Michelle Martin didn’t plan to go into human resources. In college, she studied sociology with plans to become an adolescent therapist, but she found herself on a new path when she took a position at a retirement plan consulting firm and learned about employee benefits. She moved to manage retirement benefits at a new company, and when her counterpart in health and wellness left, she asked to take over that job. As new responsibilities appeared, she took them on, and with each new opportunity, she expanded her role and passion for human resources.
As vice president of employee engagement at CBS Corporation, Martin continues to connect across the organization, assuming new responsibilities and bringing new resources to CBS’s employees. “When I look at different things, talk to different people, and get exposed to different areas, I can understand employees’ jobs better, and I understand the challenges that they’re facing better,” she says. Through this process, she creates new, innovative initiatives that connect employees with the resources they value most.
Among Martin’s initiatives is the annual health campaign, which centers on a different issue each year. The 2016 campaign addressed mental health, with the aim of reducing its stigma and improving education on the topic. Martin and her colleagues found that employees often skimmed over mental health concerns in conversations, and this realization led to the campaign’s slogan: I’m Fine. “I’m Fine was developed out of conversations where we asked people, ‘How are you doing?’ Everyone’s answer was, ‘I’m fine. I’m okay.’ And not everybody’s okay,” Martin says.
The campaign included webinars, workshops, and a mailer that was sent to employees’ homes. The mailer contained a brochure with phone numbers for CBS and national mental health services, conversation starters for employees to use with their friends, family members, and coworkers, and information about the mental health issues that employees and their loved ones might be facing. “We wanted people to understand what mental illness was and what it was not,” she says.
The campaign’s theme extended into other annual programs, including CBS’s health fairs, which Martin’s team organizes at locations across the country. For those locations where they cannot bring the program on-site, they created the health fair in a bag. Martin and her team send bags with information, discounts, and gifts to each location. The gifts are an important way to add some levity to a serious topic. During the I’m Fine campaign, the health fair bags included coloring books to help promote mindfulness. “It is one of the things that employees wait for each year,” she says. “I think the employees feel like we really thought about them. And we did.”
To connect the annual campaign beyond the office, Martin and her team engage with community partners, including the National Alliance for Mental Illness. These partnerships demonstrate CBS’s commitment to community health and wellness and provide an opportunity for employees to develop bonds across the organization, Martin says. “I want employees to feel pride in the company, to know CBS cares about them and their families, and to really feel connected,” she says. “No matter what you do in our business, it’s supporting the full business.”
Partnerships are key to many of Martin’s initiatives. In 2016, CBS partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to implement MSK Direct, an initiative that streamlines the process by which employees and their families access cancer screenings and treatment. The program is available to employees and their parents and in-laws, giving employees a way to support family members through a difficult time. For those located outside of the New York City area, CBS has a cancer support program that will help employees find covered care providers. “It’s such a complicated system, and they really need someone to walk them through it,” Martin says. “Having that immediate resource is amazing.”
As part of their effort to raise employees’ screening numbers for cancer and other diseases, Martin and her team identified the issues that were preventing people from getting screenings. “For our employees, it was time,” she says. And although she can’t create more time, she can create more access.
Martin brought skin cancer screenings to the workplace and partnered with local health centers to set aside days for CBS employees to schedule mammographies. She created a lung cancer screening awareness campaign to educate employees about their lung cancer screening options and worked to have a special screening program with MSK Direct. “I can’t do a lung cancer screening on-site,” Martin says, “But we did what we could in the community and got our screening numbers up.”
Martin’s continued push for innovation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2017, she was awarded both the Cable Telecommunications Human Resources Association’s “Aspiring Leader” award and the Outstanding Leadership in Workplace Health Award from the Northeast Business Group on Health. “Sometimes, to get an award for something outstanding you have to have one big program,” she says. “It was nice to be recognized for my persistence, my commitment to the industry, and my commitment to healthcare in general.”
As meaningful as this recognition was, it’s the unsolicited feedback she receives from CBS employees that inspires Martin from day to day. “Employees will call and say, ‘You saved my life. I never would have done this. We can’t thank you enough,’” she says. “When it’s unsolicited, I think it really is special.”
Hearing these responses drives Martin to continue envisioning new initiatives, even when she knows that there she won’t be able to implement every idea. “There’s always something you can do. You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can probably change one person’s world,” she says. She doesn’t always know when the next opportunity to help will arise, but when it does, she’s ready. “If it comes across my desk, it’s my job.”
Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS