Through offering more personalized and flexible programs for our team members, essentially meeting them where they are. Not everyone is experiencing the same life issues so why would we offer programs that are a “one size fits all?”

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Clay Holderman.

As President and CEO of UnityPoint Health, Clay Holderman oversees a $4.9 billion integrated health system with facilities in metropolitan and rural communities across Iowa, western Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Prior to joining UnityPoint Health, Holderman held the role of Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, a $4.8 billion integrated payor-provider health system in New Mexico. Clay holds a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people who work in healthcare typically have a reason why — a sense of purpose related to the mission of helping people heal. For me, my story involves one of my twin sons, Macen, who battled a rare bone cancer for 2–1/2 years. He ultimately passed on in 2016 at the age of 17. That entire experience occurred at the same hospital where I worked at the time, and the experience transformed my view of healthcare and my perspective on caregivers and care models. You don’t realize how little of the work your teammates actually do is the delivery of healthcare and how much of what they do is just being empathetic, caring, loving human beings and trying to bring light into some dark times.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

People are at the center of everything we do, not just culturally but strategically. Right now, we’re incredibly focused on retaining current team members, attracting top candidates, and offering personalized benefits and compensation packages that also reinforce their overall wellbeing and sense of choice. All of this starts with our current teams. While in the past, we thought of team member’s social well-being (satisfaction, engagement, retention) and physical well-being (absenteeism, healthcare utilization, access to preventative care), the current pandemic has put a spotlight on mental, emotional and social well-being.

We have evolved our board-monitored team metrics from one metric to several, including sense of belonging, sense of optimism about the future of our organization, and connection to our values. We have updated our ongoing leadership training to include leader depression screening and recognition of depression in team members as well as awareness of resources available to address all aspects of wellness. We are normalizing the processing of traumas through initiatives that alert us of a stressful event, encourage conversations with staff about the emotional impact of their work, as well as sharing team member videos about being close to burnout and re-connecting to purpose. We developed PSAs aimed at our own workforce with the message “it’s OK to not be OK” and seek mental health assistance. Going forward, the maintenance of our talent and culture is at the center of our five-year plan and includes significant investments to meet five generations in our workforce where they are across all dimensions of wellness.

We’ve also made significant investments in our employees over the last two years. To address employee retention, we invested an additional $119 million in compensation in 2021, raised the minimum pay, and paid COVID appreciation bonuses to express gratitude to our employees. We’re continuing to do annual market adjustments to ensure fair wages and give merit increases for performance. We’ve also expanded our recruitment efforts through a referral bonus program and partnered with agencies to fill critical openings. We take a holistic view of team member wellbeing, because we know employee wellness is more than just financial, so we’re really looking at ways to invest in personal and professional development opportunities that meet our people where they’re at.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

A well workforce is more engaged and productive, but the benefits ripple not just across our health system, but also the communities we serve. At UnityPoint Health, and across the healthcare industry, we have seen a tripling of vacancy rates coming out of the latest wave of the pandemic. The resulting surge in the travel staffing industry and extreme surge in traveler rates has resulted in many healthcare systems running negative operating margins through the first quarter. There are many studies on the cost of turnover, vacancies, training and regaining of experience on access to services, quality and safety, and financial performance. The issue of a well and engaged workforce is no longer just an impact to our industry’s productivity and profitability — it is the primary driver of financial sustainability.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Trust is one of the most important things in any relationship. Trust in healthcare is being the caregivers that communities can lean on during life’s ups and down and being the organization individuals and families trust with their life or a loved one’s life to heal. Trust also is important in the workplace. When you build a culture of trust throughout your organization, you trust your team members to do their job to the best of their ability and they trust you to provide them with all the training, tools and other help necessary to do their job. In healthcare, we must care for our people and as a leader of a healthcare organization, I must care for my employees; I see them, I hear them and I advocate for them. Together with our board, we invest in employee wellbeing because it’s important to show how much our team members matter, not just to our organization, but to their families, their communities and the world.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

At UnityPoint Health we know our employees’ personal lives are incredibly important and have a tremendous impact on their work performance and development which is why we offer flexibility and choices to enhance our employees’ time away from work. Historically, we have led in offerings beyond traditional paid time off and health and welfare benefits, with support for adoption assistance and paid parental leave and subsidized offerings for childcare, elder care and pet care needs of our employees. Going forward, we have made a very visible commitment to radically improve the flexibility of our work and rewards offerings to meet five generations in our workforce where they are and where they need us most.

Additionally, we recently hired a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at the corporate level. Our Chief Diversity Officer will elevate the work of our local DEI Councils in attracting and supporting diverse team members across our organization, advancing team member belonging, and elevating health equity in our communities. We see this investment as a visible embodiment of our UnityPoint Health brand promise of showing how much our employees matter to this world.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering? We would benefit from an example in each of these areas.

  • Mental Wellness: UnityPoint Health offers a Vital WorkLife resource which is designed for our providers. It offers someone to talk to directly about well-being, managing and preventing burnout, and connecting providers to the joy of practicing medicine.
  • Emotional Wellness: We offer an array of instructor-led reflection opportunities for all team members, including development and wellbeing classes. Topics include: Change Resilience, Building Confidence in Having Difficult Conversations, and Burning Bright Instead of Burning Out.
  • Social Wellness: You Matter Day, Healthcare Recognition Week, end-of-year celebrations and a dedicated anniversary week to celebrate our values, are among observances that show team members how much they matter.
  • Physical Wellness: Free access to more than 1,000 fitness, nutrition and mindfulness classes for all ages and abilities.
  • Financial Wellness: UnityPoint Health increased shift differential rates for high-need positions and shifts to help ensure nurses and care teams feel safely staffed to provide the best care possible, as well as moved to a $15 minimum wage system-wide.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

Isolation kills. Engagement is the solution to good relationships between leaders and team members and between co-workers or peers. The greatest thing we can do in healthcare and outside of healthcare is to truly engage people as individuals; look at the whole health, or the whole story of an individual; what are the outside factors that make them who they are. Truly care for each one of your team members. When you invest in your team and show them how much they matter to you, your organization, and the world, they will reciprocate.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

During the pandemic we motivated our non-clinical workforce to be helping hands with our clinical workforce. We had team members come in and support our clinical teams by volunteering their time to help in whatever way they could from running supplies to helping cut carrots. Team members’ availability meant more than their ability. Our staff seeing that the workforce from across the organization cared and were willing to lend a helping hand, I think that inspires people to go a little bit further. Now, we are turning many of our Leadership Gatherings to focus on depression screening, depression recognition and having conversations about mental wellbeing.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Practice gratitude and reflect on reconnecting to your purpose. And take time when you need it to prioritize your own mental and emotional health. It’s important to take time to heal and allow space for others to do the same.

What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

As evidenced by this discussion, workplace wellness will continue to be a major topic of discussion and action as we continue to navigate the effects of COVID-19 on our workforce and society as a whole.

  • There are several trends in workplace wellness to be aware of, but caregiver burnout and the impact of the pandemic on mental health is at the top of the list. Organizations are investing significant time and money focusing on keeping their workforce mentally strong and healthy, but the fact is that from a mental health perspective there are access issues impacting our team members’ ability to get to a provider in a timely fashion. You wouldn’t delay care for a broken arm, yet mental health care is often delayed due to access to providers.
  • We are working to address mental health by looking at another trend that includes new ways to deliver mental health care to our team members through a more integrated EAP program and access to mental health telehealth programs.
  • A third trend to mention is through offering more personalized and flexible programs for our team members, essentially meeting them where they are. Not everyone is experiencing the same life issues so why would we offer programs that are a “one size fits all?”
  • Fourth, we are seeing the impact of the great resignation on the traditional family construct. To the point about needing to offer flexible benefit programs to help address wellness issues, we are also focused on creating additional flexibility in how we schedule our workforce. Again, meeting our team members where they are.
  • Finally, we are focused on developing our middle management teams by delivering resilience training and other types of wellness programs. I believe this is the group that has been forgotten through the pandemic. Throughout all of the workforce shortages this group has had to step up to take on additional hours, deal with wellness issues on their teams, and at the same time, lead. We are working to deliver additional programs to this group as well.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

My greatest source of optimism comes from working side-by-side with our team members every day. Though our caregivers have been severely impacted by the effects of the pandemic, I find energy in the stories that I hear from patients and their families about the care our team members provide every day. Even in our worst days in the pandemic, I have seen such incredible resilience and determination. With respect to wellness, I am optimistic that because of conversations like these we will be able to put additional resources to these efforts because of the influx of ideas and programs that are coming to the table.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.