"I didn’t know there was a role for someone with a Nutrition background in a corporate setting. I have realized that there are a lot of opportunities for this kind of work."
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?
I am Jill from Charlotte, NC. I went to UNC - Chapel Hill for my undergrad degree. I am currently splitting my time between Charlotte, NC, where I work, and Lynchburg, VA, where my husband and I live. My husband is in medical school in Lynchburg. My current role is with Premier Healthcare Alliance, and my position is a Health and Wellness Coordinator.
What does it mean to be a Health and Wellness Coordinator?
It is becoming more popular for companies to create a more comfortable environment to work in, since they've realized that their employees spend so much of their time in the workplace. I create opportunities for people to choose healthier options and make the workplace more fun. We bring local health options like food trucks on site and set up popsicle stands in the afternoon.We plan workout programs and hold yoga classes on site for our employees. We also offer benefits like massage and relax therapy that employees can sign up for on site. It makes my work feel rewarding when others are benefiting from it. It really is a lot of fun.
What does your typical day look like as a Health & Wellness Coordinator?
Almost everyday is different. Mondays and Fridays I work from home in Virginia. On these days I do a lot of administrative and behind the scenes work for our wellness program. I do a lot of planning for programs and outreach to wellness partners like the YMCA and Healthyroads, who we utilize to formulate competition for wellness for employees. I lead our wellness committee which is comprised of about 30 individuals. We have different projects throughout the year and often times that is when we schedule meetings over the phone with employees out in the field.
I am also planning and tracking all of our employee volunteer efforts. My hours are typically from 5 am to 6 pm Mondays and Fridays, but since I work from home on those days, I am able to multi-task. I will be able to start laundry or dinner before a conference call and I have the option to work out on my lunch break. It is just up to me to manage my time, and I know that I am more productive when I can take breaks throughout the day.
On Tuesdays, I am driving into Charlotte from Virginia and get into the office between 8:00 - 9:30 am depending on traffic. Tuesday through Thursday I am doing more on-site program activities. For instance, last Thursday we had a give-back fair where we had local and national non-profit organizations come in. I led that initiative and helped coordinate all parties on site and made our employees aware of all the opportunities for giving back and volunteering. Other days, I am at my desk and creating challenges for our employees with our Fitbit or developing plans for Wellness incentives. I have a lot of fun and I am interacting with people all day. My teammates and I are constantly collaborating.
what are some incentives for employees that reach fitness goals?
In the past, our wellness program was centered around more participation-based competitions like walk/runs and 5ks. Our program has evolved and is now more robust. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute(NHI) sets out healthy measures and if our employees are improving from the previous year and are within certain standards concerning BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure, they can earn a significant amount of money off their healthcare premium. Additionally, employees can gain health and wellness points and can redeem those points for a variety of products.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
There are always things in every job that you don’t love. To be completely candid I don’t always love doing paperwork and paying bills - more administrative stuff. However, even though it’s not my favorite, I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing that work because I can easily check it off my list. Most of my job involves a lot of planning, communicating, and delegating with a team of people, and I can’t necessarily check off those tasks or projects in one sitting. It's nice to have that balance.
As a wellness coordinator it can be difficult to connect to those employees working remotely and not in our headquarters. Being employed by a big company has its obvious benefits like having having resources readily available and a bigger team to work with, but as far as communicating and organizing events with employees, that can be tougher. I enjoy being a part of a smaller company to be able to build intimate relationships. It depends on your individual passion and what you are comfortable with.
I love the people who I work with, and I think that makes or breaks a job! Even if you are passionate about something but don’t enjoy the people around you everyday it is hard to like your job. I have been so lucky and I absolutely love my boss. I also love the flexibility in working from home. I have never been a clock in and out employee, and I am all the more thankful for that. It is very rewarding to work for a company that really cares about improving the health of their community. I feel very supported in my role as a wellness coordinator, and our programs are too.
What degree do you have and what experience did you have before becoming a Health and Wellness Coordinator?
I went to UNC for my undergraduate degree. I found out UNC Gilling School of Global Public Health offers undergraduate degrees, and I concentrated on Nutrition upon enrollment into the program. I found that I really loved Public Health and it was a better fit for me than going pre-med. When I was nearing the end of my time at UNC-Chapel Hill I had applied for graduate school, but I did something that I hadn’t planned for and applied to a program called FoodCorps. I served for 12 months in Arkansas with the organization whose mission is to improve the aspects and quality of nutrition to children in low income communities with high needs and limited access to healthy foods. So for my first year out of college I built a garden, worked in the dirt, and taught hundreds of students science classes. We had over 50 growing beds, rainwater harvest systems, and abundant farm life to care for. I conducted science experiments with students, taught them skills to garden and cook, and ultimately gave them the food and nutrition knowledge to make healthier choices. At the end of the year I needed to decide whether I was going to pursue graduate school or start working in a more corporate setting.
I didn’t know this existed while I was in college and I thought I was going to have to go into policy or spend time in a school or clinical setting while pursuing public health. I didn’t know there was a role for someone with a Nutrition background in a corporate setting. Now that I am in this field I have realized that there are a lot of opportunities for this kind of work. It may be called something different in different companies/organizations and often times wellness coordinators wear a lot of hats. I actually love that aspect of my role and I think it allows me to stay passionate about what I do.
What is the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
Within the company and office, people don’t realize everything that I do because my title is most related to health and wellness. I may be know as the 'Wellness Girl', but there are a lot of behind-the-scenes task that I have a hand in. Again, many wellness coordinators wear many hats! Outside of the company, the public typically thinks of a Nutritionist when they hear that I am a Health and Wellness Coordinator. Their idea of my role may involve an image where I am with an employee one and one and I am telling them what to eat. People are more familiar with the role of a Nutritionist.
What would you tell someone who wanted to pursue your career?
I think the best thing to do while searching for a career is to interview people in those roles to get a better idea of what they’re like and to shadow them! Seeing what someone does all day is very meaningful. If someone was interested in corporate wellness I would suggest first talking to a friend that works in a corporate setting and ask them if they have a wellness program. If so, then see if you can get in touch with the people who help leads that effort. I think once you meet some people you find yourself connected to a web of people who are involved in wellness in many unique settings. I coordinate with people from many backgrounds, not just in a corporate setting. Start conversations with people who work in companies that are progressive and have wellness programs.
Often times students think they have it all planned out; going from point A to B to C. Some parents expect their children to have a clear plan in college. However, most people have not followed the path they anticipated. Any opportunity that comes your way is an opportunity. Look at it from all sides because even though it may not be what you first thought you were doing, you can gain so much knowledge and experience that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. I would love to continue my leadership in the wellness program, and I want to continue to be a part of a company whose mission emphasizes health and wellness.