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At Black Optical It Literally Pays for Staff to Travel and Stay Healthy

Owner Gary Black knows what work-life balance looks like—and how to achieve it for his team.

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AS AN EMPLOYER, one of Gary Black’s chief goals at his three Black Optical locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas is to eliminate — or at least reduce — the cost of living a healthy lifestyle, because, “We all know that when you feel great, you perform great.” Several years ago Black Optical implemented its wellness reimbursement program for employees.

THE IDEA

As Black sees it, the challenge for the small optical owner isn’t about “holding on” to talent. In part that’s because he doesn’t think that’s a realistic option for millennial employees, but it also reflects his view that the goal should be to develop — not merely retain — staff. “We want to develop people, while they help develop our brand. We hire with the intent that the candidate will be with us for the long haul, but we also realize this is not a reality for this generation.

Talented individuals want to explore opportunities, and gain experience in multiple fields.” With that in mind Black has set about creating opportunities for his staff to continue learning and to stay healthy.

THE EXECUTION

Gary Black

As Black was putting together the wellness reimbursement program a few years ago, he realized he needed a way to accommodate a staff member who enjoyed team sports, yet had no desire to set foot in a gym. So each member of the Black Optical team receives a $150 quarterly wellness reimbursement to use any way they see fit, whether it’s a gym membership, massage, holistic treatments, yoga classes, skydiving, or a 200-mile bike race entry fee. Says Black, “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to dictate what health and wellness means to our team. I also didn’t want anyone to feel left out by only offering one option.”

Team members are also offered a travel reimbursement every three years, which Black says, “eliminates lack of extra money as a barrier to explore and recharge our batteries.” An education reimbursement is in the works as well.

Black also offers more traditional benefits, including 401k with employer match, FSA accounts, and health/dental insurance coverage at $350 for singles and $500 for families. Staff are covered by a company-paid life insurance policy, and get 18 days of paid time off annually, which bumps up to 24 days after the third year.

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In order to receive the wellness reimbursement benefit, team members are required to complete a form quarterly. “It only takes about five minutes,” says Black, “but it does enable the team to shoulder some of the responsibilities.”

THE REWARDS

Black describes the main reward as “a happy team that feels appreciated and looks forward to contributing to the overall success of Black Optical.” He admits to demanding a lot from his team, and one of the main goals of his wellness program is to give them the time and money to disconnect when they need to, in a way that benefits them. “There’s this quote by Anne Lamott that has become my mantra lately: ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments, including you.’ Needless to say, we work hard, though we encourage our team to step away as well.” Black encourages his team to put the money they save away for a rainy day. “As great of a place as Black Optical is to build a career,” he says, “the life goal is to eventually retire from this place.”

Do It Yourself: In-House Wellness Program

  • BE RECEPTIVE. “Listen to your team,” advises Black. “Get curious; discover what ensures their happiness and sense of security.”
  • MUTUAL BENEFIT. Staff get two pairs of free frames/lenses a year, plus unlimited pairs at 50% off for themselves and family. “We want as many frames on faces as possible, including our team.”
  • CALL IN THE PROS. Vendors like WellSteps and Sonic Boom can set up a wellness program for your business, but go with someone reputable — it’s a huge industry now and there are plenty of quacks around.
  • PHONE IT IN. Consider encouraging your staff to make use of the many wellness apps now available, such as Down Dog for yoga instruction or the mediation app Insight Timer.
  • HEADS TOGETHER. Business consultant Susan Steinbrecher recommends setting up a Wellness Committee to develop ideas and take responsibility for monitoring stress levels and causes in the office.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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