How a focus on mental health, culture helps this healthcare org

While the COVID-19 pandemic set in motion business transformations across every industry, one of those most immediately impacted at the start of the crisis was the healthcare sector. It’s a reality Cardinal Health saw firsthand: With offerings that include homecare services, community health centers, medical and laboratory product manufacturing, pharmaceutical distribution, health system solutions and more, every aspect of its business—and the people behind it—was put to the test.

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To meet the challenges facing its employees, Cardinal Health leaned deeply into its culture—and worked hard to ensure workers were taking care of their own health. Part of that journey, says Ola Snow, CHRO of the Ohio-based company that employs 46,500 people globally, is not only offering an inclusive workplace but one that fosters a true sense of belonging for all employees.

“We have a goal that every employee can bring 100% of themselves to work every single day,” says Snow. “We have a great mission in our organization—to improve the lives of people every day—so making sure everyone understands their part in fulfilling that mission is another part of the journey of belonging. It’s about consistently doing many things the right way.”

Snow recently spoke with HRE about what Cardinal Health has been doing the right way, and where the organization intends to keep growing.

HRE: What have been some of the most innovative ways Cardinal Health has worked to meet the evolving needs of employees through the pandemic?

Cardinal Health CHRO Ola Snow
Ola Snow

Snow: As a healthcare company, much of our workforce came to work every day during the pandemic, and then we had a part that went home and performed their job remotely or in a hybrid situation. And we still operate that way today. We first started [with a focus on] safety. And our strategy from there really became about listening to employees: What are the barriers keeping them from thriving in the workplace but also at home? That has led to several changes in our organization. We have grown to a more hybrid workplace, where flexibility is key, and we’ve been looking at the needs of our business, our customers and our employees as we design that work environment.

Early on in the pandemic, we came up with something called the Midweek Moment. We knew that people in our workforce—women but also men—were juggling so many jobs both at home and in the workplace, so Wednesday afternoon became a time to take a break and use that time for what fits our employees best. That could mean you take a yoga class, tutor your child, you could connect with customers—but no meetings. And that is continuing today. We’ve also revamped caregiver and childcare options and are providing employees with lots more support and considerably increased benefits levels.

What I’m most proud of is what we’ve done around mental health. We have been listening to our employees and knew that the country and the world was experiencing a mental health crisis before the pandemic, but the stress of the pandemic has added to that. We’ve added much more robust mental health resources, and we’re also talking about mental health in our organization every single day. We already had a program in place that we’ve leveraged more called Mind Matters, and we’re talking about mental health in the C-suite, on our podcast, with our ERGs. We want a culture where we can say, “It’s OK to not be OK.”

HRE: How is the company confronting wider workforce trends like the “Great Resignation”?

Snow: We know that people stay at our organization because of our culture—and they join because of that culture. I got to spend a fair amount of time this year with our interns, and 80% of them said they were able to have a conversation within the first six weeks of their internship about mental health with their managers. That doesn’t come without some training obviously, but that’s a tremendous thing. We certainly have turnover in our organization, as every organization is having, but we truly believe that a culture where everyone can belong and can bring their best self for an organization with a tremendous healthcare mission is a great place to be. It’s about creating an employment brand to attract a great workforce.

HRE: You’ve been with Cardinal Health for more than 20 years. How different is the company’s people strategy today from when you joined, and what has driven any shifts?

Snow: Twenty years ago, we were focused mainly on U.S. strategy, compared to a global strategy today. We were also highly focused on the recruitment and identification of high-potential talent. Today, our people strategy is more comprehensive; we’re thinking about talent attraction front and center, obviously, but in a broader way than just a small pool of high-potential talent. We’re also looking at company culture, DE&I and everything that comes together to help formulate the business strategy and business success. It’s an exciting time when these two worlds of business and people come together.

HRE: One of your previous positions with the organization was helming DE&I. How have you worked to bring that focus with you to your CHRO role?

Snow: People tell you to surround yourself with great people, and that’s very true. We have a chief diversity officer now and an executive team that truly believes DE&I is a part of the business strategy—not just an HR strategy. In the past several years, as I’ve stepped into the role, we have created a critical framework to attract, develop and retain diverse talent in our organization. That has included strengthening our employee resource groups, partnering with the DEI Council alongside my team to think about talent strategy, attraction, retention. We also set up a Black and African-American Council who are truth-tellers to myself and our CEO. And we have a very comprehensive training strategy around DE&I, unconscious bias and having courageous conversations. It’s about listening, learning and then acting to drive results. You have to look at DE&I strategy alongside business strategy because the two are so greatly dependent on each other.

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HRE: What has been a highlight of your career thus far?

Snow: When I look back one day when I leave Cardinal Health, I hope I can be proud of what I did helping really define our culture, where employees can bring their full selves to work. A few years ago, my team internally got to revamp our mission, culture and values. We went from 13 values to five. Doing that work helped us as an organization understand why we all get up and do what we do every day and where we’re going as an organization. Doing that culture work and making DE&I part of the fabric of culture and the business is one of the coolest things you can do as a CHRO.

HRE: If you hadn’t landed in HR, where do you think your career would have taken you?

Snow: My dream would have been to be an ESPN reporter; it sounds kooky but I have that on tape somewhere so I’m sticking with it! I’m an avid sports fan, especially college and pro football. I would love to sit at a desk talking sports or chase a coach up and down the sidelines. Or maybe lead a Food Network show; I love to cook. I’m not sure I could have made a living at either—but everyone needs a dream!

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at