How Kristi Abundis Looks After Her Colleagues

Kristi Abundis is cultivating happier, healthier employees in her role as director of human resources at Nordic Naturals

Photo by Robert Abundis Photography

After two decades of working in human resources in the acute care hospital industry, Kristi Abundis craved a change. She wanted to be part of an organization that helps prevent the health problems she witnessed every day. She wanted to step away from the highly regulated, unionized hospital industry and land somewhere she could truly make a difference in guiding and supporting employees. That place was Nordic Naturals, which produces omega 3 fish oils and other vital nutrient supplements for the natural products industry.

“It is extremely motivating to work for a company whose mission is to create healthier, happier people around the world,” says Abundis, who joined Nordic Naturals in 2016 and is now director of human resources. “Walking down the halls here, you can feel the pride and passion we have in what we do and what we make—products that are research supported, formulated for results, tested many times, and proven by customers to be effective and great tasting.”

Nordic Naturals’ founding mission of eliminating global nutrient deficiencies has launched the company into another growth phase. It has recently made inroads into the mass market (versus smaller natural products stores) and upped its e-commerce game. It’s also extended its product line, adding vitamins and minerals as well as sugar-free options.

“Our goal is to position ourselves as the optimal health company, where people know they can come for top-quality nutrients for a healthier and more satisfying way of life,” Abundis says. “This is essentially our own brand story, starting with Norwegian cod liver oil. We’re proud of our history, our commitment to sustainability, and our passion for health.”

To support the company’s growth, Abundis has doubled down on efforts to recruit individuals that truly align with the company’s mission and evolving culture. She’s also expanded her own team, adding a recruiter as well as a culture manager to spearhead employee engagement, employer branding, learning and development, and communication.

Nordic Naturals’ headquarters location—just outside of Santa Cruz, California—is both a boon and a hurdle. “We are extremely fortunate to have our headquarters located on the beautiful central coast, but it is not cheap to live here,” Abundis says. “It’s a challenge to recruit from lower-cost areas, which is pretty much the rest of the country.”

“It is extremely motivating to work for a company with a mission of creating healthier, happier people around the world.”

What’s helped is thinking outside the box, such as building a digital marketing team in Los Angeles and partnering with colleges to reach out to alumni. The company also lures top talent with its state-of-the-art work environment, featuring multiple full kitchens to make healthy and affordable eating easier, spaces designed to promote relaxation and creativity, and a sabbatical policy that allows employees to take a three-week paid sabbatical for every five years of employment.

Nordic Naturals’ impressive suite of wellness programs is another attractive perk—and is a significant part of Abundis’s mission to create an environment that nurtures happier employees. In addition to an on-site gym and meditation room, the company offers Fitness on Demand, virtual on-demand fitness classes. All employees get access, including those who work off-site. Employees can often be seen taking walking meetings around the “Nordic Track,” an outdoor walking path, and many take advantage of the healthy snacks put out every Wednesday afternoon. Employees also have access to a ton of free and discounted products, including a free product of their choice each month, a free product whenever something new launches, and 35 percent off wholesale prices.

Abundis’s emphasis on employee happiness has been recognized by colleagues and partners alike. “Every HR decision that Kristi makes is centered around Nordic Naturals’ employee well-being,” says one close partner, Jessica Locatelli, financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “Kristi and her team prioritize administering a finely tuned retirement plan that includes ongoing financial education, socially and environmentally responsible investment solutions, and access to individual investment advice. Employee financial wellness is an expanding HR focus, and no one does it better.”

kristi abundis
Photo by Robert Abundis Photography

“The well-being of our people is our highest priority,” Abundis says. “Promoting health to our employees creates a general feeling of happiness, positivity, and value in the work we do, and it also helps productivity. While HR can’t be the only ones to make it happen, we can certainly inspire and encourage healthy choices one person at a time.” It may sound soft, but there are real benefits to be had: in the past few years, Abundis says turnover at Nordic Naturals has halved.

One of Abundis’s goals at Nordic Naturals, and everywhere else she’s worked, is to change the perception of HR. (Hint: She cringes and laughs when she watches Toby Flenderson from The Office.)

“HR tends to get a bad rap, with TV shows and movies portraying it as impersonal, conniving, deceptive, ineffectual, and bumbling,” she says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way! My team and I strive every day to be supportive and responsive to staff, knowledgeable about our policies and programs, and trustworthy, even when we have to deliver bad news. Often, HR is the only place employees can go to get answers or support, so it’s extremely important that people trust us. Our priority is to achieve our mission of making more people healthier and live a happier, more fulfilling life.” In fact, this mission is one Abundis embarked on once she left the acute care hospital industry.

Abundis has worked hard to earn a seat at the table as a member of Nordic Naturals executive team—which was not a precedent when she started. “When I get a clear line of sight on our business strategies and objectives and can bring that back to my team, we do a better job delivering on that strategy and helping to translate it to what everyone does on a daily basis,” she says. “People are our most valued assets, and if we have the right people and they know what direction the company is going, we can all move that way together. That’s the key to success.”

Inspired by an article she read about the power of positive emotions to motivate and inspire people, Abundis has her sights set on working with company leaders to bring an individualized approach to workforce planning initiatives. “Cultivating positive feelings is not easy, because what makes one person happy won’t necessarily have the same effect on the person sitting next to them,” she says. “I’m in the early stages of this project and have found that it will take consistent effort and some follow-through by HR and our staff leaders, but I do believe it will be worth it to cultivate the happiest possible employees.”