The secret to creating a family-friendly benefits program
Kate Crimmins, CWPC,
Total Rewards Program Manager, athenahealth
Total Rewards Program Manager, athenahealth
There's no one-size that fits all. This trope may be weathered, but it doesn't mean it's not true. In this latest interview, athenahealth's Total Rewards Program Manager, Kate Crimmins, explains just how essential the old adage is to creating family-friendly benefits programs that enable employees to bring their whole selves to work, and thrive. Tune in to hear her share her team's secret to family-friend benefits success, as well as the importance of implicit and explicit listening to fuel your programs.
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Amy: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the OviaAsks podcast. I’m Amy Page, Regional Sales Director at Ovia Health, and today’s episode is focused on uncovering the secrets to creating a family-friendly benefits program. I spend a lot of time talking to HR leaders about the way they currently support families, and how we can find a path forward that evolves HR and how we are taking care of our workforces. First, we know that a LOT has changed in the past year and a half - for everyone.
As we journey toward some semblance of what could be called a more “normal” reality. And, as we carefully track virus variants and vaccination rates, we’re also charting a path, in many cases, back to in-person work and to the future of the workplace.
As we strive together toward whatever that future looks like, however, there needs to be recognition that parenting and caregiving — and their relationships to work in America — have been fundamentally and irrevocably changed. All in all, the pandemic brought about a reshuffling of priorities, with a focus on enriching activities and time spent with loved ones outside work, and bringing your whole self 一 and your whole living room potentially 一 to work.
Today, we have an HR leader from an organization with a long track record of doing just that 一 enabling people to bring their whole selves to work. Kate Crimmins of athenahealth is here to tell us how her team is working to bring family friendly policies to the heart of their organization, reduce burnout, and how encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work can lead to better culture and improved business outcomes.
Kate, welcome to the podcast. We’re so happy to have you here today. Tell us a little about yourself and your role.
Kate: Thank you so much for having me Amy. I’m really thrilled to be here today, and so happy to be dedicating time to talk about this really important topic. So, my name is Kate Crimmins and I’ve been at athenahealth for over 11 years and have spent most of that time within the HR world in the Benefits and Total Rewards space. I’m a Total Rewards Program Manager.
In that, I’m less a dedicated health & welfare expert, more so involved in the world of voluntary, lifestyle, and value-add lifestyle and value add benefits that help our employees, who we call our athenistas. I help manage the programming that speaks to the whole athenista, no matter where they are in their careers or personal lives. I also spend a lot of time partnering with our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to ensure HR is plugged in to the needs and wants of our diverse and passionate communities of individuals, so we can continue to be an employer of choice for folks who want to help fix healthcare.
Amy: Thanks Kate, that's great. Tell us a bit more about athenahealth, your mission, your team’s current focus and initiatives.
Kate: athenahealth partners with medical organizations across the country to drive clinical and financial results. Our vision is to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high-quality, and sustainable healthcare for all, and we are pursuing this through our medical record, revenue cycle, patient engagement, and care coordination service offerings. Our expert teams build modern technology on an open, connected ecosystem, yielding insights that make a difference for our customers and their patients.
Amy: You know, what I really see here is that your company is bringing about modern solutions to age-old issues, and it seems like that commitment to innovation extends to how you’re thinking about your workforce and their issues and needs too. Instead of this idea that you have to keep your work self and your personal life totally separate, you’re bridging and connecting that gap, understanding that there’s just one human whose work and personal life are inextricably intertwined. Bring your authentic self to work, all of it. Tell us why that’s important to you at athenahealth? What benefits does an employer see when employees bring their whole selves to work?
Kate: As an organization, we’re working to develop solutions to healthcare’s biggest problems, and the only way we can do that is by fostering an inclusive and collaborative environment, where it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to pivot and grow.
The solutions to these healthcare challenges are not one-size-fits-all. We need creative minds from all different backgrounds rowing in the same direction to take us where we need to go.
Amy: How are you doing that through your HR programs and benefits?
Kate: In terms of how we're doing that through our HR programming and benefits, it’s recognizing that our people come from all different backgrounds and industries and are at different places in their careers and personal lives. What's important to someone with 30 years of experience in corporate America might be a bit different from someone who's a recent college graduate or someone newly re-entering the workforce.
One athenista might deem tuition assistance for themselves as the most valuable benefit while someone else is focused on ensuring they have backup care for their children. To recruit and retain the best and brightest, we need to create a space where our benefits are as unique as the individuals who make up athenahealth as an organization. And, you know, talking about how employees are all at different stages of their lives, personally and professionally, that's the same when it comes to families and caregiving. So, we really want to support what that means, and what that looks like to each individual, whether it’s:
- fertility benefits
- pregnancy support
- adoption leave
- backup childcare
- welcoming home a baby
- providing scholarship opportunities
- or assisting with senior care planning.
If you’re only providing resources that would resonate with a certain segment of your population, you’re not truly creating an inclusive environment.
Amy: Thanks for sharing all of that, Kate. It really sounds like the support extends beyond the traditional. It really sounds like you’re supporting not just your workforce, but their whole family with some of these offerings 一 especially pregnancy support, adoption, and return to work resourcing. I can only imagine how much it means to them that you’re thinking this way.
You know, years before I was an Ovia employee, I was struggling to start my family. I used a few different tracking apps before finding Ovia, which finally uncovered the other apps were mistiming my cycle and I was completely missing my ovulation window. After a year and a half of trying to get pregnant pre-Ovia, I got my positive pregnancy test three days before my scheduled IUI. For me, being able to avoid that path of fertility treatments, ending all the financial and emotional and physical stress that goes along with an unsuccessful journey to conception, that was huge for me. Knowing that at Ovia, we’re offering that opportunity to grow and raise your own family, to millions of people around the world, that’s what keeps me showing up at work every day, and so excited about the support we’re able to provide to our members, and you to your employees.
It really sounds like you’re creating a culture of empowerment and understanding, a place where your employees don’t have to be afraid or concerned about sharing their thoughts and their needs as a parent. Being able to cut out early to do kid pickup or taking a break midday to snuggle the baby after their nap, that must be so relieving for your employees. I know you’ve had great reception to these programs, and many have been empowered enough to create some pretty robust Employee Resource Groups (which many of us know as ERGs), tell us more about that. How did those get started and where are they today?
Kate: Certainly yeah and thank you so much for sharing your story. That was really powerful to hear. And, I think that the power of storytelling really hits home when it comes to shared experiences and letting folks know you know that they're not alone in the Community that's out there and I think that that's really at the heart of what our employee resource groups (ERGs). Our ERGs are made up of some of the most passionate people I have had the pleasure of working with. These groups started years ago 一 some as far back as the late 90s 一 as grassroots efforts for individuals who were looking to engage with like-minded individuals and folks who share similar backgrounds, values, and ideals, or show up as allies.
Over the years, as athenahealth has grown up, so, too, have our ERGs. They are still incredibly grassroots when you think about the fact that our ERG leaders volunteer their time outside of their “day jobs” to develop programming, resources, support, and conversations to help truly move the needle on diversity and inclusion, and allow that safe space for folks to show up as their whole selves.
And now our ERGs also have Executive Sponsors on the leadership team who are really passionate about standing up for these topics and shining a light on these conversations, there's annual budgets for programming key insights into our diversity and inclusion metrics. And, through a quarterly ERG roundtable, they have the opportunity to share the work they are doing and foster important discussions on how we can continue to be the change and lead the charge, you know, within athenahealth and beyond.
Amy: Yeah! I'm hearing so many themes about the impact of those ERGs. how do you see your employees benefiting from all of the resources that the ERGs create?
Kate: Yeah! I think the benefits are really boundless. And it really might be a little bit different depending on who you're talking to but, our employees benefit from having all of these unique communities to learn from and grow with. The vulnerability I’ve witnessed in people sharing their stories, raising their hand, pointing out a time when maybe they didn’t realize how their actions were coming across are the moments where we start to break down walls and silos and can truly operate as one organization and improve as individuals.
From panels to book clubs to small discussion groups and heritage month celebrations, we’re learning from each other 一 events around pronoun usage, the history of Juneteenth, and Transgender advocacy discussions help educate and empower our athenistas, which only supports the work we’re doing. I’ve heard stories of how our employees took what they learned at our internal pronoun panels back to their clients, and now our clients want to learn from us on how to be more inclusive and grow within the space.
Amy: So I think that's the real power of listening. They're listening to each other, listening to your clients, and really bringing about the change that you want to see and it's beautiful to hear that it's working so well for you. You mentioned earlier, the importance of listening to your workforce really hearing what it is that they need, and so you know beyond your ERGs. How else are you getting feedback from the organization and how are you using that feedback?
Kate: Yeah, so the common theme that we've talked about a bunch really is there's no one-size-fits-all approach. And so that comes into play here for the questions that we ask and how we source information from our employees.
We listen to our workforce through organic conversations, but we also do specific, targeted outreach you know. We will provide anonymous forums and surveys and through those safe spaces employees feel free to express themselves without fear of judgement. These surveys also help us create future content, resources, and offerings based on the results. We also have a close partnership with our Talent Acquisition team, so we're also hearing what candidates want and what is important to them when joining a new organization.
We really want to ensure we're listening to know past, present, future of all of these folks within our organization. So we can create a community to build out the resources that our community wants.
Amy: And maybe tell me a little bit about how you've worked at feedback into your programs, you know what does that look like and how is it helping your employees?
Kate: Sure! Seeking input and listening to our employees has resulted in us increasing the number of subsidized backup care days we provide our employees, adding in senior care planning to our family friendly benefits, and enhancing gender affirming benefits within our health plans to ensure we’re supporting our transgender population. Over the past few years, we’ve also enhanced our EAP to provide employees with more free therapy sessions. We’ve added a Tuition Assistance program for our employees as well as a scholarship program for dependents of our athenistas.
Amy: I love this diverse range of offerings that you're thinking about and the scope that it's going to cover for your for your athenistas. You touched on mental health, a bit there and I just want to hold us on that topic it's so important and still a little bit taboo. I'd love to hear a bit more about your focus there. How are you increasing support and and really thinking about changing cultural norms around this this topic?
Kate: Mental Health is health, period. So, we need to do our part to decrease any stigma surrounding the topic as well as increase accessibility to care. I’ve touched upon how we’ve increased our EAP to include more free sessions. Those sessions now also include Chat Therapy through Talkspace. We recognize and we understand that people seek care in different ways, so it gets back to that accessibility piece, whether that's in person sessions virtual or via chat you know folks need the space to access the care and the way that's right for them at any given time.
We’ve also hosted several internal mental health campaigns to align with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, and World Mental Health Day in October. From encouraging people to look at their calendars and rearranging, shortening, or cancelling meetings to allow more “free” time during the day, to hosting external speakers on things like adaptive resilience and how to approach therapy for the first time, we’re hitting the discussion from many different angles. All our employees have free access to the Wellness Coach app, which provides live and on-demand sessions for meditation, yoga, exercise, and sleep stories, among other options.
We’ve talked before about there being no one-size-fits-all solution for the issues we’re all facing in healthcare, and the same is true when addressing Mental Health
Amy: I love that understanding 一 that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach. That’s so true when it comes to parenting as well. Speaking of that, what about mental health for new parents?
You might already know that Ovia is the largest screener in the country for perinatal mental health issues and postpartum depression, and some of our recent statistics indicate that new parents, especially first-time moms, are reporting depression and anxiety symptoms 23% more than in years past. How are you helping new parents get through their postpartum journeys, prepare to come back to work, and ensure their transition is manageable once they do return?
Kate: Absolutely, we’re excited to have Ovia as a partner because you are addressing these issues head on. We’ve been able to partner with you to host several Perinatal Mental Health webinars, point our employees to your coaches to offer support (and knowing that your coaches proactively reach out to folks). Our athenaFamilies organization also helped put together a Parental Leave eLearning “The Return Plan” so folks feel supported in returning after leave.
Amy: I love that you’ve taken it all in and made it your own as well. I know that’s important to a lot of leaders, to put these important lessons into a framework that resonates with their employees, because not all workforces look the same. It’s also just so important for new parents, especially as they’re returning from their parental leave, to feel that support in a way that makes them feel like they can handle that transition into working parenthood and still feel like a confident and capable member of their team.
The industry is clearly reflecting what happens when this level of support isn’t there.
We’ve seen some fairly staggering statistics and trends around women leaving the workforce during the pandemic, and others suggesting nearly 36% of employees who are of childbearing age are looking for new jobs post-pandemic. People are calling it the Great Resignation. I know athenahealth has taken a lot of steps to ensure its workforce is happy and engaged, and you’re always working to better your support. Given there are so many other important priorities in the industry today, in your opinion, why is it so important to focus on family benefits right now?
Kate: As we’ve talked about before, there are SO many definitions of families and different families have unique needs. We spend so much of our lives at our places of work – and the pandemic only blurred the lines between work and home lives further. As a result, employees are looking to their employers to meet their unique needs, both in and out of the office. If you’re worried about childcare or supporting your aging family, you cannot be fully present and engaged at work. We recognize the stress and responsibility and dedication they have to their families. We see them, and we support them. Families will always have a seat at the table at athenahealth because, without these incredible minds, we would not be the organization we are today.
Amy: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, and really showcased how important it is to give working parents, your entire workforce really, the support they need to take care of their families and live their lives outside of work. Do you think that these efforts have helped reduce burnout at your organization? Is this an issue you’re seeing or hearing about overall as an HR leader?
Kate: I wish I could say we’ve solved the problem of burnout. Unfortunately, I think the pandemic has exacerbated feelings of burnout that nobody has had control over. However, I do think talking about it helps. Destigmatizing mental health helps. Providing safe spaces for employees to engage and collaborate with like-minded people helps. And acknowledging we can’t be our best selves if we don’t stop to take care of ourselves. Sometimes you have to slow down, and recalibrate to be able to move forward, and athenahealth supports that.
Amy: That’s so true. Especially when people may be dealing with so many other things that we don’t necessarily see at work. They may be caring for a family, or an aging parent, or dealing with illnesses. The pressure to perform at home and perform at work can be so overwhelming. But, at the end of the day, our families and our personal pursuit of happiness are what we do it all for. And it’s so refreshing to hear more and more employers are starting to really recognize that and demonstrate their support by offering more family-friendly benefits.
But, sometimes I think that term can be somewhat nebulous. What does “family friendly” mean to you?
Kate: Family friendly means no matter how you define family, you feel included in the space. You have the opportunity to show up every day and be your best and bring your best 一 and there is no blueprint for how that looks.
Amy: Yes, Kate, I totally agree. There’s not just one path to parenthood, no one picture of what makes a family. Family dynamics have changed in the last 20 years, maybe even the last 5 years. I love that you are recognizing that and meeting your employees where they are, however you can.
What advice would you give to organizations and HR professionals who are looking to ensure their benefits are meeting the needs of working parents and their families?
Kate: Ask your employees if they feel the current benefits are meeting their needs. We can network and partner with our vendors and attend webinars about cutting-edge benefits that are entering the space, but if you don’t engage directly with your population, you’re missing a huge opportunity to learn more about YOUR people and what they value in the space.
Amy: Yes 一 asking the questions, really hearing the answers, and keeping that open line of communication. That’s key. Every employee base is different and to really meet their needs you have to ask what those needs are first! We have a lot of research coming out soon about what Ovia members want and what they are looking for from their employers, as well as what family friendly means to them. So make sure you stay tuned for all of that!
I want to thank Kate Crimmins for your thoughts and insights today. You and your team at athenahealth really are walking the walk - and I can tell just by the way you’re talking about your work, I can feel your passion for it. I hope others out there are doing the same things to let employees bring their whole selves to work 一 especially if they’re parents. If we’re constantly hiding part of ourselves, or feeling like we have to shut out or skimp on part of our lives, especially family life, we’ll never be able to put our all into our work. It’s better for the individual, for your organizational culture, and for your company’s bottom line if you can encourage employees to be their whole, authentic selves at work.
Thank you all for listening, and don’t forget to stay tuned for our next episode.