Fit Companies: Sun Life Financial

The financial services company lets its employees decide how they'll stay well.

In a fit city like Boston, it’s no surprise that businesses offer wellness programs that include far more than a discounted gym membership. In this series, we’ll profile Boston-area companies that go above and beyond to keep employees healthy.

Cooking demo

Food from an on-campus cooking demo. Photo provided to

Name: Sun Life Financial

Location: Wellesley

Number of employees: 1,200 at the Wellesley headquarters

How Sun Life Financial stays well: A staff-focused approach to company wellness, and a corporation-wide commitment to health causes in-office and out.

If any company knows the importance of keeping its employees healthy, it’s Sun Life Financial, a financial services company that specializes in providing employee benefits and insurance to individuals who are out of work on short- or long-term disability.

“We know what happens when people get unhealthy,” explains Vice President of Marketing Ed Milano. “Our everyday business is connected to people being healthy at work.”

To keep its own employees healthy, Milano says Sun Life offers on-campus amenities like a gym, walking trail, cooking demonstrations, and a program called Teams For Health that gives financial assistance to employees who want to do fitness-related fundraising. Those perks aside, though, the company primarily relies on a staff-sourced approach to wellness that starts with its Wellness Ambassadors program, through which 30 employee volunteers promote health and fitness ideas they believe in.

“We have about 30 Wellness Ambassadors who drive the wellness agenda, and they can do big things and they can do small things,” Milano says. “They can drive policy and they can also just make things happen on their own.” Recently, those programs have included everything from healthy recipe sharing, cooking demonstrations from Whole Foods, inviting healthy snack providers to company events, hiking days, membership in a farm share program, and “volleyball Fridays” on the front lawn.

Having the wellness agenda come directly from those who will benefit from it, Milano says, is key to the program’s success. “You’ve got to get your staff to run wellness. You can’t drop it down on people; it has to come from within the staff,” he says. “To have it come from everybody in the staff, we think that’s the best way to go.”

And while Sun Life’s internal approach to health is focused on the micro level, the company is also putting its commitment to wellness toward much larger causes. The company introduced a corporation-wide project focusing on diabetes treatment and prevention last year. “We made a decision at the corporate level last year to make diabetes our central philosophic cause, because diabetes is both a marker for overall health and it is increasingly a public health risk,” Milano says. “It’s also the seventh leading cause of death in the country, and it doesn’t quite get the attention as other public health issues, so we felt it was an area where we could make a difference.” In pursuit of that goal, Sun Life has partnered with the Celtics and the YMCA in fundraising efforts, and promotes the cause within its Wellesley offices.

Whether at the grassroots or corporate level, Milano says company wellness needs to reflect the needs and interests of the employees, as wide-ranging as they might be. “It’s never one thing,” he says. “For some people, they need information. For others, they need something fun. You need a lot of things to get wellness to happen. It’s never just one magic bullet, but it’s always worth it.”