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Keeping Up with Communications


The global pandemic and accompanying uncertainty have changed expectations for how, when, and where people receive information from their employer. And those communications have a direct impact on the confidence individuals have in their employer and their perceptions about the company’s priorities and values.

That has tremendous long-term implications for all functions within HR, who are navigating change at the same time. In this webinar, Jennifer Benz, Senior Vice President and Communications Leader, and Megan Yost, Vice President Engagement Strategist, discuss what smart organizations are doing. Topics include:

  • Understanding your people’s mindset
  • Meeting new expectations around the frequency, transparency, and tenor of communications
  • Putting wellbeing front and center
  • Using smart technology to support efforts

This webinar was recorded on January 26, 2021. View the full transcript below.


Keeping Up with Communications

Webinar Transcript:

Jen: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining us. We will get started in just a couple minutes. We have lots of people logging on still. Hope everyone is having a good day. We will be recording this and sharing the slides. We have a lot of content to cover, so lots of slides that you’ll be able to download after this.

Okay, let’s go ahead and get started. This is Keeping Up with Communication. We are really delighted that you’ve joined us for this webinar. I’m Jennifer Benz. I’m the practice leader at Segal Benz and I’m joined today by my colleague, Megan Yost. Hi Megan.

Megan: Hi.

Jen: We are delighted to get to spend the next hour with you all. We have a lot of ground to cover. It’s a very, very interesting time right now. We are going to try to go through a lot of content about everything that we experienced last year and how COVID has really permanently changed us in many, many ways. And then we’re going to talk through what that means for HR and for communications. We’ll go through themes like leadership, building for connection, gathering continuous feedback, well-being being integrated into everything, and then technology moving much, much faster than it ever has before.

And in each section, we’ll share some tips on what you can do and what we’re seeing our clients do. We’ll have some time at the end for questions, but you can type things in along the way. I already had one comment come in, so thank you for that. And please, please, jump in with any questions.

Before we jump into the content, just a little bit about us and who we are at Segal Benz. We’re the communications practice within Segal and we love the work that we do. And whenever I talk to new clients or when we do webinars, I usually start with this statement: that we have the privilege of helping great organizations inspire people to improve their health, their finances, and their future. This work of getting people engaged in their benefits is what I and Megan and many others have really put their careers into. It’s really inspiring work, especially in a time like this when there’s so much change and people need their health and financial program so, so much.

We have put a lot of time and energy into helping you all figure out, helping our clients figure out, this crazy world that we’re in right now. You can get a ton of resources about COVID and everything else on our website as well as on Let’s dig in and jump into really how COVID is changing us.

Megan: We’re going to share some examples about how our lives and our world has changed because of COVID. Many of this won’t be surprising because we’re living and experiencing this on a daily basis, but what will surprise you is how unprecedented this behavior change is and how swift this happened and the scale at which this is happening. There’s been a rapid adoption of new behaviors, new technologies, new ways of life in a very short period of time and it happened not just locally, but nationally and even globally. The way that we are working, learning, communicating, consuming goods, consuming information, our lives at home, the way we relax, every facet of our life has been impacted by the global pandemic. And as you’ll see on the next slide, there’s a really interesting infographic from McKinsey that summarizes some of this rapid change that we’ve experienced over the past 10 months.

You can see in the top left that it took only eight weeks to match the growth in e-commerce deliveries that had previously taken a 10-year period to achieve. Similarly, on the top right, in just 15 days, virtual doctor’s appointments increased tenfold for people who work remotely or have transitioned to remote work. Zoom’s daily user base grew from 10 million people to 200 million people in just three months. And then in just two weeks, 250 million students went online to learn. And then finally on the bottom right, Disney+ nearly doubled its subscriber base to 50 million in five months, and that had taken Netflix seven years to achieve.

Behavioral scientists generally say it takes 66 days, a little bit more than two months, to make a new behavior stick or make it an automatic part of your daily life. And so what will be interesting to see is how these behaviors stick and what becomes permanent. I think the longer this pandemic persist, the more likely some of these behaviors may become permanent going forward.

Another interesting consideration to think about is how our most basic needs are being impacted. And for those of you who have joined other webinars that we’ve given in the past year, you may be familiar with this graphic and have heard us talk about it before, but this framework here, or this pyramid, represents Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it depicts human motivations. The bottom of the pyramid are the most foundational needs. So those physiological and safety needs like access to air, food, water, shelter, sleep, et cetera, as well as personal security, health, employment, resources, property, et cetera. For one reason or another, the pandemic has really been challenging in a lot of these areas.

And then on top of that, there have been natural disasters, wildfires, hurricanes, and other things that are challenging many of these areas of our lives, as well as the crisis that has exposed vulnerabilities to underserved communities who lack access to clean water or who may be living in cramped quarters, or don’t have access to grocery stores or nutritious food, or even an easy way to access care. So all of this is fueling a lot of tension and we saw an explosion of that over the course of 2020.

What does this mean for the workplace? It’s stress, stress, and more stress. There was a recent study conducted in November that shows over 75% of the workforce described themselves as stressed; from mildly stressed to overwhelmed as you can see in the pie chart on the right, and this affects all organizations. What they found in the research is that it wasn’t one type of worker or a frontline worker specifically, it’s all types of organizations, all levels of experience, all levels of pay, all levels of tenure.

But where there were increasing levels of stress were within generational cohorts. Those that are youngest in the workforce expressed feeling the most stressed. You can see at the bottom of the age buckets on the left part of the slide that those who are 18 to 29 years old expressed feeling 84% stress, from mildly stressed to overwhelmed, which is less than those who are 60 and older. So that’s something to really consider as you think about the way this pandemic is affecting different parts of your population.

Jen: We’ve seen this is incredible collision between work and life. We certainly always knew that work could not be completely separated from life, but with everyone moving to remote work, having children at home, trying to do remote school and so forth, it’s really been a collision like we haven’t seen before. Even as we were starting the webinar, Megan was mentioning that her son is at home today and she gave him a ton of snacks so that he doesn’t interrupt us during the webinar. So this is an incredibly stressful environment, particularly for parents.

There has been a big, big impact on women, and I’m sure that you all have seen the headlines about how many women have lost their jobs, how many women are the one in a relationship who is needing to leave the workforce in order to care for children or care for parents and so forth, and it’s just creating this incredibly challenging environment to navigate and adding to the tension and the stress there.

At the same time, we have had this awakening in the country around racial disparities and inequality. There is a call, really a demand, that the business community takes action, and that it’s not just words. We hear leaders saying things like we’ve got to create an economy that serves all Americans, but people really want to see that happen and they want to see really meaningful change. We’re getting into the time period where people are kind of losing their patience for organizations that have not actually taken meaningful action beyond just the words.

And then the other component of that is racial disparities in healthcare have really been pushed into the spotlight. That is becoming more and more of an employer issue to solve. Jessica Brooks who is the CEO of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health has spoken a lot about this. It makes a really compelling case that absolutely it is an employer issue to solve racial disparities in health and that’s a very challenging thing, and again, it even raises the bar higher in terms of how people expect their organizations to behave and show up in this moment.

What’s interesting now is that the public commitments organizations are making are all about HR programs, and I can’t remember another time in my career that HR has been in the spotlight in this way on the national stage being tied to the commitment that organizations are making. This is a quote from Hewlett Packard enterprise. They said, "As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has become clear. Those with the means and the resources must lead the way in prioritizing people in our society." And it’s, again, these very, very bold, big commitments that people are putting on the table in terms of employers setting that example. Megan, how does all that translate into really what it means for HR and communications?

Megan: I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said HR is in the spotlight more than ever before. We found this quote in The Economist. This was back in March, months before a lot of the unrest and protests and all of that started to emerge. What they said at the time seems very prophetic now, looking back. It says, "When the financial crisis rocked the business world in 2007 to 2009, boardrooms turned to the corporate finance chiefs. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a different challenge. Never have more firms needed a hardheaded HR boss."

So much of what’s happening now is really impacting HR in very visible and meaningful ways. You can see from Josh Bersin’s research here. He frequently surveys a lot of business leaders and organizations, and many of the themes that he has labeled as the 20 key priorities for HR, whether it’s well-being or learning or new workplace protocol, if you look at all of these, they all have a very heavy communications component ,which presents a tremendous opportunity for communications and for HR to take a visible leadership role in the organization in helping people get the resources they need and matching them to those resources and tools that can help them manage through this really turbulent time.

As I said, COVID has created significant change and opportunity for HR communications. The first area of that is leadership. Never before have leaders been more visible and accessible in the way they’re holding town halls from home, in their kitchen. There’s this new expectation for leaders to be more accessible, to be more authentic and more available to their employees than ever before. Also, as I mentioned before with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there’s really a renewed value on benefits, healthcare, access to healthcare, flu shots, mental health resources, financial counseling. All of the different facets of well-being and the resources that employers offer to help support employees are incredibly important and valued at this moment.

The crisis has also amplified existing trends that were already in place before the pandemic, but it’s accelerated them even more. There is a trend toward more frequent, shorter bite-sized information. Moving away from long infrequent communication from leaders or the benefits teams. So that’s increasing and continuing. The pandemic has forced companies and organizations to embrace new channels, new ways of reaching people and new technologies. And our feeling is that this baseline, this change is permanent. It will never go back. I’ll share one example.

One of our clients recently implemented virtual benefits fairs in the fall, and they had always done them in person in the past. They have a main headquarters and then a number of different locations scattered across the country. And what our client said was that they’ll never go back to the old way. What they found was that it gave more people access to information at the same time. So it really leveled the playing field in terms of providing real-time access to people about their benefits. There wasn’t a bias to the home office like there sometimes is to the headquarters and that was a game changer for their organization, so they’ll continue to do virtual benefits fairs regardless of whether people are in the office or not in the future.

Jen: The thing with all of this change, and that’s a great example, Megan, is that communication, and either the frequency of it or the absence of it, really creates the reality that people experience. And we’ve known this for a long time. There’s good research that says if you don’t communicate your benefits, you may as well not have them there because it creates the same impact on the organization. But what we saw during the pandemic is that the level of information people were receiving had an immediate impact on how they felt their employer was doing.

On the left-hand side, if folks have received information about the step their employer is taking; 81% are confident that the employer can handle the pandemic, and 88% feel that the employer puts safety over profit. Compare that to the other side, if they have not received information, very few are confident that the employer can handle the outbreak or that their employer puts safety over profit. And again, this is not a difference in policy. It’s just a difference in communication. And that’s really, really critical.

All of this means that HR is becoming PR. Everything that we do inside the organization is available and accessible outside the organization. There are lots and lots of entities that are tracking the actions of corporations, of higher ed institutions, of other public entities and wanting real results as we mentioned earlier. So this incredible bar for action but also this cynicism about whether or not people are actually going to come through on some of the promises that have been made.

So much is expected in this moment and the need now is for HR and for leaders to show up in new ways. And this is going to demand very, very new things from our organizations and from the ways that we deliver to our workforces. Megan, do you want to talk this through a bit of how we’re going to structure the next part of the webinar?

Megan: Thank you. So many organizations have had to adapt a kind of flexible structure to think about where we are now, what we might need to do in the near term, and what the future may look like. And we have different ways of identifying that; our organization says two weeks, two months, two years. You could use now, soon, or future, whatever that paradigm may be. We’re going to focus this presentation from going forward on the future and the five areas of impact that we think are really key for 2021 and going forward. Those are: leadership, building for connection, continuous feedback, well-being, and technology. So we’ll dive into leadership first, and as Jen has mentioned a couple of times already, the bar has really heightened.

One of our clients, Rosemary from Adobe, told us in our research prior to this presentation that we have had to communicate much more, executives are far more front and center hosting town halls every other month with CEO, CHRO, monthly, all hands with BPs. We’re delivering more targeted messages with a focus on well-being prioritization, balancing work and life. There’s another quote on the next slide from Mark Selzer at a HR organization that says, "This is what it means to be a people leader. Truly leading requires interpersonal connection and clear and transparent communications. This isn’t a burden to shed. This is core to being a leader; to inspire, to lead and support."

This period has really changed and heightened expectations of leaders, not just from employees or workers but from shareholders, the public, the communities that they serve. They’re expecting to hear from leaders in a more authentic and less formal way, as I mentioned before. So it has made the role of the CEO more of a chief empathy officer, not just the chief executive officer, where they have to show up and lead and support their people. And this will require leaders to communicate more regularly and to be clear and transparent in their communications.

For some organizations, this is a huge change and may be uncomfortable for the leaders to take on this role. We have to recognize that the reason this is happening is there are gaps to be filled, partly because of national and regional leaderships and holes and gaps that need to be filled. Not everyone’s comfortable with this change or have been trained for it. Think of some CEOs as experts in their trade or craft or the service that they provide to their communities. And so they may not have been trained this way with communications and being vulnerable and discussing things that are not certain, that are gray, can be very challenging.

This will require new roles to be created with organizations to support leaders in this way. There’s a great article that was written by HBR that you can look up after this webinar about the 21 HR jobs in the future. And it will also require you to think about the support that you provide to your leaders. So as you’ll see on the next five, what can you do? Provide more training to leaders and managers. You can build in more capacity for leadership in key roles. If leaders are going to need to spend more time communicating to their people, whether through meetings or emails and all the different ways that you can reach people. So you may need to provide more budget, more staff, thinking about how best to help people communicate more.

And then also rethinking the cascade. There was once a time where information would flow through an organization in a very specific way, usually from the top down to the more recent and new hire entry-level employees. That’s changing to the speed at which information needs to get through the organization and how quickly everyone needs to get access to information at the same time. Jen, do you have any other thoughts about how organizations can help support their leaders through this period?

Jen: Yeah. One thing we’ve been seeing, and Megan touched on this, is the need to do a lot of training for leaders and managers on how to communicate, and how to communicate broadly. So how do all of the different folks within your organization that have a broad communication role stay consistent and connected and on brand and on voice and so forth. But then also how to have good interpersonal communication, whether that’s in a one-to-one email or a one-to-one conversation. And a lot of people were never trained on how to do that. So there’s an opportunity to provide training and help people show up with more empathy and know how to read the room better when they’re having those one-to-one interactions, as well as communicating broadly. And we’ve had a lot of fun doing that training with some of our clients, particularly when we’ve had a chance to train the HR team who’s talking day to day with folks that are encountering the really challenging personal situations that they might be going through.

Great. The next area that we’re going to look at is really building for connection. There is a need and a desire for much, much more connection and intimacy within our organizations. This quote from my friend, Aaron Hurst, who runs a firm called Imperative, says, "Social connection is a buffer that enables employees to process their stress and release it. Employees need positive, consistent, and vulnerable relationships with their coworkers." We’ve really seen this need for that strong connection and people are really missing the informal connections that they had at work. The Atlantic actually has an interesting article that came out just a few days ago talking about how people miss the not so close friendships that they have. They miss just the ability to have quick conversations and a quick chat about what’s going on, and that ability for us to process the stress and process what’s going on really needs to happen through conversation.

People miss the one-to-one about being in the office, which is not surprising. And so these disrupted social structures and this disruption around people’s relationships and those connections is something to solve for in a pragmatic way. It’s much harder to replicate just those accidental encounters when we’re in a virtual world and everything has to be scheduled. At the same time, it’s having those casual connections and that one-to-one person to person interaction. People really want more mentorship and coaching. About half of folks say that manager mentorship has become more important and about half say that they’re not getting enough training, coaching, and mentoring from their employers right now. So it’s a big desire that people have to get that type of support.

We’re seeing a lot of organizations build structures so that people can have very intentional conversations. This is data from Imperative who are the peer coaching platform. They’re finding that conversations are a way that people can process everything that’s going on. And what’s interesting in their research is that people are saying that not only are those conversations helpful, but they lead to action, they lead to impact and they’re helping build those meaningful relationships. That’s a really key thing to help build for and to help solve for.

Recognition is a piece of this, and recognition and celebration is a really important part of any organization and something that has also been lost in many ways as people move into a more separated work environment. We know that recognition is very important for increasing engagement, that it builds a connection to leadership, and that in many cases the recognition within organizations also relied on informal in-person interactions. So you have to be very intentional to build for those things in a new world.

What’s very interesting too is that there’s a tremendous connection between this and inclusion. And we know that there’s a high bar for the actions that organizations take right now around diversity, equity and inclusion. That idea of being able to connect in meaningful ways with folks has a big impact on people’s sense of belonging. There are big, big differences in race and gender in terms of whether people feel that they belong in an organization, and that impacts their engagement, of course, their intent to stay, and whether or not they recommend that company as a good place to work. Everything is tied together. We can’t think of any program or any action within HR as in a silo.

In this world, one of the things that is most prominent is that we see that the expectations of managers have grown exponentially and many of them, if not most of them, are not prepared for that. They are being asked to play a much, much bigger role in their people’s lives to provide more coaching, more support, be more available, be more accessible, but they may not know how to do that, and they are likely suffering from burnout themselves.

Limeade had a very interesting study that came out just a few weeks ago that shows managers are very, very stressed. They are carrying the burden of stress within their organizations in many ways. But there’s also a very different experience that managers have within their organization compared to the average employee. 55% of non-manager workers felt their employer genuinely cared about them compared to 77% of managers. So there is something that’s very, very different about the experience that people are having within their organization.

And then a huge number of people are feeling burnt out. Managers have to care for their population in that way. What’s very interesting, too, is that male and female managers have very different remote work experiences. That really indicates some of our traditional roles in caregiving and particularly managing children’s education and things like that that is putting a heavier burden on women still. We could talk for hours about all of the ways that the pandemic has really hurt women. But this idea that managers are being asked to do so much more is really significant. They’re burned out themselves. They need support themselves.

What can we do with this? Make sure that managers are having frequent check-ins with their people. That that’s not an optional thing but it’s really a requirement that we train managers to focus on appreciation and coaching and giving people forward-looking positive feedback. I love the phrase feed forward rather than looking back at what has gone on. That we really formalize mentorship and coaching, including among peers, and make sure that that’s not happening by accident but that it’s happening very intentionally, similar to recognition. And then really make sure that diversity and inclusion is part of everything, not just a set of programs that are disconnected from the rest of the work experience.

There’s a great quote from our friend, Jason Lauritsen, on the right. He says, "There’s no more powerful tool for employee engagement than an effective one-on-one meeting." Megan, anything you’d add here?

Megan: I would say some of the tangible ways that some of our clients are addressing their support for managers more specifically is adding callouts on the benefits site for things that managers can be doing, what resources, what webinars, what programs can help them on their day to day. One of our clients has made a specific section on their well-being site to call out for managers specifically. They’re also sending more frequent communications, so emails to managers and HR business partners on a quarterly basis outlining all of the programs, resources, trainings available, et cetera, and then creating tip sheets more frequently so like if you hear this, what can you do? If you hear that, what do you say? Giving them some ideas like how to navigate some of these tricky conversations.

Jen: Yeah. And I think we have a couple of examples of that a little bit further ahead when we talk about the well-being support that’s really needed in this moment. Great. Thanks.

Megan: Now we’re going to talk about continuous feedback and the ways in which you can be getting feedback in your organization. There are some really great quotes here. The first is from Brian Dickens at the University of Tennessee System who says, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions. From a leadership perspective, we need to know the good, the bad and the ugly. No leader is serving themselves well by ignoring or avoiding the direct conversation. You have to seek and find unique ways to get feedback." And then on the next slide here from Jason Lauritsen again, "We don’t need to guess about what employees need to feel more engaged. We can just ask them."

There’s lots of different ways that you can ask people about their experience and how their lives have shifted and what they might need. You can do focus groups. We have been doing a lot of online focus groups, which are a lot of fun and really a cool way to get instant feedback from employees. You can use surveys, poll surveys, or you can use one-on-one discussions or even town halls where you collect all of the comments and questions and synthesize that, bring it together, and then look through all of that information and identify where there are themes, repetition, needs or gaps, and then look for ways that you can help fix them.

On top of that, you also want to think about the data that you have available within your organization and how you can use all of this to drive business results. People want to be heard and feel valued. To Jen’s point about inclusion earlier, it’s really an important theme right now. So use what you have, the feedback that you collect, to create a benchmark, and then revisit how things change periodically against that benchmark. And I guess what’s really different now is that this process needs to happen more frequently so that you’re getting a better sense, especially because our worlds are changing so much from month to month and quarter to quarter.

As I mentioned, too, data is an important source of information. You have data that marketers pay good money for that can really give you some valuable insights into what your people are thinking, feeling, and doing, what their behaviors are, and that should be used to help influence your agenda going forward in terms of what training you need to provide, what support for productivity or engagement as well as well-being and all the resources that you may have, and you just need to package and promote in different ways than before. And so new jobs will emerge around this in the future around data interpretation and analysis.

We actually got a really interesting comment about HR and how a lot of the trend in years past had been to move roles offshore or to move them into different, more automatic ways. I think that will certainly continue. We’re not saying that that’s going away or changing, but what we are saying is that there are some new jobs emerging because the world is changing and there needs to be more skills or new skills that may not be apparent in the organization at the current moment. So I think that obviously businesses will continue to be mindful of their budgets and to do things most efficiently, and we’ll talk about technology and how technology will aid that going forward. But that’s also another thing to think about with the way things are shifting in the future.

What can you do? Find systematic ways to gather employee feedback. People need a safe way to express their feelings without fear of backlash. Look at technology and AI as ways to help you do this efficiently and effectively. Listen to your employees, act on what you hear, and then recognize also that you can’t always do what people want and you need to tell them why. There is a fear around asking or conducting too much feedback and asking for too much feedback and what the expectations that might set in the organization. Jen, do you have any tips about that in terms of how to manage people’s expectations and to not over-promise anything because of the feedback you’re collecting?

Jen: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s a little bit of a false fear because I don’t believe that most people have the expectation that just because you’ve asked them their opinion on something, that you’re going to do exactly what they want. Most of the time things don’t work that way. But having more transparent and more frequent communication and being able to follow up clearly with the themes, from whatever feedback you gathered, and then how you’re going to respond to them. And remember too that a lot of times things that people need can be solved with communications, which is kind of the low-hanging fruit and a quick win. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to always implement brand new programs or completely do a transformation to address people’s feedback. But the expectation is that people are being heard, that they’re being listened to and we’ve got to build those mechanisms in just so that it becomes more of an automatic part of the organization.

There was an interesting question that came in around doing engagement surveys right now in this environment. The writer says, "Clearly the pandemic is going to influence how engaged people are feeling. I am concerned that some leaders may dismiss any negative feedback that comes through the survey and just chalk it up to the pandemic. How do we get leaders to see what’s real and to take people’s feedback seriously?" Any thoughts on that, Megan?

Megan: I think one thing when I look at survey results is the volume and frequency of feedback. So if you’re getting a lot of consistent feedback, and even if it’s negative on some certain theme, that that might be more than pandemic. And even if it is part of the pandemic, I think that those things need to be addressed because this is a sustained period in which we’re working in different ways. It’s not a three-month thing anymore. One, I would look for patterns and see what patterns emerge. And also, can you back that up with other data that you have access to or other things anecdotally to put that story together?

Jen: Absolutely. And also, potentially change the questions so that you can differentiate or pull apart, tell us your experience about these things that might be more reflective of a pandemic, and then have a different set of questions that can dig into other parts of the organization so that your leaders can see both sides of that. That’s a great question. The next section we’ll talk about is well-being really being part of everything and embedded throughout the organization.

We have a quote here from David Trainor at Boston College, and he says, "If we will remain very focused on well-being communication, we need to use our communication strategies to alleviate those feelings of isolation or lack of connection." That is something we’re certainly hearing with a lot of clients. And then Paul from BlackRock says, "Re-establishing boundaries and defining norms will be important for a sustainable workforce." That is certainly the case. We know and the data shows that people are very stressed in this current situation. That the way that work and life has blended together has created a tremendously stressful environment to navigate and that those are things we need to solve for. Otherwise we’re going to have burned out people that are not able to perform at work.

I think it’s interesting. We certainly have always believed, and I think there’s always been good data out there to show that well-being is the lifeblood of an organization, but now we see that very viscerally. In that HBR article that Megan mentioned earlier about the HR jobs of the future, they talk about that, that the future of work will include developing a stronger focus and a more holistic view of employee well-being. One that encompasses the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of workers along with the physical. So this is going to be a big focus. It is going to really require that organizations think about well-being in the context of all of the organization, not just within the health and benefits programs.

And that includes even how are you thinking about expectations around performance management or compensation in this very unusual environment. How do you prevent people from feeling like they’re losing opportunities because of their home responsibilities? Addressing things like the burnout levels that people who have caregiving responsibilities have versus the rest of the workforce. So, there’s a lot of kind of adjusting expectations and figuring out how to navigate in this new world. And I think one of the things that’s been challenging about this is we’ve been a bit in the mode of, okay, a few more months, a few more months, a few more months. Now it’s almost a year that we’ve all been in this new normal, and that’s going to continue for a good part of this calendar year as well. So, how do we get an organization that when we actually get to the end of the pandemic, we don’t have a whole set of workers that are so burned out that they just don’t want to go on.

So we have to really think about how we’re encouraging people to unplug and renew their energy. Not very many employees feel that their employers are doing everything they can to support their mental health. There’s this incredible increase of the need for mental health on the full spectrum from managing day to day simple stressors to dealing with things that are much more serious like anxiety and depression and suicide. People need those support resources throughout their organization.

Money is also a tremendous cause of stress. This is information from PwC’s employee wellness survey last year. 54% of folks said that financial or money matters are their biggest source of stress, followed by my job. There are whole books that have been written about how bad people’s work experiences are for their health. This is certainly something that we need to solve for. Of course, as with everything we’ve talked about, it’s all connected. So solving for well-being helps support diversity efforts too, particularly when we’re talking about women and black, indigenous or people of color and other underrepresented groups within your workforce. We know that people experience work in different ways. There are significant disparities in health access outside of the work and solving for that in terms of well-being within our organization is all tied together.

This is a quote that just shows how much earnings and gender and the social resources that we know are connected to raise an income in many ways are having a tremendous influence on mental health issues. So everything’s connected together. We can’t talk about any one piece of this without talking about all of it. And so there’s a lot that we can do in this area. I’m sorry, I’m losing my voice. I’m going to let Megan jump in on this slide so I don’t sound like a frog. Megan, can you hop in on this?

Megan: Yeah. You can audit your organization for a culture lens in terms of what are you doing, where are there gaps, where can you improve things? Look at vendors and experience touch points where you can integrate well-being. So, how can you make that experience as holistic as possible. Define the role of well-being in your business strategy and then also model behaviors. So if you’re telling employees to prioritize your well-being and you’re a manager, then you need to be doing that as well to help drive home that message internally, as well as avoiding mixed signals. This is something that people talk about a lot in terms of leadership says one thing, but then managers ask people to stay late or to work and do extra hours on something. So really making sure that there is a consistent message across the organization, and then promote programs frequently. Especially you’re well positioned as HR and benefits managers to help people understand what tools and resources are available to them.

Speaking of resources and programs to promote, you can promote existing resources such as the EAP, leave time off benefits, preventive care, flu shots, financial counseling, anything you already have available. And then lots of organizations have been adopting and introducing new programs to ease all of this pressure, whether it’s COVID specific time off policies or COVID specific changes to the retirement plan in terms of allowing loans and withdrawals that are not normally part of the offering, as well as reimbursements for well-being, more flexible hours or flexible arrangements for working.

There has been all kinds of apps that a lot of our clients have been making available to their people. Not necessarily that they have a subscription to them, but just making them aware of all of these different tools that they could use to help manage their well-being as well as speakers or podcast, all these great resources that have really proliferated over the past 10 months, as well as childcare and school supports. There are some great backup care providers that have a whole host of online content that you can make available really easily to your people.

And then finally, as I mentioned before, some of our clients are making more tools available for their managers specifically about well-being so that they can have nice kind of well thought through dialogue with their employees if they’re not caught off guard or they know how to respond to tough situations. We created a tip sheet for one of our clients, Lenovo, here, as you can see on the right, which talks about not just what to say, but how you say it, how you frame that information, how you can support people through these really challenging times.

Jen: We’ve been talking with clients a ton this week about how to do even more and more and more of that, and really help the managers get very comfortable talking about these programs. It’s a different thing. In the past, a lot of organizations have not wanted managers to talk about the benefits. They’ve just wanted to push them somewhere else. So it’s a new skillset for sure. I also heard an idea from one client where they have created a whole team of mental health first responders. And so whenever a manager or a peer hears that someone is very, very stressed or is having a really hard time, they can suggest that they talk to one of these folks that have been given a ton of training about the programs and they’re called the mental health first responder. So, I love that idea of really building that support right into the organization. And Megan, thanks for jumping in there as I was losing my voice.

Megan: Absolutely. The next section we’re going to talk about in the final area of focus is technology. Unsurprisingly, we predict that technology will continue to move fast and move faster than ever before. So Jennifer Weinstein of CBRE said to us that we need to provide employees options on how they want to receive information, similar to how they access info in their personal lives. This will be a big theme in this section in terms of those heightened consumer expectations. This was a trend, again, before the pandemic, in terms of the consumer world influencing the HR world and those expectations of your everyday life pouring over to your work-life, that’s continuing here, and as we’ve adopted technology more quickly than ever before, the expectations, again, are the same for HR and for benefits.

This shift to a digital first strategy in our day-to-day lives, again, is being mirrored in our work lives. And so you need to think about when you’re reaching out to people, the expectation is to have a place online that’s outside of a firewall that they can easily access for information. That information needs to be regularly updated so that any new news is there. People will be looking for it. And any live support, say if you have a town hall, needs to be paired with on demand access to recording information, just like we’re recording this webinar and we’ll put it on our website after, that people can go back and reference it or watch it if they need to watch it later if they’re not able to access it in real time. And finally, privacy concerns won’t go away, so build that into the fabric of everything you do.

As I mentioned, this theme of consumerization of HR is going to continue into the future. People are looking for new and better ways to collaborate, learn, and get help. The way that you can best do this is think about getting the most from your current investments. So really utilizing them to their fullest efficacy. And then also where do you need to augment your tools to support new needs and new resources.

Another theme of technology moving quickly is that long, lengthy, luxurious timeline to implement a new tool or program is now compressed. And because we did it at the beginning of the pandemic, the expectations going forward is that adoption curve is going to continue to need to happen quickly going forward. What that means is more speed to implement but also iterate and integrate on the go. So continuously improve things and enhancing, and the way that you can help employees and manage their expectations is to communicate when you do introduce new technologies that you may need to tweak things as you go, that it might not be seamless. But part of the all-new approach is to respond to how things are being utilized real-time.

And there’s a whole proliferation of tools that kind of integrate the end-to-end experience and kind of link everything together and help reduce silos. So that’s going to continue as a trend to make everything feel less disconnected for employees. And then finally, one of our friends from Intactic, which is another communications agency, Preston Lewis, has said that organizations to think about spending a third of their budget on technology, a third on content and a third on behavior change and implementation.

What can you do? I highlighted this a little bit on the last slide, is that understand your current state, what are you using, how can you get the most from your existing tools. Learn about what’s possible, what are your peers doing, what are your needs? Look back at that feedback and the data. What is that telling you about your strategy going forward and where you might need to have new tools and resources? And then how can you think bigger than HR? How can you connect the whole employee experience? How can you connect different departments in a way that feels really integrated and not siloed?

Jen: I would just add on to that, there is a proliferation of new tools that do just that, where they really try to integrate not just the whole HR experience but all of HR and payroll and worksite and legal and IT and so forth so that there’s not so much of a disconnected and disjointed experience for individuals who are trying to get work done. They’re very exciting but very challenging. But what we have to remember is that individuals just think about them, what they need to accomplish in their role, and then what’s being offered by their employer. People are not trained to think in the same silos that we as HR professionals understand. And helping people navigate across the whole organization is going to be so important.

We have actually been putting a lot of time and energy into looking at onboarding solutions and we’ve created an approach for onboarding that can actually build that fully integrated experience across the whole organization rather than, "Okay, go do all your HR things now, go do all your payroll things now, go do all your IT things." So there’s some really interesting topics and opportunities to connect the dots here. But certainly just like with many things we’ve talked about, expectations are very, very high.

Someone has a good question here around the idea of digital fatigue. There’s certainly a lot of conversation about people just getting burned out and that they are spending too much time in front of computers. The question is, how do we communicate resources to support people in a positive way and how do we frame messages to focus on getting the results we want, like increased productivity or an improved sense of well-being versus focusing on a problem? Megan, any thoughts on that?

Megan: Yeah. This is not the first time I’ve heard that concept of digital fatigue or even Zoom fatigue, that people are online and connected to their computers all the time. So how do you become intentional about that? I think it starts from how you structure your day and the meetings that you have and recognizing that you need to build in breaks for yourself and that if you’re responsible for setting a lot of meetings, building in breaks as well for people to have focus time or time away from their computers.

There is this great book called The Power of Full Engagement in terms of how you can manage your personal well-being that I found really helpful for myself personally in terms of structuring your day so you don’t get burned out and making sure you have little breaks throughout it, and that people kind of work in these spurts of 90 minute.... You can focus your time for 90 minutes, but then you need to step away and take a break. And not just walk away and come back, but actually take a 15-minute break where you’re not connected to a computer. So I think you have to do that personally. You have to model that for your colleagues, you have to share that with your colleagues and find ways to make that institutionalized in your organization. Jen, what about your framing?

Jen: Yeah. I think what you shared is some really great examples of ways that organizations can actually teach people how to manage their time and manage their days in very intentional ways. I think what we also see is that sometimes programs are rolled out and they accidentally have a negative bent on them. So instead of talking about resilience and happiness and productivity and enjoying your work more, we talk about mental health issues and burnout issues and things like that, and you kind of immediately turn people off. So you can really think about how to frame things in a way of the positive results that you want to create with the language that you use. We’ve been talking a lot about self care and support, not as much about depression and anxiety and so forth. Of course the programs are solving for those, but you want to frame them in a positive outcomes driven way.

The other thing with just the sense of overwhelm that people have right now is we have to really put a lot of energy into making things very, very simple. So don’t tell people that you have all of these programs that can help them and then send them to a summary plan description, or send them to a website that is really hard to navigate, or that they can’t access when they’re just on their personal device. Make it very, very, very simple. And then when people see that there’s actually something there that’s supporting them, or that’s solving an issue for them, they’re going to be more likely to pay attention to other things. So, it kind of creates a virtuous cycle.

Great. Well, all of these things we’ve talked about are really about communicating care within our organizations and this very big expectation that people have for their employers to show up in this moment. Employers are a trusted entity right now. They’re a trusted source for so much of this information. I think this is really our moment to shine in terms of being HR and benefits professionals. If we can really think about how all of these things are connected within our organizations and how we can proactively get some programs in place to address them, we’re going to be able to create really, really good results this year.

Final quote. We just love this one, again, from Brian at the University of Tennessee. He says, "We have to approach this new era with a whole person paradigm: heart, mind, body, and soul. When our workforce feels like not only do we see them, but we hear them and we respond and that we care about them holistically, we will unleash talent in ways we don’t know yet. It will unveil discretionary effort in big, big ways. Communicating care, particularly during these difficult times, is an essential component of our work." That’s really an excellent summary of this moment that we’re in right now. People really want their organizations to show up for them and to help them get through this. There’s so many ways that we can do that that are going to make our organizations and our people very successful.

We’re right at time. We answered a few questions throughout. If we didn’t get to your question or you have other things, please reach out to us. Megan and I always love to chat and we will share the slides and the recording of this after. We look forward to sharing a lot more resources with you in the next couple of months. Thank you so much for attending and we look forward to talking more soon. Thanks, Megan.

Megan: Thank you.