Healthy Improvements

AECOM’s year-round wellness opportunity program is changing how employees take a proactive role in their own health

When Bernie Knobbe joined the premier, fully integrated global infrastructure firm AECOM three-and-a-half years ago, the company already had a health and wellness program, Wellness at AECOM. Since then, as vice president, global benefits enterprise human resources, total rewards, he has dramatically increased the program’s reach, employee participation levels, eligibility, and the number of diverse programs and services offered.

“There used to be a more traditional focus on health, fitness, and nutrition,” Knobbe says. “Now, we take a much more holistic perspective that truly encompasses the overall wellness and well-being of each employee and family.”

To cover the full spectrum of issues that impact employees’ well-being, Wellness at AECOM offers twenty-six different programs in four key health categories: physical, emotional, social, and financial. In addition to providing comprehensive advice, support, and activities, Knobbe has expanded the programs, which originally ran for only four months, to now being run year-round.

Bernie Knobbe, AECOM

“We want to reinforce a culture of health and well-being every day,” Knobbe says. “That’s how you create healthy routines and good habits. Otherwise, it seems like it’s only important to pay attention for part of the year.”

Wellness at AECOM uses incentives to encourage employees to participate. They earn points for company-offered corporate social responsibility, health, and safety programs and services and for self-reported outside activities in the key health categories. For example, a required health assessment is worth twenty points. Other activities, such as actively managing your 401k, walking in a community charity event, or creating exercise and meal plans with family members are also eligible for points.

When employees reach one hundred points, they earn a discount on their health insurance contributions for the following year. At 150 points, they are designated Rock Star status, which makes them eligible for drawings for $250 gift cards. Two-hundred points makes them eligible for the Super Star status grand prize of a $1,000 gift card.

“Bernie’s fresh ideas in employee engagement have made wellness a daily priority at AECOM,” says Nancy Rodriguez of Anthem. “While Anthem plays a key role in treating members holistically, Bernie’s innovative approach to expanding AECOM’s wellness culture goes beyond traditional programs.”

In addition to the point system, coaches follow-up with participating employees to make sure they are aware of activities such as smoking cessation and stress management, as well as online and WebEx-accessible training programs. This enables them to choose activities aligned with their personal interests and values.

To address concerns about how personal health information from assessments and screenings will be used, Knobbe stresses that no individual results can be accessed. “The only details we can track are aggregated overall trends,” he says. “Our goal is simply to encourage more people to be aware and then engage by participating.”

As part of that objective, Knobbe is always innovating and improving Wellness at AECOM. One recent change is allowing spouses and domestic partners of employees to participate in the points program, which enables them to qualify for the health insurance discount and gift card drawings. In addition to sending wellness mailings to employees’ homes and an electronic benefits newsletter that employees can forward to spouses and partners, Knobbe helped create a wellness website that allows spouses and partners to sign up for their own individual accounts.

“By being able to reach more potential participants in each household directly, we can help facilitate shared accountability for setting up new healthy goals and routines,” he says. “It’s a way to make wellness a family priority with support from everyone involved. Teamwork works in the workplace and at home.”

Wellness at AECOM even has its own Instagram page. Thousands of employees have submitted pictures of their wellness activities along with brief descriptions of their goals and the satisfaction they get as a result of participating. Employees have submitted photos from team hikes with coworkers. One employee who lost 150 pounds shared photos of her transformation. She then wrote about how much better she feels and the excitement of hearing her physician tell her how she was more likely to see her children and grandchildren grow up.

Knobbe learned his approach to ongoing improvement and refinement when he worked on a benefits awareness campaign at Yahoo, where he was the senior director, global benefits and global mobility. The guideline was “always iterate” in order to constantly redesign and increase alignment of the message with the intended audience and outcome. When he decided that he wanted to expand AECOM’s wellness activities to twelve months, that approach served him well in being able to convince senior management that the idea was a wise investment for the future.

“Expanding programs year-round is part of ongoing incremental improvements,” he explains. “We were able to point to increasingly positive results, such as an 18 percent differential in healthcare costs between participants and nonparticipants. That shows a ‘return-on-individual’ for employee experience and engagement and a ‘return-on-investment’ for financial cost management of our healthcare plans.”

And members of the leadership team at AECOM aren’t the only ones to notice the impact Knobbe has made on the company.

“Bernie has made a huge impact in only three-and-a-half years,” says Tom Rollins, a global client manager at HR consulting firm Mercer. “With an 18 percent healthcare cost savings for participants and a big improvement in AECOM’s culture, the program truly evolved from traditional to innovative.”

The range of outside, self-reported activities that qualify for wellness points has also been expanded. This came about after some employees involved in marathons and triathlons complained that they couldn’t receive points for their healthy lifestyles and competitive events. “The broader we can make the incentives and the easier we can make it to be involved, the better it is for everyone,” Knobbe says.

In the future, Knobbe plans to increase the number of shared initiatives with AECOM’s US Health and Safety Department, followed by its global locations, which will organically benefit AECOM’s overall culture of well-being. Knobbe expects that will also contribute to improved employee retention and productivity, morale, and further help reduce absenteeism.

“Our approach always focuses on the positives,” he says. “Instead of concentrating on only healthcare costs going up, we provide helpful, practical ways to do something about it and to make yourself feel better and to be well.”

Photos: Guerrero


Cigna is a global health service company who, like Bernie Knobbe, is focused on customer experience and pushing boundaries in a positive way to promote health and well-being. Cigna values our partnership with AECOM, and we applaud Bernie for his innovative approach and dedication to the industry.


Blue Communications is proud to work side by side with Bernie Knobbe and AECOM on their HR and benefits strategy while innovating the world of employee communications. We congratulate Bernie on more than twenty years of unparalleled service to the industry.