Andrea Herron 00:02
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea heron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces, because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the HR scoop. I am so pleased today to be chatting with Mitch Martin, the senior wellness manager at Northern Arizona Health Care. Welcome, Mitch.
Mitch Martens 00:49
Whoo. Good to be here.
Andrea Herron 00:53
Yes, sir. So happy to have you and your energy here today. And get into all all the things about, you know, something that a lot of people may not know much about, which is going to be health systems and health plans and kind of your side of, of the benefits arena. So I’m really excited to hear your perspective today.
Mitch Martens 01:18
Oh, thank you. I hope it’s, I think it’ll I hope it’ll be different or unique. And yeah, thank you for inviting me.
Andrea Herron 01:26
Yeah. So I guess just to get us started in in ground a little bit, we’d love to hear just about you and your career journey and how you got to Northern Arizona Health Care.
Mitch Martens 01:36
Yeah, it’s, uh, I’m accused of being long winded. So you know, I’m outing myself right now. So I’m going to depend on you to keep me short and succinct, you know. But the short version is I’m trained as a therapist as a psychotherapist, and quickly learned or decided that doing your traditional private practice, one to one type of work was not going to be my passion or my you know, I think I needed more collegial stimulation. And so I, for whatever reason, had always worked in healthcare. You know, even when I was doing internships, and that kind of led my path. I had worked at one hospital for seven years, specifically in the world of psychiatry. And then an organization called Cedar Sinai, which is a health system in Los Angeles, recruited me to come to their organization and do a couple of different things that really carved this, I’ll call it wellness path that I have been on for the last couple of decades. The first thing that I did was, we really wanted to engage our employees better. We were finding on many levels. And I think probably the audience understands that term engagement. And so I won’t go into a lot of definitions about what engagement is, but it was struggling at that organization. And so we designed, and I led a team of individuals that did this two day experience that really connected with the employee, basically, where they wanted to be connected. And it’s a philosophy that I’ve carried on, because as we as that program just started spreading throughout the culture, then there is this conclusion of, oh, we actually don’t have a formal wellness program here at this organization. Hey, Mitch, since you did this one thing, could you now do this bill as a wellness program? And so that’s what I did for that organization. And then about a year and a half ago, I started noticing a trend of questions that employees were asking me or a common themed question that employees were asking me. And that question was, Mitch, this organization is 25,000 people, and your job is to take care of the health and well being of everyone there, who takes care of your health and well being. And it was interesting, the therapist and me couldn’t help but kind of look at that and say, Wow, I’m noticing this question is coming at me more often than usual. What’s that about? And I had to be honest, and say, Ooh, maybe I’m preaching more than practicing wellness. And so I made a decision. I didn’t tell the audience that originally, I was born and raised in Nebraska. And so I have those Midwest roots. And I only went to California for grad school, and then my career took off. So I made a conscious decision a while back to start exploring what made what made Mitch happy. And I had to be honest, la wasn’t making Mitch very happy. You know, and there’s a lot of great things about LA. But I think I’m too simple, too laid back to whatever, that it was time for me to be open to other opportunities. And so, you know, ironically, right before COVID, I got this job opportunity at Northern Arizona Health Care. And I took a leap of faith. And so I’ve now been with this organization a little over a year.
Andrea Herron 04:49
Wow. That’s a great story. And, you know, there’s so much truth in that that probably translates to a lot of our listeners and certainly resonates with me about HR people and people in the benefits of wellness community sometimes being the worst at self care?
Mitch Martens 05:08
Well, well, I’m going to expand on that if I can of your job. You know what one of my specialties or one of the because I’ve always worked in health care, I think I bring a little bit unique perspective into those individuals who work in health care, because probably similar to HR, I’m just going to be very blunt, we suck at taking care of ourselves, because because not because we don’t have the intellectual knowledge. It’s because our passion, our purpose, our why we get out of bed is because we love taking care of patients, we love taking care of our colleagues, we love taking care of our community, our pets, our environment, Bob, etc, etc, etc. And at the end of that long list is, oh, yeah, I still have some energy, that will take care of me. But usually, we’re so exhausted that there’s no room for taking care of us.
Andrea Herron 06:03
Well, that’s I mean, that’s the thing is you have to have energy left at the end of the day, and a lot of us don’t, because we freely want to give and check in on other people in it fills you up to a certain degree to do that. So yet, you still have to walk away, which sometimes is hard, because you don’t want to abandon or feel like you’re not, you know, doing everything you can to support other people. But it’s the whole oxygen mask on yourself. First idea. So true. It’s also interesting to me that you’re a trained psychotherapist, my background is in industrial organizational psychology. And I think the psychology function is just, it’s just the best match to the HR and wellness community, because there is so much overlap between those skill sets and that compassion of why people do what they do and holding empathy for that.
Mitch Martens 06:53
Right. Yeah, it’s really, I mean, and that’s what I love about working in healthcare. And I would think that probably the people that the HR leaders out there who are listening to this call, will probably understand what I’m saying. But I think there’s a lot of people who work in HR but aren’t in healthcare, that in healthcare, we’re always talking about evidence based evidence based art, you know, is it well, that snake oil looks good? Let’s just give it a try. No, we can’t do that. We’ve got to be evidence based. And so you know, my training, my constant thought process is, with this well, with with these wellness initiatives, are we taking evidence based approach and AI to so to your point, when we can bring in our expertise elicits call in the psych world? We’re bringing that evidence based as opposed to? Well, my gut says or, well, this worked with my neighbor, so I’m going to why not try it? So you’re right, we I think we do bring in, I think, a level of advantage. With that kind of background in training.
Andrea Herron 07:51
Yeah. And it makes it you know, there’s a lot of options, a lot of creativity that you can pull from, but at the end of the day, what’s actually going to make the difference, and then being in your position, you know, over that many employees, but also, I mean, the elephant in the room here is the health system and the you know, your clients or employees or staff have dealt with quite a lot in the past year. So I’m really curious how y’all have managed through that?
Mitch Martens 08:18
Well, I can, I’m going to I’m going to not use the past tense. And I’m going to say that we’re still managing it. I mean, I think we all know, we’re we’re not we’re not over yet. And I know that’s not what you were implying. But I think some of you so many of us have been saying, Who 2020 Okay, let’s reflect on that. What can we learn from as we try to hopefully see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for 2021? You know, I could go through a list of initiatives and things that we certainly did do to try our best to be in the moment because I think what 2020 required more than anything else was adaptability. You know, I think so many of us lean on it. Well, I get I’m going to stereotype in the HR world, I think so often we lean on policies and procedures. This this is the boundaries with when with with within we can work. But suddenly, what was acceptable, what the boundaries was, what the policy was yesterday, became very different the next day and the day after that. And so, I really think that there is nothing that was more asked of, from a nurse or from anyone who works in healthcare. And again, I’m generalizing because that’s my world. That was asked what is adaptability of realizing, alright, what are we going to hear on the news tomorrow that’s going to throw another monkey wrench into our life, you know? So, as leadership, what our organization was constantly asking is, not only how do we have to adapt to the world around us, and how do we have to adapt to our customer base which was patience, but More importantly, how do we adapt to meeting the needs of our healthcare workers who are putting their lives on the line? who are sitting there saying, Okay, I’m willing to come into work and try to treat and deal with these COVID patients. But now I’m scared to go home because I don’t want to bring something home. Do I? Do I bring in an extra change of clothes? Do you have a shower for me? Or can you put me up in housing because I don’t want to go home for the next week, while I’m working up transportation getting in a car, trying to find food. I mean, we all probably remember when it was difficult to find toilet paper and the basics. And so one of the things that we did is we opened up this little store, if you will, that’s probably not the right word, because we didn’t sell anything. But basically, these were items that were it’s hard to find, and we made them available to our employees. Because something as simple as not having to go to the grocery store after working 12 hour shift with COVID patients, knowing that they could have basic food, they could just quickly bring home to their family. Or, again, like I said, the basics of toilet paper or hand sanitizer. Those were those were the simple things. But honestly, I’m going to tell you, Andrew, every it felt like almost every day, we were asking ourselves, okay, how can we adapt? Because our most valuable asset were our healthcare providers?
Andrea Herron 11:24
I think that’s a great example of how you really have to know your workforce and be attuned to the needs of the moment. I mean, just like you were saying, No, there’s no promise of extra PTO or, you know, whatever might work in a normal everyday kind of thing, like, Oh, we’re gonna have birthday cake break for so and so like, who cares? I get my toilet paper at my house. So you set it.
Mitch Martens 11:48
Exactly. You’re spot on those typical coffee, you know, those typical $5 Coffee recognition cards, you know, that you give to employees? Oh, my God was not working. And so we had to reinvent. And the thing is, we had to reinvent quickly, because we saw people emotionally, mentally and physically dwindling, and just saying, I, I don’t think I can come in and do another shift. So it was, again, I just keep using that word, adaptability, I think 2020. For those who were able to thrive, I’m going to clarify, for those that are able to thrive, I think they they were able to find the strength in adaptability. I was listening to a song Yesterday, of course, now, I can’t remember the title of it. But the two words that kind of kept jumping out was, you know, are you bitter? Or are you better because of this situation? And I just kept thinking like, yes, there are people who are bitter about 2020. And there are people who are better because of 2020. And I think maybe one of the distinguishing factors is those who are able to adapt.
Andrea Herron 12:56
That’s a great point. It’s not just introverts versus extroverts. There are a lot of other factors. And when you’re dealing with the level of burnout that your industry and work for saw, it’s unlike most other businesses, although you know, a lot of people have burnout because the emotional toll and just you know, the force and the energy out in the world and and having to act like I am not working from my kitchen table, while my two kids and dog and mother in law’s in the other room and everything’s fine. Look away, Look away. Not fine. And so what I’m curious what you all were able to do from like a holistic wellness perspective, or at least try to try and not trivialize because it is important, but also you had to come up with something that’s worth the time and is meaningful enough for people to take a break when they’re in the throes of, you know, a workforce like yours. Yeah.
Mitch Martens 13:49
Yeah, you’re asking a great question. And I will tell you, I’m going to say kind of in June of 2020, we you know, and it may have been May, I don’t exactly remember when but we wanted to do kind of this quick pulse check in of, you know, how are you doing, but also how do you feel we’re doing in responding to your situation, you know, so you know, I let’s say the pandemic started in March, you know, so there had been a few months we we certainly didn’t feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel this point, but we wanted to do a check in. And And to our surprise, when we did this needs assessment, if you want to call it that, that’s sometimes a common phrase, what’s the needs assessment? Or what’s your engagement level or your satisfaction level? 30, use whatever word you want. One of the things that we were very conscious of is when something when someone’s stress, and I invite everyone who’s listening right now to you know, come up with a time when you were stressed in your life. And do you were you making the best decisions? I mean, we all know we’re told when you’re angry, don’t respond to an email, you know, you use you’re gonna regret that. When we’re stressed cognitively, emotionally, we’re not at our best. And so what I would always invite you know, the listeners to consider When they’re going to do a needs assessment, if you’re reaching out to during a time when things are stressful, don’t say, hey, what do you need? Because guess what we sometimes don’t know what we need. We just know we’re not in a good place. And so we were very conscious that when we did this survey, we listed a whole bunch of variety. And I’m talking like A through J or A through M, I don’t know how many, you know, this huge list of different just crazy ideas. What would you like, you know, here’s what we’ve done. And please rank or tell us what we’ve done right so far, or what we haven’t done right so far. But also, what would you like? What would you like us to do more of or differently going forward? And it was a real surprise, because although you heard majority of the time people were saying I’m stressed, I’m stressed, I’m stressed. I can’t do this. This is hard. I mean, it fortunately for us, one of the things that we did not hear a lot of was financial woes, and that was probably because of two reasons. One, we’re one of the few hospitals in the country that did not lay off a single person. And we didn’t have to close the doors. We were very blessed. But also what we did is every leader at this organization took a 10% 10% of their salary, and put it into what we call a healthcare heroes fund. Way over a million dollars got put into an account that was made available to employees who were financially struggling in whatever way.
Andrea Herron 16:27
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