How Johnson & Johnson Is Leading When It Comes to Military Leave Benefits for Employees

This year, Johnson & Johnson is expanding its military leave benefits for employees.

Chris Serafin (right) with Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky

Johnson & Johnson (No. 8 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) has a long and proud history of supporting its military service members, which dates as far back as the Spanish-American War in 1898, when the company held positions for employees and paid their salary while they served.


Today Johnson & Johnson continues to show its support by offering employee members of the armed forces generous benefits such as paid time off after military leave to help employees acclimate to life back home.

And this month Johnson & Johnson is proud to announce that it's expanding its U.S. military leave policy to pay service members their full salary, in addition to what the military pays, while deployed.

"We are continuously looking for ways to support our employees across all the dimensions of their lives, and our heritage includes a special emphasis on our military employees that continues through today," says Peter Fasolo, Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer. "By enhancing our benefit for employees who take military leave, we are reaffirming our commitment to keeping our heroes healthy."

Chris Serafin, a Program Manager in Global Trade Compliance at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, LLC, and a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, took advantage of Johnson & Johnson's military leave benefits when he returned from being deployed to Afghanistan in 2015.

He will be recalled to active duty again, so on the cusp of his redeployment, we asked him to reflect on how the company's military policies have helped both him and his family.

Serafin shares his story:

"In June of 2014, I was recalled to active duty as an Operations Officer for the Defense Logistics Agency in Afghanistan. Although I always knew this was a possibility—I'm in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and I'd served my country in active duty before—nothing can quite prepare you for getting deployed.

One day I was sitting at my desk at Janssen, and the next I was getting ready for combat.

In addition to being briefed on everything I'd face in Afghanistan, I also had to figure out who was going to take care of things around the house while I was gone, and help with hockey game carpools.

It's incredibly daunting to know that you're going to miss out on these simple parts of family life when you're gone for nearly a year.

Serafin in Afghanistan in 2014

Of course, there was also work to wrap up—and the big job of mentally preparing for what was to come. About a month later, I was on the ground in 120-degree heat at a forward operating base in Afghanistan, where I was in charge of 350 military, civilian and joint contractors.

It's kind of like drinking from a fire hose—you have to get up to speed quickly because people's lives are at stake.

For the next nine months, I was constantly 'on.' The threat of an attack was always imminent, so I rarely had a restful night of sleep.

But although this was hard for me, it was even harder on my family.

I'll never forget video messaging with them on Thanksgiving. In the middle of our conversation, we started taking incoming fire and I had to go abruptly. I stayed in a bunker for the next couple of hours, and my wife and kids had no idea if I was OK or not.

When I returned home in March of 2015, I was so grateful to be back—but the transition was a tough one. My assignment had been the most challenging I'd ever faced. Plus, I missed so much, including my 20th wedding anniversary and my daughter's 16th birthday.

It's a lot harder to acclimate to life back home than one might imagine. When your family is used to operating without you, it takes some time to rebuild those relationships.

Not only was Johnson & Johnson understanding of this, but it was also incredibly accommodating by enabling me to take three weeks' paid leave to decompress and reconnect with my family. It's a benefit that's offered through the company's extended veterans and military leave policy.

My first week back at the office, the Chairman and CEO, Alex Gorsky, who also happens to be a fellow veteran, scheduled a meeting with me in his office. Here was the busiest man within the corporation making time to welcome me home and ask how I was doing.

I still feel so grateful thinking about that kindness.

I will be deploying again, and knowing that I'll have time to acclimate when I come back takes a lot of worry off my plate. The last thing you want to stress about while you're deployed is whether or not your management team at work is going to support you when you return, or if you'll be able to have time to reconnect with your family.

And this time, I'll be able to take advantage of a new Johnson & Johnson policy that pays employees 100% of their company salary, in addition to what they receive from the military, while on leave.

What people don't realize is that when I'm away, my family's expenses go up because I'm not there to fix things around the house or cut the grass. Now I won't have to worry that my wife and kids aren't being taken care of when I'm deployed. For my family, this benefit is just above and beyond.

People talk about the Johnson & Johnson companies as a family. Well, I have to say that it feels true to me.

I'm proud to say that I work at a company that truly honors people who serve their country."

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Members of our Board of Directors and executives from nearly 40 companies held a candid conversation, heard from business leaders, and participated in an insightful Q&A where successful strategies were discussed to accommodate and support employees with mental illness in the workplace.

"Mental illness is the single biggest cause of disability worldwide," said Craig Kramer, a panelist at the event and Chair of Johnson & Johnson's Global Campaign on Mental Health. "One out of four people will have a clinically diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives," he continued. Another 20 to 25% of the population will be caregivers to loved ones with a mental illness.

The costs are staggering. "In the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined…. It's trillions of dollars," said Kramer.

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6 KEY TAKEAWAYS ON MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE:

  1. Be empathetic. "The most important workplace practice [with respect to mental health] is empathy," said NOD President Carol Glazer. Empathy is critical for normalizing conversations about mental health, but also for maximizing productivity. "A feeling of psychological safety is important," said Lori Golden, a panelist and Abilities Strategy Leader for Ernst & Young; and this sense of safety requires the empathy of colleagues to flourish.
  2. Tell stories. "Nothing is more activating of empathy than for people to share their powerful stories," said Dr. Ronald Copeland, NOD Board member and Senior Vice President of National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Policy and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Kaiser Permanente. Copeland's organization partners with the renowned nonprofit, Story Corps, to capture the stories of Kaiser Permanente employees, and also provides a platform on the company intranet for employees to communicate in a safe space. Both Craig Kramer and Lori Golden also shared examples of how their companies provide opportunities to share their stories and "start the conversation, break the silence," as Kramer put it.
  3. Model from the top. Carol Glazer received a standing ovation at the luncheon for her account of her own experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of executive-level modeling sends a powerful message that a company is committed to improving mental health for all employees. Lori Golden shared how EY had experienced great success with a program where top-level managers host office-specific events and share stories of mental illness or addiction that they are personally connected to – either about their colleagues or loved ones or, in a surprisingly high number of instances, about themselves. Senior leadership setting the example conveys that this is a forum in which employees can feel comfortable sharing.
  4. Communicate peer-to-peer. "We all know that there's greater trust of our own peers than there is of the organization," said Lori Golden. So to build trust, EY "took it to the grass roots," creating formal opportunities for employees to have conversations about mental health and asking other ERGs to co-sponsor these events. Craig Kramer also noted that Johnson & Johnson had simply folded mental health issues into their global disability ERGs, eventually building the world's second-largest mental health ERG by piggy-backing on existing infrastructure and leveraging existing connections.
  5. Be flexible. Accommodating [the fact that people live busy, complex lives] gets you better buy-in…and keeps production pretty high," suggested Dr. Copeland. A representative from one Council company concurred, explaining how their company has recently instituted a new policy of paid time off for caregivers on top of federally-funded leave. "Being in a culture in which we measure what you produce and not whether you show up in person all day, every day, and where if you can't be there, you negotiate how the deliverables will get done and in what time frame…is immensely helpful to people who themselves have mental illness issues or addiction or are caring for those who do and may need some flexibility," summarized Lori Golden.
  6. Build a trustworthy Employee Action Plan. Many employees do not access or even trust their organization's internal resources. According to Craig Kramer, the percentage of calls placed to most company Employee Action Plans (EAPs) regarding mental health is "in the low single digits," while "if you look at your drug spend, you'll find that around 50% is [related to] mental health." The people answering those calls must be trained in mental health issues, and employees also need to be assured that EAPs are truly confidential.

While revealing and accommodating mental illness remains a massive challenge in the workplace and beyond, a number of successful strategies are emerging for tackling this challenge – many of them pioneered by companies in NOD's Corporate Leadership Council.

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