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Spotlight on Enlightened Workplaces—The Breakers Palm Beach

The Breakers HR guru Denise Bober shares the story of how The Breakers Palm Beach is the ultimate enlightened workplace.

One of America’s most legendary resort destinations, The Breakers Palm Beach is a purpose-driven, family-owned organization with a dynamic 126-year history, whose employee-centric culture and steadfast commitment to social responsibility have been fundamental to the company’s success and longevity. Its dedicated ownership, descendants of founder Henry Flagler (circa 1896), holds tremendous passion for the wellbeing of its 2,200 team members, which resides at the forefront of The Breakers’ comprehensive wellness programs. With that in mind, the resort has rolled out extensive programming with significant and meaningful focus on mental health; diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI); and parenting.

By recognizing and prioritizing each individual and their unique needs, the resort has developed highly personalized wellness services and resources, which foster a strong sense of fulfillment and a more enriching workplace. The cultural philosophy that family comes first, remains unwavering throughout each division and at all levels of the organization; in genuinely caring for staff members in every facet of the employee experience, they can better care for themselves, their families, peers, and community.

The Breakers
Denise Bober, The Breakers © LILA PHOTO

Here, Denise Bober, senior vice president of human resources, shares the strategies, successes, and more that have made The Breakers a prime example of an enlightened workplace.

What does an enlightened workplace mean to you?
An enlightened workplace is one that takes a logical and disciplined approach to fostering an open-minded, well-informed, and forward-looking culture.

How does workplace wellness relate to an enlightened workplace?

When done right, workplace wellness is fundamental to achieving an enlightened workplace, and together, they serve as the foundation for an organization’s culture—creating a more fulfilling, purpose-driven workplace for all. If you look at workplace wellness and enlightenment through an emotional intelligence lens that includes data and employee feedback, coupled with a modern outlook, the two, in my mind, unquestionably intersect.

Specific to The Breakers, our ownership’s long-term, purpose-driven approach to business, along with their enduring devotion and passion for the wellbeing of our team, has had a profound impact on the company’s Culture of Caring, which has been vital to The Breakers success. Their commitment to shape, nurture, and fortify a truly unique and thriving employee-centric and enlightened workplace serves as the essence of our mission: to be a conscientious corporate citizen and an ever-improving, dynamic enterprise that faces every challenge as an opportunity to raise the bar and positively make a difference in the lives of our team (first and foremost), guests, and community.

To execute this vision, The Breakers builds and improves from within by investing in the wellbeing and personal enrichment of each of its 2,200 team members, while relentlessly striving to do the right thing in all facets of the workplace experience. By offering an inclusive, prosperous work environment that prioritizes personal fulfillment, employees are encouraged to reach their greatest potential, and in turn, they deliver exceptional service and extraordinary experiences, which give life to lasting memories, while building customer relationships and guest loyalty.

The above attributes are why today, one, The Breakers organization prevails as the only large, historic luxury resort in the U.S. still in the hands of its original owners; and two, The Breakers is one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the state of Florida.

All of these key differentiators make our organization a great place to work, confirmed by a team member satisfaction rate of 94 percent.

When did you establish your workplace wellness program, and why was it important for your company to do so?

Workplace wellness is not about creating multiple programs; it’s about transforming a culture that is woven into the fabric of an organization.

The Breakers’ foundational transition to workplace wellness began in the mid-90s when the company set out to evolve as a value-based, employee-centric organization. With the support of our owners and board of directors, the executive group implemented a comprehensive strategy to internalize many of the company’s wellness competencies and resources. Focused on the continuous improvement and wellbeing of team members, the resort developed tools, analytics, and insights to benchmark successes within a highly progressive workplace.

In 2004, the resort began to study and follow the Human Performance Institute model, and things have evolved since. We started with minor, tactical modifications like switching snacks from cookies to whole fruit, to offering standing desks and treadmills in team meeting rooms, to larger changes likeMental Health First Aid (MHFA/i training. Our priority is, and continues to be, to ensure all aspects of an employee’s wellbeing are taken care of.

This extraordinary shift has been incredibly rewarding; we have not only leveraged the huge potential of workplace wellness but also fueled our company with a sense of purpose. It is with great pride and responsibility that we strive to preserve The Breakers’ legacy as one of the finest resorts in the world but within the framework of a family culture and Fortune 500 discipline.

What is your long-term and short-term strategy for your workplace wellness program?

More than simply servicing employee health and wellness, The Breakers fosters a culture focused on inclusivity, quality of life, and team member fulfillment and wellbeing, which is paramount to our organization’s success.

Rooted in the belief that “it is not only about making a living, it’s about making a life,” we extend a wide range of comprehensive and meaningful benefits and resources to our team, which continuously evolve.

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What sort of buy-in have you had for your programs, from an executive leadership level down to an employee level? How important has this been to the success of your program?

In order for workplace wellness to be successful, and to our great fortune, we have the support of our owners, board of directors, and CEO. They have embraced this organizational philosophy from the very beginning; in fact, our Culture of Caring was inspired by our chairman of the board. He said, “The best companies in the world have recognized that taking care of their team is the right thing to do.” So that is exactly what we did.

This people-first philosophy is genuine, simple, and effective. “Walking the talk” is the resonating and differentiating factor among our stakeholders, particularly new and prospective team members; it is also the thrust behind recruitment and retention.

What differences have you seen in your workforce since doing so? And how is it measured?

Looking back at our wellness journey, we have achieved a truly remarkable ROI; an extraordinary scope of quantitative and qualitative evidence has proven to be transformative. We have seen reduced absenteeism, exceptional employee retention rates, significantly lower health costs (including medical and pharmacy expenditures), which are aligned with employees getting healthier; improved morale, elevated engagement (our scores are in the same class as Fortune 100 companies), and last but not least, improved productivity. It also serves as a wonderful recruitment tool for all generations of prospects.

Findings from a recent employee opinion survey confirmed that 94 percent of our workforce agrees that The Breakers is a great place to work. This is in stark contrast with the average company achieving a 57 percent satisfaction rate, per the Great Place to Work database

In addition, The Breakers’ wellness initiatives extend beyond team members to their families. To reduce life’s daily stresses, it’s important to think beyond the employee and include the family whenever possible to really support the whole person. These results are achieved by creating an environment where people thrive, and in turn, we see more engaged, happier, and productive team members.

What sort of health-related workplace wellness programs does your company offer?

The Breakers uses team member feedback and data collection to develop its employee wellness initiatives, which include various health-related programs. Below are a few examples, however, a full overview can be found in The Breakers 2021 Social Impact Report.

THE BREAKERS WELLNESS PROGRAM FOR TEAM MEMBERS OF COLOR WITH DR. NICOLA FINLEY

In 2019, The Breakers conducted a diversity study using demographic data focused on engagement levels for both its wellness and financial incentive programs. The results identified an opportunity with our Black/African American employee population. While this group was the most engaged in our financial wellness program, they were the least engaged in our wellness incentive program—48 percent engagement compared to the other populations at 80 percent engagement level.

These results led to the creation of The Breakers’ Wellness Program for Team Members of Color with Dr. Nicola Finley, which launched in November 2021.

Developed with Nicola Finley, M.D., an integrative medicine physician of Jamaican heritage, this three- to four-month employee program begins with a confidential biometric screening, which provides tracked, measurable outcomes to proactively bring awareness to health disparities and prevent chronic disease. Finley then facilitates a combination of group and individual sessions, which empower team members to recognize and discuss actionable steps towards optimal wellness. Group workshops share evidence-based health education, while private consultations customize personal wellness plans.

The test pilot for the program has seen immediate success because it makes the wellness experience attainable, accessible, and focuses on how a person’s culture impacts self-care; it presents healthcare concerns and strategies through the lens of people of color, who are able to affirm themselves as instrumental to their wellbeing.

Team members participate during paid work hours and are encouraged to prioritize their health, making a positive impact in areas such as nutrition, exercise, mental health, sleep, and more. Participants have already expressed the positive outcome that this program has made not only in their lives but also in the lives of their families.

  • To date, 57 employees have participated in the program
  • The first group’s results showed weight loss, lower cholesterol and glucose levels, healthy-range A1C levels, and people being able to decrease medications
  • Similar results were derived from the second group as well

WELLNESS CLINIC OPERATED BY PREMIER

The Breakers’ on-site Wellness Clinic provides biometric screenings and wellness coaching for team members and spouses on The Breakers’ medical plan, as well as flu vaccines (available for all team members). The clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner and registered nurse.

Team members and spouses on The Breakers’ medical plan can also earn a $600 savings on their annual insurance premium by completing a one-step biometric screening. Confidential screenings are conducted at the on-site Wellness Clinic operated by Premier, at special resort events, or at a Quest Lab. Post appointment, the clinic staff privately reviews personal screening results, which are accessed via a secure online portal, and provides health coaching.

Should a health concern arise from screening results, that employee is extended three incentivized coaching sessions, during which goals are set with the clinic team. Depending on the risk factors, topics covered may include healthy eating, decreasing blood pressure, addressing diabetes, lowering cholesterol, and more. An individualized wellness plan is then developed for the employee to integrate into daily life; sessions may continue if the team member is interested.

Beyond physical wellness programs, are you implementing any programs that support employees spiritually, artistically, intellectually, and/or emotionally?

The Breakers’ cares for its team in various essential aspects of wellness, such as mental, physical, emotional, financial, etc. This optimizes personal fulfillment, a sense of belonging, as well as employee performance, which perpetuates the genuinely caring service and a warm, welcoming environment that strengthens customer relationships and guest loyalty. Ultimately, this drives financial results that empower us to give back to the community.

An example of one of these programs is Parent’s Corner, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERG).

PARENT’S CORNER

Recognizing that mothers, fathers, guardians, and advocates sometimes need support while juggling dual roles of parent and employee, The Breakers developed and implemented Parent’s Corner to help team members balance work, life, and caregiving demands. This program brings together new and experienced parents via the resort’s internal employee app to share personal stories, challenges, and referrals, as well as exchange ideas, advice, information, and resources. Participants in the group, whether raising infants, small children, or teenagers, or facing a new phase of life with young adults, are reassured to learn that their concerns are not unique, while finding kinship, camaraderie, and comfort. A total of 97 employees currently participates in Parent’s Corner, which continues to grow.

Determined and led by a group of voluntary team members, ERGs bring employees together with common characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle, or personal interests. Each group’s mission is to advance a diverse, inclusive workplace, by creating a safe space where individuals can bring their whole selves to the table. Any team member may join or create a new ERG.

Is there one initiative or program of which you are particularly proud and why?

That’s a really hard question as I cannot give more credit to one program over another, and because the trajectory of each program is different. I think what I am most proud of is the fact that we have successfully created a Culture of Caring and wellbeing that resonates with our owners, board of directors, senior management, and most importantly, with our amazing team—this culture has sustained with great force for almost two decades.

Along with health, financial wellness is an important part of health and wellbeing. Do you offer any sort of programs to help employees make better/wiser financial decisions?

We do. The Breakers partners with SageView, a financial advisory service that provides education, investment counseling, and tools to achieve long-term and short-term goals for the financial wellbeing of our team members. Through a carefully managed collaboration, The Breakers, SageView, and T. Rowe Price can improve plan metrics and provide more employee resources to help achieve positive outcomes.

Is there a program that was perhaps not as successful? What did you learn from this?

Fortunately, there is not one that stands out because even the lower-producing results bear valuable insights. We undertake all program-building initiatives by aiming to be as informed upfront as we can possibly be. We also rely heavily on team member feedback and surveys. An example that comes to mind is our Team Member Programs & Benefits Survey.

In spring 2021, The Breakers deployed a team survey to collect feedback and identify the company’s most highly valued wellness programs and benefits. Seven topics were covered: Benefits, Voluntary Benefits, Social Impact, Team Member Development, Team Member Events, Team Member Services, and Wellness. As a result, programs with lower awareness rates were identified for enhanced communications and a few programs flagged with lower value were retired. This survey had a 96 percent participation rate.

How do you incentivize participation in the workplace wellness programs? What sort of perks and benefits do you offer those who engage?

The Breakers’ multi-faceted wellness initiatives not only reinforce our company’s Culture of Caring, but they recognize and prioritize each employee’s unique and distinct needs.

Driven by employee feedback, these offerings are continuously elevated to ensure they satisfy the ever-evolving needs and preferences of our team. In addition, The Breakers significantly raises the value and meaning of employment, beyond the resort’s superior compensation and benefits. Our employees truly cherish our non-traditional cultural/lifestyle benefits (per team feedback), such as:

  • Opportunities to use resort facilities (accommodations, dining, golf, and shopping)
  • Paid parental leave for adoption and birth
  • Cross training that offers more paths for advancement
  • On-site Wellness Clinic
  • Financial Advisory Services

Do you ensure access to all team members, particularly minority groups?

The Breakers’ ownership, board of directors, and leadership team take great pride in fostering a Culture of Caring that encompasses team member fulfillment, personal wellness, and respect for all in a diverse workplace that is equitable, inclusive, and socially responsible. Accordingly, we extend a wide range of meaningful wellness benefits and resources.

By sustaining this extraordinary For-All Culture of Caring, The Breakers achieves an unprecedented 80 percent average retention rate, which confirms that our associates feel tremendous pride and satisfaction as a member of our organization. However, to systemically ensure equity throughout our employee population, The Breakers has embedded numerous practices and programs that honor and promote a For-All Culture.

Examples include:

  • An annual Diversity & Equity Audit to encourage consistent improvement
  • A wide range of meaningful benefits and resources under the company’s Well Beyond brand, available to all team members
  • BeEngaged, an online communication and performance management platform that guarantees all team members have a voice and the opportunity to reach their highest potential, regardless of who they are or what job they do
  • Beekeeper, an internal employee app that allows team members to instantly share information anytime, anywhere, with anyone, via personal mobile device.

How do you communicate news and updates about your workplace wellness program to your teams?

Our leaders are actively involved in our workplace wellness programs, and we highly encourage departmental, divisional, and cross-departmental dialogue. To support these efforts, we developed and implemented multiple communication channels that extend across our organization.

Throughout the employment lifecycle, we communicate to our associates that they are the heart and soul of our company; their voice matters, and their wellbeing is our priority. This is introduced at the point of hire and continued through various initiatives such as Well Beyond and BeEngaged. More importantly, it is routinely reinforced via other platforms including: team meetings; Hotelevision, our in-house broadcast channel; and Beekeeper, our centralized employee mobile app that encourages workplace engagement and collaboration and increases productivity through unified messaging on a daily basis.

Actively communicating and engaging with our staff fosters a culture of transparency where management can not only share information on workplace wellness, but also customer feedback, financial results. and key business and operational insights. To design and continually evolve our efforts, we rely heavily on employee feedback, which we garner in multiple ways, including our Employee Opinion Survey (EOS).

How do you evaluate success and areas of opportunity for your workplace wellness programs?

Our workplace wellness programs are constantly evolving. They are customized and implemented based on feedback received from our highly diverse group of over 2,200 team members, which represents dozens of nationalities, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and lifestyles.

Are there any vendors/companies/resources that have been particularly helpful to you in creating a workplace wellness program?

All our partners have been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout our wellness journey. A more recent example would be our collaboration with Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service (Alpert JFS) and the development of our Mental Health is Everyone’s Business program.

MENTAL HEALTH IS EVERYONE’S BUSINESS

For the past four years, The Breakers has established a robust partnership with Alpert JFS—a non-profit, non-sectarian organization—to provide Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to the resort’s entire management team. MHFA teaches critical communication and support skills that empower participants to identify and extend initial assistance to individuals who show signs of mental health problems or are experiencing a mental health crisis.

Based on feedback received from Breakers’ managers who attended MHFA, and with one in five Americans suffering from some form of mental illness in their lifetime (as cited by Alpert JFS), The Breakers quickly recognized the importance of expanding MHFA training to our entire employee population. Developed in collaboration with Alpert JFS, Mental Health Is Everyone’s Business is a virtual training that raises awareness of the role mental wellbeing plays in both work and non-work lives. Led by an Alpert JFS-certified instructor, the course reduces the stigma around mental health challenges, and gives insight and encourages participants to help others by emphasizing self-care.

To date, 400 managers at The Breakers have completed MHFA training and 335 non-managerial team members have completed Mental Health Is Everyone’s Business

Established in 1974, Ferd & Gladys Alpert Jewish Family Service is a nationally accredited service provider for children, adults, seniors, and Holocaust survivors. The non-profit, non-sectarian organization is a trusted leader, with a team of nearly 200 highly skilled professionals delivering high-quality care to community members. Alpert JFS works to ensure the wellbeing of children and families, independence of older adults, and quality-of-life for individuals with disabilities.

If another company/colleague came to you and said they were considering making workplace wellness a priority, what advice would you provide?

If you are considering expanding your employee wellness initiatives, you must have the support of the owners, board of directors, and the CEO. Additionally, you need a passionate and capable individual who can take charge and champion the program to be successful.

In addition, creating a culture of wellbeing is a long-term proposition. It takes time to evolve the right strategy for your organization. We knew it was the right thing to do for The Breakers, and today we are proud to say that 88 percent of our team members agree that our culture has made a positive impact on their lives and overall wellbeing.

If you had no barriers, what would you create as the next step in elevating workplace wellness at your company?

Another tough question because I have not experienced barriers when it comes to upholding our Culture of Caring and wellbeing initiatives, and I don’t foresee any ahead. This brings us full circle to the first question regarding my definition of an enlightened organization, in which barriers either don’t exist or can be overcome.

How would you describe your organizational culture and does that culture support workplace wellness?

The Breakers remains committed to the continued evolution of our organization through the growth and expansion of our businesses, both on and off the main resort property. However, our key strategy for ensuring our company’s success as an independent, family-owned, 126-year-old enterprise (never bought or sold) is maintaining a positive workplace environment for our team. This people-first approach not only paves the way for a healthy balance sheet and drives financial success, but most importantly, it delivers dynamic opportunities for our associates, who value the priceless upside of The Breakers operating without chain affiliation.

In addition, actionable Core Values and Guiding Principles empower our organization with intention and direction, shaping our culture and defining the character of our company. They ensure each team member, from executive leadership to entry-level, are working towards the same common goal and share a bigger mission: in honoring the resort’s family legacy as one of the finest resorts in the world. Our purpose is to provide exceptional service and make a difference in the lives of our team members, guests, and the community we serve. We are inspired by an unrelenting pursuit to make the best even better, and to create extraordinary experiences that give life to lasting memories.

The Breakers’ Guiding Principles feature four key sequential components:

  • TEAM SATISFACTION – The Breakers’ number one priority is taking care of its team members – inspiring and nurturing our staff to reach their greatest potential. Ensuring employee satisfaction not only invigorates and protects our company culture but it is also critical to our organization’s success and resilience.
  • GUEST SATISFACTION – Our team delivers exceptional service and creates memorable experiences for our guests. Excellence in employee performance fosters world-class service and a warm, welcoming environment, which in turn, builds customer relationships and strengthens guest loyalty. The Breakers currently averages a 93 percent guest satisfaction rate.
  • FINANCIAL DISCIPLINE – Driven by the long-term fiscal perspective and our fiduciarily responsible family ownership, The Breakers thrives as a financially successful enterprise, despite ever-changing economic climates and uncertainties. While always sustaining a margin of safety based on the philosophy “rig for bad weather,” the company’s investments and policy decisions focus on the enduring financial health of the team and organization.
  • SOCIAL IMPACT – Strong financial results empower the company to invest in the community, environment, and property, and re-invest back into the team, so the self-sustaining cycle continues.

Our people are truly the heart and soul of The Breakers; every decision we make and program, policy, and practice we implement are designed to enrich the lives of each employee and their unique needs.

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About The Author
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Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures, ForbesTraveler.com, E! Online, Gayot.com, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.