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Inside Track: Fiorenzo helps employees do more than just survive
Employee Assistance Center’s director encourages email-free workdays and more face-to-face interaction.
Leslie Fiorenzo’s goal is simple — she wants to make Mondays more popular.
She cites a Gallup poll that revealed nearly 80 percent of American employees are unsatisfied with or otherwise disengaged from their jobs. She’s hoping that can change.
“I have a desire for everybody to get up and say, ‘Yay, it’s Monday!’” Fiorenzo said.
“For a lot of people, it’s ‘TGIF’ that’s the mantra, because many people don’t like to go to work. And I’m not so sure that’s the work; I think it’s a lot to do with the people. So if we can make a difference in the people — and I’m not suggesting everybody has to like each other, but we have to learn to respect each other, we have to learn to communicate — that’s what we’re here for.”
As director of the Employee Assistance Center at 1400 Leonard St. NE, one of the largest providers of employee assistance programs in West Michigan, Fiorenzo’s passion and focus is on doing just that: making the workplace a friendlier and more attractive environment for employees.
Fiorenzo began her career in human resources working for several manufacturing companies, including as plant personnel manager at Leon Plastics, while she was earning her bachelor’s degree at Spring Arbor University.
It was during this time she was introduced to the Employee Assistance Center when the company she was working for contracted for EAC’s services. Soon after, the company was sold and Fiorenzo’s employment was up in the air.
About the time she was graduating from Spring Arbor in June 1992, she received a call from the director of the Employee Assistance Center, asking if she’d be interested in the position of director of business development for EAC. Fiorenzo accepted and worked in that capacity for 10 years.
Fiorenzo found she truly had a passion for helping not only employees who are struggling with work performance but also helping managers to navigate tricky personnel situations and to improve the overall morale in the workplace.
Sometimes, the resolutions may come from finding a solution to a mental health or substance abuse issue. Other times, it may be coming up with a better stress management plan, or another completely unrelated issue.
Often, Fiorenzo has found that people are just looking for a sounding board, someone to bounce ideas off of who is unrelated to and has no investment in the workplace.
By the very nature of her job, Fiorenzo wears many hats.
“I don’t know that there is a ‘normal’ day, but a lot of my role is new business development so I’m speaking to groups to help us be visible. I’m speaking in our client companies to help promote the employee program. I’m helping human resource managers or other managers, and it’s usually around people not getting along. Or I’m helping them put into place some solutions.”
This is actually Fiorenzo’s second stint with the Employee Assistance Center.
In 2002, she left EAC after 10 years and, after a couple of years at a management consulting firm, she began working as an independent HR consultant with Business Network International in 2004.
In addition to the consulting work, in 2005, Fiorenzo became an adjunct professor at Davenport University’s Holland campus teaching human resources, business and marketing courses.
In 2012, Fiorenzo received an email from a former EAC colleague with whom she’d kept in touch on LinkedIn: Would she be interested in returning to the Employee Assistance Center as its director?
“I remember just staring at this email and thinking, ‘How do I want to respond to this?’” Fiorenzo said.
As it turned out, for the second time in her career, a cold call from out of the blue brought Fiorenzo to the Employee Assistance Center.
One of the biggest challenges Fiorenzo said she has to deal with is finding a way to help businesses and their employees tackle the only constant in life — change — and the stresses that come with it.
“It’s helping people embrace change, accept change, work through change, or whatever they need to get pat,” she said. “I think we know that people are at risk, maybe more than ever, because of the pace of change we’re seeing.”
Fiorenzo uses technology as an example of one of the primary sources for the stresses brought upon by change. In 2016, when people are more connected than ever via social media, or texting, or email, there’s never been a bigger disconnect, which can be a major factor in the amount of stress people feel in the workplace.
“What does that say in terms of how we’re managing, how people are interacting, or what’s the expectation for communication?” she said.
“It’s sad to me that people don’t walk down the hall anymore and have a conversation. They text or email, and they put innuendo where it doesn’t belong. You read those words and hear a voice in your head with a certain tone or inflection, which may or may not be intended.
“I’ve seen people get into huge altercations or even get terminated because of conversations that happened over text or email — things that most likely would not have happened if those conversations happened face-to-face.”
Fiorenzo said she encourages managers to consider email-free days to encourage more face-to-face interactions in the workplace and thus eliminate the uncertainty of tone and how a message is meant.
Another struggle, Fiorenzo said, is working to get clients to see the value provided by employee assistance programs. She notes that because the Employee Assistance Center often works in the areas of mental health or substance abuse, confidentiality is key, and the stigma surrounding mental health or addictions can mean employers are wary in utilizing the EAC’s services.
Still, Fiorenzo said the company receives a great deal of positive feedback — in no small part due to the tremendous staff she works with, she is quick to note — but getting companies to see the center as more than just an extraneous benefit can be difficult.
“I really feel that EAPs benefit in any number of ways and especially when companies embrace the concept we can be a real partner to their success,” she said.
“I like to think we help people do a little more than survive, that we help them thrive.”
For Fiorenzo, it’s a constant battle to improve communication and, earlier this year, she put it into writing with a self-published book, “21 Lessons for Mastering the Art of Difficult Conversation.”
The ideas that had been bouncing around in her head and recorded in various Word documents for about five years finally came to fruition when she published the book via SpartanNash.
“It’s really designed to help people take a look inside to see what they’re doing on the outside,” she said. “It was my way of making a difference.”
Fiorenzo said she has found that one of the best tools for self-reflection and making a change is journaling. She believes just getting the ideas down on paper helps declutter the mind and allow for those changes to begin to be made.
Through her book and work at the Employee Assistance Center, Fiorenzo said the most important thing for her is to see the positive change left in her wake.
“At the end of the day, for me, it’s about seeing people that have worked through their differences, or helping a manager be a better leader,” she said. “But it’s really about helping people be better people.”