Episode #3

Mitch Martens: Creating engagement and loyalty by giving back to employees

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In this episode:

Does it help to remove hierarchies and titles in order to get true buy-in? Why is emotion an important ingredient in making meaningful experiences? In this episode of the Human-friendly Workplace podcast, Employee Wellness Administrator at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Mitch Martens details how he rolled out a wellness initiative that’s benefitted over 9,000 employees. Mitch discusses why it sometimes takes a dramatic event to kick off necessary change, how sometimes you just need to “let the magic happen,” and the one piece of advice he would give to managers on creating a human-friendly workplace culture.

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About Mitch & Cedars-Sinai

Cedars-Sinai is a nonprofit academic healthcare organization serving the Los Angeles community and beyond. With medical research, education programs, and community benefit activities, they’re setting new standards for quality and innovation in patient care.

Mitch Martens is the Employee Wellness Administrator at Cedars-Sinai. Under his leadership, the employee wellness program has received numerous awards including the WELCOA Well Workplace University Certification, American Heart Association’s Platinum Certified Fit Friendly Certification, and it was recently selected as a Work@Health worksite, a CDC-sponsored program.

Giving employees the gift of time to focus on themselves

Did you know that the average health care worker is less healthy than the average population? This fact is part of what inspired Mitch to start the “It’s All about Caring” program. Framed as a two-day gift, all Cedars-Sinai employees had the opportunity to take a time out from their regular job to focus on themselves and their goals.

But as is often the case with sweeping change, it took a drastic event for the program to be set in motion. “Organizations I don’t see much differently than human beings. Sometimes it takes human beings to be in pain in order for them to change or do something drastically different in their life,” says Mitch. In Cedars-Sinai’s case, it was that both its patient and employee satisfaction scores were dipping. Common sense said that the root of the problem was employee satisfaction, so the company decided to visibly recommit to its employees. That prompted the conception of the “It’s All about Caring” program, behind which the thought was, as Mitch says: “Let’s go to the heart of our people and let’s listen to their heart.” And that they did over the nine years the program ran, touching over 9,000 employees in the process.

Letting the magic happen

The program ran three times a month at an off-site location. An important rule was that employees would not bring their badges; they would simply receive a name tag with their first name. “We really wanted these employees to know this is about them, not about their title,” Mitch says.

Another key decision was having the sessions opened by a senior leader to signal that they too had taken the program, believed in it, and meant it as a gift for employees to do with as they will. Mitch and his co-facilitator also lived this attitude throughout the program, not trying to change or force employees into anything.

Mitch’s goal was to allow employees to get more in touch with themselves and identify what was important to them. By not putting any pressure or expectations on employees, Mitch and his team were able to create a space where people felt good, leading to them opening up. Or as Mitch says, they “just let the magic happen.”

Trust breads trust

Another important factor of success for the program was creating mutual trust. Mitch was amazed not only at the number of secrets that were kept, but also at the audience not telling future participants the details about the event, allowing them to come in as blank slates. What happened in the room stayed in the room.

At the end of the first day, the audience was asked to identify what was important for them in different categories and what would get them one step to get closer to that goal. To help them, they were put in groups to bounce ideas off of and also given a writing assignment to go into the future and image they achieved that goal, which got them emotionally invested in it. The emotional connection was key Mitch says, because “for people to have meaningful experiences, usually there is an emotion attached to that.”

The next day, the participants were asked to share what first step they did, and Mitch says there were times the room was in tears. “80 to 90 percent of the time, something that is important to us, our dream, our possibilities, has a story behind it. And it’s an emotional story behind it. When people share that story, it connects the room, it makes people authentic and it gets everyone else in the room to validate that feeling.” Fulfilling people’s need for validation and acknowledgement turned out to be a surprisingly powerful element of the program.


“For people to have meaningful experiences, usually there is an emotion attached to that.” — Mitch Martens, Employee Wellness Administrator, Cedars-Sinai

Giving back creates loyalty

While the initiative was truly created to give back to employees, it still also had the side effect of creating greater loyalty to the organization. Mitch gets approached from past participants years later that thank him for what he thinks is simply the permission and opportunity to go after their dreams. The program has so garnered an incredible level of commitment.

One further reason for the high commitment is that Mitch and his team built elements into the program that connected it back to company. They wanted it to be unique to Cedars-Sinai and not a program that could be completed anywhere else. So they connected elements back to the leaders that had sent the participants as as well as to the organization in general.

Mitch’s advice on creating a human-friendly workplace culture

Mitch’s secret to success for listeners to create a human-friendly workplace culture is “identifying the pain points in your organization.” We all get comfortable with tradition and routine, but pain points make us willing to try new things to fix them. He also suggests not rolling out an initiative across the whole organization off the bat but first finding a smaller group that wants to test it. Mitch calls this a TOC—test of change. Like a viral video, if the initiative works, it will spread on its own because that group will talk about it to others who in turn will come to you to also be a part of it, naturally making it a company-wide initiative over time.

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Jason Lauritsen

Keynote speaker, author and employee engagement consultant

Jason Lauritsen is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently.

A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits.
www.JasonLauritsen.com