Well-Being Is Overarching at Columbia Sportswear Company

Employers increasingly ask themselves where employee well-being, with its holistic approach and deeper motivations than just healthcare cost reduction, fits in their organization and business strategy.

At Columbia Sportswear Company (CSC), Cassie Buckroyd and colleagues teamed up to craft a model that others inevitably will want to emulate. Cassie is Manager of Wellbeing Programs at the popular active apparel company. Their 7600 employees (5000 throughout the US) include 1200 at the Portland, Oregon headquarters in a variety of roles — designers, retail associates, and shift workers in distribution centers.

“We’ve changed our structure so that well-being is overarching, as opposed to being tucked into benefits,” Cassie explains. “I lead the well-being team, which is composed of our benefits team, a wellness specialist, and a new position focused on digital communications. We do have a wellness program with onsite fitness at most locations and resources for financial wellness, mindfulness, nutrition, etc. These follow the more traditional approach.”

The wellness offerings also include activities like adventure tours, volunteer days, and preventive care. But Cassie emphasizes, “We focus on how we embed employee well-being into the fabric of who we are as a company.”

A Great Place to Work

Columbia has adapted the Gallup model of well-being, encompassing 5 pillars:

  • Physical
  • Social/emotional
  • Financial
  • Career
  • Community.

“Making Columbia a great place to work and supporting employees is the crux of our programming,” notes Cassie.

CSC Total Rewards Philosophy: An intentional focus on our employees’ well-being, coupled with competitive pay and benefits, is the differentiator. This allows CSC to attract, motivate, and retain an exceptional team of diverse and dedicated global talent that drives our business strategy and supports the corporate mission of connecting active people with their passions.

Using the well-being pillars as a starting point, CSC leaders charged their teams to develop and fine-tune a Total Rewards Philosophy that emphasizes well-being. From there, the VP of Total Rewards traveled domestically and internationally to get feedback from other HR leaders and employees. The result: a global well-being model that drives this philosophy and decisions about employee programs.


Advancing Well-Being Through Policy Change

Recently, CSC launched a paid parental leave policy, with guidelines to support the return-to-work experience and the needs of nursing mothers. The move followed Cassie’s business case highlighting potential consequences when parent or guardian needs aren’t met by their employer. “If it’s not a good experience and employees are not supported, there can be a negative effect on job satisfaction, performance, and on the team.”

She looks forward to evaluating other policies that will have a cumulative effect on employee well-being.

Social Connection and Downtime

Cassie’s work, of course, isn’t all about leaves of absence during life-changing events. CSC is an “active brand,” she explains, and while the company is committed to employee fitness, they envision active as something greater. In that spirit, “We do a lot of social events and community building.”

As an example, Cassie enthusiastically describes Party on the Patio, or “Partios,” held weekly at CSC headquarters during Portland’s sunny summers: “In our company culture, we encourage employees to work hard but also come together and celebrate success. So we invite a local craft brewery to serve beer and also offer wine, nonalcoholic beverages, and catered food. We have lawn games and a volleyball court. There’s no agenda other than to socialize, relax, and enjoy yourself.”

Further evidence of the stature of employee well-being at CSC: When other teams seek to leverage the Partio for more utilitarian purposes, like promoting a product launch or announcing an organization change, Cassie diplomatically stands her ground: “I say, ‘No, that’s too much of an agenda.’ If it’s not fun we’re not doing it.”


Valuing Recognition

Many companies see the connection between employee recognition and well-being, but few include it in their well-being manager’s job responsibilities. CSC is an exception, and Cassie is leading improvements to a cohesive employee recognition strategy. “There’s potential for imbalance with who’s getting recognized and the types of recognition — monetary or non-monetary,” Cassie elaborates. CSC’s goal is global consistency and infusing this important element into the company culture.

Advancing Digital Communication

Whether it’s a health promotion activity, leave policy, or recognition platform, Cassie, whose background is in communications, knows that even the best programs won’t amount to much if they’re not well communicated. Acting on this awareness, she was instrumental in designing the role for HR Digital Communication Specialist. To date, email has been the primary channel. As CSC’s technology catches up with the demand for more variety, the new specialist will ensure Total Rewards has a prime seat at the table and is ready with a brand, messaging strategy, and content.

Building Healthy Partnerships

Collaboration is a common theme in Cassie’s work and in CSC’s vision. “I’ve been successfully partnering with other teams to embed well-being into the company, including our facilities, corporate relations, communication teams, and particularly leadership development.”

In whatever aspect of well-being she’s discussing, Cassie comes back to the importance of listening to others, seeking common ground, and working collaboratively: “My biggest piece of advice is to get out there and talk to people. Find out what they’re doing and work on building those relationships. It’s so important to overcome that lone wolf thing and have a deeper impact. You can’t do it all by yourself.”

Dialog and Partnership Fuel Well-Being Leadership at CSC

Cassie’s leadership role at CSC reflects the company’s dedication to employee well-being. But it didn’t always.

In 2017, while attending a summit of CSC HR leaders from around the world, she saw the opportunity for wellness to have a more prominent role — tied directly to corporate and HR strategy. In the following months, her new boss, VP of Total Rewards and HR Operations, was hired. One of their first conversations was about wellness.

“I came out of the gate framing wellness as a strategic priority in how we achieve business outcomes, and she loved it,” Cassie beams. Her boss also had a vision of how well-being should be central to Total Rewards. They aligned quickly: “I shared my model with her, based on the Gallup well-being elements, and we decided to adopt it.” They used this as a jumping off point to create their global Total Rewards Philosophy. “That’s when I was promoted into my current position, with well-being overarching benefits, leave management, and employee wellness.”

Cassie’s story of personal growth, leadership, and resilience is a testament to her well-being commitment along with CSC as an enlightened employer emphasizing wellness to increase organization effectiveness. Together they’re living proof of what’s possible to inspire others seeking to create their own success stories.


Bob MerbergBob Merberg
Bob Merberg is an independent consultant with 20+ years in managing employee well-being programs. He specializes in helping employers increase engagement and health outcomes through innovative programs, communication, workplace environment, and organization development strategies. Bob’s well-being program evaluation results have been featured at wellness conferences and in various media outlets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.