“If you’re going to do something, do it right.” This mantra, engrained in him by his father growing up, resonates with Richard McDonald now more than ever as global head of benefits at the Coca-Cola Company.
Since McDonald joined the beverage company in 2021, he’s worked to redesign the company’s well-being strategy and move the organization from a program-focused well-being approach toward a broader culture of health strategy for employees. Coming out of this work, McDonald saw the need to reexamine his own lifestyle.
“For me, I had always had a sole focus on work to the detriment of my own health,” he says. “The kind of in-depth well-being analysis we’ve done at the Coca-Cola Company has made me focus more on my overall health and well-being, with a positive effect on my physical and mental health. If we’re the global benefits function responsible for well-being at the Coca-Cola Company, we need to lean into and live what we’d like to see the rest of the organization do.”
That walk-the-talk attitude helped McDonald and his team initiate the roll out of the Coca-Cola Company’s well-being strategy in 2022. They started encouraging broader well-being conversations with employees and leaders, launched a well-being portal to bring various company resources together for employees and managers, and initiated focused review of existing mental health resources available to employees and their families.
In addition to driving the overall well-being strategy, McDonald plays his part by motivating his team members to prioritize their health. He encourages them to take breaks, vacations, and walks during meetings.
According to a 2021 American Psychology Association survey on work and well-being, these steps make a big difference to employees. About 87 percent of surveyed employees thought actions from their boss would help their mental health, including encouraging the use of paid time off, breaks during the workday, and having access to mental health resources.
“Having worked with Rich as an advisor for over a decade, I can honestly say Rich is one of the most complete employee benefits professionals I have encountered over my thirty-five-year career,” says Gregory Norton, practice leader for the Marsh McLennan Agency Absence, Disability, and Life Practice. “He manages the expense of his programs aggressively for the benefit of his company and employees, but he also understands the powerful impact a progressive and well-designed benefits program can have on his company’s culture and health of the workforce.”
Even with the strides the company has made in the past year, McDonald realizes that its work shouldn’t stop there. Going forward, the financial well-being of Coca-Cola employees will continue to be a key focus area of the overall well-being strategy. A PwC survey of more than three thousand workers across several industries makes that clear. About 34 percent of employees reported that financial stress in the past year have had a major impact on their mental health.
That’s why McDonald says the company’s approach to well-being is holistic. To build on the team’s efforts to date, it is currently focused on work streams to address employee mental and financial health, as well as new ways of working. In 2024, the focus will be to continue to build on the work over the last two years, while adding in a broad review of physical health, another important piece of the well-being equation.
While the team measures progress against the well-being strategy quarter-to-quarter and year-over-year, in 2025, it will take a detailed review of the impact of the well-being strategy over the prior three-year period. This review will help the team understand how it needs to adjust the strategy and approach to continue to the overall desired culture of health, and to meet the evolving health and well-being needs of the employees of the Coca-Company.