In 1983, Norman Brinker purchased Chili’s Grill and Bar — a small hamburger joint — with a vision of creating a true dining experience for customers. He knew it could only be done with a team of energetic, passionate and happy employees (known as “team members.”) This vision shaped the fun, vibrant Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants that America has grown to love.
Now owned by Brinker International, Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants are still recognized for exceptional customer service and team members who demonstrate integrity, teamwork and passion.
But staying true to its roots through massive growth and a recession wasn’t easy.
“We knew our culture was a strategic investment and we needed to make that evident,” said Jason Landry, senior director of shared services and total rewards at Brinker International. “We leveraged a Gallup Book on wellbeing that suggested a more holistic approach to well-being could create more engagement for Team Members, and we Brinker-ized it to ensure it would resonate with our people.”
Using the report as a guide, Brinker created five essential elements of well-being — social, community, financial, physical and career. They started by indoctrinating Chili’s Leaders at their annual General Manager Conference, offering sessions like yoga, hikes, budgeting and community involvement. Rather than telling them about the power of well-being, they experienced it first hand — and quickly saw its connection to performance and business impact.
Whole-person improvement in a single platform
Managers and team leads brought their experience back to the restaurants and discussions around well-being started to emerge. Short after, social media, team chats and hallway conversations were bubbling about well-being. With all this momentum, the team recognized the need to harness this spark and keep it alive. Brinker turned to technology to help them scale well-being across the country.
They partnered with Limeade to create the Brinker Wellbeing Program. This online program brings the vibrant culture of Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants to life through fun and inspiring activities that represent their five essential elements of well-being. Colored icons on related challenges represent each element, making it easy for employees to decide which route to take on their well-being journey.
Brinker restaurants feel like a family. Team Members are friends who mentor each other and hang out after their shifts end. But when teams get busy, it’s easy to feel stressed. Brinker launched a “Random Acts of Workplace Kindness” (RAWKS) challenge to tackle this. Activities included, “Help a team member with a project or work task” and “Recognize someone’s strengths.” So far in the 2017, the RAWKS challenge is the second most popular.
Sixteen years ago, Brinker created the “Brinker Family Fund” to help team members facing catastrophic emergency situations such as serious illness or natural disasters. To drive participation, they leveraged the Brinker Wellbeing Program by awarding points to team members who begin or increase their contribution. Today, more than 50 percent of team members contribute a portion of each paycheck to the fund, totaling nearly $15 million. This Brinker Family Fund challenge is a very popular challenge, and since launching the challenge fund contributions have increased.
With a median age of 20, many restaurant Team Members rely on tips as income and tend to ignore their 401(k) options. They also face a growing list of expenses like car payments, student loans and other debt. To support employees at every age and stage of life, Brinker invested heavily in financial well-being resources like Fidelity and MetLife. Using the Limeade financial well-being package, Brinker asks finance-related questions in the annual Well-being Assessment, leverages Limeade expert-backed challenges like “Prioritize Your Debt,” integrates with existing financial benefits like the 401(k) plans and rewards Team Member participation in financial activities.
Compass, a medical decision support tool, was an underutilized resource in 2015. Brinker wanted to make sure eligible team members were taking advantage of these support services. To drive more participation, Brinker added Compass as a requirement for the first incentive level. In 2016, monthly Compass activation doubled and the number of unique users from January to June of 2016 exceeded the entire year prior.
Brinker leads the industry in employee retention and helping team members advance within the company. To support employee career growth, Brinker launched a set of “Professional Development” challenges that incentivizes their Team Members to attend a conference or seminar, take a course, read a book or meet with a supervisor to discuss their professional growth. The program is also used to teach tangible skills for growth in the restaurant industry. For example, the “Tap is Whack” challenge awards points for selling bottled water instead of tap water.
Evolving the Brinker Wellbeing Program
The Brinker Wellbeing Program was initially launched to benefits-eligible team members — with the goal of expanding to all employees in the second year. Before proceeding with the expansion, Brinker reviewed 2016 trends and made data-driven adjustments to drive maximum impact in 2017.
“At our first-year review we sat down with Limeade to review the numbers. We found that our population has more health risk compared to other large employers, but from a cultural perspective we are much stronger. We saw this as an opportunity to dial up our physical health resources like NaturallySlim and Compass, and keep building our rich culture into the program,” said Landry.
Engaging team members not eligible for health benefits also required a shift in incentive strategy. They added a simple yet impactful reward: a branded workout belt.
“They like getting something they can use — something they can put their phone in, and something they can show off. This creates buzz, especially with our millennial team members. They’re a tight-knit group so once you create a champion it just takes off,” said Landry.
In 2016, 75 percent of employees completed their Well-being Assessment and 67 percent of registered employees participated every two weeks or more. Using the Limeade turnover dashboard, Brinker believes that retention, and subsequently business results, will increase as more Team Members engage with Brinker’s Well Being Program.
Becoming an even better Brinker
Director of total rewards and talent analytics, Josh Lipscomb, loves seeing happy, energetic team members in the restaurants, but also recognizes the business impact.
“The benefit to the company is that when people have strong well-being, they’re better team members. They treat guests better, which results in better business outcomes. We’re striving to draw lines between engagement and business metrics. That’s the future of well-being for us. And when we do it – everyone wins,” said Lipscomb.