August 12, 2020 | InBrief

Supporting our employees during difficult times

Our firm’s leaders, as stewards of a community, have an imperative to take care of our employees as whole people

The topic of mental health and wellness has grown in importance over the last few years, —at the end of 2019, Twitter released hundreds of cultural insights extrapolated from conversations on its platform and found that conversations on mental health had increased 122% over the past three years, while conversations on the body and physical fitness decreased by 75%. Bring in a pandemic, a sudden shift in how we work, drastic economic shifts, and national conversations on racial inequity and police brutality, and the conversation around mental health has become even more critical. 

Our philosophy: we have a responsibility to take care of our community 

As our Chief People Officer, I believe our firm’s leaders, as stewards of our community, have an imperative to care for of our employees as whole people. That includes what they may be grappling with: racial injustice, depression, caretaking responsibilities, illness, and more. We ask them to spend a large percentage of their time with us, and we have a responsibility to provide support and invest in resources that helps them be their best. 

We are living through an unprecedented situation that had been and continues to be  very stressful. We know our people are grappling with situations like partners or spouses losing their jobs, the sudden burden of full-time child or dependent care, as well as physical and emotional health concerns.

What we did at the beginning of the crisis

Our first steps were to provide certainty in a time that was very uncertain by offering honest, transparent communications about where the business was going and how to work effectively at home. We mobilized quickly to maintain continuity of client service via virtual collaboration, and ramped up our communication efforts to ensure people had the opportunity to have their questions answered about issues like the health of the business and the potential for furloughs or layoffs. 

We also took tangible steps to make sure our people felt secure in their jobs. Very early at the onset of the crisis, our director community came together immediately to forgo their annual salary adjustments to help create a proactive buffer to support our people and our firm, once again demonstrating our people-first value. Our people are nimble, smart, and pragmatic, and are our best asset in weathering this significant change. 

While we cannot make any predictions about the future, to date we have not had to conduct any restructuring or layoffs as a result of the pandemic and we were able to grant 2019 bonuses as scheduled at the end of March. 

Supporting a new type of work-life integration 

Once we had addressed our people’s immediate concerns, we knew we had to focus on the added stress they faced. We talk about work-life integration at West Monroe, versus work-life balance, but this was a type of integration none of us had experienced before! To support our new ways of working, we put into place a number of tools, trainings, and benefits. They include: 

  • Listening sessions: these began during Mental Health Awareness month in May and included  sessions on topics such as racism and backlash against Asian Americans, the pressure caregivers are under, and loneliness and isolation and training sessions for our mid-level managers and leaders on how to take care of themselves while taking care of their teams. In June, we invited a psychotherapist with a specialty in racial identity to host listening sessions on understanding racial trauma. Based on the overwhelming positive response we received, we have made these sessions a regular monthly series and have sessions scheduled into next year.
  • A new summer leave policy that allows people to take an extended period of time off during the summer, during which West Monroe will continue to cover health benefit costs 
  • A mental wellness resource library hosted on our firm intranet 
  • Ongoing training on topics such as stress management, mental health first aid,and leading during uncertain times 
  • Training on virtual presentation best practices to equip our people to perform their best
  • Peer support for parents via our Chief Family program 

In addition, we are encouraging our people to take advantage of programs we’ve always had in place, such as:

  • An employee assistance program that is available to both employees and spouses/partners, even if the spouse is not on our insurance plan
  • Backup care and caregiver discounts for child and dependent care
  • A flexible time off policy that allows people to take paid time off whenever they need to recharge or take care of personal matters
  • Flexible work arrangements such as reduced or alternative schedules—we work with our people on a case-by-case basis to make sure each situation is designed for the mutual benefit of our people and our clients
  • Ongoing, transparent communications—we continue to share our financials at all-employee town halls and local office meetings, conduct office hours with leadership, and maintain an honest dialog with our employee-owners

Our number-one goal throughout this crisis has been to be transparent about the journey we are on, even if we don’t have all the answers. Our people are on this journey along with us, and we need to make sure they know we are going to walk with them. If there is one small silver lining of this crisis, I hope it’s helped us to create a more transparent organization with a greater amount of trust, a stronger sense of community and additional opportunities for meaningful conversations. 

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