On October 21, as part of the Moving Forward with Resilience Conference hosted by meQuilibrium, Suzanne McAndrew, the global talent leader at Willis Towers Watson moderated a panel discussion featuring Sari Kalin, Assistant Director, Health and Well-Being Strategy, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Robin Wood, Director, Benefits, Ford Motor Company.

Right now, the COVID-19 crisis is creating a universal “moment that matters.” Looking at real employee experiences, Willis Towers Watson believes listening and data are at the heart of understanding how to meet employees’ needs. Through surveying millions of employees annually around their attitudes about work, Willis Towers Watson has uncovered some surprising data:

  • 89% of employees experience a medium to high level of anxiety on a daily basis
  • Two-thirds of employees struggle to find balance given the challenges of work, home, schooling, and caregiving responsibilities
  • 70% of employees have financial worries

These anxieties and worries are encouraging employers to take a more holistic approach to well-being that includes: physical, financial, emotional, and social. The survey also found that employers are seeing a parallel “COVID-19 bounce,” where employees are feeling higher levels of engagement and affiliation to their workplace, driven by leadership engagement. Leaders should seize this moment of higher employee engagement to launch more robust well-being strategies that elevate their offering from being just a program to a new way of working that includes: support for coping, leading with confidence, and driving strong teams. All in support of mitigating anxiety, reducing financial concerns, avoiding unnecessary distraction, handling stress, and dealing with social isolation.

So how are Liberty Mutual and Ford actually doing this in practice?

According to Sari Kalin, Liberty Mutual’s purpose is to help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow. Of course, that is difficult for people to do when today is really tough and tomorrow is completely uncertain. But digging into data can help us find ways to support employees through these uncertain times. In September 2019, Liberty Mutual appointed its first Global Employee Experience Officer who had just finalized staffing his team and putting his plans in place when COVID-19 hit. As a result, Liberty Mutual was well-prepared to pivot and launch an enhanced listening focused on COVID-19 to help the company understand what matters most to Liberty’s employees right now. As one example, a survey early in the pandemic found that employees were feeling concerned about financial well-being, so Liberty resumed offering a one-on-one financial counseling program in the U.S. In a subsequent survey, the company learned that employees were interested in getting information about their personal financial situation – specifically, they wanted to hear from senior leaders about where the company was going and how that would impact them. This finding empowered Liberty’s leaders to communicate more frequently and authentically with employees. Unless you’re working with data you can’t assume what program or tactic will be helpful.

Another topic that is front and center for Liberty Mutual is caregiving and parenting. Like many employers, Liberty was hearing that parents have been struggling to juggle caregiving responsibilities with work responsibilities and that this was a source of stress. A pulse survey found that about 40% of employees have caretaking responsibilities for a dependent- children, elders, or both – while they work from home. Liberty asked parents what would help them and found that they weren’t necessarily looking for another benefit program – the most helpful resource would be flexibility. The company already offered quite a bit of flexibility, so that pointed to a need for enhanced communication to employees and managers. Parents also revealed that financial support for online tutoring and enrichment activities would be more useful to them right now than other types of financial support for childcare or backup care; a sentiment that might shift over time, when employees head back to the office. Implementing a listening strategy helps employers take a stepwise approach and gain small wins at a low cost which have a big impact.

According to Robin Wood from Ford, data was critical in gaining insights into what employees were feeling, how they were reacting, and how they were behaving. It started with collecting employee sentiment data through a weekly pulse asking employees “what’s going well, what’s not going well?”. This included asking about the support needed from the company and from people leaders, including their biggest well-being challenges. 30% of employees cited challenges across all the elements of Ford’s well-being program (physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, and professional).

Ford also supplemented employee sentiment data with some additional measures that provided insights into the issues and some of the solutions that the employees were seeking, including meQuilibrium’s self-check assessment which provided insight into the percentage of employees who identified as high risk for depression or anxiety or burnout. Robin’s team also reviewed the percentage of the population with anxiety or depression claims and tracked the number of mental health visits and the number of sessions with EAP, underscoring the importance of data and creating an environment that was conducive to addressing the challenges. Without a doubt, resilience in the face of uncertainty really helps employees be more engaged, more productive and more satisfied in their work and in their personal lives.

Ford had laid the groundwork for well-being in 2019, leading to what they call a holistic model. This was a global initiative to ensure alignment and agreement on a strategy to build well-being and resources around key moments that matter, including onboarding for new employees and offboarding for employees transitioning from working to retirement. Identifying the well-being challenges for those particular moments that matter enabled the team to curate the appropriate resources.

When COVID hit, the priorities shifted completely to focus on the needs of all employees. The lens of moments that matter shifted to new moments: dealing with COVID, working from home, return to work, and unknown economic impact. Understanding the needs and challenges was the same, but the focus emphasized mental, and emotional health solutions based on feedback that we were getting.
Both employers’ actions demonstrate that employee experience lives in the moments that matter — but that those moments can be dynamic. While onboarding and exit may be predictable, many moments are not, which is a direct lesson from COVID. Other moments being faced by employers now include furloughs, COVID rebound, differences based on geography.

What systems and tools were used?

For Liberty Mutual, listening included broad surveys and regular pulse surveys, with focus groups and 1:1 interviews to dig deeper into certain topics. This is how the company uncovered employees’ specific needs around caregiving, as described earlier. Interestingly, the focus groups also served as intervention for the employees who participated because it gave them an opportunity to share their situations and feel that they were being heard. They also solicited employee feedback via a Women’s Employee Resource Group’s parenting group discussion board. The focus groups and discussion board feedback helped Liberty go beyond a data point to really uncover the “why” behind the numbers.

Moving from reactive to proactive

As the pandemic wore on and companies transitioned from crisis mode to the “next reality,” employers had to pivot from being reactive — as the crisis handler — to being more proactive in their approach to well-being and resilience strategies. In addition to continuing to listen to employees and being open to rethinking assumptions, employers should reach out to their peers both within and outside the company to get a wide range of perspectives. They should also take advantage of tools such as the meQuilibrium platform to give employees both permission and opportunity to practice self-care and reinforce the importance of taking time off to reset and stop the “hamster wheel” of reactivity.

What are other lessons learned this year?

Many organizations are now shifting their approach to annual enrollment, moving it beyond “checking the box” to being a moment that matters in which they can more fully engage with employees around benefits and well-being programs. While building well-being and resilience capabilities is an individual skill, that employees need to develop for themselves, employers play a crucial role in creating the right environment – where there is leadership support and access to a wide range of resources and solutions – that encourages employees to engage in their own way. This approach creates trust, builds loyalty, and increases focus. When individual employees are given the resources and environment to attend to their well-being, it builds a culture whereby employees can care for themselves, for others, and for the business. When employers encourage conversations around people’s emotions and check in regularly – and genuinely – about how they’re doing, it creates a more human culture.

See the rest of the Moving Forward Conference on-demand here.

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