Benefits Strategy

How Washoe County Drove High Employee Engagement in Mental Health Benefits

Calm Business has been one of the County’s most successful and award-winning employee wellness initiatives to date, helping employees reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia and achieve well-being.

a city with mountains in the background

Ashley Berrington and Tami Cummings, Washoe County

5 min read

Our Washoe County workforce comprises more than 2,800 diverse people working in diverse roles, from sheriff’s deputies, healthcare professionals, and social workers to legal advocates, road workers, animal control officers and many more. Despite the differences in their day-to-day experiences, our employees shared something in common coming out of the pandemic: They needed more support to help them manage stress and anxiety from everyday pressures.

That’s what our employee survey results showed us. Post COVID, our employees, especially our frontline workers, were feeling stressed, isolated from telecommuting, and burnt out. Finding ways to improve the mental health of our staff was critical.

We wanted to recalibrate our approach to helping County employees manage everyday stressors while balancing their professional, personal, and family obligations. The challenge was finding mental health solutions that would work for all employees. Because their work responsibilities vary, their needs vary, too. We needed a mental health strategy that would help minimize workplace risk factors for everyone.  

Calm Business stood out as a solution that would address the mental health challenges of all employees

We researched several mental health solutions—many of which targeted specific concerns such as stress, weight/body issues, and depression—but most were sweeping organizational solutions that didn’t focus on the individual. In the summer of 2022, however, we discovered Calm Business, a mental wellness solution that would address nearly all the concerns identified in the employee survey, including stress, anxiety, and insomnia. 

Much more than a “meditation app,” Calm offers multiple mental health resources and takes a holistic approach to supporting individual needs. Their programs are designed to address stress, anxiety, and sleep while supporting feelings of creativity, calm, resilience, happiness, and success, and fit easily into anyone’s daily schedule, whether they’re at home, in the office, or in the field. 

We also selected Calm Business over other vendors because Calm does all the heavy lifting for us and provides monthly engagement strategies and templates, helping us  drive high enrollment and engagement in Calm as a mental health benefit.  

Our executive staff approved the project and funded Calm Business for two years. We rolled out 1,000 employee subscriptions as a beta test with the goal of securing 75% employee adoption and 50% utilization of Calm in the first year. We also committed to setting up a continuous employee feedback model to regularly take employee temperature on how Calm has affected their mental wellness.

Driving employee engagement in their mental health with Calm

Partnering with our communications team, and building from Calm’s monthly engagement strategies, we implemented a year-long mental wellness campaign. Each month, we promoted a new theme and set of activities through all-employee emails, the Washoe County intranet, and our internal Yammer social media site. Some highlights of our plan include:

  • A pre-launch communication “Healthy Minds at Work” from the Washoe County Manager Eric Brown that introduced Calm as a new free employee wellness benefit. The communication tied Calm to the County’s larger diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging (DEIB) and Future of Work initiatives, and positioned Calm as a way to reduce stress, build resilience, and promote happiness and success. 
  • “Coffee with the County Manager,” a virtual event with the County Manager and HR to talk about Calm and other wellness efforts and to address employee questions.
  • Getting started with Calm,” a how-to communication letting employees know how Calm resources can help them relax, focus, and improve sleep every day, whether they have 30 minutes or 30 seconds.
  • A Gratitude Challenge, which encouraged employees to practice gratitude using resources in the Calm app, including Gratitude Check-ins, a Gratitude Masterclass, and a Gratitude Toolkit for enhancing their practice.
  • A “Calm Mindful Minutes Challenge” that would allow employees to be entered to win prizes including a Fitness Tracker once they completed 100 mindful minutes in the Calm app.
  • A communication focused on how to improve your sleep with Calm Sleep Stories, Soundscapes, Music, and Sleep Meditations.
  • An invitation to “give the gift of Calm” to 5 friends or family members through additional free subscriptions.

From day one, the County Manager and other executive staff have been the face of our wellness initiative with Calm, lending credibility to the program. Employees also know and love the Calm brand, which has helped them embrace it as a trusted resource.

The effectiveness of our internal benefits communications strategies around the Calm app earned our team a highly competitive Washoe County Impact Award and a PRSA Sierra Nevada 2023 Silver Spike Award. 

Exceeding our adoption and engagement goals

The Calm initiative has been one of Washoe County’s most successful employee wellness initiatives to date. In just one quarter (October through December 2022), we exceeded our objectives, securing 86% enrollment in Calm and 69% utilization, representing the employees who use Calm regularly.

Based on the success of the beta program, we expanded access to Calm from 1,000 to 1,500 employees in year two. Engagement with Calm resources remains exceptionally high, with 72% of those enrolled continuing to use Calm on a regular basis. To see engagement continue to climb speaks to the quality of content Calm offers and its ability to connect with diverse audiences.

100% positive employee feedback

We developed a feedback mechanism to let employees make recommendations and share their experiences using Calm. The response has been 100% positive and reflects the impact Calm is making on our staff.

Employees have told us Calm is helping them get better sleep and reduce their stress and anxiety during the workday. One mother shared that Calm has helped her manage postpartum depression, and another parent said they couldn’t put their child to bed at night without a Calm Sleep Story. Other employees have shared that they’ve scheduled group meditation sessions during the workday two or three times per week. 

Managers have communicated to our executive staff that they feel Calm has positively impacted their staff’s work performance, engagement, and communication. And feedback supported that many staff felt they could talk about mental health with peers and managers without shame or judgment. Calm has been instrumental in helping us get past the mental health stigma. 

Here are a few of the comments we’ve received from employees about their experience:

“I love this app. I was so pleased that the county I work for is able to provide it for free for us. I use it every night to help me go to sleep. It has been so beneficial for me, as I have bad insomnia. Calm relaxes me enough to fall asleep.”

“I have felt an improvement in my anxiety levels by using Calm. I’m 21 days into the 30 day Mindfulness for Beginners course, and it has dispelled the misunderstanding about meditation for me and helped me deal with stress.”

I cannot express how excited I am about this new wellness benefit! Thank you so much for making Washoe County a leader in taking new and innovative steps to improve employee work/life balance. It’s truly appreciated!”

At a time when our employees urgently needed support for their mental well-being, we found a solution in Calm that appeals to our diverse employees and works for them in whatever role they have. We’re excited to see how our employees incorporate Calm resources into their daily lives.

Help employees stress less, sleep better, and build more resilience with Calm Business

Book a demo
three iphones with different app icons on them