Well-Being as an Employee Benefit: An Interview with Nuance Communications

Nuance Communications puts its employees’ wellness first—which is what led them to Calm as an employee benefit. Here’s the story, in their words.

Well-Being as an Employee Benefit: An Interview with Nuance Communications

The Calm Team

6 min read

Recently, we spoke to Jennifer Aylwin, the Director of Global Benefits at Nuance Communications—a global software leader that specializes in AI-powered conversational tech—to find out how she and her team came to introduce Calm to their employees.

Check out the highlights of our conversation below. (Want the full version of the story? You can find it here.)

How did you come to be in the world of employee benefits?

I’ve always liked working with people. Back when I was still studying, I worked in a mental health clinic. From there, it just seemed like a natural progression to go into Human Resources. I started out in the general HR admin space, but I was always most interested in helping people in the organization in really concrete ways. So I decided to specialize in benefits by taking an entry-level benefits role. And it was like a lightbulb went off: “Oh, this makes sense to me. This is what I want to be doing.” I haven’t looked back since.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Benefits are a huge part of people’s lives; they can really make a big difference for employees and their families. I love being able to offer our employees that support by designing a portfolio of benefits that they will really value.

Has the benefits field changed much over the course of your career?

Legislation-wise, there’ve been a lot of changes—things like the Affordable Care Act, American Disabilities, all that. But benefits have also become more important in general. People pay more attention to benefits when considering a new job, so they hold a lot of sway. Today, a good benefits package can really help to make a company an employer of choice.

Is the pandemic having an impact on benefits?

Definitely. We’re seeing changes in real time because of it.

It’s also led to a rise in digital health solutions. The biggest change we saw was in the uptake of digital health benefits.

We always offered it, but never paid much attention to it; now we’re seeing something like a 1,000% increase in virtual health visits.

Do you think it’s become easier for people to talk about mental health now?

I think so. For example, our CEO hasn’t shied away from saying, “This is a lot on us as humans and as employees, so make it a priority to take care of yourself and your family.” The situation has definitely helped to bring mental health and well-being to the forefront. But we’re also seeing more people struggling with mental health issues now, who weren’t before. So it’s also adding to the challenge.

What do benefits look like at Nuance?

We are proud to offer competitive and well-rounded benefits at Nuance that allow us to attract and retain great talent. We focus on providing flexible benefits plans that focus on staying healthy, saving money, and keeping our employees safe and healthy.

How did you land on a mental well-being platform as a benefit?

When you work in benefits, wellness is always on the radar. But sometimes those ‘softer’ benefits can get a bit sidelined—not because we don’t care, but because people focus on other parts of the benefits package, like health plans and retirement.

But the pandemic made employees’ well-being more pressing, because our employees were struggling to cope with the new stressors in their lives. So we basically said, “We need to offer something to help support people’s well-being.” And a mental wellness platform was the obvious answer, because it’s digital, it’s easy to introduce, and the whole global team can use it.

What made you pick Calm for your company?

When we decided to introduce a mental wellness platform as a benefit, we compared the offerings from a few providers. Calm stood out because there was so much content, the sales team were really helpful, and it came in different languages. And, maybe most importantly, they were really invested in making sure we would be getting a lot out of the subscription.

They took the extra step to listen first then say, “Here’s why we think it’s a good fit for your employees and here’s what we can offer.”

Was the breadth of content a big deciding factor for you?

Oh yeah, definitely. But the big sell was the fact that Calm offers a whole mind/body experience. There’s so much good stuff—meditation, mindfulness, learning, music—that there’s something for everyone in there, even kids. And there’s lots of variety in terms of depth too. You get short five-minute meditations, but also longer masterclasses which go deeper into subjects and offer real learning benefits. It fits the whole spectrum of our employee base, which I really like.

How are you finding it? Has uptake been good?

We had several hundreds of people registering in the first few days—around 10 to 15% of the company. And every time we did a reminder post about it, we’d get more people registering. Eventually 27% signed up, with overall engagement at 71%—that’s a great adoption rate for any benefit.

A lot of people actively use the app, which is fantastic. It’s normal for people to download an app and then not use it. But Calm’s actual utilization rate is terrific.

How do you measure the success of a benefit? Is it all about the numbers?

We need to reach as many people as possible—we can’t afford to have benefits for only a handful of employees. We’d usually expect to see around an 8 to 10% engagement rate. Anything higher than 15% is considered really good. That’s why we’re really pleased with Calm.

But we also consider things like the wider impact. We haven’t had a lot of people exiting the workforce, we haven’t had people leaving because they can’t manage their job and life, we haven’t had a big increase in people taking mental health leave. So I consider that a big win. And that’s probably the best way to measure the impact of offerings like Calm.

So what have you enjoyed most about Calm for Business?

My favorite thing about Calm is that a big cross-section of the company uses it regularly for a wide range of things—but then I’m biased because I’m the benefits director!

Other than that, I think it’s just the fact that Calm offers so much different content. Mindfulness and meditation are great, but not everybody can switch off enough to get into it. I’m like that. So my favorite thing on the app is the Sleep Stories. In fact, they’re a big favorite across the company—everyone loves them. The celebrity sessions are good too; they always get a bit of a buzz going.

How have you found the ongoing support from the Calm team? 

Honestly, the support has been great. They’re really good about reporting metrics and, more than that, they make sure we’re getting the most out of our subscription. They always come to us saying, “Hey, here are some things we think your employees will like,” or, “We think this is something you’d enjoy.” They even sent some recommendations for my kids.

They don’t reach out all the time, which is good! But they definitely make sure that we get a lot of value. In fact, Calm did three wonderful sessions for us during our last Global Wellness Week in June, about Calm for Sleep, Calm for Kids, and unlocking all the key features of Calm.

What would you say to other benefits professionals who don’t understand the importance of a mental wellness platform?

I believe employees really do benefit from using the Calm app. It’s not just a mindfulness or ‘touchy-feely’ thing—it leads to happier, healthier employees. Also, I think people who get these tools and offerings from their employers do tend to feel more supported. It’s a really important resource, and it rounds out an employee’s toolkit. It also shows that the company cares about their welfare.

So I guess, in a nutshell, I’d say: “Try it out for yourself. See how it works first-hand. And don’t just dismiss it because you think it’s a fluffy offering.”

Finally, do you have any last advice to give to other benefits or HR professionals?

Well-being is extremely important—not just right now, but in general. If people feel unsupported, it can lead to productivity issues, to people getting burned out and leaving. It won’t be the be-all/end-all for whether or not someone wants to join your company or stay, but it definitely helps.

Now more than ever, we need to focus on employee mental health and well-being, not just write it off as a non-work, personal issue. This is something that needs to be talked about, and as employers I think we have a responsibility to do what we can for our people.

Here at Nuance, we’re not going to stop caring for our employees. Calm has earned a role in that.

Interested in the full story of how Nuance brought Calm to its employees? Find it here. Or, to get more content like this delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for Breathing Space, our Calm for Business newsletter.

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