How to Create a Nationally Ranked Wellness Program for Your People

Jessica Lopez & Monique Harty | U-Haul

Jessica Lopez knows firsthand what committing to a wellness-focused lifestyle can do for you.

“Back in 2012 … I went to the doctor, and I tested for high cholesterol,” she said. “I really took it seriously, and I started documenting everything that I ate. … I’ve lost 116 pounds.”

October 2021 marks Jessica’s 20th anniversary at U-Haul International Inc., where she started as a legal secretary before working her way up to become Chief of Staff. Five and a half years ago, the CEO asked her to create a wellness program for employees, and her lifestyle changes made her the perfect person for the job. 

On this episode of Human Resolve, Jessica and Wellness Program Manager Monique Harty discuss the importance of getting buy-in from upper management, how being outside the HR department can help build trust and why managers should receive training on identifying signs of stress and anxiety among employees.

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Meet Jessica Lopez & Monique Harty

Jessica Lopez

As Chief of Staff at U-Haul International, Jessica Lopez leads Companywide operations and initiatives that help enable its 32,000 team members to serve customers across the largest network of do-it-yourself moving and self-storage in North America. Jessica joined U-Haul in 2001 as a Legal Secretary, climbed the ranks to Operations Manager, and was promoted to Chief of Staff in 2015.

In her five years as Chief of Staff, one of her crowning achievements has been the transformation of U-Haul into a top workplace culture for health. During this time, the Company has been lauded for its promotion of healthy eating and nutrition, Employee Assistance Program, You Matter counseling and mental health program, ongoing educational wellness webinars, gym member incentives, expansion of telehealth benefits, campus farmers markets, nicotine cessation and the organization of an annual U-Haul Active Day for team members and their families.

The Company has been recognized in consecutive years at the Platinum level by Healthy Arizona Work Places (HAWP); at the Silver level in the Workplace Health Achievement Index from the American Heart Association; one of the Business Journal’s Healthiest Employers in numerous regions across the country; and earned #15 in the Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America in 2020. In 2020, under Jessica’s leadership, U-Haul embarked on the construction of a 55,000-square-foot conference and fitness center that will boast an on-site medical clinic, physical therapy services, a registered dietician, fitness classes, full gym, basketball court and indoor track.


Monique Harty

Monique Harty is the Wellness Program Manager at U-Haul International. She has served in this role since 2016, influencing corporate initiatives while implementing programs, benefits and education for 30,000 Team Members across the U.S. and Canada.

Harty has helped U-Haul earn significant recognition for health and wellness achievements. These honors include the Platinum Healthy Arizona Worksite Award (HAWP), American Heart Association Worksite Index Award and 15th Healthiest Employers in America by Healthiest Employers.

In 2019, Harty spearheaded development of the “You Matter” program, an EAP providing mental health benefits to all Team Members. She is now overseeing implementation of an onsite health clinic inside the emerging U-Haul fitness center at Phoenix headquarters. Currently she is working with U-Haul’s Risk Management Department on a pre-work/Post-work stretching program to implement in early 2022 with the goal of reducing workers comp claims. Her goal is to create a wellness department that positively affects every Team Member.

Named to azcentral’s distinguished “Who’s Next: Health & Fitness” list, Harty holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from ASU. In the Fall of 2021, she will begin her MBA program through Boston University. A driven competitor, Harty runs marathons and has completed a Half Ironman.


Show Notes

Jessica Lopez knows firsthand what committing to a wellness-focused lifestyle can do for both your work and personal life.

“Back in 2012, I actually made a commitment to myself to get healthier,” she says. “I went to the doctor, and I tested for high cholesterol. … What I saw was my son being motherless, my husband being without a wife. So, I really took it seriously, and I started documenting everything that I ate — five to six small meals a day, every three to four hours. I’ve lost 116 pounds.”

October 2021 marks Jessica’s 20th anniversary at U-Haul International Inc., where she started as a legal secretary before working her way up to her current position as Chief of Staff. Five and a half years ago, the CEO asked her to create a wellness program for employees, and her lifestyle changes that led to her weight loss made her the perfect person for the job.

Monique Harty was chosen as the manager of said program, and together, the women use a well-rounded approach focusing on not only physical but mental health. Their goal: address all the outside factors that can affect an employee’s work performance.

On this episode of Human Resolve, the pair discusses the importance of getting buy-in from upper management before building such a program and how not being in the HR department can help build trust with individuals using the program. Jessica and Monique also explain why it’s imperative that managers receive training on how to identify signs of stress, anxiety and potentially even suicidal ideation among employees.

Notable Quotes

Maximize your current medical plan’s potential before considering a switch

“You should start with utilizing what you’re already paying for. … There were a ton of chronic conditions programs that lived within our medical plan already, that we really weren’t using. So we focused — and we’re still focusing on — promoting and marketing those, and building incentivized plans to get more people engaged. And, I think that sometimes you’re so inclined to go see a vendor that has all the bells and whistles, and sometimes that’s great. But, you have to start with what you already have. And you can’t really go and focus on every single aspect of every vendor, you have to narrow it down.”

Buy-in from the top makes new programs work

“With the Healthy Living seminar that we did in front of all of our presidents with Monique up on stage and myself, [U-Haul CEO] Joe actually introduced us, so that just sets the tone for the program. … He is constantly evolving and bringing ideas and endorsing and supporting. He travels every other week, and he’ll say, ‘More people in the field know you and Monique, so it’s working. People want to be healthy, no one wants to be unhealthy.’ So with his leadership, and his buy-in and his commitment, this has to happen. If not, it will not be a successful program.”

Quit trying to fix things that aren’t broken

“We talk about measuring what you have so that you can see what programs are working, what are not. And then at that point, when you see the gaps, you can reach out to companies [and] vendors to bring on because you already know the gaps that you’re missing.”

Employee testimonials as a testament to a program’s impact

“I know that when someone comes up to share their story with me, I am honored that they trusted me and confided in me. And, you know, I’ve had people say that I motivated them or explain something that Monique did for them, whether it’s creating a meal plan. … I mean, she goes above and beyond, nobody even knows. So the fact that we actually can see the fruits of our labor and see that we’re actually saving lives is everything for me.”

Wellness programs take many shapes and forms

“Sometimes they don’t see the full aspect of what a wellness program can really bring to a company and to its team members. … For the corporate cafe [we have] 500 calorie meals under $5. What a benefit that is. We have Wellness Wednesdays when salads are half off. So there’s people that buy salads for everybody in their family and have dinner that night. You’re making their lives easier, providing them with healthy food, or at least options that they can take home to make their lives easier.”

Employee Assistance Programs are more important than ever as the pandemic’s end nears

“I have chills just now because this has been something that we know that we’ve needed since the get-go. This was actually one of our goals, like we need an EAP program because we hear from everyone and everyone trusts us. So we know we need an EAP program. We implemented it at the perfect time, like Monique said, but utilization through 2020 is tripled. People need it.”

Managers must be able to identify when an employee is struggling so they can offer help

“Having a manager feel empowered to have training to understand a sign or a symptom around stress and anxiety, and then how to support an individual going through that challenge. Like you said earlier, we’re not expecting them to be a clinician, but just understand how to best support them and what resources are available and point them in that direction.”

The first three steps to creating a wellness program are all about leaders and benefits

“I would say leadership buy-in, hiring a genuine person that truly cares about people. And then looking at your existing benefits and seeing how you can utilize all of that — those three things are key, that’s how we started. And from there, you’ll just blossom because at the end of the day, you’re going to start a wellness program for the people. For the team. So your intentions are amazing from the get-go. So, if you have those three things, you’re off to the races.”

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