Ninkasi launched its Live Well program in 2014 in order to focus more on employee benefits. “We want our employees to leave work as good as or better than when they arrived,” explains Ninkasi’s people operations specialist. “When we have healthier employees, we generally have safer employees.” Photos by AJ McGarry
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The candy was becoming a problem.
“Our front desk team was spending a large amount of money per month on candy,” says Amanda Burchard, people operations specialist at Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene. “They decided we should move to healthy snacks. Now, they go to Costco every month and spend the money on granola bars, fruit snacks, trail mix and granola.”
That from-the-ground-up sense of wellness and change summarizes an overall culture of promoting health through the 109-employee brewery. Ninkasi sums up their Live Well program as part of the company’s core purpose: “Perpetuate Better Living.”
“We want our employees to leave work as good as or better than when they arrived,” explains Burchard. “We want them to go home younger, healthier and stronger at the end of every day. When we have healthier employees, we generally have safer employees.”
Ninkasi launched Live Well in 2014, in order to expand and focus on their employee benefits, but Burchard says that wellness has always been a focus at Ninkasi. “In the early days, we had on-site chair massages and paid-for employees’ medical insurance.” Today, Live Well is part of a larger suite of benefits and perks, such as a 401(k) financial plan, profit sharing, paid cell phones, merchandise credit, pints in the Tasting Room and weekly sensory classes. All employees are eligible for Live Well, though some activities (such as CPR training or yoga classes) are available only at the Eugene campus.
Three employees — the marketing programs director, one of the Portland market managers and Burchard — meet bi-monthly to discuss company wellness, and they also share bi-weekly wellness updates with the company’s Safety Team. Live Well is constantly changing and trying new things, says Burchard. “We implement and continue programs based on the feedback we receive from our employees,” she explains. “If an employee voices interest in something, we help them implement the program.”
Ninkasi’s social media coordinator, says Burchard, had a passion for running. So she got a group of colleagues together and started a run club. “They meet every Wednesday at 5 p.m.,” says Burchard. “They hit the running trail and then end at the brewery by drinking a beer.”
Physical activity is a common thread, from bikes available for employees to check out and ride around town, teams for kickball and bowling, and mountain bikers, kayakers and climbers. The bike rental program builds on Eugene’s overall bike-friendly infrastructure, and rock climbing is so much a passion for employees that Ninkasi included a climbing wall in its new administrative building.
However, not all activities and programs require working up a sweat. There’s a book club, and employees can also donate blood during work hours. Health programs encourage life improvement, from tobacco cessation to nutrition consultations.
“There are special programs we do based on the season,” says Burchard. “Flu season is one of them. We offer on-site flu shots and Emergen-C, so that all of our staff can stay healthy. Another is during the spring and summer, when local food is fresh and available. We work with a local co-op and give our employees a discount on the produce and meat. They can also conveniently pick up the produce in our admin office.”
Live Well is also part of what garners Ninkasi regular mentions in “best places to work lists,” such as multi-year appearances in Oregon Business Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon. Most recently, Ninkasi (and fellow Eugene company IDX Broker) were included in Outside’s Best Places to Work 2015, an annual ranking of the top 100 companies in the U. S. that help employees balance play, life and work.
The programs also give employees the encouragement needed to make a life change or try something new. Emilie Hartvig, Ninkasi’s donations manager, did not consider herself an athletic person, but she wanted to try yoga. “Ninkasi began offering yoga when we moved into our new office,” says Emilie. “At first, I was hesitant to try it, but after seeing a few co-workers really enjoying it, I decided to give it a try. Now, I can say I have the very basics of yoga down and I really like it. Every time I take a class, I feel refreshed and de-stressed. I have even gone to a couple yoga classes outside of work.”
New programs include a step program, implemented in 2015. Ninkasi’s remote sales team counted their steps for the summer and won prizes, such as gift cards or paid time off, based on who had the most steps. 2016 sees the beginning of another program for remote employees, where they will be eligible for wellness dollars towards beneficial programs or services of their choosing, such as gym memberships and massages.
For breweries looking to implement or evolve their own wellness programs, Burchard has some simple advice: “I would ask employees for feedback on what they would like to see and at the same time figure out how much you want to spend on it,” she recommends. “I would also find a team to help implement the program. It is always better to work on these larger projects with other people.”
As for Burchard, she says her favorite activity at the brewery is yoga. “It helps me stay strong and helps me relax, both very important things!” But she also has her eye on new offerings.
“If I could add anything to our wellness program, I would add an on-campus run/walk that ends at the brewery with an ice cold beer. It would be an awesome way to get all of our team together and would be super fun.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.