. They're talking to you about something that they're doing in the gym or if you're walking into a class with them, you have an opportunity to ask a question or to provide an idea. It just provides a space where everyone is on the same level. We're all going to do the same thing together and you're all equal. It takes out the hierarchy out of the moment because you're all in that class together.

Chuck: Keeping in mind that not everybody is going to work for Reebok or a fitness brand. Somebody could be a pharmaceutical company or they could be working at an HVAC, or a plumbing company or manufacturing. For others who are interested in making wellness and fitness a bigger part of their employee experience what recommendations do you have for them.

Hilary: Of course like I mentioned we're very lucky to have amazing facilities and it's definitely not every business that has a similar scenario. I will say part of our brand philosophy is that the gym is everywhere. You don't necessarily need a fancy gym in order to take part in fitness. Get creative with it. I think that whether it's asking a local instructor to come in to one of your larger meeting spaces, and have them host a yoga event. That doesn't take that much space at all. Or maybe it's getting involved in an external event. Maybe there is a local community, like a run club and you can take your team with you to go and try it out.

Or maybe depending on the size of your business you organize something for the entire business to get together and take part in fitness together. I would say make it a regular thing. We regularly host fitness events. Even though even people do now take part in this culture on their own and it is self-sustaining, we make sure that every couple of months at least we host some sort of larger event. Where the entire business is urged to go and workout together. Making sure there is variety and it's always something new. Bringing new forms of engagement to the table is really important and shaking it up every once in a while.

Just step out of the box and be a little creative. Get outside and interact with your community a little bit. I think that's a great start.

Chuck: Honestly for some people it might be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Now, one of the things that in an earlier discussion you talked about is you're going through a big corporate move, physical move in 2017. In this conversation you said this is causing Reebok to evaluate some of the channels and some of the communication processes as a result of the move. How's this evaluation going?

Hilary: I think moving to a new location is definitely not a small feat. We're at the end of this year moving in Boston, and we're really excited to be in an urban environment. Right now as we work through what the future holds for this new location, we're just thinking about what people want to hear. It's given us a chance to step back and to rethink, "Okay the channels that we already have, are they working and how can we change them to make them more informative or more exciting or more interesting?" We're in the process of just looking through the types of things that we're putting out, and cutting back on content that we don't believe people find helpful.

Now, we're digging through the different teams to see what types of things they might want to share with us, and what types of things we are hoping that they'll share with us in the future. Really through all of that the priority will be directing and continuing to maintain that fitness culture in our workplace. Making sure that there is clarity for people as much as we can possibly provide, and that people feel welcomed to ask questions. It's an open dialogue. Everyone gets to stay involved. That's where we're at right now, is keeping the channels open and ensuring that people have a chance to ask those questions that they might have as we're going through this period of change.

Chuck: In essence what you're doing is a little bit of a health and wellness check on your own channels.

Hilary: Definitely.

Chuck: Making sure they're doing what they need to do and are functioning the right way, that sort of thing.

Hilary: Yeah. That's a great way of saying it.

Chuck: At a presentation you made last summer you gave some great stats on your internet. You'd mentioned that you use SharePoint. SharePoint is often a bit of a punching bag for some people in internal communications, but it sounds like you've made your pretty successful. What have been some of the things that you've done to make is so successful?

Hilary: All credit for creating the platform we have goes to our team in Germany. They did a phenomenal job creating what we call Alive. It is a social based internet so people can communicate with each other on there. It's a great way for executives to continue that engagement obviously outside the gym because there is work to be done. A big part of making sure that people feel engaged with it is finding creative ways to ask them to get involved in conversations. When I presented last summer I had shown some good examples of things like little giveaways we'll do. For example there's a shoe that is being launched.

We want to create excitement about that product. Sometimes we'll do a little context where you have to comment with a specific hashtag on the internet. Or maybe you have to like someone's post and we'll take all of the people who have liked that post and we'll do a random drawing. When we first launched we would do these and we'd giveaway gift cards for things. It would always be a business relevant thing that we're celebrating. We would also say, "If your name is chosen in order to win this price you must have a profile picture uploaded, or you must have your phone number in your profile."

There are ways that we've used this engagement to get people excited about the platform but also to force them to get their own page up to date. The page itself it's helpful to be able to go on and say, "Oh I don't know what this person looks like." Maybe you're new in the business or someone else just got hired and you want to know what they look like. You can look up at their profile and see their picture. That's just one example of a way that we've forced people to keep their own pages up to date while still giving them an incentive to stay involved.

Chuck: Hilary I want to thank you for sharing some of the Reebok's culture, because even though you guys a fitness brand a lot of people would say, "Well it's easy for them because that's the world they live in. They should ..." Some people might say eat your own dog food. I would say drink your own champagne. You're in that world so it makes sense. It's really more about that be more human. 

Hilary: Yeah.

Chuck: I think that's so transcendent the way you talk about the social, the mental, the physical that in many ways in business everybody could stand to be a little bit more human. I think the fact that that just manifests itself in a way that employees are now healthier in so many ways, that has to help the business. Not just in productivity and some of those stats that I shared before but even in longevity and loyalty to the company. The fact that you just said there's no guilt trip if you want to go for a walk at lunch or go take a class. That the company and the brand knows that there's a benefit for that taking place.

Hilary: Of course, yeah. It's definitely a major part of why a lot of people choose to work here. I think that it keeps people around for sure. I know on a personal level I love working here and I love that I've had so many opportunities within the company that I just know I might not have had if it weren't for that close-knit culture. I'm personally very appreciative that it's the way that we do things here at Reebok.

Chuck: Well, we're going to move on now to the lightning round, which is a chance for listeners to learn more about you. Are you ready?

Hilary: I'm ready.

Chuck: Okay. Here's a question. A new one this year that Jennifer Sproul from IoIC answered last time. A penguin walks through that door right now where you're sitting wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?

Hilary: Okay. I don't know what he says but I would only guess that he's here because he's looking for ice to make a margarita.

Chuck: That's good. That's good. Maybe he's asking where the ice is, right? Where's the ice machine? What's a book that you recommend every communicator should read?

Hilary: My favorite book is Outliers and it's not necessarily just for communicators, but I think it's really an interesting look into from when you're thinking about your own personal career, what makes certain people extraordinary, what makes them stand out. That book was interesting to me, so yeah, I'd say Outliers.

Chuck: Yeah, and that's by Malcolm Gladwell. That's one of my favorite books that I've read in the last five years, because it is very interesting as it explains some of the success that many people that we label as successful because they're outliers to their world. 

Now, what's a tool that you rely on to make sense of your world? Past guests have said an app, some have said a website, maybe a hammer, some have said Spotify. You can't say gym because we've talked about health and wellness. What's a tool that you rely on?

Hilary: I rely on my Outlook calendar. That sounds very basic but I live by my calendar and it needs to be up to date every minute.

Chuck: What is the best piece of advice you've ever received and do you remember who gave it to you?

Hilary: I think this has been a piece of advice that everyone on my team has given to me. Just to worry less about the small stuff. I personally tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, but when it comes to internal communications people don't have the time to pour over every single thing that you communicate. You're going to make mistakes. That's okay but don't worry about it because people probably won't notice half the time.

Chuck: Yeah, I guess it just depends on the severity of the mistake, right? Most of the time it's inconsequential.

Hilary: Yes. It certainly does.

Chuck: Just don't make the big ones.

Hilary: Yeah. Most of the mistakes you really don't need to worry about, so that's something I take with me every day.

Chuck: Then what's a final piece of advice that you'd want to share with listeners? Keeping in mind that obviously there's a lot of communicators that listen to this podcast, but also just people who want to get better at communicating. Is there a piece of advice you want to share with them perhaps even about the health and wellness campaigns?

Hilary: Well, the piece of advice that I thought was interesting that this is something that I said in the last conference when I spoke and then someone tweeted about it and gave me a new lease on what I had said. I initially said when you have a social internet you need to help people within your company realize that they don't need to worry so much about what they're posting. I get a lot of people who come to me and say, "Is it okay if I tell people about my colleague who just ran a marathon?" I'm like, "Of course. People want to hear the cool stuff that their co-workers are doing." That was my initial piece of advice, was help people understand that they don't need to worry so much about ... They don't need to self-censor so much.

Then someone tweeted and they took it in a different way to say, as a comms professional you don't need to worry so much about what your people will say because they're worried about what they're going to say. Which is true, a lot of the times we overthink it. I overthink it and I worry about getting people engaged and getting them involved. I think that some other comms professionals might worry that people are going to get too engaged and engaged in the wrong ways and say things that they might not want to say. Of course every workplace is different, but I think it's just a matter of trusting your people and helping them understand what's okay to say and what's not.

Chuck: Hilary I want to thank you for being a guest on ICology. I think people really find it interesting to hear about the Reebok brand, the Be More Human, the Delta. That you built this model internally that echoes throughout the organization, not just in what the company communicates but how the employees act at the company. That total employee experience.

Hilary: Of course. Thank you so much for having me. This was really a great experience, and I can't wait to keep listening to what you guys have coming down the pipeline.

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