Janel Lancaster Works with a Mission in Mind

Whether she’s supporting UNC Health through community initiatives or overhauling HR operations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Janel Lancaster works to keep North Carolinians healthy

Photo by David Williams

Since joining UNC Health as a senior compensation analyst in 2012, Janel Lancaster’s roles and responsibilities have evolved quite a bit. Now, as the system executive director of total rewards, human resources data, and customer experience, she’s responsible for compensation, employee benefits, HR data governance, ergonomics, and workers’ compensation.

UNC Health is an inclusive organization with nearly forty thousand diverse employees whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of the unique communities it serves.

While Lancaster earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in business analytics, most of her professional experience lies in HR. She was initially exposed to the industry while working in the finance department at Hall County Government, a local government agency in Gainesville, Georgia.

“I started as the payroll manager, which at the time, was in the finance department,” Lancaster says. “After a while, payroll transitioned into the HR department and I was asked to take on additional HR-related duties. I worked there for over six years and my role continuously evolved to include HRIS (human resource information systems), recruitment, and a generalist role.”

Lancaster and her now husband relocated from the Atlanta metro area to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2011, and she began working at phonebook and digital advertising company DexOne. After about a year, the company announced it was being acquired and would be relocating HR to Dallas, forcing Lancaster to find another position.

This time around, Lancaster says, she was looking for a company whose values and beliefs matched her own. She came across the position at UNC Health, and as Lancaster puts it, “the rest is history.”

“I truly enjoy working for UNC Health. The company has a great mission—to support the health of North Carolinians—which aligns with my personal values. I’ve also been presented many opportunities to advance my career while working here,” says Lancaster, who will be celebrating her ninth anniversary with the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based organization in October 2021.

“We had to put our normal practices on hold: we had to be adaptable and creative to address the new daily challenges that were affecting our staff.”

Over the years, Lancaster has even helped UNC Health launch several community initiatives that align with its mission, including the notable Living Wage Project. The project, which rolled out in July 2019, raised the minimum pay rate to $15 per hour in the Triangle area—Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. “Being a leader in the state’s health system and raising the living wage opened the door for other businesses to follow suit,” Lancaster says.

Today, as the system executive director of total rewards, HR data, and customer experience, Lancaster’s day is filled with many competing priorities, and she tries to balance it all. “We’re now in the stabilization phase of the HR ERP (enterprise resource planning) software we implemented in December 2020, so my days are filled with navigating any system issues that may arise,” Lancaster says. “We’re also constantly navigating creative HR solutions for the rapidly changing healthcare market due to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Like much of the world experienced, Lancaster and her team came into work one day and their environment, as they once knew it, completely shifted. “We had to put our normal practices on hold: we had to be adaptable and creative to address the new daily challenges that were affecting our staff,” she says.

In addition to collaborating with her colleagues in daily HR leadership meetings, Lancaster coordinated with both her team and the IT team to overhaul operations—essentially overnight. Together, they implemented a teleworking portal that allowed managers the ability to identify which members of their staff needed to transition to working remotely. The portal was also used to determine staff equipment needs such as laptops, monitors, and keyboards, and allowed leadership to provide each other with data to help make timely decisions around next steps. According to Lancaster, the portal was a huge success.

Among the other operational changes Lancaster and her team implemented as a result of the pandemic were a new subsidy program, childcare resources, paid time off flexibility, additional compensation for clinical staff, and policy revisions.

janel lancaster
Janel Lancaster, System Executive Director of Total Rewards, HR Data & Customer Experience, UNC HealthPhoto by David Williams

Lancaster and her team also had to adjust the total rewards strategy to accommodate the rapidly changing healthcare market. “Now, we’re reviewing benchmark data on a more regular basis. We’re using nontraditional market data and reaching out to associations regarding the pulse of the market so we can be a leader in the industry. We’ve implemented additional benefits to ensure the well-being of our teammates, and we’re constantly evaluating our benefits program and enhancing as needed,” Lancaster says.

Now, Lancaster says, the organization is in a phase of what they call “Working Forward,” meaning they’re determining which teammates will go back to the office and which will remain remote. However, Lancaster notes that because their transition to remote work was so successful, a large portion of teammates will remain at home going forward.

Lancaster points to her team, the other HR teams, and the entire organization for how well UNC Health handled—and overcame—the challenges inflicted by the pandemic. “We’ve always been an adaptable, flexible, and creative organization, but the pandemic reinforced that fact,” Lancaster says.

Additionally, Lancaster attributes their success to their compensation management system, CompLogix. “Our partnership with CompLogix has provided better communication to our leaders and impacted teammates regarding pay increases, incentive plans, and total reward statements,” she explains.

“It also allowed the compensation and benefits teams to focus on other aspects of not only handling the pandemic but their everyday duties as well, such as enhancing our programs and brainstorming creative strategies,” she adds. “They weren’t bogged down with the technical work [of] manually administering those programs, which is what we were doing in the past.”

Looking to the future, Lancaster remains focused on the job, and more specifically, on supporting UNC Health’s teammates with new and creative HR solutions.