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IBX: The Cover Story – Winning Over Employees with Wellness

Graphic for Episode 14 of IBX: The Cover Story

In episode fourteen of IBX: The Cover Story, I invite Vicki Amon, Human Resources Program Manager of Well-being at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Joselito Huertas, who leads our onsite and virtual fitness programs in his role at Exos, to discuss workforce well-being. They give great insights into what makes a successful workforce well-being program, how they had to shift as a result of the pandemic, and their personal experiences with health and wellness.

Listen to our conversation here:

A full transcript of the episode is also available below.

Episode 14 Show Notes

Below you will find some of our favorite quotes from this episode, sources that were mentioned, and a segment breakdown. As always, thank you for listening!


“Listen to your employees and find out…what it is that they want, what they need. I think that’s been one lesson learned along the way…to really have those conversations and listen and learn and then tailor your programming or whatever you’re providing to those needs and offer options.”
– Vicki Amon

“Trainers and coaches, we have our ups and downs. We get too busy. Life does get in the way. We can suffer from anxiety and depression. This allows us to understand our clients and the people we work with.”
– Joselito Huertas

“Anybody in our audience who’s listening from a leadership perspective, that would be my piece of counsel, to really reinforce with members of your team [and] clients that we serve, that there has to be a balance of shutting off and reinforcing mindfulness [and] mental and physical well-being.”
– Peter Panageas

Episode Segment Breakdown

0:00 – 5:07: Vicki and Joselito share what influenced them to choose a career in employee wellness.

5:08 – 18:10: Vicki gives insight into CHOP’s worksite wellness program and Joselito provides an overview of the wellness challenge he created for Peter’s team. Peter shares his experience participating in the wellness challenge.

18:11 – 28:59: Joselito and Vicki discuss how they had to pivot in their roles because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

29:00 – 34:18: Vicki and Joselito touch on the impact of offering incentives as part of a wellness program.

34:19 – 41:08: Joselito and Vicki give their perspectives as employees themselves and the role wellness plays in their personal lives. Both offer their closing remarks.

Sources Mentioned

If you have a topic idea you would like us to cover in a future podcast episode, email us at

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Full Transcript

Episode 14 Transcript: Winning Over Employees with Wellness

Peter Panageas (00:07):

If you’re looking for timely relevant conversations about the most important topics in health coverage, you’ve come to the right pod. This is IBX: The Cover Story from Independence Blue Cross, hosted by me Peter Panageas. So by day, I oversee all of our national commercial business here at IBX. I’m also a caregiver and a patient. We always say that healthcare is personal and it is. So my guests and I are exploring how the big picture and the big issues affect our everyday lives and the wellbeing of those we all care about. Together, we’ve got this covered. So let’s get started.

Peter Panageas (00:45):

Hi everyone, this is Peter Panageas and welcome to episode 14 of IBX: The Cover Story. For this month’s episode, I want to discuss a topic that we at Independence Blue Cross feel very strongly about and continue to aim to be at the forefront of. And that topic is wellbeing at work. Many studies have shown that employees want their employer to offer workforce wellbeing programs. Plus it’s been proven that healthier employees are more productive and spend less on healthcare. So joining me today to discuss this important topic are two individuals that help lead the corporate wellbeing and fitness programs. First we have Vicki Amon, the HR Program Manager of Well-being at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and Joselito Huertas we who leads Independence Blue Cross’ on site and virtual fitness programs in his role at Exos. Vicki, Lito, thank you so much for being with us today.

Joselito Huertas (01:37):

Thank you for having me.

Vicki Amon (01:38):

Thank you, Peter. I’m happy to be here today.

Peter Panageas (01:39):

So Vicki, let me start with you first. You spent time in a number of health and wellness related professional roles over the past 30 years. Can you tell our audience what’s influenced that career path for you and how much have you seen the field grow?

Vicki Amon (01:52):

Well, I’ll thank you first for reminding me it’s been 30 years. Can’t believe it’s been that long and it’s been a good 30 years and I’ve seen and met a lot of people along the way and I think a lot of experience comes with that. But in that time I’ve been fortunate enough to work with thousands of employees on a one-on-one basis. And I’ve heard firsthand about the mental and the physical stressors at work and I’ve also learned about employees personal lives. And we spend the bulk of our day at work and it’s more and more difficult to separate work from home in these times. And in fact, those two worlds can often collide. So I’ve seen the struggles and those struggles can unfortunately affect performance and safety and maybe the level of care being given to a patient and overall the employee’s own personal wellbeing. So for me, this confirmed that employees need that extra layer of support while they’re at work. And for those reasons I’ve just always felt this need to advocate for employee wellbeing.

Vicki Amon (03:02):

And then regarding the growth, back when I first started in the field, we would mention mindfulness and it was just instantly frowned upon. And I would get this reaction of “You want me to meditate at work? What? I’m not going to do that. That’s crazy.” So now mindfulness and resilience and social support, connection, mental wellbeing, these are topics that are a little bit more common now. And we’ve learned that a culture of wellbeing can be created over time in the workplace, it just needs that initial spark to get it going and then it can grow from there. So overall, I think there’s more respect for the wellbeing space and the impact that wellbeing programming can have. Employees I think are just more ready for that help now. And there’s generally more buy in from the employees themselves and now also from leadership as well. Quite a few changes.

Peter Panageas (03:57):

Vicki, thank you so much for that great insight and a lot of history there. Lito, how about you my friend? What’s been your experience in the workplace around health and wellness?

Joselito Huertas (04:06):

Well, I’ve been in workplace health and wellness for over 20 years now. As a high school student athlete, fitness and wellness has always been part of my life, and especially during the aging process, maintaining that functional movement to stay physically independent as we get older. In over 20 years, the focus on corporate wellness has become a priority for a lot of employers. Employers have been understanding more and more of the importance of the mental and physical health of their employees. And keeping your employees healthy and more engaged in the workplace has evolved in many wellness initiatives in the last two decades.

Joselito Huertas (04:39):

So not even from investing in fitness facilities and wellness programming in the last 20 years has grown and that investment has shown for employers to see how the positive benefits that it has on their employees with a more present and productive workforce. So we see the more and more in the last two years, the importance of that has really grown the behavior health issues that we having. And to hear employees say that wellness is a very important part of their work day has grown throughout the many years in corporate wellness.

Peter Panageas (05:07):

Vicki, Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania does an incredible job of using innovative solutions to integrate health and wellness into your workplace. Can you share with our audience what are some of the ideas that have been successful to date or maybe share with us something that you thought might have been successful that didn’t actually turn out to be as successful as you thought it was?

Vicki Amon (05:28):

There are definitely a few in there. I feel like we’ve tried it all and maybe that’s our winning strategy, if it didn’t work, we tried something else. And I think trying, you have to try and try until you find that right recipe. I can definitely say that it’s been a very proactive approach. We didn’t sit and wait for employees to catch on to wellness and wellbeing. We really went out there and started talking about it to anyone that would listen. So it was very much of a grassroots effort at first. I simply started talking to all individuals about it constantly, any of those one-on-one interactions I had. And then I would ask them, “Well, what department are you in? Does your department know what we have available?” And the answer was usually no. So I said, “Well, I’ll go to your department if you like.” And I did and I walked and talked all over the hospital and like I said, it was just so much of a grassroots effort.

Vicki Amon (06:28):

And then from there I started giving presentations on different wellbeing topics and I got a feel for what our population really needed, which happened to be managing stress, work life balance and resilience. Those were the popular topics at first. And then in the end, I’m one person for 15,000, roughly 15,000 benefits eligible employees. So we created a Well-being Champion Program and they are my boots on the ground. They take the same information and they spread it faster than I can. And very importantly, they do it in a personalized way that works for their department. All departments are different, some are doing patient bedside care, some are in front of a computer all day and their needs are different and the way they receive the information is different. And our champions are able to really personalize that process. And I just can’t give our champions enough credit for all they’ve done to promote the Well-being Program.

Vicki Amon (07:23):

We’ve also invested in a great Well-being platform and also our EAP or employee assistance program. These two programs definitely drive our engagement. And we’ve also utilized our vendor partnerships to interconnect our programs. So if I’m on the Well-being platform, I can get to through a direct link to our EAP program and vice versa. And we try to interconnect all of our programs and promote them that way. We’re also very fortunate to have an onsite Well-being team, we are small but mighty, includes myself and we have two amazing onsite health coaches who are very skilled in coaching and very knowledgeable and aware of our CHOP culture. And we also have one onsite coordinator as well. So there’s a person that employees can talk to face to face and just get that personal connection, do it with a person that’s just a little bit more meaningful that way and someone asks questions too.

Vicki Amon (08:28):

And then I work very closely with our coordinator and we have established a basis of providing a number of events that we have each month. At one point I think we had 50 events going on. So we have fitness and yoga classes, we do stop by tables in some of our high traffic areas, we do health fairs and retreats, serenity rooms, vegetable gardens, fit checks, fit kits, adult recess kits, mindfulness practices. We have a full list of virtual wellness offerings, which is all of our presentations and workshops. And then everyone’s favorite massages and smoothie events which never seem to disappoint, so those are always pretty popular. And the list is longer than that. I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the things we’ve done.

Vicki Amon (09:19):

And then in a lot of those monthly events, we will also partner with our ERGs or our employee resource groups. And I also will try at any time to partner with as many other CHOP partner programs as possible. So this could be our recognition program, the foundation, Trauma Informed Care, Office of Diversity Equity Inclusion and we also have a physician wellbeing program. And again, anyone else that will partner with me, I’ll reach out and say, “Hey, how can we cross promote and work together here?”

Peter Panageas (09:54):


Vicki Amon (09:55):

So I’ve again, very proactive approach and I will reach out and talk to anybody that will listen and try to connect and get the word out.

Vicki Amon (10:04):

As far as things that were not successful, there’s always that switch to virtual when COVID hit and a little bit of Zoom burnout through that process. But what we’ve found is that anything that takes too much work or is too long or complicated to understand won’t get done. So if there’s a challenge that has too many pieces to it, or… For example if yoga, we provide a yoga session, well maybe this group is just really physically exhausted and they’re not really interested in doing anything physical, they want to break. So maybe a mindfulness session might be better for them. So I think there have been times… Over time we’ve learned to read the room better and really understand the needs of the employees in each individual group and make sure we provide something specific for them. And overall they just want ease of use, nothing too long to read, nothing too long to listen to or nothing too hard to do. And free food is always great. That always goes over well.

Peter Panageas (11:12):

That is for sure. Vicki, that’s a lot there and an incredible work by you and certainly CHOP and talk a little bit later about some of the innovative things that you’re doing within your organization. Lito, I’m going to ask you the same thing about not only what we’re doing here but other parts of the organization. Vicki, I’ll share this with you and our audience. A few years ago, God, Lito, when did we start our SRG games? Five, six, seven years ago now?

Joselito Huertas (11:38):

I’m going to say about five, six years ago. Yes, correct.

Peter Panageas (11:40):

Yeah. My management team and I, Vicki, got together to talking about what are the things that we can do to help establish or develop a little bit more team building. And we came up with the idea of doing some type of sales and retention games. And my team and we run a lot of commercial business here for Independence, CHOP actually being one of our clients that we serve.

Vicki Amon (12:01):


Peter Panageas (12:01):

And we just thought it’d be a really fun exercise to get a bunch of people together within just our team and there’s about 65 of us or so and create this what we called as the Sales Retention Games or the SRG games. We approached Lito and the Exos team and they came up with a whole strategy. And I’m going to ask Lito to talk a little bit about this to our audience and the work that we did. But when you talk about Vicki earlier, that the mental and the physical stress that we’re all under, the mindfulness, we didn’t enter it from that lens. We entered it from the pure lens of team building and collaboration. And quickly realized as we were going through it, all the incredible benefits that these games created for us to help us with mindfulness, mental, physical wellbeing. Togetherness, was really a cool exercise, pardon the pun, for our teams.

Peter Panageas (12:49):

So Lito orchestrated this for us, the last number years and we’re so blessed to have them right with us. And maybe I could just ask you to talk to our audience a little bit about the SRG games and from your observation looking into our team, what it’s meant to you and your team, to us and our team. I’d love to get your perspective on that.

Joselito Huertas (13:07):

Definitely. I think, well us as a Exos team at IBC and all around the country with all our clients, we’re trying to better the wellness of all the employees of the clients we work with. And we try to always cater to the masses and create these great programmings and recently with the virtual and hybrid versions of our challenges. But a few years back when you came and said and asked us to create a departmental challenge for your team, and of course I’m going to give you a lot of credit for that because you’re one of the pioneer senior leaders who start with departmental wellness challenges. And now we have consistent about three to four other challenges throughout the year where other departments like business services and other, the corporate communication and marketing teams that I’ve done these games with, the example of your department.

Joselito Huertas (13:59):

And what happens here is we bring associates to compete in teams and we achieve individual wellness gains, although we’re competing as a team but it’s also about the individual, helping the individual better themselves. And as we say at Exos, greatness is a team sport. It creates a social motivation effect where everyone holds each other accountable throughout challenge. And the social motivation, we talk about teamwork, we’re there, we’re cheering each other on. There’s this extra motivation that you’re not by yourself. And it’s also you’re competing as an individual but you’re contributing to your team.

Joselito Huertas (14:33):

We keep the challenges about three to four weeks along. We understand that behavior change can happen within those four weeks. Because we want people to take away from this challenge, not just those four weeks with us, but go ahead and continue on their wellness journey. The positive benefits that we saw were associates that were sedentary become more active and feel that they contribute to the success of their team at the same time improving their fitness level. It brings the department more together, which can result in better workplace relationships. We get this a lot where people sometimes “I don’t want to work out in my workplace because I don’t feel comfortable.” But people need to understand that sometimes being around your associates, that’s your best support. And what happens is you meet new people in your company that you worked with in the past and now see their faces, but now you know them, you build relationship with them, you competed with them and now its easier to get your work done because now you know these people in a more personal level.

Joselito Huertas (15:28):

Also almost all the feedback we get after the completion of the challenge is positive and some inspiring as well. We also hold a war ceremony to recognize all the accomplishments. And one of the important things, as Peter knows when it comes to rewarding individuals, we don’t want to reward just the best, who did the best, who did the most pushups, who ate the best. And we talk about we want to hit the mind, nutrition, the movement and the recovery aspect of the program. So all the four weeks has all those pillars around them. But we want to reward those people who actually came a long way, came a long way that you never thought would complete the program, committed to the whole four weeks and saw changes within themselves.

Joselito Huertas (16:09):

And another thing that we say at Exos is we want to ignite the hero in them. Because we all have a hero inside of us. So these are… The Sales Retention Game has been a great revelation to my team. It helps my team become creative with our programming, even with this program, but further around through the whole program at Independence. So it’s a great success and we hope it continues moving forward.

Peter Panageas (16:31):

Lito, thanks for that and it’s great insight. And no, I’m not going to take the credit, all the credit certainly goes to you and your team and the incredible work of the many captains that have stepped up during the last five, six years as we’ve been evolving this. Vicki, I will tell you, and please don’t share this with anybody, but I will tell you that all the captains, I was always the last picked. I don’t understand why Vicki. I’m telling you, I was the last picked and it was like memories when I was the last picked in grade school. I don’t understand, they just wouldn’t pick me. But we had a real competitive team and they all wanted to win. They’re like, “We’re not pick and Panageas, that’s for sure.” Go ahead Lito. Go ahead.

Joselito Huertas (17:11):

To one point what Vicki said earlier about simple, we want to keep it simple because not a lot of reading. And what we do as my Exos coach is I have a team of six down here and we try to take that away from them. We track all the progress, we assign captains to have one person who they’re accountable to, who relates the information to the coaches here. So we try to keep it as simple as possible. We create videos, instructional videos, instead of them reading, they’ll see our faces showing them what to do or asking them what they need to do during the program. And that goes a long way, like you said, less for them to do, just do the challenge and we’ll take care of the rest. And that keeps them more engaged.

Vicki Amon (17:48):

I really like how you’ve put so much thought into it and pulled in all these different areas of wellbeing into that one challenge and areas of wellbeing, but also that working relationship and how employees are relating to each other. I think that sounds great. I’m brewing some ideas of my own care here.

Peter Panageas (18:06):

That’s good.

Vicki Amon (18:06):

Going to steal your ideas.

Joselito Huertas (18:08):

Go ahead. By all means. Definitely.

Peter Panageas (18:10):

So Vicki, let me pivot here and Lito, I’m going to ask you to comment as well. Obviously the last two, three years, the world has changed, we’ve all changed. And COVID’s impacted across the board. And CHOP a lot like Independence has leadership who totally supports health and wellbeing, mindfulness, our physical wellbeing. But in this new world of COVID, obviously things have changed and Vicki, Lito, I’m going to ask the same thing as you. So I’ll start with you Vicki, as how have you seen the approach change specifically post COVID relative to these types of engagements, mindfulness, wellbeing, all the things that we’re sitting here talking about, that was so uber successful probably for CHOP and certainly for Independence prior to COVID, some of the changes that you’ve seen since then? Vicki, I’ll start with you.

Vicki Amon (18:55):

Yeah, I think the pandemic just really put a spotlight on things that were there before but just were compounded because of the pandemic just with stress. Now stress became, it was there before, but now it became overwhelming. Fatigue was there, now it’s overwhelming. And we’ve had a lot of employees lead into a burned out state. So things just were there before, but now everyone really sees it and we see the extra challenges that came with COVID. There’s a lot of employee retention changes now because of COVID as well. And I think there’s just overall a little bit more support now and understanding of why we need these programs and how they do impact the bottom line for an organization, how they affect performance, how they affect the number of call outs or healthcare spends or ultimately the bottom line for that leaders are looking at. So through having these wellbeing programs, employee wellbeing can improve and it will also satisfy the companies overarching initiatives. So I think again, we always saw them and we always knew that those issues were there, but now they can’t be ignored.

Peter Panageas (20:15):

Sure. That’s an incredible perspective and certainly one that many in our audience who are listening probably facing the exact same thing. Lito, from your lens, how about you?

Vicki Amon (20:28):

Yeah, so one thing that we noticed throughout the pandemic is definitely the work separation from home. Where people are now working from home and have chosen to stay home more and gotten the flexibility for their employers to be there. But now it’s understanding when it comes to the mindset about depression and stress is they’re not separating home from work. It’s like you’re on 24/7 because the computer is on and you’re looking at the corner of your eye even though you’re supposed to be logged off to do your work or just be on with work and show your employer that you’re actually successful and efficient. But that’s become a tough balance for them.

Vicki Amon (21:10):

And what we try to do in our field is become more creative with engaging them away from that with other activities in a virtual world. We don’t want them to have spreadsheets up all the time or Zoom calls all the time. So we try to create virtual interest and challenges and meditation is become a big source in our business. When it comes to Exos, we’re creating new Exos apps and so people could participate in these mindset, beginner yoga activities, to get away from that, to take the minds away. Breathing, breathing techniques have become huge in our field. So definitely breathing workshops have become huge. And that’s working at your workspace, working at your workspace, activities and de-stress for five minutes activities as well. So it’s that separation that we’re dealing with right now to help people with their minds saying relax more and find that balance.

Peter Panageas (22:13):

I think you both touched on it too, having the benefit and the honor of being in a leadership position here at Independence, I’ll echo what you both were talking about from a leadership perspective, that it is so critical as a leader in our respective organizations or any respective organization that leadership endorses and supports the great work Vicki, you and your team do, Lito, you and your team do, supports whatever type of hybrid model that every organization’s going through. Vicki, we here at Independence, we’re what we call hybrid of choice, the buildings here, it’s there for us. And we’ve got some clients who are back in full-time, we’ve got other clients who are in a hybrid situation or fully remote.

Peter Panageas (22:49):

And we have to figure out as leadership, how to support all of our clients that we serve, all of our employees that who work with us support the element of the work life balance.Support individuals in really understanding that whether you’re full-time remote, whether you’re you’re a hybrid of choice or whether you’re in or out, the element of turning it off is so critically important and taking care of oneself is so critically important. And as from a leadership perspective, it starts there. It has to start there.

Peter Panageas (23:20):

And so anybody in our audience who’s listening from a leadership perspective, that would be my piece of counsel to all of us who are in this position to really reinforce with members of our team, clients that we serve, that there is an important element of balance. Because Lito, you said it perfectly, 8:00, 8:30 at night, you’re hearing your phone ring, you’re hearing your computer ring, you’re hearing your iPad saying that there’s another email, there’s another text, there’s another call. And there has to be a balance of shutting it off and reinforcing mindfulness, mental and physical wellbeing. It’s so critical. And I think Vicki, what you and Lito and teams do to reinforce that with us and from a leadership perspective supporting that a well, I think more so now than ever in this new world that we’re all living in, we’ve got to continue to live by that.

Peter Panageas (24:05):

Vicki, let me offer this. What was the change for you at CHOP to in person to in-home approach for those associates that are still split if you still have employees that are still split? Love to get your perspective. We at Independence were a hybrid of choice. So again, as an example, today I’m in the office and for the next few days I won’t be in the office, I’ll still be working from home, but I’m not in the office as frequent as I once was. So Vicki, from your lens at CHOP, what’s that shift been like?

Vicki Amon (24:32):

Yeah, it was interesting and personally for me, the company that I had worked for, I was always considered a remote employee even though I was working in person at my site, my company was in Minneapolis. So I was used to that whole remote thing and that wasn’t too outside of the norm for myself personally. But watching our CHOP employees go through that transition, it was hard, it was rough. It came suddenly and they’re not used to that… They weren’t used to that world. Everyone was used to going to work every day. So it was rough. There was tremendous concern over not having resources that they needed at home versus having them at work. While now I’m at home, I don’t have the things that I need, is my home environment conducive to work culture, how do I juggle family at the same time? And for managers how to provide the same level of support for staff working in both worlds.

Vicki Amon (25:32):

So I think there was this sense of detachment and a lack of connection and then a big period of adjustment and everyone just trying to get used to that. And everyone had to pivot. And as far as our Well-being team and our Well-being Program was concerned, all the programming that we had planned out got thrown out. Just it went out the window very quickly and I was like, “Okay, what are we going to do here and what do we need to do? What do our employees need?” So we had to be very flexible, we had to be very creative, we had to be very patient, but we knew that we had to work quickly because the struggle was real and employees were really having a hard time with the sudden shift.

Vicki Amon (26:23):

So from a programming perspective, we focused first on resilience and then we went into self-care because everyone’s home now and self-care is completely different. Or maybe their gyms that they joined had closed down. And then there was that work life balance piece. So that was also a big focus for us and how to deal, how to shut off, like you were saying, Lito and how to deal with family and teaching math while you’re giving a presentation at the same time, which happened to me a few times. We made a lot of referrals to some of our other partner programs for team building. We also focused on managing stress and balancing overall wellbeing and like I’ve mentioned before, mindfulness and just being mindful and trying to live in that present moment versus worrying up too much about what’s coming down the pike all of the time.

Vicki Amon (27:12):

So I think now we have that flexibility to do both virtual and in person. We are heading back to doing more in-person events now. Probably about April or so we started doing a few and we have more coming. So we’re in that shift and we still have people that went home and aren’t coming back, as far as they know aren’t coming back to work. So I think we have more skills now than we did pre-pandemic.

Joselito Huertas (27:44):

I agree with that.

Vicki Amon (27:44):

We’ve had to build our resilience and we found what worked and what didn’t, which is a part of building resilience. And we have options now, we have more flexibility, we can meet face to face with a group and have a virtual link going at the same time. And I think you just have to… There’s a certain amount of adapting and I think CHOP employees have done an amazing job of that and they’ve done really great work through that process and they really have shown that they can do a topnotch job even if they’re not on site.

Vicki Amon (28:17):

So I’ve been so impressed with their knowledge, their skills, their resilience. And I think it’s just an ever evolving process too. Through that whole process that I just talked about there were a couple of different shifts and waves where we thought we were going back and then that got canceled again and then we thought we were going back and then that got canceled again. And the whole pandemic had several different phases to it and it was really just adapting to those as they come along. And we’ll see what the future brings. Hopefully a lot of good things and less COVID-19. But yeah, I think just being flexible and adaptive.

Peter Panageas (29:00):

So Lito… And Vicki, I’m going to ask you to comment on too, from an employer’s perspective, but Lito, in your experience as you’ve done a lot of these types of trainings and events, how do you look at participation in any types of programs that are run when an employee’s given an incentive versus when they’re not? And Vicki, I’m going to ask you the same question from an employer’s lens as well. Lito.

Joselito Huertas (29:24):

That’s a very great question because I think in this tangible incentive does bring the fire, the initial fire to join something, to join a challenge, be part of something, but in the long run it doesn’t sustain, it does not sustain the behavior. We’ve had challenges where you’ve had those tangible incentives, people still don’t complete the challenge, they fall off, they don’t consider the value of that. What we try to instill is intrinsic motivation, that incentive where we have to educate the people, have their mindset and understand that it’s what you are doing for yourself that matters. Yes, you might get a gift card at the end of this, you might get an insurance premium break at the end of this and things like that. But at the end, if the results they’re seen within them, the changes that they see within themselves that will continue them moving forward in their journey.

Joselito Huertas (30:25):

People who do incentivized programs that are tangible, it’s a short term fix and then they’re done. They’re done with the process. I got the reward that I wanted, I succeeded in this, but I got this tangible thing. What’s next? Sometimes there’s no next for those individuals. The important thing is to build that… Yeah, it fired them up. But at the end, the best results, the best feedback that I get from participants and challenges are those who tell me, “Lito, those four weeks were great for me. I’ve become more active, I’ve lost this number amount of weights, I have more energy to play with my grandkids.” That’s what we look for. We don’t look forward to the award show and here this $25 gift card or here’s this break on whatever, maybe this comp Jean Day and all that… Those some things we offer in the past. It’s those intrinsic motivation that matters and we try to educate and build a knowledge in people’s mindset to value those more than the tangible ones.

Peter Panageas (31:21):

Well said. Thanks for that. Vicki?

Vicki Amon (31:23):

Yeah, I think you’re always going to have that batch of individuals that are just in it for the money and then I’ll do what I have to do and then I’m done. And then you have plenty of others that are say, “This is nice, I appreciate the incentive, but I’m doing this for myself anyway.” I think you’re always going to have those two groups there. But like Lito said, we always do want to tap into that intrinsic motivation. That’s really what we’re gunning for.

Vicki Amon (31:54):

Regarding CHOPs program that we’ve had an incentive in place for a number of years and it’s always been there since I’ve been there actually. And we have employees that participated in it. Not all of our benefits eligible employees do participate in it, but a lot of them do. But outside of that piece of our programming, our engagement still remains very steady in all of our other programming. So we still have good engagement across the board with all of our programming, the incentive is one piece of it. So I think the incentives are nice, they are important. I think you have to look at you who your population is and if this is something that’s good for them, I think it definitely helps. I like it, I use it, I do it.

Peter Panageas (32:42):


Vicki Amon (32:42):

It definitely is a nudge for me. But we also know that if they’re participating in something, that something else might happen along the way and in that process. If they have to complete a health screening for example, then they might find out, “Oh, I didn’t know that my cholesterol was high.” And maybe they do something about it. So I think an incentive is always good. I don’t think it should always just be the basis for your programming, you do need other pieces to go with it.

Peter Panageas (33:08):

Yeah, I agree. When we’ve done our events over the years, having those rewards or incentives are always appreciated by folks. But I think Lito, to your point, the element of the true intrinsic change that someone’s looking for, the ability to be part of a team in a competition, I think that probably for some folks is probably more worth than that little gift card that we might be rewarding at the end. It’s the comradery, it’s the team building, it’s the opportunity to do it.

Peter Panageas (33:34):

Which unfortunately you lose a little bit when you’re virtual. And I think, Lito, we actually saw that at our most recent SRG games where we actually had participation drop a little bit. And part of what Lito and I and the management team are going to be working with is how do we create that level of energy to bring that back forward? Because I think we had, prior to COVID, we had a pretty big participation who were engaged in these games and obviously being remote change that a little bit. So it’s really incumbent on us working together with our health and wellness coaches. Vicki, you and your team, Lito, you and your team, to figuring out how we can get more creative and innovative beyond the $25 gift card or the offer of some way to wearing jeans to work. Nobody’s back to the office, so there’s no incentive there.

Joselito Huertas (34:15):


Peter Panageas (34:16):

So it’s those types of things. So Vicki, as we were prepping for our show a few weeks ago, you mentioned that health coaches and trainers are all real people too. Thought that was really, really interesting. So I’m going to ask you and Lito as we wrap up here, if you both can touch on your experience as employees helping foster a better relationship around health and wellness. From your lens as an employee, what that means?

Vicki Amon (34:45):

Yeah, there’s this perception that wellness is always easy for us because this is our jobs. And I believe in wellness very much so and all that it can do. And I’m a motivated person, so that certainly helps out quite a bit, its maybe easier for me than it is for some others. But no matter who you are, it takes a certain amount of work and being proactive to maintain a state of wellbeing. And I’m willing to put that work in because I want that. I want to reap that reward and it does work for me.

Vicki Amon (35:18):

So I think as an employee working in wellness and working with other employees, I’ve always been very open and shared my journey, my challenges, my successes. I like to just tell it like it is. I have a glass of wine sometimes and I like to eat ice cream after my soccer games. So we eat these things too and sometimes we veg on the couch. We’re just like you, we do practice wellness and I like to keep it real and be relatable when people think that we are not sometimes [inaudible 00:35:57] super wellness people. And as an employee myself, I know that I can be a little bit of a workaholic and I have to remind myself. And I like to coach myself often just as I would somebody else. I coach myself and I have to remind myself to participate in my own self care and I need to recognize what my needs are at any particular moment. And they might be changing day to day. So I participate in the program just like everyone else does.

Peter Panageas (36:29):

Thanks Vicki. Lito?

Joselito Huertas (36:30):

Is a great question. Absolutely many people we work with do think that us coaches or trainers have perfect lives of wellness, which is totally not true. Trainers and coaches though we have our ups and downs, we get too busy, life does get in the way, we can suffer from anxiety and depression. This allows us to understand our clients and the people we work with. Wellness does not happen overnight, people have to understand that. Even if your wellness and fitness goals are reached their journey does not end there. So wellness is a lifetime journey. So there will be continuous… You got to recalibrate your goals throughout your wellness journey.

Joselito Huertas (37:12):

What we as people and coaches have to do is keep creating new goals and set our mindset to attack new stressors in our profession, in our life. So sure, if you’re an individual at home needing energy to chase your kids or an associate employee who needs to come up with a breakthrough idea at work or an athlete securing or spotting or starting lineup, whatever moment that matters to you, final support team, those in the workplace in this instance, that will ignite the hero in you. Greatness is a team sport.

Peter Panageas (37:44):

Well, let me offer this to Vicki, I’ll share this with you and our audience. When I was training on a few years ago back with Lito, I was always curious as to, there were certain days after my training… Again going back to you’re all human. There were times after my training session with Lito, I feel really, really good and I would be able to walk normal and I wasn’t too sore. And there was other days that after he trained me, I couldn’t walk for a week and a half and I didn’t understand why. And then I actually brought the two together, Vicki, I realized that every time his beloved Yankees or Giants lost, he was grumpy and he took it out on me and I could never walk normal for a week. And so I decided, Vick, I decided to go ahead and schedule all my training sessions one or two days after a Giants game or a Yankees game.

Vicki Amon (38:33):

There you go.

Peter Panageas (38:35):

But all joking aside, you guys have been incredible guests and I can’t thank you both so much for being with us today. And as I do with all of our guests, I’m going to ask you one closing question, each of you, I’m going to ask each of you to respond and Lito, I’ll start with you. If there’s any one or two or three things that you would want to share with our audience, what would it be?

Joselito Huertas (38:54):

Just to understand that you have to take care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself. Personally, during the pandemic, it was rough for me as Peter, I’m a social butterfly. I get my energy from you guys, from the people I work with. And staying at home was tough, was tough for me. So I went through it like everyone else went through it. And what I suggest to people is to think about yourselves, what small things can you do to better your day to improve yourself? So don’t sit back and wait for things to happen for yourself to improve, whether it is in your career, wellness. Attack it, take charge of it, write those small goals down. You have to write it down because you think they’re overwhelming but when you write it down, you can see how easy they are to attack.

Peter Panageas (39:44):


Vicki Amon (39:45):

I’ll take this one from a little bit more of an employer perspective. Listen to your employees and find out from them what it is that they want, what they need. I think that’s been one lesson learned along the way, is to really have those conversations and listen and learn and then tailor your programming or whatever you’re providing to those needs and offer options. And wellbeing is not a one size fits all thing. So you really have to investigate what those needs are and then you tailor things directly to those needs and I think you’ll have a lot of success with your programs.

Peter Panageas (40:24):

Vicki, Lito, thank you so much for being with us today. You guys have been an incredible guests.

Vicki Amon (40:28):

Thank you for having us and I hope this was helpful and provided some insights and maybe sparked some ideas for some other programming out there. Thank you.

Joselito Huertas (40:36):

It was a pleasure to get out to your audience and share all our experiences with them. So I appreciate it.

Peter Panageas (40:41):

Excellent. And to our listeners, as always, thank you. I hope you enjoyed our discussion today. And please check out the show notes for more information That’s Thanks again for listening and we’ll talk to you soon. Bye now.

Peter S. Panageas

Peter Panageas is senior vice president and market president — national for Independence Blue Cross. In this role, Mr. Panageas has profit-and-loss responsibilities focused on new business and retention for all groups 1,000+, including Large Local, National, Health & Welfare, Education, and FEP. Mr. Panageas joined independence as vice president of Sales in 2010. During his tenure with the company, he has implemented significant changes to the sales incentive program and improved the membership reporting capabilities to increase sales force effectiveness. Mr. Panageas is a respected client relationship leader with recognized expertise in new business creation, client relationship management, and innovative client solutions. Mr. Panageas received a bachelor of science degree from Rutgers University.