Zebra named a Ragan's Workplace Wellness Award Winner
By Diane Leeming | July 11, 2022

Ask the Experts: How Can I Connect My Employees to the Resources They Need to Be Healthy?

If you intend to hire and retain the best and brightest, you must ensure each person has the resources they need to maintain their physical and mental health, says Zebra’s HR leaders.

Wellness is not a one-size-fits-all formula, so any resources that a company provides to promote wellness must be tailored to each individual. When you have almost 10,000 employees like Zebra does, that can seem impossible. But it’s not.  

If you talk with your team members directly about wellness, they will give you input and ideas about what they would appreciate – like you do when someone’s birthday is coming up. If they’re asking for something reasonable and you can figure out a way to get it for them, you know they will be happy. You will also be happier too. Guessing about what to give someone is a gamble, and you risk disappointing them and wasting precious time and money. There is nothing wrong with asking for very pointed direction.

In fact, at Zebra, employee feedback has driven our creation of a more inclusive recognition program, functional-specific actions aligned to the unique needs of individual teams, advisory councils, job shadow opportunities, learning pathways and much more. Would we have otherwise considered those programs? Maybe, maybe not. But if we had not asked employees point blank what they wanted or needed, we most certainly would have spent too much time trying to figure out how to make them happy. And happy employees are foundational to any business’s success.  

On average, we spend roughly one third of our lives working. With so much of our lives dedicated to earning a paycheck that likely shapes the remainder of our time and experiences, we cannot overlook the importance of being happy and healthy while doing it.

That said, we often assume we know what is best for ourselves, and we trust that our employees know what’s best for them. Both can be mistakes. We must be mindful of the extensive body of research related to wellness – and lean on the people who have studied it – to help educate ourselves and our teams on tools and best practices. Both are constantly changing, and the advice we may have received 10 years, or even 10 months, ago may no longer serve us well. We need to keep an open mind, and openly share, what’s working well in the present day. So, if you’re not sure if you’re really giving employees the support they need from a health and wellness perspective, getting that answer may be just as simple as asking the human resources (HR) experts.

Jeff Schmitz, our Chief Human Resources and Marketing Officer, and Lisa Synek, Vice President of Total Rewards, have helped lead conversations – and lead us toward programs and resources – that make the employee experience at Zebra exemplary.

In fact, the hard work put forth by Jeff, Lisa, and their teams was recently rewarded, as was our commitment as a company to sustaining a people-first culture. Zebra received a 2022 Ragan Workplace Wellness Award for our physical health and well-being initiatives.

I recently connected with Jeff and Lisa to learn more about:

  • how Zebra leaders are stepping up to advocate for employees’ wellness.
  • the various health-related offerings and resources now available across the company.
  • how Zebra Nation is working through societal challenges like the pandemic using a “whole person” mindset.

They also shared their advice for other companies on similar journeys. Below is an excerpt from that interview:

Diane: How exactly is Zebra trying to enhance employees’ well-being?

Jeff: We have built a strong foundation of policies and benefits like health insurance, paid time off, flexible hours and parental leave that enables employees to be physically and mentally healthy. But we aren’t stopping there. Our people also need supplemental programs they can use to achieve their goals, be it active living, emotional fitness, social engagement and/or financial stability. So, we also offer customizable, personalized resources they can use to better their lives at work and at home.

Diane: Why is it so important to focus on employee well-being right now?

Jeff: Our employees are (and always have been) our greatest asset, and we take their feedback very seriously. We issue an annual survey to get a pulse on how they’re doing, how we’re doing and whether we’re meeting their needs.

Multiple studies have been published detailing a decline in mental health, indicated by a sharp increase in reported anxiety and depression worldwide. Being committed to a people-first culture, Zebra is responsible as an employer to step up and increase support.

Of course, we’re also mindful of the highly competitive talent environment in our industry. We know that we need to meet or exceed the standards for wellness offerings to recruit and retain the best and brightest and help keep them physically and mentally healthy.

Diane: How do you know what employees need? I’m sure things have changed dramatically – and maybe multiple times – since the start of the pandemic.

Jeff: It's no secret the pandemic has changed the way we work, but one thing has always been true, regardless of a global health crisis: people want to work for a company and leaders that care about them. This means offering a comprehensive slate of wellness and development resources that are flexible and customizable for each employee’s needs. It also means we must have frequent, honest conversations with employees about how well they feel supported.

In addition to our annual pulse survey, we issue an employee engagement survey every few years. This is a much more extensive questionnaire used to collect feedback on employee development, communications, recognition, culture, leadership effectiveness and more. Some organizations may call it a “climate assessment.” We use the results to understand employee experiences and how they’re feeling about their jobs, colleagues and the company as a whole. This feedback guides us toward more meaningful and positive change across the company, enabling us to celebrate what we do well and course-correct where needed.

Diane: Lisa, since many of Zebra’s wellness initiatives are managed by you and your team, could you tell us more about the programs and employee benefits currently offered? How are you encouraging frequent fitness, for example?

Lisa: We are promoting active living, mental health fitness and community engagement – all of which combine to make for good health. Volunteerism, for example, has been dubbed the “helper’s high,” as studies have proven effects such as lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem and decreased depression as a result of volunteering.

One way we encourage community engagement is by offering every Zebra employee four paid days off for volunteering their time to support causes they care about. Additionally, leaders often sponsor philanthropic events for teambuilding purposes.

Another way we promote healthy living is through WellTrack, a well-being program that has been available to Zebra’s U.S. employees for years and was extended to all employees globally in 2021. With WellTrack, employees can participate in companywide activity challenges, create their own challenges with colleagues, and/or consume educational materials on fitness, nutrition, stress management and more. Additionally, for those who prefer online learning, employees have access to self-guided well-being training powered by Whil, Virgin Pulse’s trusted vendor partner and a leader in online well-being programs. We’ve also integrated WellTrack with our Go the Extra Mile (GEM) rewards program, which enables employees to earn participation points redeemable for products and experiences.

Last year, we launched our first Zebra Global Steps Challenge. Together, Zebras walked more than 54 million steps in two weeks – enough to walk around Earth! With all the shelter-in-place restrictions last year, I think people were itching to get outside and breathe in some fresh air. Walking is a great way to do that, as is cycling. That’s why we also participate in the Great Cycle Challenge each year. In 2021, 117 Zebras pedaled 22,450 miles and raised $77,411 USD for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund!

Diane: Suffice it to say, maintaining mental and physical well-being has been challenging these past couple years. As travel resumes and more people return to office, how is the rewards team working to ensure employees continue to feel supported?

Lisa: We care deeply about continuing to support our employees’ mental and physical wellbeing and appreciate the need for continued flexibility in our approach to work. That’s why we now offer Flex Fridays during the summer and Focus Fridays the rest of the year. On Flex Fridays, employees are encouraged to sign off for the afternoon to recharge. On Focus Fridays, meetings are discouraged so employees can wrap up projects and feel good heading into the weekend. One day a year, zDay, the company shuts down in true holiday fashion so employees can step away, catch their breath, re-energize, and celebrate life.

We have also instituted a hybrid model for many employees, in which we advocate for three days in the office and two days working remotely. We know the flexibility of a hybrid work philosophy strikes the right balance for Zebra and our employees because it provides the space for collaboration and independent work, while giving the flexibility in where and how employees work. It can also better accommodate schedules for those with childcare or eldercare responsibilities. Plus, Zebra has long been supportive of remote work. We have a significant percentage of employees who were considered full-time remote employees even before the pandemic. With the globally collaborative nature of our work, even those in offices find themselves on video calls with colleagues across the country or in countries a half-a-day away.

To encourage physical fitness, all employees globally can join live or recorded virtual group fitness classes with Club Z. This program also offers nutrition programming and helps build community through strong collaboration with Zebra Gives, our global philanthropy and volunteer program, and with Zebra’s Inclusion Networks, our employee resource groups.

Jeff: We also provide an employee assistance program (EAP) called LifeWorks at no cost to all employees and their family members to ensure they feel connected to the company and their communities. We never want them to feel they are isolated or on their own, whether they are a remote worker or in the office five days a week. We have a tendency as human beings to want to keep our private lives private, and that’s fair. However, sometimes we need others’ help or advice and just don’t know where to turn.

Through LifeWorks, people can seek support from counselors 24/7/365 to help with well-being matters, such as depression, anxiety and stress stemming from work or even personal obligations as parents and caregivers.

But LifeWorks is so much more than just a helpline in the traditional sense. I consider it a lifeline, as this team of experts really steps up to help Zebra employees across all facets of their personal and professional lives.

They can get professional assistance with budgeting and financial worries, separation and divorce situations, addiction recovery, and more. Our employees can also tap into LifeWorks if they need legal counsel, adoption assistance, guidance on education matters or advice on how to assist others in their life who may be struggling with a gambling addiction or domestic, alcohol, or drug abuse. To me, it’s this single source of help for almost everything in life that makes LifeWorks one of the most valuable benefits we could offer employees from a total wellness perspective.

Diane: What advice would you share with other business leaders, HR professionals or wellness coaches looking to better support employees within their organizations?

Jeff: Offering resources is not enough. We must also ensure employees are aware they exist and feel comfortable utilizing them. This is actually the topic of the session I will be leading at the Ragan Workplace Wellness Conference on August 17. I’ll be talking about some of the challenges we have had communicating about employee well-being resources internally and how we are working to resolve them with data-fueled insights, employee feedback and cross-functional collaboration.

Lisa: From each of those lenses, it is so important to recognize that each person’s well-being journey is unique and personal. There is no one-size-fix-all yet, either. As a people leader at Zebra, I feel privileged to earn the trust of my team members. Now more than ever, it is important for us to be curious, listen, and develop our capabilities to spot lower levels of well-being so we can be aware and act. To this point, we will be introducing toolkits to support all people managers at Zebra in this journey. 


Did You Know?

Zebra Nation is celebrating its third annual Global Week of Service July 10-17 by giving back and supporting our communities through volunteerism. Check back on the Your Edge blog in September to see the impact of our efforts – on our own health and those we serve.

Editor’s Note:

Does your business invest in wellness resources that go unused by employees? Join Jeff Schmitz, Chief Human Resources and Marketing Officer at Zebra Technologies, at the Ragan Workplace Wellness Conference on August 17 as he explores internal promotion of wellness initiatives.


Corporate Social Responsibility, Leadership, Inside Zebra Nation,
Diane Leeming
Diane Leeming

With over 25 years of experience in Human Resources, Diane Leeming has led talent acquisition, learning and development, talent management, and organizational development to transform organizations through the power of people. Diane joined Zebra in December 2020 to lead the Global Talent function, with focus on transforming the approach to attracting, developing and retaining top talent for the organization.

Prior to her role at Zebra, Diane was Senior Vice President of Talent at Brookdale Senior Living and AMITA Health.
In addition to her experience in healthcare, she has worked with Kraft Foods (consumer products), Exelon Corporation (energy/utilities) and ABN AMRO (global financial services). She also served as Implementation Strategist for an e-learning startup company, Ninth House Network, based in San Francisco.

Diane is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, magna cum laude. She achieved her Master of Business Administration from DePaul University with a concentration in Leadership and Change Management. She has also completed executive education programs with Northwestern Kellogg School of Management and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She serves as adjunct faculty at Loyola University Chicago Strict School of Medicine.

Diane holds certifications in executive coaching, talent review facilitation, team effectiveness, change management and instructional design. She lives in Aurora, Illinois with her husband, stepson and three dogs. They spend their summers sailing on Lake Michigan and enjoy spending time in their second home in Orange Beach, Alabama.

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