Leadership in the Age of Personalization
Glenn Llopis Group, LLC (GLLG)
People are stressed.
With emotional turmoil.
With uncertainty about the future.
The very people your organization counts on to be brave enough to innovate and lead and inspire others to innovate and lead … they are stressed. They are leading people who are stressed. They are asked to perpetuate the standards that are stressing them out. And the cycle continues.
I’ve been writing lately about our societal shift from the age of standardization to the age of personalization.
Corporate America is at a breaking point. Every industry faces a laundry list of potential existential crises – new technologies or business models can and do emerge seemingly out of nowhere to challenge our position as leaders in the marketplace and in the workplace.
But how can leaders confront marketplace challenges when they feel crushed and in turn stifle those they lead?
Most organizations and leaders say they want to empower people to contribute at their fullest capacity. But they don’t know how.
Let’s start by examining what holds us back from fullest capacity. I’ve written about many of the obstacles, especially those that arise from the tension we’re all feeling during this shift from standardization to personalization:
Those are just a few of the obstacles that can originate from the workplace itself, contributing to the stress that people carry around.
The stressors mentioned above – debt, turmoil, uncertainty – may or may not originate in the workplace, but they certainly affect one’s ability to contribute. When we’re stressed for any reason, our capacity is affected.
In a world where new technologies and business models can make our own obsolete before we even know there’s a new competitor on the horizon, we can’t afford to have organizations filled with people whose individual capacities are stifled in any way.
For some insight on how companies can respond, let’s look at one of the most stressful occupations around – veterinarians – and what Banfield Pet Hospital is doing to help its own associates on an individual level. Banfield is the largest general veterinary practice in the United States, with more than 18,000 associates and 1,050 hospitals across the country. The company has been getting some well-deserved attention lately for a few different programs implemented to help the company’s associates deal with the major stressors involved in caring for pets.
As noted in this Time Magazine article: “Veterinarians face a set of unique stressors. Their patients can’t speak or tell them what’s wrong, much like babies can’t communicate with their doctors. But unlike pediatricians, veterinarians frequently find themselves having to euthanize a patient with a treatable injury or illness because its caretaker can’t afford the remedy.”
According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians have a higher risk of suicide compared with the general population.
Veterinarians also carry an enormous burden of student debt.
Glenn Llopis Group, LLC (GLLG)
Banfield is taking innovative action to combat this combination of potential emotional and financial stress for its associates. The company hired a mental health professional and an occupational health expert, and introduced a Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program.
I interviewed three people at Banfield to learn more.
Stephanie Neuvirth, senior vice president of Banfield’s People & Organization (P&O) department.
Glenn Llopis: Tell me about the Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program.
Stephanie Neuvirth: Studies suggests veterinarians carry a staggering amount of student debt, with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimating the average debt of most veterinary college graduates with student loans is more than $180,000.
We first broached the topic of student debt several years ago because we recognized the growing financial burden on veterinary students presented a problem with the potential to threaten our industry. The student debt burden has persisted industry-wide – and the challenge continues to be tangible and felt across the profession by thousands of veterinarians. This includes the doctors I speak with daily – incredibly compassionate, hard-working professionals who are successful in their work and yet carry what feels like an insurmountable amount of student debt.
That’s why we introduced Banfield’s Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program in December 2017, which includes three options for eligible doctors:
- A monthly student loan contribution of $150 paid by Banfield directly toward qualifying student loans.
- A one-time $2,500 payment for each qualifying Banfield student program in which the doctor participated prior to graduating, for a maximum of $10,000.
- A low-interest refinancing option with supplementary 0.25% interest rate reduction from a third-party financial institution.
In the first year alone, we already contributed more than $4 million through the first two options – and to date, our associates have refinanced more than $12 million in student loans.
Designed to promote financial health and wellbeing by beginning to help relieve this significant burden, we continue to hear overwhelmingly positive feedback from our people that this program is making a positive impact on their lives. We also intend to keep this important dialogue open as a profession – and together, explore new, innovative ways to reduce the student debt burden in service of our veterinary professionals.
Llopis: The demand for pet care greatly exceeds the supply of top veterinarian talent. What role does Banfield’s student debt relief program play in your recruitment and retention strategy?
Neuvirth: While we know our program alone won’t solve the complex issue of student debt for veterinarians, we believe it’s a step in the right direction to support our associates – and hope to inspire other employers, including those outside the veterinary industry, to take steps to support their associates’ financial wellbeing.
Our ultimate goal is to help ease some of the burden of student debt, enabling our doctors to focus more on their health and wellbeing and providing high-quality veterinary care to pets. Early indications suggest we are proving successful in doing so. We’ve witnessed increased retention rates among participating doctors and continue to hear overwhelmingly positive feedback from our associates.
Llopis: What have been the benefits and lessons to date?
Neuvirth: Given our commitment to listening to our associates and supporting their health and wellbeing, Banfield created a team dedicated to associate health and wellbeing last year. We made an investment not only in a small team of professionals to support our associates across the practice – including a mental health professional and an occupational health expert – but also to deliver innovative programs and benefits like our Veterinary Student Debt Relief Pilot Program.
As part of the practice’s holistic approach to health and wellbeing, our in-house mental health services program manager is responsible for developing and implementing mental health strategies and initiatives that not only support the emotional and mental health of Banfield associates but also reinforce our commitment to leading a health and wellbeing culture for our associates and the profession.
Kirk Breuninger, VMD, a veterinarian and director of strategic projects for Banfield Pet Hospital.
Llopis: How have you personally benefited from Banfield’s Student Debt Relief Program?
Dr. Kirk Breuninger: When I graduated from veterinary school, I had finally achieved a lifelong dream to be part of the profession I loved so much – but it came at a high cost. Like most early career veterinarians, my student debt weighed heavily on me and made financial freedom very challenging.
As such, the Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program was incredibly exciting to me, and I took a role in developing the program to ensure it best met the needs of our doctors who, like me, have student debt. As a program participant, Banfield’s Veterinary Student Debt Relief Program enabled me to reduce not just my overall cost of repayment, but also shaved off years from my loan.
This benefit has helped give me peace of mind. Having such a high amount of student debt comes with a burden and anxiety about my ability to pay it off and invest in my future. That anxiety is much less now, and the program has also helped me feel more connected to my workplace, which I’m sure has shown up in a number of different ways in the work I perform.
Brian Garish, president of Banfield Pet Hospital.
Llopis: Why is associate wellbeing a priority for you?
Brian Garish: We believe high-quality, compassionate veterinary care for pets starts with healthy, energized associates. If you take care of your people, everything else will follow.
I am keenly aware that culture matters and no matter your position, you control culture. I try my best each day to empower associates at all levels to make changes and act like owners of the practice. In service of that mission, we are building a culture that fosters health and wellbeing. From healthy mind and body to healthy career, finances and communities, this includes unique resources, benefits and services that enable our associates to be their best selves in both their work and personal lives.
These investments are working. Today we have the highest retention rates in Banfield’s history and we’re growing five times faster than the broader veterinary industry, caring for over 250,000 more pets already in 2019 as compared to last year.
Llopis: What can human health executives learn from Banfield?
Garish: At Banfield, we never take for granted that pets, people and society are all connected. Caring for a person’s pet means that we’re also caring for that person. Caring for so many people gives us a unique opportunity to impact society and ultimately extend care into our communities. We can advance human health through pet health, collectively elevating societal wellbeing – tapping into this intersection is vital to our future.
With that in mind, whether it’s healthcare for humans or pets, we share a common goal to improve access to care. For example, today over 60 million pets in the United States do not receive routine veterinary care.
The future of healthcare, including the veterinary industry, is meeting people and their pets where they are, whether it’s at home or in our hospitals, whenever they need care, 24/7. At Banfield we are introducing even better service and innovative solutions to lead the industry forward. From telehealth to translation services to mobile care, we are constantly evolving to serve the needs of pets – and people – today and tomorrow.
Banfield has found some creative and effective ways to help people contribute at their fullest capacity in today’s age of personalization.