On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Katie Urtnowski from the CNY Group about what you should have in your corporate mental health first aid kit?

Some Conversation Highlights:

You actually just mentioned awareness. I think that that’s something that is very important. People are very aware of their physical health, and what they need to do to take care of it. But there’s still a stigma around mental health. There’s things that a company can do just to socialize the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health, especially when it comes to mental health first aid.

A great example is when you’re reviewing benefits and explaining your benefits to employees, be sure to point out the mental health coverage, just as you would point out what the copay is, or the deductible is. You’re automatically providing a legitimacy to needing these services. Another idea is to ensure that you are providing trainings, anything from adaptability and resilience, things that aren’t necessarily corporate trainings, but topics that can help support those positive mental health habits.


Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 25 minutes

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Katie Urtnowski
Vice President of People and Culture CNY Group

Ms. Urtnowski has had a hand in launching CNY’s first leadership development program, re-engineering the firm’s performance management system, as well as building out a company-wide learning development platform. Part of CNY’s Strategic Executive Team, Ms. Urtnowski sets the tone for employee touchpoints, exhibiting core competencies of foresight, agility, accountability, and resiliency in everything she does at the firm.

Ms. Urtnowski has certifications in both Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). She also holds a Leadership Development certificate from Cornell University.


Music:   This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William Tincup:   Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Katie on from the CNY Group. We got a wonderful topic that just can’t wait to get into and learn from Katie about. It’s What Should You Have In Your Corporate Mental Health First Aid Kit? It’s we all have first aid kits. I have a first aid kit. My office at home, well, have first aid kits. But what’s mental health first aid kit?

I can’t wait to get into this. Katie, would you do us a favor, the audience favor and introduce both yourself and CNY Group?

Katie Urtnowski:   Sure. My name is Katie Urtnowski and I am Vice President of People and Culture for CNY Group. CNY is a construction and development services organization located in Midtown Manhattan.

William Tincup:   Okay. Let’s start with the basics, a rough … a traditional first aid kit. We have a Band-Aids. There’s always Band-Aids in there. All right. We got Band-Aids. What are the building blocks when you’re talking to the folks and, again, some of this is probably learned from COVID, probably some of the things we’re doing before that, hopefully, and things that we want to do in the future.

We’ll talk about the future, and what really should be in there. But let’s start with, okay, every first aid, every mental health first aid kit needs to have these things.

Katie Urtnowski:   I think a first good place to start for any HR or corporate person is to look at your benefits that your healthcare, ensure that there is mental health coverage, ensure that it has a robust network of mental health providers. Next is your employee assistance program. A lot of employee assistance programs not only provide the counseling that we’re all familiar with, but they also have a lot of tools and resources for employees, training for managers. It’s a really good tool to have in your toolbox.

William Tincup:   We say mental health professionals do is there … Obviously, there’s probably an array. Do you want to have options for different types of things that people are going through?

Katie Urtnowski:   Yes. I think that that’s really important. I think that there’s a spectrum. What really needs to happen is there needs to be coverage of social workers and mental health counselors and psychiatrists. The EAP can actually help provide some of that for you. But you really want to work with your carrier to ensure that your plan has that built into it.

William Tincup:   Yeah. Because your EAP might have wonderful network of wonderful professionals. But if your insurance doesn’t cover it, people are … Well, first of all, people will take advantage of it by and large. Okay. We’re going to deal with communication later on. Okay. After we have now structurally, we’ve got the money, meaning we’ve got benefits that cover and we’ve got a network, what are some of the other things that we would add to the first aid kit?

Katie Urtnowski:   I think it’s a lot of things that people don’t realize help support mental health and help support positive mental health habits. But it’s really a lot of things that you’re already doing in HR. It’s ensuring from day one that your employees are being integrated into your organization, and that they have a sense of belonging, and that they’re set up for success.

Doing something as simple as having an onboarding buddy, for your new hires, so that they can quickly get up to speed and have that sense of belonging from day one, introducing the employee ensuring that they’re making connections providing other opportunities for socialization, I think that especially as with the impact of COVID, is that the ability to socialize has really changed. That’s been very difficult for a lot of people.

Companies need to be thoughtful about the ways that they provide this opportunity for socialization. Even doing something as simple as allowing for chitchat at the beginning and end of team meetings really can help bonds people, which is a great way of supporting mental health, and something that you do every day.

William Tincup:   I love the buddy program. Because, first of all, it’s just a good onboarding experience, because it also explains the culture and how mental health, it’s easier to talk about now. It’s everyone’s got something going on and it’s okay. There’s going to be times in which you need help. Having a buddy, I love that from an onboarding experience, I also love that as they unpack the way that the company looks at things. Also maybe even explains the support network that people have. Okay. Other things in the first aid kit?

Katie Urtnowski:   You actually just mentioned awareness. I think that that’s something that is very important. People are very aware of their physical health, and what they need to do to take care of it. But there’s still a stigma around mental health. There’s things that a company can do just to socialize the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health.

A great example is when you’re reviewing benefits and explaining your benefits to employees, be sure to point out the mental health coverage, just as you would point out what the copay is, or the deductible is. You’re automatically providing a legitimacy to needing these services. Another idea is to ensure that you are providing trainings, anything from adaptability and resilience, things that aren’t necessarily corporate trainings, but topics that can help support those positive mental health habits.

William Tincup:   I love that. I love that. Okay. If someone’s not coming from a firm, where they’ve talked about mental health … You already do. They’ve come from a firm where it’s closeted, or whatever else, and they just haven’t talked about, now they’re coming into a firm where you have a mental health first aid kit. You’re actually not just talking about it, you put funding behind it, you put people behind it, and you’re explaining and you’re communicating, et cetera.

How do we get those that are reluctant? How do we get them over the hump of exploring? Because again, with mental health, you mentioned … I thought it was a beautiful analogy. You know what cholesterol should be. You know what your blood pressure should be. You can Google it. It’s pretty easy. They don’t really know what your mental health. You know when you’re upside down. But you don’t know where you are.

If you come from an environment where you’re not talking about it, you’re not learning about it, you’re not around other people that are talking about their journey, et cetera, I can see that being problematic to get them to disclose. Disclose is not the right word, but just talk more openly about things. What do you …

Katie Urtnowski:   Or you know where to start, right?

William Tincup:   Yeah. Or even worse [inaudible 00:   08:   23]. Yeah.

Katie Urtnowski:   It may not be that they don’t want to talk about it, they just don’t know how to.

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   That’s where awareness really comes in, finding an executive sponsor who is behind the idea and willing to support and attend to trainings and open up those conversation, ask questions during those benefit meetings so people understand that it’s okay to have these things in place. Another really great thing to do is just to bring it into your safety trainings. A lot of companies …

William Tincup:   Oh, cool.

Katie Urtnowski:   … will have trainings around physical safety. Obviously, in construction, we have to have a tremendous amount of training around safety. We do normally first aid and CPR training, but we also actually do mental health first aid certification. This is a program that your people can go through and actually get certified on the end to identify and triage that mental health crisis moment.

By just legitimizing that and making it a part of our corporate training, we’re also bringing an awareness to the issues and training people on how to identify problems and giving them the tools for what to do in those moments.

William Tincup:   Oh, I love that. I love that. Okay. Other things that you’d love to see in a mental health first aid kit?

Katie Urtnowski:   I think that the most important thing is the pieces of just the awareness to training and the socialization and providing social support. I think a lot of times the idea of having employees do events together or do something that may not just be work related, can be sloughed off. But in reality, it’s those things that build the trust and the rapport, and really brings that sense of belonging.

I think that corporations really and companies and people in companies need to think that that sense of belonging is extremely important. It’s not only important from a mental health perspective, and a diversity and inclusion perspective. But it’s important that people feel a piece of the company have pride in that work, because we know that pride leads to success and production.

William Tincup:   Right. I love that. Where are leaders in this?

Katie Urtnowski:   I think the most leaders understand the importance of mental health, and why it’s important to be aware of it in the workplace. I think that a lot of people aren’t really sure where to start.

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   How do you start to address that conversation, because they immediately leap when you talk about mental health as you go to the extreme?

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   It’s people with extreme mental health issues or illnesses. That’s not really the case. Just with your physical health, there’s a spectrum. Mental health is everything from just self-care, and getting enough sleep, and being able to think and stay focused. When you’re distracted and there’s a lot going on, and you have a lot of stressors all the way up to those bigger mental health illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar, all of those can be managed.

But people need to be aware that there’s a spectrum and there’s different ways of approaching things. The biggest thing to do is just to be human and be civil with one another and bring in that basic respect and golden rule of treat people as you want to be treated.

William Tincup:   Do you … I say where I shouldn’t even assume that, ERGs and CIGs, do you see them playing a role in the first aid kit?

Katie Urtnowski:   I do. I’d see and why we actually have an ERG that’s focused … We’ve actually just shifted the focus really to social events and connections, because we feel that’s really important. It was the ERG itself that identified that. It was our wellness initiative, and they really felt that making the shift to social it was what was going to help our particular employees and individuals.

That’s really important, because they’re the ones who are on the ground, talking to people, understanding the stressors that people are going through. They can help filter the information upward to let you know what kind of trains you should be doing, what kind of programs you should be running, what interests employees and others have.

William Tincup:   I love that. I love that. Getting people into those, again, getting back to the onboarding experience, and letting people know what’s available to them.

Katie Urtnowski:   Absolutely.

William Tincup:   There’s this resource guide, or resource part of it, some of it’s communications. It’s many facets that we’ve already unpacked. You’ve got to care enough to then do it, Okay, check. You got funded. Let’s just start with money, then you got to communicate, and then you got to get consumption and get people to actually use it and find it worthy of their time and energy and things like that.

I know you get asked this question, and it would be a natural question to ask, how do you measure, or is measurement even important as it relates to this?

Katie Urtnowski:   Well, I think measurement is always important.

William Tincup:   Right. Hard stop. Yes.

Katie Urtnowski:   Done. I think the way that you measure things like this because it’s a little bit more intangible, right?

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   It’s how do you measure the results of your health plan? Your insurance carrier can could provide you some information. For us our EAP provides some information. We also really take a look at the participation that we have. We did a mental health first aid certification training and 15% of our company was actually trained in that first round of training. To me that’s a big indicator of the interest that people have and the need that there is for something like this.

We also look at the social events that we’re running. Again, this is how we realized that this is what was really important for our individuals, especially as we switched into a virtual world. Construction is extremely hands on. It’s a face-to-face type of organization. Two years ago that completely flipped on its head. Our company, like many, dealt with how do we incorporate all of these new things? That’s really difficult to do on the fly.

In doing that and what our individuals asked for the most was just they missed water cooler talk. Because that was the piece of just being able to chitchat, learn about their co-workers, not think about their own problem, or have somebody to talk to their problem about. That’s where we really pushed into social events. Everything from art therapy, virtual therapy night, to movie night, again, allowing people to chitchat during meetings that all really just helped us form as a team and rebound.

William Tincup:   I love that. I love that. Okay. Let’s say we got the … if there isn’t anything else in the first aid kit, what do you think 2022? What would you add, if you were adding to it unlimited budget? Let’s just have a magic wand and just say, “Okay. We’re actually going to really do this?” What would you add to the first aid kit?

Katie Urtnowski:   I think I would expand on access to mental health resources. Ensuring that not only if our health plan didn’t cover, we’re only covered a certain part, if we could find other ways of providing services to our employees, perhaps partnering with virtual services, or there’s a lot of texting services out there, looking into those things, so that we can also bring those benefits to our employees.

I also would expand on our training, and just make it a really ingrained part of the culture here that mental health is a part of safety, and that we’re providing lots of opportunities for people to train on how to help themselves, their families, their co-workers, all of that.

William Tincup:   I love that. I love that. Okay. You’ve obviously talked to your peers about this at different points, I’m sure. How is it being received by your peer group? How is it being received by insurance, the carrier group, the benefits group? You’ve got benefits and benefits communication, you’ve got total rewards, you’ve got all these internal folks. How is just the discussion around mental health and funding mental health programs? How’s that being received right now?

Katie Urtnowski:   Very well, actually. I will be honest, I was a little surprised that how open the population at this organization was to discussing mental health to incorporating mental health. We have our top leadership and our executives immediately signed on and are willing to sponsor all of this, which …

William Tincup:   Wow.

Katie Urtnowski:   … is fantastic and made me realize that I really am at the right place. Because again, in construction, there can be a stereotype of what your construction, typical construction worker is. I fell into that, and was very, very surprised when I realized that was my own prejudice. We have people here are willing to be open. It’s fantastic for me. I got a lot of this exposure at my past position when I worked at the Urban Justice Center, which was a nonprofit legal firm here in New York City.

They had a whole project on mental health and helping the marginalized population of New York get accesses to services. I’m really grateful for that opportunity and experience to really expose me to these ideas, so that I could take that and pay that forward.

William Tincup:   I love that. I love that on so many levels. Just again, you got me to think, you found this out after you landed that “Wait a minute. These folks are actually really, really progressive. They’re thinking about things that I care about, et cetera.” If we built a really wonderful mental health first aid kit, do we push this in the talent acquisition? Do we push this into our careers page, in our benefits page, and talk openly with candidates about it, and use it also as a recruiting tool?

Katie Urtnowski:   Absolutely. I think our founder and president Ken Colao believes … governs the organization by environmental, social and governance principles. ESG is really all about sustainable business practices and your connection with your community. You take that, and you take that into HR, and a real piece of it for me is how do we impact the community around us and in HR, that’s the employees here, but also our future employees or referrals, or whatever.

See, I take that a step farther, and I look at everything through a lens of how do we support an employee fully from mental health included?

William Tincup:   Right. Right. Right. Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   That impacts almost every policy and practice that we have here, including recruiting, because it’s extremely important that we’re thinking about what those connections are.

William Tincup:   Two questions last. One is as you’ve been doing this and discovering new things, is there anything that you would advise people to either not do, or to think twice about doing?

Katie Urtnowski:   I think what to not do is you shouldn’t try to tackle it as a whole.

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   It’s a mistake that everybody makes with anything, but in particular with this is that we’re just going to run one campaign, and it’s going to solve all of our problems. Yes. As my dad taught me that it’s really all about baby steps, and then looking back, and seeing how that really had a monumental effect on something. What you should be doing is to start small, to think about the things that you actually are already doing that may support mental health, and see if there’s tweaks that you need to be making to them.

For example, an onboarding buddy isn’t necessarily something that people would connect to mental health. But there’s a big piece of that. Throwing your company holiday party doesn’t necessarily connect to mental health, but it’s actually a big piece of supporting that social sense of belonging, which is so important. I think a lot of companies don’t need to panic and think that there’s a lot of changes that they need to make. I think they need to start with, “Hey, what are we already doing and then let’s build from there?”

William Tincup:   I love that. Because, again, you assess what’s being done, or we have things, are they being consumed? Have we communicated?

Katie Urtnowski:   Correct.

William Tincup:   Do we have insurance that actually pays for those things? We have an EAP that has wonderful network, yet, or insurance it either doesn’t cover it, or it’s at a premium et cetera. Last question, before we go out, is there anything not just that … I love that you’re not trying to fix all Rome in one day, got that. Is there anything that’s too far? We talk about mental health. We talk from a corporate perspective.

Is there anything that you found that you’re like, “Yeah. You’re crossing over into religious and nonprofit and into other groups and where they should help in a corporation really.” It’s …

Katie Urtnowski:   Yes. I completely understand. I think where we find, especially from a management perspective is, well, we want to make sure that people are still producing. Mental health illness, just like with film … or mental health issues, because it’s not even an illness, it could be just a moment in time where you have a rough day, right?

William Tincup:   Right.

Katie Urtnowski:   Similar to physical issues, you’re exhausted on that day, or whatever it is. It doesn’t excuse not being able to work or get something done or meet a deadline. I think it’s really important that we train managers to understand that is that we need to offer our employees flexibility so that they could be as successful as possible. In turn, our employees need to offer us flexibility so that they can be successful. I think it’s really about that dialogue, that’s super important.

Recognizing, as you said, that there are certain levels of if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about dealing with this particular issue, either as an employee or a co-worker or a manager, that the next step, which is really what you learn in mental health first aid is referring them to others who can pick that up and help that individual or that situation.

William Tincup:   Love it. What a wonderful topic. Katie, thank you so much for educating us and just helping us all understand, “Hey, it’s one thing to talk about how important it is to another than for someone then break it down piece by piece and show here’s the building blocks.” Again, you’re probably already doing some things. There’s taking inventory. Just great stuff. Thank you so much today. Thank you for coming on the podcast.

Katie Urtnowski:   Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

William Tincup:   Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

Music:   You’ve been listening to the Recruiting Live Podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcasts, webinars, articles, and news at recruitingdaily.com.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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