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Event Recap: Social Contract Shift: Cultivating a Winning Culture | 12.5.2022

On December 5, HC3 in partnership with Alight Solutions kicked off the Future of Work Series with the Social Contract Shift: Cultivating a Winning Culture For Employers and Employees session. The goal of this initial conversation was to discuss the paradigm shift in the employer and employee social contract and explore the various ways in which employers are incorporating sustainable strategies to build trust and invest in their current employees.

(12/5 Event - Left to right: Ali Wampler Cusic, Michele Smith, Ed.D., Adrienne Caruso)


Adrienne Caruso, SVP, United Minds, Part of the Weber Shandwick Collective

Featured Speakers:

Michele Smith, Ed.D., Director of Workforce and Team Member Development, Advocate Aurora

Ali Wampler Cusic, Vice President, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Product Strategy & Client Advisory Leader

Watch the live event:

Event Recap

Moderator’s Remarks

Adrienne Caruso (AC)

Adriene welcomed HC3 members and stakeholders and shared that the discussion would be focused on changes occurring in the workplace following the pandemic and how employers and employees can adapt to these changes. She provided some background about her role as a Senior Vice President at United Minds, part of the Weber Shandwick Collective. United Minds is a communication-focused management consulting firm that advises its clients on employee engagement and experiences, addressing how they change and evolve. While United Minds has a robust portfolio of healthcare-focused clients, it also serves clients and businesses in other industries.

Panelist Introductions

Michelle Smith (MS)

Michelle is the Director of Workforce and Team Member Development at Advocate Aurora. Her responsibilities include managing the workforce department, which provides opportunities to individuals internally and externally to address the organization's talent needs. Her department currently adopts various approaches to ensure that it caters to all employee groups and their associated requirements.

Ali Wampler Cusic (AWC)

Ali is the Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Product Strategy, and Client Advisory Leader at Alight Solutions. Her role involves ensuring that new and existing products are designed to provide equitable experiences and outcomes for individuals. She also supports Alight Solutions’ commercial teams to uncover the best ways to partner with large enterprise market clients to help identify and develop solutions to challenges faced in achieving their desired outcomes.

AC: In the aftermath of the pandemic, the workplace looks increasingly different, impacting employers and employees differently. There is also rising employee activism, with data suggesting that about 53 percent of employees have spoken up concerning events in the workplace following the pandemic. Given all the changes in the workplace, what learnings can you share in terms of how you or your clients have approached recruitment, retention, or employee engagement?

MS: Following the pandemic, at Advocate Aurora, we have provided more work flexibility by granting individuals the option to work remotely. For individuals who cannot work remotely, we are being more thoughtful in how we listen and respond to the workers’ voices in providing flexibility. For example, at our hospital sites, we allow people the flexibility to design their shifts in ways that accommodate/fit their preferences as opposed to dictating the specific timings/arrangement of their shifts. We have also identified and found solutions for social issues facing our front-line workers. For example, we have allowed front-line works start time flexibility where employees can come into work slightly later to mitigate the difficulties faced in securing transportation at earlier times. Advocate Aurora Health is being very intentional about retaining staff, so we are improving our rewards and benefits packages to cater to the needs expressed by our workers – including transportation assistance, meal vouchers, mental health resources, and so on.

AWC: A study by Microsoft revealed that about 47 percent of employees are now more likely to prioritize family and personal needs over work, and 53 percent said they are more likely to put their own personal wellbeing and physical wellbeing over work. At Alight, we have led research that has revealed that only 35 percent of employees feel that their employers will make decisions in their best interest regarding their health care benefits. These data sets show that the social contract between employers and employees is broken, and the pandemic has exacerbated its effects. In response, employers try to balance their short-term and long-term employee engagement and retention strategies. There is an increased shift away from just compensation-focused solutions to wellness and even wellbeing-focused approaches.

AC: In addition to the increased flexibility, what else is being done to respond to employee wellbeing, especially mental health, financial wellbeing, and emotional stability? Are there things that your organizations or clients are doing to respond to these?

MS: Advocate Aurora provides mental health support, and most of our organization offers Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). We also have wellbeing hours for employees to go to a designated wellbeing site that offers meditation, mindfulness, and a host of other activities directly aimed at improving an individual’s wellbeing. We also focus on creating an environment where employees are comfortable and empowered to speak up, in addition to using built-in mechanisms that promote mental well-being and general rest. For example, when you schedule a meeting for up to 30 minutes, it automatically defaults to 25 minutes, giving you a five-minute break in between. We provide financial and economic advisory services for employees on various formats on various topics. Overall, I think Advocate Aurora is very conscious of how we serve the individuals that work in our health system outside of compensation and benefits.

AWC: Alight Solutions conducted some national focus groups last year, trying to understand the role that wellbeing plays in driving employee retention. Our findings suggest that the current approach is not working. It also highlighted that individuals have five foundational needs: the need to be seen, the need to be known, the need to be supported, the need to be protected, and the need to be valued. Following these guideposts, we have spent a lot of time helping our clients refine their well-being strategies. We have seen a hyper-focus on how to make investments on the customer or patient side to improve the patient or customer experience and how we use data and technology to meet individuals where they are in various programs/benefits available. We are currently helping clients identify how to amplify the resources they have available to their employees and ensuring that they have the right advocates speaking on the effectiveness of these resources.

AC: How have the strategies you have introduced differed or don’t for frontline workers as opposed to office workers, as they have bared the brunt of the stress experienced by the workforce in recent times?

MS: The program I referenced earlier around providing transportation support and case management support is called “The Team Member Success Coach Program.” It focuses mainly on frontline workers at two of our hospital sites where we saw the lowest retention and most significant attrition. We used data to set up and identify the needs that the program currently caters to. At the sites, we focused on employees within the environmental services and food and nutrition departments. Following the program's implementation, retention among people of color in these departments at those sites increased to 96 percent. Social determinants of health (SDOH) drive our focus, and we have high-potential programs focused on helping our frontline workers take advantage of the opportunities present in the organization as it grows and evolves. Overall, we are focused on using data to meet their needs holistically.

AC: From a leadership standpoint, it has become important that leaders are involved and accessible to their employees. How has leadership engagement changed in recent times?

AWC: It is important to mention that leaders have nearly no formal training on these issues, so there has to be some grace and/or patience regarding expectations. We are seeing that many companies are starting to tie executive compensation to some of these engagement metrics we are talking about today. While these metrics are good, we need to develop sustainable strategies, some of which Michelle has alluded to. Some of our clients, whom we consider leaders in the wellbeing space, have two main characteristics: the programs they offer are equity-focused, and the engagement strategy is usually more personal than “mass,” which focuses on providing expert guidance. They try to balance the employee interests and needs with the corporate best interest and initiatives to drive cultural change within the organizations.

AC: How is your organization prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) across the employee lifecycle?

MS: My role sits within the human resources department, where we track diversity metrics at the leadership level and holistically as an organization. Our compensation is tied to meeting a set of DEI metrics that are important. We have recognized that we may not have an entirely diverse leadership and are working tirelessly to ensure that it is transformed. We have recruiters we work with when there is a leadership opening to ensure that we have access to a diverse mix of candidates. We also have a POC (point of care) retention metric that shows we are focused on retaining people of color throughout the organization. In addition to these, we have diversity councils that sit in each area of the organization to focus on what employees are saying about DEI and how we are trending on DEI. We are moving beyond trying to ‘check the diversity box” by working to understand how the diversity of our workforce impacts patient experience and how best to continue to improve within this issue area. I am very encouraged by the work we are doing because we are not just having the conversations but are working to move these conversations into actionable strategies.

AWC: At United Minds, we have delivery teams focused on ensuring that we have employee resource groups that recruit and retain diverse employees. Also, we ensure that the teams supporting our clients represent the participants we are supporting. It makes good business sense to focus on diversity because employees and even customers want to go somewhere where they feel comfortable being themselves and where they can be their best selves. Data suggests that you are about 32 percent more likely to perform in the top quartile of your industry if you have ethnically diverse leadership, so these things matter and make business sense. Also, SDoH (Social Determinants of Health) drives about 80 percent of cost and outcomes drivers. Our enterprise health data sets need to be able to capture this data like SDoH to impact change.

AC: This conversation has been very insightful, especially in highlighting real-world solutions to some of the workforce issues that have come to light following the pandemic. It has shed light on strategies we can all adopt across our organizations to ensure that we are creating equitable environments within the workplace that are backed by data and sustainable.


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