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Benefits Products & Services

Wellness for new parents

Ocean Spray program provides range of support for new mothers

By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU

Life is full of transitions, and for parents none of them is bigger than the birth or adoption of a child. The new parents, despite all the emotions swirling around them, may be suddenly aware—some of them for the first time—just how valuable their employer's group medical coverage is.

After looking with relief at the hospital and physician charges or adoption expenses paid for by their group medical plan, the new parents move on to other concerns. Like how to arrange 24 hours in a day to accommodate the needs of the new child, take care of any other family members, handle their own responsibilities at work, and—if there's any time left over—sleep.

After a new mother goes back to work, the pace of the adjustment process accelerates significantly. So an employer has an opportunity to be a part of the solution to this balancing act.

Ocean Spray Cranberries, a Massachusetts-based agricultural cooperative with 2,000 employees, recognized the need to be as helpful as possible to its mothers-to-be and new mothers. So a year ago, it launched a program called "Moms at Work."

Susan French, Ocean Spray's benefits manager, says, "Our Benefits and Wellness team looked first at how we could improve both the 'off' and 'on' boarding processes for new moms. It was our hope that by easing these transitions, we would help new moms feel more supported at work.

"We've been experiencing a shift in demographics as newer-in-career employees have been replacing retirees," explains French. "This shift has motivated us to look into many different aspects of work/life balance issues. In doing that, we began to see a steady increase in maternity claims, and we realized there were opportunities to address the impact of parenthood, specifically motherhood, on work/life balance.

"We saw an opportunity for peer support and social networking for new moms as they encounter work/life adjustments for the first time."

Ocean Spray, which is the leading North American producer of canned and bottled juices and juice drinks, began working with a wellness solutions provider about four years ago, a company that later became Plus One Health Management. Kristin Chenevert, Plus One's wellness coordinator for Ocean Spray, maintains an office at Ocean Spray's headquarters in Lakeville-Middleboro, Massachusetts.

Among the wellness initiatives offered at the Ocean Spray headquarters are on-site seminars, group fitness classes, massage therapy, acupuncture, and consultations on work/life balance, nutrition and financial management.

"Being a new mom myself and recently returning from maternity leave, I was able to help in the collaboration of ideas for the Moms at Work program," says Chenevert.

The first step in setting up the Moms at Work program was to create a focus group within Ocean Spray made up of women who had been on maternity leave within the past two years. "The input of employees who had welcomed new children into their families, either through birth or adoption, was critical," says French.

"Through the focus groups, we learned that each manager handled the issues of leave arrangements, travel and return to work options differently," says French. "We were then able to understand which of these approaches employees preferred and were most successful. Then we created a Managers Guide to assist managers in addressing these issues with employees."

It also published a Mom's Guide, which contains information on Disability and FMLA; adding a newborn to insurance; medical and EAP information; and a list of pre-leave and post-leave resources, including a local day care guide.

From its focus group feedback, Ocean Spray also got the idea for incorporating a "Mentor Mom" feature in its Moms at Work program. It's a formal process to connect new moms to mothers at Ocean Spray who have been already been through the process of adjusting to work after a new child comes into their family.

"We could see the need for peer support for the new moms from women who had been in their shoes," says French. "The Mentor Moms are Ocean Spray employees who are mothers themselves, either through birth or adoption, who have volunteered to be part of the program and have shared a short 'mom biography.' We have Mentor Moms with children of varying ages, from young infant to school age, varying 'mom experiences,' varying career goals and varying opinions on topics they feel most connected to. We match new moms with mentor moms based on these similarities.

"Through our focus groups," French continues, "we also learned that the one existing lactation room (at the company's headquarters) was not meeting the new moms' needs for privacy and storage space. We saw this as an easy, quick fix. We were able to easily reconfigure an existing women's restroom to accommodate two new private, sanitary, relaxing and comfortable lactation rooms."French estimates the cost of developing and printing materials, including the Mom's Guide and the Manager's Guides, and for the two lactation rooms to be roughly $20,000.

Other components of the Moms at Work program include one week of paid parental leave for new moms and dads and $5,000 in adoption assistance for full-time employees.

Adds French, "The Moms at Work program is very well suited to our environment, particularly our corporate office (where the company has approximately 450 employees), yet it also can work well in our plant locations." Ocean Spray has manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Nevada, Texas and Washington.

The Moms at Work program was cited as a Best Practices winner by the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC). Chenevert believes the program is readily adaptable to companies of any size.

Chenevert says, "Plus One provides a range of wellness initiatives for Ocean Spray employees across all demographics. While an older demographic is more interested in topics like retirement planning, employees newer to the workforce are looking for information on financing a home and balancing parenthood and a career."

Feedback from both the Mentor Moms and the new mothers who are part of this program has been highly positive. A sample comment from one adoptive mom was, "I am hoping that the new adoptive Moms got as much out of this experience as I did. We are continuing to meet monthly."

A new employee benefits initiative is more likely to succeed when an employer surveys those who will be most affected by it—as Ocean Spray did before introducing its Moms at Work program. New parents can use some extra support, and employers can play a role in providing that support.


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