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Member Spotlight: Core Creative

Neenah Joint School District

Culture Teams, Group Learning and Office Olympics – How Core Creative Keeps Wellness Fresh and Flexible, While Staying True to Its Purpose. Core Creative is a Milwaukee-based marketing agency that helps clients overcome both external and internal marketing challenges so they can thrive in increasingly competitive markets. The agency employs approximately 70 colleagues across the United States.

“Our organization’s focus has always been to help people live healthier, more purposeful lives,” said Patti Schauer, Vice President of Finance and HR for Core Creative. “Whether it’s our clients, their customers, or our employees, wellness is embedded in our culture.” Core Creative does not administer a typical wellness program, according to Schauer. As an example, wellness is not a department at her organization. “We don’t view wellness as one team,” Schauer said. “Wellness is embedded in everything. We have six different teams committed to culture that range from rewards and recognition to diversity and inclusivity to continuous learning. For us, wellness is a part of what we do, always.”

Each of Core’s wellness teams is run by staff volunteers. They have a budget with clearly articulated goals and are empowered to achieve those goals. “We are a company full of creatives, so there are lots of different work schedules, work styles, and client demands,” Schauer said. “And then comes the pandemic. We are now operating with a hybrid work environment and a hoteling concept. Needless to say, flexibility is a key for us when we’re building programs and campaigns.”

Schauer elaborated on how Core Creative has approached a hybrid schedule. “As part of our hybrid model, we let employees take their monitors and chairs home, and we gave them a stipend of $250 to improve their home office,” she said. “We also provided a communication stipend so that employees could get better internet and cover additional costs.”

The hybrid arrangement has also brought some unexpected benefits. “One of our colleagues shared that with the hybrid arrangement, she can see her daughter get on the bus every day and put in a full day of work,” Schauer said. “She says that now she can do it all. Before the pandemic, we would not have had that insight or understood how important this was to her. We would have missed an opportunity to make a big impact for one of our employees.”

The day-to-day dynamics of COVID have been challenging, according to Schauer. Staff have experienced loss, and there has been a struggle to balance work and life. One of the biggest downfalls of the pandemic has been the loss of connection. That is something Schauer and the team are fighting to fix. “We have been hosting virtual happy hours, outdoor gatherings, and town halls twice a month,” Schauer said. We also have been providing employees with a $20 per month lunch fund so they can occasionally treat themselves to a free lunch when they come into the office. We’ve also had continual one-on-one check-ins during the pandemic. It started with making sure employees had bare necessities like toilet paper and Internet access. Lately, it’s been making sure they have access to proper mental health support.”

She continued. “We have dropped off gifts to celebrate and remind people we are a team,” Schauer said. “We organized a summer party package with tequila limes, chips, salsa, and had the senior leadership team personally deliver them with a message of ‘thinking of you and wishing we were together.’” The company has also protected the hallmarks of its wellness program, including one of the most anticipated events of the year: the Office Olympics. During this event, employees engage in a range of competitions, such as cookie surfing, cup stacking and pantyhose bowling. Winners are recognized during the company’s summer picnic.

Drexel University

But one of the most powerful things the company has done in the past year is broker one-on-one breakouts to help employees learn about each other and their different backgrounds. “We learned so much, and it just reinforced how different we all are,” Schauer said. “It was helpful to foster increased empathy for each other.”

When asked to choose a WELCOA Benchmark that Core Creative feels good about, Schauer quickly pointed to Benchmark #1: Committed and Aligned Leadership. “Creating an effective wellness program was our president’s top priority,” she said. “Our leadership has always believed that wellness is something that must be prioritized. We believe in this. And it’s not about ROI, it’s about the secret sauce. It’s the X factor that makes teams thrive and organizations collaborate well.”

As examples, Schauer points to one-on-one coffee and lunch meetings facilitated by the agency’s president, as well as a genuine open-door policy that leadership offers to all colleagues to discuss the agency, their work, and their lives.

Schauer said WELCOA membership has brought many benefits to the organization, specifically key learnings from other companies like theirs. “We’ve learned a lot about impactful programs at other small to midsized companies, which has been very valuable,” Schauer said. “Also, WELCOA. has had so many great speakers for webinars and events. Just hearing about trends and what should be on our radar is so helpful. We incorporate a lot of what we learn into our program. I often think, ‘wow that’s a great idea, and I’m going to use it.’”

When asked to share some wisdom with other wellness professionals, Schauer focused on investing in people.

“It doesn’t have to be huge,” she said. “Send thank you notes. Create care packages. It’s just telling people you are thinking of them and that you care.” Schauer also reinforced the importance of listening to your staff.

“It’s the easiest way to make sure your program is meaningful and that you are focused on the right things,” Schauer said. “One simple example for us is yoga. We were doing yoga in person before the pandemic. Our employees wanted to bring it back. There was a lot of positive conversation around it. So, now we have re-introduced yoga, both in person and via the web, to help weave some peace into our busy days. We truly, and deeply, listen to our people. It really makes all the difference.”

Want to learn more about Core Creative’s award-winning wellness program, or how you can build your own?