Angel of HR Tackles Stigma of Mental Illness, Efforts Earn Aspiring Leader Honor
By Elizabeth Casanas, SVP of HR, Showtime Networks

CTHRA’s Aspiring Leader award recognizes an emerging HR professional whose fresh perspective, inventive ideas and innovative approach have positively impacted the leadership and culture of an organization. Learn about this year’s recipient by reading her award nomination.

Michelle Martin (pictured below), Vice President, Human Resources Specialty Services at CBS Corporation, has been referred to on more than one occasion as the "Angel of HR."  What makes Michelle stand out as a leader is her creative approach to connecting our different businesses and her compassion and understanding of employees’ needs, needs that cross from our workplace to real life. Michelle is a professional who serves as a valued resource to our business in the areas of social responsibility and diversity. Michelle engages with the sales teams and CBS Cares, our public services department, to connect their initiatives to the employees.  In her role, she is officially responsible for the strategy and design of CBS' health and welfare plans, employee engagement and the development of HR policies – but really, she is involved in so much more.

A person smiling for the camera  Description generated with very high confidenceMichelle recognizes the need to support employees in many non-traditional areas and knows that one size does not fit all. Although she understands corporations need a core set of programs and benefits, she also believes they can find practical solutions to support employees in many areas of their lives that corporations generally don’t focus on. Michelle concentrates on the areas that are underserved and difficult to navigate, like caregiving, or hard to talk about because of stigma, such as mental health.

To reduce that stigma, Michelle works with organizations focused on increasing support for people dealing with mental illness. Recently, she was in a meeting with colleagues discussing what to call an employee event about depression. The general consensus was that the workshop shouldn’t be about “battling depression” – it should be about “making happiness a habit.” But Michelle believes that we are just adding to stigma if we can't even name a program what it is. So, with that in mind, she developed a multi-award-winning education campaign called "I'm Fine.”  The brochure pictured below was mailed to 14,000 employees at home and followed up with a series of webcasts on difficult topics, including suicide and substance use disorders.  Not only did the campaign win awards, but employees also sent very positive feedback.

"Love that you're doing this workshop! Very important info, and the workplace is a great place to start. Thank you!" - CBS  employee
A close up of text on a white background  Description generated with high confidence
In addition to the mailer and webcasts, CBS sponsored the National Alliance Mental Illness walk in NYC. Employees were proud of our company and the connection to the community.

Michelle was quoted in an AARP publication saying, "Our hope is to fill the gaps in support along the continuum of care, so that employees not only have what they need to care for their loved ones but also the peace of mind to do so without worrying about their job."  She has been an advocate for caregivers at CBS by supporting policy changes that allow employees to use sick time to care for family members, expand paid parental leave and increase subsidized back up childcare to help new parents transition back to work. But she started to get more creative about supporting eldercare with the implementation of a program for employees called MSK Direct, opening this program to parents and in-laws. CBS was the first company to implement MSK Direct through Memorial Sloan Kettering. With a dedicated CBS team, this program helps employees and family members who have cancer or are suspected of having cancer navigate a complicated system while also managing the emotional stress involved with battling the disease.

Through MSK Direct, employees receive timely appointments in the specialty they need.  In addition, the MSK Direct team gathers all patient medical records and is there for them throughout their care at MSK. We have had tremendous feedback from employees about this program, many of whom have expressed pride in being able to offer this company benefit to their family.  We are told MSK Direct is one of the best things we offer to employees at one of the most difficult times in their lives. We are extremely proud of Michelle and thankful she was instrumental in opening the program to parents and in-laws of CBS employees.

Also, HR saw that CBS employees and their dependents were not getting some of the recommended preventive screenings, and one especially low screening rate is for lung cancer. This screening is done with a low dose CT scan – so it's not a screening that you can bring to the office.  As a result, Michelle implemented the CBS Lung Screening Program in partnership with Sloan Kettering to raise awareness and guide high risk patients to seek screening at MSK.  This was the first lung screening for each of the patients who participated in the program. Eligibility is based on heavy smoking history and age, so the eligible population is fairly small, but the impact is significant. Of the patients screened, 45% had positive findings. We are hopeful that this early detection and monitoring will have a significant impact on the well-being of these patients. We are encouraged to have learned that other employers are now looking to support a lung screening program after hearing about CBS’ program results. 

CBS now screens over 2,000 employees annually with onsite skin cancer and oral cancer screenings; "CBS Days" at mammography centers; and other special events such as a Men's Health day at local providers. We encourage employee participation in many creative ways, and even if we can't host onsite, we work with local providers to make it convenient for employees during business hours.

Another very unique program developed by Michelle is CBS’ “Health Fair in a Bag.” At CBS we hold health fairs at our large locations; however, we are a national employer with 130 locations in 32 states and about 5,000 of our employees do not have access to an onsite health fair.  To give everyone the opportunity to get involved, Michelle developed “Health Fair in a Bag,” a desk drop to all employees who do not have access to onsite health fairs. The bags typically include materials employees would receive at a health fair, along with a CBS-branded gift. Our small locations are not forgotten – we value the work they do and want them to take full advantage of our benefits and programs.  Michelle really stands out with how she partners with all of our different stakeholders at CBS, connecting their business initiatives to our employees - thereby expanding our impact and increasing employee pride in the company.

Michelle also develops unique programs to support our diversity team and the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).  For example, to support Memorial Day for several years she helped the Veterans group distribute red poppy flowers, as many companies do. In 2017, she worked with the Veterans Group to get people and families even more engaged and created and distributed 4,000 poppy seed cards to employees, encouraging them to plant them to pay homage to fallen service members and to share photos of themselves planting their seeds, as well as photos of their poppies in full bloom as a continuation of the Company’s Memorial Day recognition. CBS posted photos on Facebook and sent CBS-branded thank you gifts to those who sent the pictures.

Michelle's continued support of the Veterans Network ranges from assisting with our national veteran internship program to honoring our veteran employees in different ways. One example that stands out was her idea to offer our veteran employees the opportunity to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, where our employees were on the podium, a place generally reserved for CEOs and executive teams.

Michelle strongly supports the Women’s Networking Group and CBS’ many other programs. Her creativity in connecting employees, nonprofit organizations and our business is inspiring. For instance, this past December, she worked with the Covenant House Mother Child shelter to support their holiday party. CBS employees volunteered at the event, and we had our CBS photographers onsite to take portraits of the moms and their babies, providing framed pictures to the moms as holiday gifts.

We feel there is no better measurement than unsolicited employee feedback, and by that measure Michelle's innovative approach has positively impacted the culture at CBS, and the business. She is a true innovator, inspiration and leader.

This article was submitted by Elizabeth Casanas, SVP of HR, Showtime Networks (pictured left).







Join Us to Celebrate CTHRA’s 2017 Award Winners

Michelle Martin and the Team Innovator of the Year, the HR-for-HR Team at NBCU, will be honored at the Excellence in HR Awards Luncheon on Oct. 26 during CTHRA’s HR Symposium in Philadelphia. Join us for a day of learning, networking and celebrating the accomplishments of Michelle and NBCU by registering now at NBCU’s award-winning initiatives will be spotlighted in the next issue of HR Pulse.





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