Humans and technology: Not an oxymoron

Insights from IMPACT posted on April 19, 2019

In a Day 2 IMPACT session that tackled the thorny topic of how humans and technology can work together, Pete DeBellis, vice president, total rewards research leader, Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP, started the discussion by talking about the humanistic workplace.  He defined it as one in which workers are appreciated as human beings to be respected, valued, and developed—not resources to be managed and deployed. The humanistic workplace is characterized by respect for the dignity of individuals, a nuanced understanding of the various stakeholders of a modern organization, and acceptance of the organization’s role as a social enterprise.

DeBellis connected the importance of the humanistic workplace to the key findings of the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, which call for organizations to bring meaning back to the workplace and a human identity back to the worker. His comments set the stage for HR leaders from three organizations to share their stories about how technology can be part of the solution, not the problem, when it comes to reinventing with a human focus. Their stories were followed by a Q&A led by DeBellis and Melissa Yim, senior manager and leader of the strategic communications consulting practice for Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Andrea Procaccino, VP, Talent Development & Diversity, and Chief Learning Officer, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Healthcare System

Under Procaccino’s leadership, New York-Presbyterian Hospital has created a recognition program that lets patients or their families acknowledge and praise their caregivers. The idea grew out of feedback from hospital employees about how much patients’ appreciation means to them. Procaccino and her team thought it would be incredibly motivating and inspiring for their dedicated staff of caregivers to receive this kind of feedback on a more widespread basis. So, she and her team worked with their colleagues on the patient experience team, as well as strategic employee recognition and rewards vendor OC Tanner, to design a platform and process to provide patients with an easy-to-use tool for recognizing their caregivers’ efforts.

As part of their existing hospital admissions process, patients had already been provided with a tablet they could use to access social media, watch programming, and keep in touch with friends and family. Now they can use that same tablet to express their appreciation for a specific caregiver or a whole team of them. Patients can choose from a host of animated e-cards and add their own message; the recognition is then emailed directly to the caregiver or team. Thousands of these shout-outs have been sent to caregivers, who are beyond delighted to receive them. According to Procaccino, this kind of feedback is why the hospital’s caregivers do what they do, so for them to receive it on a more frequent basis though their daily communication channels is very meaningful and motivating.

Procaccino’s key takeaway from this effort is to think differently about recognition. Don’t just focus on how recognition efforts can work inside your organization. Look outside your walls to consider what will matter the most to your employees and engage them in new and creative ways to help connect them to the meaning and purpose of their work.

Jessie Wusthoff, Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Clover Health

Wusthoff described Clover Health as partly a Medicare Advantage company and partly a technology company. It’s also rapidly expanding—big enough now that people no longer know everyone in their office. Given Clover Health’s expanding size and geographic footprint, along with the company’s complex variety of roles, it was becoming increasingly easy for workers to feel siloed or left out. Wusthoff felt the company needed to better understand how its people were feeling in regard to inclusion.

While the organization understands how to assess diversity—looking at representation across their population, as well as equity, which can be measured through pay parity, promotion rates, and policies—there aren’t broadly accepted metrics for measuring inclusion. Faced with inclusion concerns and this lack of data and metrics, Clover Health designed an inclusion survey that is similar to an employee engagement survey, but with several added demographic questions on race / ethnicity (beyond EEOC categories), sexual orientation, disability status, caregiver status, transgender status, and native language. The survey also has a unique focus: it’s less about the score, and more about the variation in scoring between demographics. Finally, it was built on a platform that delivered powerful analytics to help Wusthoff and her team evaluate the results.

The key to success, as Wusthoff saw it, was to get every employee to complete the survey. Marginalized people or groups often feel unable to speak up. Power dynamics are real, and it’s hard for many people to overcome them. Wusthoff wanted to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard, and the survey was essential to achieving that goal. Her team accomplished high survey completion by keeping it open longer than traditional surveys, providing open 24-hour access, and allowing people to take the survey while at work. The resulting data is helping Wusthoff and the Clover Health organization understand the gaps between perception and fact and tailor more effective programs moving forward.

Wusthoff’s key takeaway from living through the survey process is the importance of taking an organization’s leaders with you on the journey, addressing any concerns as they rise and guiding them through the process.

Larita Howard, Arizona Service Area Manager of HR, Dignity Health

Dignity Health Arizona supports six hospitals and nearly 11,000 employees. And like many healthcare organizations, it was concerned about the wellbeing of its employees. The organization wanted to build a wellbeing program that not only focused on employees’ physical health but also allowed them to bring their whole selves to work. Dignity Health wanted to make sure employees knew the company genuinely cared about them and their families, so they in turn could authentically be themselves, serve patients, and reach their potential with the organization. Another goal was to gather and use this important data to create better programs for employees. 

In 2017 Howard’s team launched a new online wellness platform called Personal Best. To expand the program’s accessibility, it featured an app in in addition to desktop access. Personal Best covers many aspects of employees’ emotional and physical lives—including nutrition, physical activity, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and stress and depression management—and empowers them to take control of their own wellbeing. Employees across all hospital locations were offered the opportunity to become a wellness champion in areas they are most passionate about.

Leaders across the organization played a key role in the launch, education, and ongoing engagement with Personal Best. Howard’s team developed a toolkit to help leaders understand and use the program so they could serve as role models for team members. They made the connection between wellbeing, Dignity Health’s brand, and its business strategy, demonstrating that employees need to feel their best in order to provide the best care. Leveraging front-line managers who have the most experience and interaction with employees was critical in the rollout and adoption of Personal Best.

The program is just one component of Dignity’s employee engagement ecosystem. Howard noted the need to compare the data with that of other metrics, like engagement and turnover, to identify and address areas for improvement. Still, Howard was happy to present a slate of impressive statistics for employee engagement with Personal Best. Ninety-eight percent of eligible employees took the wellbeing assessment that was introduced with the program’s launch, and an unheard-of 96 percent took the biometric assessment. Communications encouraged employees to know their health numbers, so they could know their potential risks. Some employees sought out medical care immediately after taking their biometric assessment, and later thanked the company for helping them uncover pressing issues with their health.

Howard’s key takeaway was that engagement in wellbeing is not an issue for a single department; every component of an organization has an impact.  She also cautioned to keep an eye on leaders, because “they can’t pour from an empty cup.” Burnt-out leaders often result in burnt-out teams, so find ways to fill their cup back up and increase their engagement.


  • Is it a coincidence that we have three healthcare organizations on this panel? Is there something about caregiving that presents challenges and increases the chance of burnout?

Healthcare involves a lot of intrinsically motivated people doing emotionally exhaustive work, Wusthoff pointed out, so those people are more likely to be more empathetic. Healthcare organizations need to be highly attentive and proactive about this to prevent burnout and help caregivers maintain their emotional resilience.

  • Do you think there is a connection between supporting a more humanistic workplace and safety in your industry?

Yes, according to Procaccino. New York-Presbyterian Hospital uses data from its engagement survey showing that a more engaged workforce produces better safety outcomes for patients and caregivers. Getting the heart and mind firing together is critical in healthcare. Procaccino said she always uses this kind of quality data—and connects it to outcomes—when addressing executives’ concerns.

  • What is the role of the leader in all of this? And how does it differ from the role of champion in how you rolled out and communicated these initiatives?

Leaders set the tone, as Howard explained, so if they are not engaged in their own wellbeing and the program, then their team probably isn’t going to be either. Her group at Dignity Health built a toolkit to help them get onboard, guide them through the process, and continue to check in and keep the program top of mind with employees to increase their engagement.

  • Communications can provide a critical bridge between humans and technology. How did you use communications to both market these specific initiatives and support the overall worker experience?

Clover Health’s Wusthoff talked of sharing her own personal story about having a disability to let people know that the survey was a safe space for them to do the same. Dignity Health’s Howard said she called on leaders to connect more authentically with employees—and then provided them with a toolkit and ongoing guidance to ensure they were equipped to start the conversation and keep it going.

  • What did not work well in your situation? Are there any pitfalls that others might be able to avoid, based on your experience?

All three panelists cited some variation of needing better communications. Procaccino said that when initial patient usage of the recognition program was low, her team realized they needed to spend more time training caregivers on how to have the conversation with patients that this program existed. And they needed to meet patients where they were by creating different communication materials for different patient audiences. Howard said she wished she had communicated earlier with other areas of the business to understand what the siloes were and how to bridge potentially overlapping initiatives. And Wusthoff felt she should have involved the HR organization in her plans earlier so they could block out a communication schedule in advance.

Stay tuned for more Insights from IMPACT 2019 all week, and follow the conference conversations on our Twitter handle: @Bersin.

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