Conversations with UA
Q & A With Erik Seastedt, Chief Human Resources Officer
Prior to joining UA, you worked as human resources director at SUNY (State University of New York System) and prior to that, in Wyoming and Nevada. Where did you get your start in HR and where has that journey brought you?
I actually got my start in HR way back in 1989 working for a large not-for-profit that provided services to people with disabilities. I saw an ad for a graduate degree in HR a few years earlier and thought “that sounds pretty interesting.” I had been working in residential care for several years and was looking for something different and this just popped up. I served there as a benefits manager for several years then became HR director for the local public school system before moving into higher education full time…and that’s what took me to Wyoming, Nevada, then back to New York.
If I were to follow you around for a day, what would I see you doing?
Probably a lot of talking. I spend a lot of time talking and listening. People always have great ideas about making things better but don’t often voice those opinions until you ask them. I’ve learned to ask.
You have more than 24 years of human resources experience in a wide variety of areas. What aspects of the job are the most challenging? What is most rewarding?
The simple answer to both those questions is people. People are what really make any organization run. The reward and the challenge is to help those people work together while managing the differences and conflicts that are inevitable when smart, passionate, opinionated people are thrown together.
Rising health care costs and the impacts of the Affordable Care Act directly influence the cost of UA Choice health plans. What can we do to control these costs? How do we maintain our valuable benefits without pricing ourselves out? What changes do you see coming in the future of our health plans?
Research and experience shows that the best way we can all control costs is to take full advantage of the preventative and wellness benefits available. Getting that mammogram, colonoscopy, annual physical or even just blood work makes such a big difference. Yes, it’s not pleasant, and yes they might find something…but being uncomfortable for just a little bit and treating something early is a much better option than the alternative.
The new performance appraisal tool has been a long time in the making. What can you tell us about it?
We will begin using the new performance evaluation this year. Training is scheduled for the end of March and the first round of evaluations will be due by the end of June. Since this will be a first look at the new tool, evaluations will be limited mostly to orientation to the form and the establishment of future goals. In a nutshell, this new evaluation is developmental. It is designed to help marginal employees become better, good employees to become great, and great employees to become singularly exceptional.
You studied psychology before human resources. Where do the fields cross over? What insight does that background give you that helps in your roles in HR?
Actually there is a huge overlap between the two. In fact, part of my master’s thesis was used to show how many new business trends got their origin in old psychology theories. In many ways, HR is a practical application of many areas of psychology, including counseling, behavior modification and at times, yes, abnormal psyc.
I understand that you have extensive teaching experience as well. What have you taught? How does the experience of working in the classroom help your HR policy strategy?
I have actually been teaching at least part time since 1985…it’s one of the few constants across all the positions I’ve had and places I’ve lived. And it was my part-time experiences that drove me to seek full- time work in higher ed. Teaching reminds me why all of us are here…namely for the students. I love working with students and the classroom helps make that connection in a way you don’t always get to experience working in an office.
You moved to Alaska in September to take this position. You’ve made it through the first winter, are getting a taste of spring and have a summer to look forward to. Was this transition difficult?
I grew up near Buffalo, New York, so I’m not a stranger to long, cold winters. The intense cold here is not something you can really prepare for until you have experienced it, but I did get good advice when I got here…namely, make sure you have a plug in, get a remote starter--and fur is your friend!
I’m totally loving being here in Alaska and I absolutely enjoyed going to the start of the Yukon Quest. I do have to admit I continue to work on overcoming some stereotypes about the state in general. In fact, part of a revised recruitment initiative I’m thinking about includes showing folks from the Lower 48 that Alaska isn’t QUITE as different as it’s portrayed on TV. After all, we DO have McDonald's.
Tell me a bit about your family. Have you had any visit Alaska yet?
I have twin sons, who will turn 29 this June. They both came up the week of Thanksgiving to visit and I had a great time cooking for them all week. We also had fun going on a touristy dog-sledding ride. My wife passed away about six years ago and I know she would have loved Alaska (but not the cold). My mother turns 80 this year and still works part time in western New York. Every one of my relatives tells me they will come visit this summer, so we’ll see. It could be a crowded house.
What are your favorite past-times and off work activities?
I’m generally a homebody and I like working around the house and reading. I’m also a big movie fan and definitely a trivia geek. I do like volunteering in the community and have volunteered so far at the Fairbanks Visitor Center. I’m also working on getting my motorcycle shipped up here in time for summer riding.
What’s something you have always wanted to do but haven’t yet?
Well, one thing was to visit Alaska, so that’s checked off the list. Two places I’ve always wanted to visit are Easter Island and Antarctica. And one thing I’ve always wanted to do, but shouldn’t, is skydive. I’m hoping for at least two out of those three.