Alexia Pico has harbored a passion for dance since childhood. These days, she leaves her evening ballroom lessons in Dedham relaxed and clearheaded — and ready for another day at Kymera Therapeutics, the Watertown biopharmaceutical company where she works as senior manager of quality systems.
“It’s almost like I have two jobs,” Pico says. “One is here, and one is on the dance floor.”
When Pico first started at Kymera in April, she had a torn meniscus that left her unable to dance. But she was able to pay for a personal trainer to rebuild her strength using the $125 wellness stipend the company gives each of its 170 employees every month, no questions asked. By midsummer, she was back on the dance floor.
“It just makes me realize that they care about me as a person as well as an employee,” Pico says. “Sometimes I’m just in my head thinking about work, and when I’m on the dance floor, I can’t do that. So it definitely helps me a lot [to] balance myself, which makes me a better employee.”
Kymera’s wellness stipend, instituted at the beginning of the year, is designed to let workers know “we care about them, and want to give them a way to care for themselves,” says Karen Weisbach, vice president of people and culture.
During the pandemic, workers suddenly found their personal lives on display in the virtual office. Employers saw the art on their employees’ living room walls, their kids bursting in on Zoom meetings, their dogs barking in the background. By the same token, work began to creep into more of employees’ home lives, with kitchen tables turning into workstations and log-on and log-off times growing fuzzier.
As these boundaries blurred, benefits supporting employee well-being — be it physical, mental, social, or otherwise — have grown all the more critical. Sixty-one percent of workers now view work-life balance and well-being as “very important” when considering a job offer, compared with 53 percent in 2015, according to a Gallup study released in February.
It’s crucial to invest in “taking care of the whole person,” Weisbach says. “The pandemic has shifted permanently how we think about work, how we think about life.” Companies are “in a bubble if they’re not really actively engaging in this stuff.”
For some companies, this is nothing new. At Newburyport-based bank Institution for Savings, employees receive a $50 American Express gift card each time they get a preventative health screening, such as a mammogram or colonoscopy. This program has been in place for over a decade, but it was expanded recently to include screenings for diabetes and vision.
Since 2016, the bank has given out more than $40,000 worth of gift cards in conjunction with the program, which it hopes will also serve to drive down health care costs, says Mary Anne Clancy, the senior vice president for marketing and communications. While participation waned in 2020, it’s back up again.
“It’s just heartwarming to know that my employer cares about me like that,” says Sandra Terry, a part-time assistant manager at one of the bank’s Newburyport offices, who gets most of the eligible screenings. “That they want you to go get these things done.”
Health care software company athenahealth takes its commitment to employee well-being a step further with a health center in the lobby of its Watertown headquarters. There, employees and their dependents can receive primary and urgent care at a time when health care appointments can still be hard to come by.
Though discussions about opening an on-site health center began in 2018, and it opened in June 2021, the pandemic played a part in its development. There is a dedicated room for telehealth appointments, so employees can receive care from anywhere.
“We want our employees to be excited about their jobs and their lives. We want them to be healthy and happy in general,” says chief operating officer Bret Connor. “Having access to an on-site health center, and the virtual telehealth services that we offer, we believe gives them peace of mind.”
Engineering manager Eran Spira has been to the on-site health center several times — for his yearly physical, blood work, and to get flu shots for his kids. “If I have time between meetings, I can schedule a quick appointment ... that’s much more convenient and a lot easier than to go to a doctor’s office somewhere,” Spira says. “It made keeping up with my health a lot more doable.”
Supporting working parents — 66 percent of whom reported burnout amid the pandemic, according to a survey from The Ohio State University published in May — has also become a big focus for employers. At the Cambridge biotech Relay Therapeutics, many employees are at an age where they may be starting or expanding their families, says Jeanne Gray, chief people officer. So this year, the company began offering new parents a year’s supply of free diapers.
“We recognize there’s many stressors we can’t take away,” Gray says, “but we want to do what we can for the ones that we can help with.”
Patrick O’Hearn, a senior scientist who welcomed a daughter, Margaret, in April, says the diaper benefit demonstrates “the extra mile” Relay goes to care for its employees and their families. “It’s just one little thing that takes one small burden off of my day,” he says.
Hologic, a Marlborough medical technology company focused on women’s health, has been offering free breast-milk shipping since 2018 through a service called Milk Stork. If new moms come back to a job that involves travel, Milk Stork provides postage-paid boxes designed for them to ship refrigerated or frozen breast milk home to their babies.
This year alone, about 35 workers have used the service, says Lisa Hellmann, senior vice president of global human resources and communications. Pandemic-era restrictions led to a drop-off in use, but requests have ticked back up as business travel returns, and Hologic expects the trend to continue.
Courtney Manthei, Hologic’s director of marketing for general surgery business, travels frequently between Denver and Marlborough. She says the breast-milk program — along with the company’s 16-week paid maternity leave and on-site lactation rooms — made her feel “comfortable and safe” upon her return to the office after giving birth to her son, Ezra, last year.
“It was like, ‘You do you, you do what’s best for your family, we’re here to support you,’” Manthei says.
Of course, supporting employees’ whole selves can also mean providing some good old-fashioned pampering. When online sports betting company DraftKings moved into its Back Bay office in 2019, it included dedicated spaces for employees to get free haircuts, manicures, and pedicures.
“Even though it sounds like something might be trivial,” says chief people officer Graham Walters, these perks are meant “to create more connections across our employees or to make their lives easier.” When the company began its return-to-office transition this summer, employees requested that these on-site perks also come back, Walters says. Appointments immediately booked up.
Meg Powers, senior associate for strategic partnerships, fondly remembers getting her nails decked out in sparkly Patriots colors when she scored preseason football tickets in the company’s suite at Gillette Stadium a few years ago. Though the manicures are just “a little thing once a month,” she says, it sends an important message about the company’s culture.
“To be able to treat yourself, and have the company be taking care of that — it does make a big difference,” Powers says. “It helps with mental health. It keeps us all relaxed.”
And, she adds with a laugh: “I feel better when my nails are done.”