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Glowing Example

Yankee Candle’s Programs, Philosophy Earn It the Work/Life Balance Award
Lori Kerwood and Laura McCormick

Lori Kerwood, left, and Laura McCormick, say Yankee Candle’s many programs and perks help in the process of attracting and retaining employees.

When Yankee Candle Co. stages job fairs, it conducts those well-attended events in its Employee Health and Fitness Center.

The facilty’s size, 10,000 square feet, makes it appropriate, said Laura McCormick, head of Corporate Communications and Employee Services for the South Deerfield-based company. But there is another motivating factor.

“We want to demonstrate our commitment to employees, even as they are applying for jobs,” she explained, adding that the wellness center, which opened in the late ’80s and is stocked with a wide array of cardiovascular and weight-training equipment, is one of myriad facilities, programs, and operating philosophies that define the company’s dedication to helping employees balance life and work.

The list of services and benefits is long, and includes everything from a day-care-service locator to a comprehensive disease-management program; a dry-cleaning service to discounts at area retailers; an employee assistance program to breast-feeding accommodations. This collection of perks and programs helps create an attractive work environment, said Lori Kerwood, benefits manager for the company, one that enables the candle manufacturer and retailer to attract and retain quality workers.

But beyond the impressive retention statistics (70% is the most recent number, meaning that more than two-thirds of the workforce has been there five years or more) the company’s various programs help employees live healthier, more balanced lives, said Kerwood. And this ultimately makes them better employees.
Said McCormick, “Yankee Candle’s work/life philosophy has always been to provide practices, policies, and programs that actively support efforts to make our employees successful at home and at work. That’s what we strive for.”

Yankee Candle’s many initiatives in this realm have earned it the Work/Life Balance Award, co-sponsored by BusinessWest and Springfield Day Nursery. Now in its fifth year, the award was created to recognize companies’ efforts to help employees balance work and life outside it — and also promote awareness of the subject and how proactive employers are addressing it.

“Yankee Candle is one of many companies that understood long ago that employers must do more than issue paychecks each week,” said BusinessWest publisher John Gormally. “They have to recognize that their workers are their best assets and that they have lives outside their office, cubicle, or work station.

“Helping their employees manage their health, their time, even their finances isn’t merely something that’s good to do,” he continued. “It’s smart business, and it helps strengthen our communities.”

Kerwood agreed, and said one of the challenges for Yankee Candle, or any company focused on work/life balance issues, is to remain on the cutting edge of programs and services for employees.

“That’s something which is on many people’s job descriptions,” she explained. “Part of being able to offer a great benefits package is to stay on top of trends and new products and offer our employees the very best.”

This issue, BusinessWest takes a detailed look at how Yankee Candle goes about that important, ongoing assignment.

Shedding Light on the Subject

McCormick told BusinessWest that, when advertising job openings at the company, Yankee Candle gets quite descriptive when it lists employee benefits and programs. The goal is to secure a large, qualified pool of applicants for the position in question, and the full menu of perks certainly helps with that mission.

But the benefits do much more than guarantee a large number of resumes, she continued. They help make the 1,500 or so employees at the South Deerfield complex and 5,000 around the world feel happy — and appreciated. And these sentiments no doubt play a role in the company’s explosive growth rate and continued expansion across the country.

Employee benefits, like scented candles themselves come in several flavors at this company, but there is a premium placed on overall health and fitness, said Kerwood. There are many programs that would be described as typical — health and dental plans, disability insurance, reimbursement for fitness club membership for satellite workers, and even discounts on flu shots — but several that go well beyond that word.

They are part of a broad effort on the company’s part to make all of its employees what she called “better health care consumers.”

Elaborating, Kerwood said Yankee Candle goes to great lengths to make sure that employees don’t merely have health coverage, but that they fully understand their plan and can use it wisely and cost-effectively.

“We know that a healthy employee is sometimes just not enough,” she explained. “A smart health care consumer can help control some of the health care costs at Yankee Candle.”

Steps to improve health care IQ include online education programs, on-site programs with area providers, and training initiatives on the part of insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield on how to make smart decisions on health care consumerism.

“Health care is expensive, for all of us,” said Kerwood. “If you have a child who has a health emergency in the middle of the night, the first impulse for most people is to go to the emergency room. But if people can instead use a nurse line available 24/7, they can save themselves the $100 emergency room co-pay.”

Communication plays a vital role in this process, Kerwood continued, adding that the company uses newsletters and other vehicles to get the word out. “We can offer all the services we want, but if we don’t communicate them to people, they won’t be taken advantage of.”

Another part of the broad focus on health and fitness is a commitment to employee safety and injury prevention in the workplace, said McCormick, adding that programs include stretch breaks to reduce repetitive motion problems and an injury-management initiative designed to identify and respond to injuries before they lead to lost work time.

As for the employee fitness center, it would rival any gym in the area and is open 24/7, thus serving all shifts, said McCormick, adding that the company sees its responsibility as going well beyond staffing and equipping the center. Indeed, the primary mission/challenge is to incentivise employees to use it. Meanwhile, for those who aren’t comfortable in a gym, the company wants to encourage exercise at home.

This is accomplished through a number of programs, she explained, noting that while the company certainly supports and encourages those who work out every day, they are equally, if not more, focused on those who might do so once or twice a week or month. And the first priority is to get them to increase that frequency.

“We tailor our programs to allow employees to create their own goals,” she explained. “Maybe for someone to walk once a week in their neighborhood with their grandchild is a big step for them; we want them to set their goals, and if they reach them, we’ll reward them through prize drawings.”

The broad mission is simply to encourage people to exercise more than they have in the past, said Kerwood, adding that those who increase the number of regular visits to the fitness center are recognized on a board at that facility. “We don’t just want to recognize people who find the time to work out every day; we want to encourage those who are taking the first step.”

Dollars and Scents

Beyond health and fitness initiatives, the company has a number of other programs designed to provide convenience and cost savings, said McCormick. In the former category are such things as a dry cleaning drop-off and pick-up service — a very popular perk — and a new item rolled out this year called the “total pay card.”

Issued in place of a paper check, the concept takes direct deposit a step further, she explained, noting that money is deposited onto what amounts to a debit card that employees can use in virtually any location that takes credit or debit cards.

As for cost savings, the company uses its large workforce numbers to create discount programs on everything from auto and home insurance to meals at area restaurants.

“Financially, we help our employees in a number of ways; we work with area and national retailers to secure discounts for our employees,” said McCormick, noting that many such programs are reciprocal in nature, with the company offering retailers discounts on its products.

National chains include BJ’s Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and others, she said, adding that the company has worked with Staples in the past. Meanwhile, a local discount booklet offers deals at a number of Western Mass.-based shops and eateries.

Still another group of benefits falls under the category of personal and professional development, said Kerwood, noting that the company has a number of programs — designed to help employees (especially women) advance their careers and take more active roles in the community.

The company recently created the Yankee Candle Women’s Network, she continued, adding that the program, still in its embryonic stage, is a multi-faceted endeavor involving community outreach, mentoring, and a peer group that will meet quarterly.

The community outreach component involves support of such programs as Dress for Success, which provides clothes for women in need trying to enter or re-enter the job market, said McCormick. “We want to look for ways in which Yankee Candle women can affect and better the community.”

Meanwhile, the mentoring program is designed for women looking to take the next step in their careers, she said, while the peer group will be focused more on social development. “The group will get together, bounce around some ideas, and just have fun,” she told BusinessWest.

When asked to quantify the overall benefit Yankee Candle yields from its largesse with benefits and employee programs, Kerwood said numbers, be they from lowered health insurance rates to savings that result from low turnover, are hard to come by. But it is much easier to qualify the results.

Indeed, repeated surveys have revealed that employees are generally happy with their benefits packages and that Yankee Candle would be considered an employer of choice.

Illuminating Discussion

On top of all the other benefits offered at Yankee Candle, there is an attractive (50%) employee discount on the scented candles and myriad other items the company produces, one that is often extended to friends and family members, said McCormick.

This perk is particularly popular during the holidays, she said, adding that, in the larger scheme of things, the discount is not as important to employee retention or contentment as the health insurance package or the fitness center.

But it is part of the package, and the sum of the various parts is a factor in the company’s success — and its standing as a glowing example of an effective work/life balancing act.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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