We recently sat down with Jenn Strater and Marlo Willis, the two most veteran members of KVH's Human Resources team, to learn about the function and flow of HR in a healthcare environment.
What is human resources?
Jenn: In some form or fashion, we are responsible for employees before they walk in the door until they walk out the door. Everything that happens in their life cycle here at KVH, HR touches.
Marlo: HR is employee oversight. Personnel files. Benefits, wages, compensation, policies you're held accountable for. Retirement documentation. It's the ultimate record of your time here at KVH.
HR has a lot of moving parts. Do you cross train to cover each other, or how does that work?
J: It's unacceptable for somebody to come in and say, "I want X," and for our answer to be "Sorry, Marlo's gone." Nobody responds well to that. So all of us know how to do the basics. We can at least give the person a place to start.
M: People who have been here a long time think, "I have to talk to Marlo." Well, no, you don't have to talk to Marlo. Cheyanne can help you.
Kind of like triage?
M: Sure. In a sense that's what it is. She might be able to help the person right away.
What do you wish people knew about working in HR?
M: We're not a party planning committee. I think people think HR just plans parties, but there's a whole professional side of HR.
You have to know a lot in your day-to-day work.
J: And be prepared for anything. You never get the same day twice. You have no idea what's going to be walking through that door.
M: People come and go. And so you deal with all of it. Employees concerned about leaves and sickness and whether their pay runs out.
J: These are important aspects of a person's life and career, and HR is woven into that. So we are a place to go, whether things are going well or they're unraveling.
You're the safe place for a lot of people, right? Or, when you don't know where to go, go to HR.
J: Right. Anybody can come into our office, share their joys and frustrations, and know we're going to treat you the exact same way the next day.
And how do you support each other?
J: Things can feel incredibly overwhelming if you don't have people that you trust there with you. We allow ourselves those "offstage" moments with each other.
M: I don't think it's any secret, Carrie, Jenn and I have worked together for a long time. We have to find people like Cheyanne and Dan and Karen and Babbi, who have been good additions to our team.
J: We're a balance of strong personalities, people pleasers, doers, and conceptualizers. It's a good blend.
How did you get into HR, and what's been your career path at KVH?
M: I was graduating from Central, and my husband loved the police department here. I didn't have any experience, but I had a management degree. Andy Shock was the OR director. He hired me for an internship in the OR. (Thank you, Andy!)
J: What did you do?
M: I did clerical, nurse scheduling, time cards. Then I worked for the Foundation, Accounting, and Registration. Once they added an FTE to HR, I just fell into it. I was the HR assistant, then I took on payroll and benefits. We were small, with 167 employees. I've done everything in HR, benefits, coordinator, backup director… And now I'm at the end of my career. (Laughs)
HR has been a good fit for you.
M: I always felt it was good, because of the variety of roles I had at KVH. I could speak to an FTE situation, or about working the evening shift. I knew what all that meant because I'd lived it.
How did you get into HR, Jenn?
J: I always knew I'd wind up in business. I don't like math and I don't like science.
There's math in business.
J: Yeah. But the computer does it. I went to school for got my AA, then decided I didn't like school and went into customer service. It was interesting, but there was no opportunity to grow. I thought, there's got to be more to this thing called life. So I went back to school. I took a basic HR class, and my professor, James Avey, told us, "You have the ability to change lives." That got me really excited. I got my degree, then I saw a posting at KVH for an intern to fill in whilst the HR assistant was out on maternity leave. I applied -
And they didn't get rid of you.
Yeah, it was awesome. I had a lot of fun. Then when that individual decided not to come back after maternity leave, I applied for the full time position and haven't looked back. I was HR assistant for eight years, and now recruiter for two.
How is HR different in a healthcare environment?
M: HR healthcare is the Cadillac of HR. A lot of companies have one HR person and they do everything but nothing in-depth. In healthcare, we have unions and so much going on, and specialties, we really go deep in our roles. Healthcare is a cool industry to be in and it changes so much. We're constantly having to keep updated and really connect with other hospitals.
J: And we have a national organization for healthcare human resources. That's not true for a lot of industries. I would hazard to guess there are more people in a healthcare environment because we don't have just full time or part time, we've got per diem and -
M: We're a unique environment -
And it's 24-7-365.
M: It's kind of fun to be in HR.
J: Yeah, it is. And we're hiring people that have a direct impact on our community. We're hiring the people that are going to take care of my grandma.
What are the challenges of human resources?
M: Actually, our main challenge is the same as the other areas of healthcare: the rapid pace of change.
And the rewards?
J: Every day that I get to extend a job offer, that's a great feeling. You can't beat it.
M: It says a lot that we have so many employees with longevity. The reward is that we're a good employer and try to educate managers to support their staff. We have good policies, benefits, pensions. We have all of that. So employees want to stay.
J: KVH has a lot of people like Marlo who started in one area and worked their way to the next stepping stone in their career. That's the case for all but one of our nursing directors, and many other KVH directors and managers, too.
What I would love about HR is that you meet everyone.
M: Yeah, we get access to everybody.
And it just feels good to know, hey, that person's here and they're taken off and they're doing well.
M: I love that. And if you have a question, come in and ask the question. We're not scary. It's okay. Email us. What do you need? What might I be able to answer? At least I can point you in the right direction. You know, it's nice to be able to answer questions. But it's also fun to occasionally plan parties. (Laughter)
What do you put in your HR go-bag to survive day at work?
M: A cup of coffee.
J: And patience.
M: I have to remember not to react to anything, and just listen –
J: – and always remember that there's two sides to every story.
Anything else you want to add?
J: Goodness Gracious. I think we're awesome, but we couldn't do it without the entire team.
M: We do a lot, and I think we forget to toot our own horn.
Maybe somebody needs to plan a party for you.
It takes a village. KVH Human Resources Division includes:
Dan, HR Benefits & Wellness Coordinator
Jenn, HR Recruiter
Marlo, HR Business Partner
Cheyanne, HR Division Assistant
Carrie, Director – Human Resources
Karen, Director – Volunteer Services & Cancer Outreach Coordinator
Arla, Staff Development RN
Babbi, Staff Development RN
Lacey, Staff Development RN