Sitting beside the skyline of downtown Des Moines and next to bustling I-235 and soothing Des Moines River, stretches the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden External Site. A respite of diverse flora in an urban setting, this 12-acre refuge devoted to the care of plants, flowers and its community is cultivating a space where employees and visitors can find much-needed wellness support.
Upon entering, visitors, volunteers and staff are welcomed with countless species of trees, flowers and plants from around the world. The space is designed and used for education, celebration and reflection. The vast collections that are showcased both indoors and out, take special care and attention from a team of staff and volunteers who lovingly tend to the gardens’ many needs.
Striking an effective balance
"We work hard and have a lot of fun doing it, but we have to find balance," says Azure Christensen, chief advancement officer for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. "That means slowing down, having a plan, and trying to ensure we’re looking out further for our own well-being is an ongoing thing we’re doing."
With the weight of the work on their minds — and sometimes on literal shoulders — leadership at the Garden recognized the need to support their employees’ and volunteers’ well-being. They reached out to Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to create a customized solution to enhance their health and wellness offerings.
The Garden wanted to first focus on the physical aspects of health: working out and eating well. They later realized the importance of incorporating the six elements of well-being and how they could include those into the workplace so their employees and volunteers would feel supported and appreciated.
Planting seeds of wellness: A well-being success story
"We found all sorts of resources from Wellmark as far as the pillars and how you incorporate your employees in the process," explains Christensen. "It [included] conversations with our staff about what they need and having new conversations surrounding gratitude. Wellmark has been key in helping us navigate what’s important — not just those basics that we hear about so often, but there’s much more of a deep dive into the mental side of things as well."
Research from the London School of Economics and Political Science shows External Site that when a company prioritizes their employees’ well-being, they are more productive and more likely to stay with their current employer — and that ultimately benefits an organization’s bottom line. Expanded wellness offerings also help in attracting potential employees. Sixty percent of employees say well-being benefits will be a top priority when applying for their next job.1
Planting the right mix
But identifying what types of benefits can be a challenge, which is why the Garden worked with Wellmark.
Christensen noted that wellness looks different to everyone and it was critical to be able to distinguish what would work for their specific population. Working with Wellmark helped them to see it’s not just about quick fixes. It’s finding solutions that yield lasting, positive impacts and help their employees and volunteers be able to bring their best selves to work each day and be able to access resources that have value that’s specific to their needs.
"We get to work with a lot of different organizations — every type from really large employers, manufacturing, corporate to the small mom- and pop-type organizations that make up the rural communities throughout Iowa and South Dakota," says Cory Jackson, Wellmark employer health and well-being consultant who worked with the Garden on implementing their approach. "The unique thing about Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden is this overlap in how they were serving their employees and their community and how that can extend into well-being offerings."
The Garden and Jackson worked closely to implement a plan that focused on not only the six elements of health and well-being — physical, career, financial, social, community and emotional — but how those could be translated into how the Garden serves as a community enhancement space.
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"One of the things we learned from the pandemic was how important it is for people to be involved and connected to their community and to other people," says Jackson. Loneliness is linked to Opens in a new window depression, anxiety, can weaken the immune system and increases the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why it’s so important for workplaces to be a place of connection and culture.
Health and wellness are blooming
"Wellmark has been hands-on where we’ve wanted them and needed them and provided resources and ideas to meet our challenges to create something that not only works for our staff but also our guests," Christensen explains. "We have a very unique situation and Wellmark understood we’re not just beautiful gardens but to engage and have a bigger impact."
Christensen goes on to describe that the work they did with Wellmark enabled them to extend those initiatives into activities for guests and community members. Whether its yoga in the Garden, journaling in a special corner of the greenhouse, wellness tours, acceptance activities, the programs now benefit an even wider range of people, so they, too, can experience the social, emotional and health benefits from expanded wellness offerings.
"I’m part of group called Rooted," says Susan Cory, volunteer manager for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden. "We are a work-life balance group, and we look for opportunities to have fun and celebrate. We look for ways to celebrate what’s been accomplished and to support each other. Taking yourself out of your regular routine starts different conversations and pathways into new ways to interact with someone, building friendships and you’ve developed a new perspective on working together."
Take action for a healthier workplace and employees
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1 Paychex and Future Workplace Research, 2021