Health Links (HL): Why is the health and safety of your employees important to you?
Aspen Skiing Company (ASC): Aspen Skiing Company has operated for years with “Guiding Principles” rather than a Mission Statement. A key part states, “We renew the spirit by sustaining the “Aspen Idea,” a complete life nurturing mind, body and spirit.” We provide our guests with world class experiences that help them renew themselves. Guests don’t write letters commenting on how great our lifts are. They write letters about how great our employees were and how we exceeded their expectations. In order to provide our guests with this level of service, we need to treat our employees with a similar level of care and respect, including providing year-round, company subsidized, health insurance to seasonal employees. By taking care of our employees, they feel better and are able to better serve our guests and share this beautiful place we get to call home.
HL: What does your workplace health and safety program look like? Do you offer both components to employees?
ASC: In the past, our safety programs were pretty traditional, compliance based systems with training, record keeping and inspections. Our Benefits Department coordinated health and wellness programs as a way to manage health care costs and address employee issues as they arose. Because of our size and diversity, we had to develop a lot of different programs but we were mostly reactive. Aspen Skiing Company adopted the Total Worker Heath model in 2015 as a means to better integrate our safety programs and wellness programs. We now try to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices in our safety programs, emphasize how decisions at work affect an employee’s off-the-job activities and how their off-the-job decisions can affect work. We have expanded our programs to help employees better cope with newer demands including expanded paid parental leave for both parents (8 weeks paid) and replacing sick days with Wellness Days, that can be used by employees to care for themselves, family members (immediate and extended) and even pets!
HL: How will you/do you know your program is successful?
ASC: As a self-insured company for both health insurance and workers’ compensation, we certainly look at the costs of those programs but that leads to a short term focus. As we evolve our program, we are using more leading indicators such as biometric data. That data is now being tracked through a consortium of valley employers known as the Valley Health Alliance (ASC is the largest employer in the group). Not only can we monitor our own data, we can compare it to the larger community data as a benchmark. In the near term, the other primary indicators are the conversations that employees are having with each other, their supervisors and our guests. Conversations are turning from “I have to do this” to “I want to do this”, whether it is how they climb a lift tower, do warm up stretching before housekeeping or model healthy lifestyle choices with guests. This is supported by numerous internal and external surveys and audits throughout the year. Aspen Skiing Company has been on Outside Magazine’s “100 Best Places To Work” six out of the last eight years, including the last four. The detailed data we get from that survey points towards improvements in many health, wellness and safety areas.
HL: What obstacles did you have to overcome to get your program started? How did you overcome them?
ASC: Our biggest obstacle is communicating all of the things we have to offer with a very spread out and diversified workforce. We have employees at four mountains, 3 hotels, 15 retail stores, numerous restaurants and all of the supportive departments. We operate with employees who only work winter or summer and others who work year round. Some work full-time and many work part-time. We hire almost a third of our workforce each year due to the normal seasonal turnover, with many coming from other countries and cultures. At the same time, we have a large group (over 500) of employees with 20 years or more of service and some with over 50 years. We have created multiple paths for communicating to employees and are constantly adding new modes. We utilize email, a dedicated ASC-MBS web site, Facebook, Instagram, bulletin boards, department meetings, and just stopping to chat with employees where they work. We have a full-time Wellness Coordinator on staff to coach employees. This will be an ever-evolving process for us. However, fortunately our biggest support comes from our ownership and our leadership, both philosophically and through role modeling.
HL: Does your health and safety program help give back to your community?
ASC: As the largest employer in the area, Aspen Skiing Company has always accepted the responsibility of supporting the community through the use of our resources. We sponsor one of two community health fairs every year (we recently held our 16th annual Health Fair), we subsidize outside experts coming to the community, fund in-school health clinics, offer paid community volunteer days and we participate on a number of community based health, safety and wellness boards and committees. As the integration of wellness and safety continues to gain a stronger foothold in our community and industry, we find that many are struggling to implement programs we already have experience with so we can share our mistakes and successes with them.
HL: What tip/advice would you give to a business that is considering starting a workplace health and safety program?
ASC: Get started with small steps. A comprehensive, perfectly crafted program will be out of date before you implement it. This is an area that is developing rapidly. An easy first step is to go through the evaluation process. You might be surprised how many things you are already doing that just need to be packaged up. From there, you can identify and prioritize your next steps based on employee suggestions. There are tons of free resources out there and many activities are free or low cost.