This is the fourth interview in a series that spotlights coworkers who make Bell’s the brewery it is. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There are so many different theories on how people can be the most physically and mentally healthy… and it’s different for almost everyone. But how do you advocate for the health of hundreds of coworkers? We recently caught up with Sara, the brewery’s wellness specialist, about how wellness has shifted from just eating well and exercising, and what makes a brewery like Bell’s unique.
Sara, thanks for chatting with us today.
It’s great to be here.
So, you’re the brewery’s wellness coordinator. I feel like “wellness” can mean numerous things… how do you define it?
Well, at Bell’s and New Belgium, we take a very holistic approach to wellness. A lot of people just think of wellness in physical aspects, like being active and eating well. I remember when I interviewed for this job years ago, and I asked the same question, and I was told: ‘happy and healthy people make great beer.’ Through that holistic approach, we’re looking to make sure we’re taking care of our people’s financial, emotional, social, and physical wellness, all of it together. When you’re taking care of the whole person and meeting them where their needs are, it makes a huge difference.
I admit, I’ve always thought of wellness as related to physical health. Does wellness look different at a brewery? There’s a saying, when people start working here, they gain the “Bell’s 15”…
Well, first I want to say: when it comes to beer, we don’t assign moral value to food. Food is fuel. It’s not good food, bad food. Food is just delicious and wonderful, including beer. At a brewery, we socially do really well. We are a great community of people. We support each other. I think wellness at a brewery is really no different than anywhere else. It’s meeting people where they are. Not everybody is looking to get a personal trainer or take classes, some people have really busy lives, and maybe they just need some financial support services. We need to make sure that we’re providing a broad set of benefits, so people know they’re supported. We have some really exciting new programs to launch soon. Not every benefit is for every person, but if we can offer a good variety in our wellness programming, hopefully we help our coworkers be able to show up and know that they are cared for here. We want everyone to be able to show up for their job as their authentic self and have a good time.
If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
Happy, healthy people making great beer laugh.
How did you get involved in wellness, and what brought you to Bell’s?
This was kind of an accident. <Laugh>. I was in my early thirties, just had my second child, and was having some health problems. As I was figuring all of that out, I wanted to learn more about how I could take care of myself better and hopefully avoid further problems down the road. I was taking some classes at the YMCA, and they needed a sub for a class and, I don’t know why, they asked me to teach it. It was kind of fun. So, I changed directions of what I was doing, got my personal training certification and ended up doing a lot of corporate wellness consulting for a number of local companies.
Years later, a former Bell’s coworker who was taking my classes came to me and said the brewery needed someone to run its wellness program — what did I think about making a job change? Initially, I didn’t know if I could do it, I owned my own business at the time. But, I said, I’m at least going to interview. When I came out here, met the team, saw the fitness center and heard their vision, I was sold.
You’ve been here for five years. What has it been like to stay at one place versus teaching classes and going from company to company?
I’ve built some really great relationships with people. One of the most rewarding things about this job is being by someone’s side as they’ve been able to make positive changes in their life and seeing them empowered to make those changes. And then for them to have the payoff in their life is just so rewarding, you know? A lot of times it’s people who never thought they’d ever step foot into a gym. Ever. One person came in — I love this person dearly — but she came in, and she’s like, “all right, I’m here to see the skinny bitch, so she can tell me what to do” <laugh>. This person ended up becoming one of the most dear people to m, watching how she changed her life, and not in the way she thought she would.
When you build a long-term relationship with people, you’re seeing them through all the different phases of their life. I was there during COVID, too, and it’s being there for people as much as I can through all those changes and trying to meet their needs as they change. That can make for a deeper and stronger relationship with people.
That’s amazing to see the impact of your work on people’s lives. I mean, sometimes a job is a job, right? What has made your experience here at Bell’s unique?
One of the things that was just such a pleasant surprise is how wonderful the people here are. I mean, I thoroughly enjoy working with the people here. It’s so much fun whether brewers or packagers or people who work in the office.
Something we try to do as a brewery is advocate for others. I always think about you and the work you do. How do you advocate for your coworkers and community?
Well, I would say a big part of it is listening to what people need, being open to hearing about their experience and what we can do to help make their experience better so that they can continue to make this amazing beer and show up and, hopefully, be really happy here.
And it’s advocating not just for people at work, but in the community as well.
Yeah. One of the programs that has been really awesome is our partnership with Run This Town Kalamazoo, an organization all about making our communities safe places to walk or run. We invited our coworkers downtown to join that group, and they joined us for our Hoppy 5K run at the brewery. Partnerships like these are great for our coworkers and our community to see that we care as much about where we make the beer as the product itself. Our values are not just something we talk about, we do it through action, whether it’s through volunteering, giving, or just showing up.
What does “Inspired Brewing” mean to you? And what inspires you to do what you do every day?
“Inspired Brewing” means that we are taking care of our people, so they can make the best beer. I think it’s pretty obvious what inspires me: I’m inspired by the people. I really enjoy people. I’ve had a couple career changes in my life, and the thing that’s been consistent is I love building meaningful connections with people. I’m so inspired by the stories and the experiences that other people share with me.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us, Sara. Looking forward to hearing about some of the new programs coming soon!