Talking With Tammy Fennessy of American Eagle Outfitters

Movement 2023: On Air

Published Date: Sep 18, 2023

Tammy Fennessy has three distinct groups of employees that she serves as director of benefits for American Eagle Outfitters. Their priorities and needs are so varied that she says she often feels like her company is actually three companies in one.

In working to find ways to better support them, she stresses that she (like other employers) can't do it alone. That's part of why she engaged Hinge Health to help improve her employees' musculoskeletal (MSK) health—and drive down claims related to this, her organization's top cost driver.

"Employers can't be on an island. We need to understand we need other vendors. We need the hospital systems. We need pretty much everyone at the table for us to really make good change happen, get off the chronic condition hamster wheel, and get on the road to prevention."

Fennessy joined Hinge Health Director of Content Marketing Jenny Sucov on the On Air podcast at the Movement 2023 conference in Chicago to discuss how she tackles the challenges of designing benefits and wellness plans for such a diverse group of employees, where she gets ideas for new solutions, and more.

Jenny Sucov (JS): What are some of the challenges that you face at American Eagle Outfitters?

Tammy Fennessy(TF): We have a very diverse population. We pretty much have three groups: our corporate population, our distribution population, and those working in our stores all over the country.

We're about 80% female and around 80% Gen-Z—a very young population thinks they're invincible. But they also face different challenges in the workspace that we're trying to understand how we can lean into best.

In the distribution centers, they're on their feet all the time and they're doing repetitive motions, which definitely has an impact on their bodies.

And then when you talk about our corporate population, you've got folks who are relatively sedentary.

Or if they are designers, they're stretching fabric. They're also doing repetitive activities that really put some strain on their bodies.

JS: Have MSK claims and MSK costs always been something that you've been aware of?

TK: Yes. I take a lot of time looking at our data and trying to understand what's going on. MSK has always been in our top four.

But most employers are aware that there was the deferred care bubble that was happening over the pandemic. People couldn't see their doctors or just were scared to go to the hospitals, which I still think is the case in some instances.

We're seeing everything rebound over these last 18 months. Now, even though we are 80% female, largely of childbearing ages, MSK has taken over maternity, which had always been our number one.

And it's not only in the medical claims space, it's also in short-term disability and long-term disability claims. So it's a primary focus for us right now.

JS: You've adopted Hinge Health. Your employees are engaging with it. Tell me a little bit about how that process was. Were there any hurdles?

TK: We definitely appreciate our relationship with Hinge Health. I've used it myself, and so has my husband. I know it works.

I have gotten testimonials from people in the distribution centers and our corporate population.

We're having a hard time getting it out to our stores, but I think that's just because we're geographically challenged and those employees are so young.

They may not think that they need that type of benefit right now. We're trying to get them to understand how important prevention is so that they can get into it early instead of waiting for something to go wrong.

Our distribution centers were tricky. One of our distribution centers is 95% Dominican. These employees also tend to be a little bit more technologically challenged.

Hinge Health did a nice job of coming out to our distribution centers with us and bringing Claudia, who speaks the Dominican dialect of Spanish, or close to it. She was able to relate with them and show them how things worked.

And we did that at our other distribution center, too. We had the Hinge Health kits on site, showed people how easy it is to use, and got them signed up on the spot.

JS: In terms of employee engagement, it sounds like the hands-on experience was really valuable. What other tactics have you used to engage employees?

TK: We're trying to work on how to integrate everything better with our current providers.

We use Castlight [a platform that centralizes health and wellbeing benefits] as our primary navigation tool. We have care guides.

But we're trying to go even deeper to make sure that we're actually pushing things out every channel we can and getting people to understand [what's available].

For example, we work with Aflac for our life and disability insurance. We're having a mini-summit and Hinge Health is a part of that.

We selected five vendors so that the claims folks who are handling our disability claims can understand that if someone's coming to me with an MSK-related claim, or if they're out on disability for that, I should be pointing them in this direction.

JS: How do you deal with internal finance and leadership challenges?

TK: I think I'm very fortunate. Our leadership is very open to innovation and allowing me to have point solutions when I find gaps in care. I think that's really where Hinge Health came into play from the beginning.

We're always trying to find creative ways to communicate the different programs that we have. People have point solution overload, so we're trying to meet them where they are.

If they are having that type of a claim come through, we want to be able to identify it and move on it as quickly as possible.

And we're looking at other types of solutions, too, so that we can get people engaged prior to surgery or on a different course, if that makes sense. And then after surgery, so that they aren't stretching out their time away from work so long.

JS: Where do you find resources to help you make decisions yourself?

TK: I'm very involved in the Business Group on Health and the national coalitions. That gives me a lot of exposure to the trends that are going on and how people are tackling them, whether they are in my position, are doctors, hospital systems, or consultants who are trying to help employers like myself navigate through things.

Conferences are key, they really are. None of us can handle the volume of emails that are coming in from point solutions right now.

Being able to get away from your computer and actually have a real conversation—that goes much, much further

JS: How do you interact with your peers outside of conferences?

TK: I do a lot of webinars, so that's another channel you can utilize to interact with others.

Consultants will also bring people in the same industry together to have conversations about what you're trying to tackle.

That's another way we can get together and exchange ideas.

JS: What's something you're taking away from Movement 2023 that you will share with a colleague?

TK: It's really affirming to hear that all of us employers are pretty focused on the fact that claims, the hospital industry, new contracts—everything is increasing.

We have to do something. We have to be able to manage our costs. But we need to do it with an equity lens.

And I'm hearing that from more employers over and over as well, which is really reassuring.

JS: What are you most looking forward to during the rest of your time here at Movement 2023?

TK: Making connections with other employers dealing with the same issues is just priceless. I can't think of one employer that doesn't have MSK or oncology claims that they're trying to deal with.

We have very, very common issues going on. Mental health is another one.

We're sharing with each other. I think the collaboration is so necessary for us to have change happen and to be able to figure out who's out there that can help us get over these hurdles.

"I consistently reflect on something I've studied around collective impact: I feel that employers can't be on an island. We need to understand we need other vendors. We need the hospital systems. We need pretty much everyone at the table for us to really make good change happen in this country, get off the chronic condition hamster wheel, and get on the road to prevention."

These responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.