On-Demand Webinar: In-Person, Hybrid or Remote: 3 Viewpoints on How Employee Benefits Are Changing

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The benefits landscape is changing, with employees now expecting the enhanced benefits they received during the pandemic. In today’s competitive talent market, the organizations that revisit their benefits strategies will come out ahead in recruiting and retention.

Watch, In-Person, Hybrid or Remote: 3 Viewpoints on How Employee Benefits Are Changing to learn:

  • Which benefits matter most now
  • What programs employers are putting in place
  • How you can communicate your benefits strategy

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Maribeth Bearfield: Welcome, everybody. It is so nice to be with you all today and really looking forward to the next hour and the things we can talk about and share our experiences. I'm thrilled to be here with two of my friends, colleagues who I will introduce in just a moment. But, first of all, just a little bit about who I am. I am the CHRO at Bright Horizons. I am honored to be the head of HR at Bright Horizons. It's a cool company. And we do global education and care for large employers. Probably many of your companies are our clients. And what I really love about Bright Horizons is... So we started out as an early childcare company providing childcare for employers, and now we really follow the life cycle of the employee, providing things like backup care, elder care, college coach. You can see them all here. I won't read them all to you. And during the pandemic, things like enhanced family supports where we started to do tutoring and helping school-age children.

As an HR professional who's able to help other companies with their benefits in HR services, to me, that's like the win-win of my career. I've been in HR too many years to put a number to, but really pleased today to be talking with you guys about such an important topic, as we have all seen how benefits are truly changing and all that we need to do to attract and retain. So with no further ado, though, I would like to introduce my two colleagues that I'm working with today, Jennifer Benz. Jennifer is the SVP communication leader at Segal Benz, and also Julie Wilkes. Julie is the North American wellbeing and resilience lead at Accenture. So really excited to be with Julie and Jennifer today. And I'm going to start by asking each of them to talk about why this topic is so important to them and the work that they do. And we'll start with Julie.


Julie Wilkes: Thank you so much, Maribeth. And it's so good to be here and to join you in this wonderful conversation today. Health and wellbeing as well as how are employers or companies shift to meet our people where they are through COVID and beyond is such an essential conversation because we've never faced this before. And, as we're looking to shift our workforce into places that can be the most productive, and energized, and healthy places, it really has taken every employer some time to step back and look at the landscape and understand what we need to do. And so I'm really thrilled to be able to share the conversation today, but in terms of why wellness and why wellbeing, for me, personally, wellbeing is something that's been a lifelong passion and pursuit of mine. I'm a heart disease survivor born with a congenital heart defect and it has fueled my career.

I started at Accenture as a change management consultant but quickly learned that our workforce was working long hours and didn't have a lot of levers to pull to help them to put their hand up and say, "I need some support with resilience or health and wellbeing." And so it was out of that and around 2002 that I authored and sort of penned our first concept of wellbeing at Accenture, of which now today, 18 or so years later after, we have a thriving wellbeing program that I look forward to sharing more a little bit later about. But it truly comes from a passion of understanding that we each have different unique needs that have to be met in order to bring our whole best self into what we do and it is a complex landscape in order to solve for. And so having these open conversations can fuel the fire of each one of those who are listening today. Each one of our solutions may be different and it needs to be creative and innovative to really meet people where they are but now is a time more than ever to meet people and help them to rise up past the challenges that we felt in order to be our best.


Maribeth: Thank you, Julie. And, Jen, maybe you can briefly describe your role as an HR and benefits communication leader.


Jennifer Benz: Thanks, Maribeth. And I'll echo what Julie said. I'm also delighted to be here and share this conversation with you both. The work I do is around getting people engaged in their health and financial benefits and work-life programs. I've spent over 20 years doing HR communication and in my role as leading the team at Segal Benz, we work with an incredible variety of employers across all sectors from high-tech, to professional services, to retail, food, big public sector employers. And so this past year and a half of really navigating through the pandemic, I think has been one of the most interesting and challenging times for all of us as HR leaders and HR professionals. And what's been very interesting to me as this concept of wellbeing and how we really support people where they are and support them to be able to show up and do good work and also do good with their family, and their friends, and their personal lives, it's just been such an interesting time to do that work. And I think the meaning of wellbeing as just so fundamental to individuals as well as the organization has become so tangible in this past year and a half and a lot of organizations have made even bigger commitments to supporting people in all aspects of their lives. And that's been really impressive to see. And, HR folks have been working their tails off during that time to really make that happen and, make those promises come to life.


Maribeth: That's great. Thank you both of you. And to start, Julie, you really were at the forefront of wellbeing. I mean, back in, I think you said, the early 2000s, wellbeing wasn't even a word that even HR professionals were using as we do today. And then, Jennifer, your focus on communication. I know one of the things as an HR professional, one of the things that we've always struggled with is how do we best communicate to our employees as well as how do we communicate our benefits to our employees, and let them know all the things we have to help support them? So really excited about the two different perspectives that we will approach this. And what I'd love to do right now is just talk about really four key themes. You know, as we think about, you know, what is happening right now, you know, we think about as you talk, Jennifer, transparency and communication, you know, the desire for more frequent communications throughout organizations. And I think COVID has really changed the employee and employer relationship and accelerated changes that were happening. I mean, COVID's accelerated so many things, but even how and when we communicate is just at the forefront and being very transparent. And I think as we realized and had a lot of employees who have been remote, we have had to really communicate very differently.

And then wellbeing, Julie, as you shared conversations around wellbeing have become central to everything in every organization and they've risen now to the C-suite. I mean, I think the other thing, as we keep seeing all the things that COVID fast forward, it's now a real concern at all levels of the organization.

20 years ago, employees would never have come to work and said, "I'm feeling stressed and anxious today." That would have been a career-limiting statement. Today employees are saying it and we're being asked to lean in and help them. And then the third factor that we want to talk about today, focus on today, a key theme is what managers are facing. They're facing immense pressure and new expectations around how they support their employees, how they manage their employees. Whether that's virtually, whether that's remote, whether one of them is in the office and the other is not.

So organizations really have to lean in and help managers more so today than ever before. And then innovative technology. Organizations have quickly adopted new technologies and ways of communicating and ways of working as a result of the pandemic and we need to really be part of that. It's interesting, I was on a call earlier today and a CHRO from the banking industry said, "We're not a bank anymore. We're a technology company. Like everything we're doing is running on technology and we need more IT people than we've ever needed before." So, again, just changing, changing world, especially as you share, Jennifer, for HR professionals. So before we begin with focusing on these key things, we'd love to hear from you all in the audience, which theme would you rank as most important to your organization right now? And we would love for you to take this poll. Is it transparency, communication, wellbeing, support for managers, or technology? I was getting worried whether it was working or not, but all of a sudden, the numbers are jumping. I'll give it just another few seconds. Okay. So transparency and communication. Yeah. I think for us, Bright Horizons, we would clearly, we would clearly say the same. And so let's start with you, Jen, what steps are organizations taking to increase transparency and communication?


Jennifer: This is such an interesting topic. And the increase in the frequency of communication, the transparency was really forced last year during the early days of the pandemic. And there was a survey done in late March of last year that said two-thirds of employees wanted daily updates from their employer about what was happening with the pandemic and what they were doing. Daily updates. So that request and that desire for more frequent communication really forced everyone's hand on the transparency topic because you have to admit what you do and don't know in those situations. And prior to the pandemic, a lot of organizations were very reserved in making any statements where they couldn't be 100% certain of every fact that was communicated. And so that shift as well as seeing leaders in their dining rooms or seeing leaders in their homes and, seeing really frequent updates from C-suite leadership that maybe you only heard from before once a year, that really changed the way people think about their organizations and that type of transparency is what people have wanted for years. And now that they've gotten it, it's not going away. People are not going to say, "Okay. Now we're done. We can go back to the old ways of communicating." So we're really seeing organizations have to rethink their internal communication structures to keep up with people's desires around communication and that frequency and transparency and it requires a lot of new skills for leadership too which maybe they weren't as comfortable with before.


Maribeth: Yeah. Great points, Jen. And, Julie, how has this played out at Accenture?


Julie: Well, just to piggyback on what Jen just said, I think that the number one feeling that the world had in the past, 18 months has been uncertainty. And when there is uncertainty, we're looking for someone to step up, take leadership, make decisions, and tell us that we're going to be okay, and tell us what the next step is. When our routines are completely disrupted, when our version of normal is no longer anywhere close to what it was, really, we were looking for people, organizations, places to step up and say, "Here's the direction forward. Here's the way forward. Here's how we're going to take care of you, and here's how we're going to help." And so I think that in that time of uncertainty, those organizations who could step up and really find their voice and find that path forward were the ones that gained the most trust. And I think that trust is what great communication and transparency yields. And so trust right now during an uncertain time is the most valuable thing. And as Accenture has moved forward, we knew that this was a time that our employees were challenged beyond measure and we had to show up for them and give them the tools, the guidance, the resources, the flexibility, and the information to help them make decisions for themselves and their families.

So at Accenture, a couple of examples that we did, first of all, our CEO, Julie Sweet, we've had a lot of great videos done by our C-suite that are very produced. They're in our production lab and studios and they look very nice. Well, as COVID hit and as we've gone through this, you would find Julie coming to us from her living room, from her kitchen and talking to us about what was going on. And that level of just being able to connect with her and feeling the realness that, our CEO is coming to us and talking to us in our home and sharing what she's experiencing, and then here's the stance that Accenture is going to take, that was very powerful for our people to see. And so I think leadership, showing up in ways that feel even more authentic were very well valued. A few other things that we did were conduct focus groups or just listening sessions. I think the word listening was key to understand how our people were feeling and understand where they felt they needed to be met. As we know, everyone experiences crisis, trauma, and uncertainty differently.

And so there was no one solution that Accenture was going to solve for and hit the home run for our employees. We really had to listen. And so we not only solved for just our general population, but we looked at our special populations and got together and had listening sessions to say, "What are you experiencing? How can we show up for you?" And then we did a readout of those sessions and what the action would be that we'll take out of them. So we really let employees know that they were in the driver's seat to help us to know, for example, our parents. Our parents faced unprecedented stress, worry. Our parents told us that they didn't feel that they were good parents because they couldn't juggle all of these things and they just needed a little help. And so it was in getting that information that we could go back to our partners like Bright Horizons and say, "Here's what our parents were telling us. How can we partner to create a solution together?" And then we give that readout back to our parents to say, "Here's what you told us. And here's what we're doing." And I think with that type of communication, with that type of process, we're able to establish trust and help our people to stay connected to us and feel that even during a very uncomfortable and uncertain time, a sense of, guidance and direction.


Maribeth: Yeah. Those are all great points you guys, and that word connected. I think it became so important, even if you didn't have the answer, as a leader, as a manager to just say, "We're working on it," or, "We're trying to figure it out," but that trust and connections is so important. I know one of the things I did with my HR team was every Thursday for 30 minutes at 11:00, you could dial in, I had no agenda and we would just talk. And, whether there was something to share, or if there was a holiday approaching, we would talk, maybe focus on that, but otherwise, we just talked. And some people joined the call and never said anything, but they would send me a note and say, "It just felt good to hear other people, to know that we're connected, and to feel like a team again."

So, yeah, I think that transparency and communication... Look, we know throughout our lives how important that is. But especially in times when people were home, when the world became so different and we are all looking for answers. I know I really started to rely on these CHRO round tables or any kind of group talk where we can say to people, "What are you doing? And what happened when you did that?" And look, we're still asking that question about vaccines and things like that. So yeah, really, really important points. So let's move on to wellbeing. This is so important and I guess, Julie, let's start with you. What does wellbeing mean to Accenture? And you shared at the beginning a little bit about your own personal story and what it means for you, and we'd love to hear more about that. What programs has Accenture implemented to support employee wellbeing?


Julie: Well, wellbeing to Accenture means that you as an employee and your family can bring your whole best self into what you do. You have the tools, resources, time to be able to take care of yourself on your terms so that when you show up, you're able to be at your best. We believe it is our responsibility as an employer to set the stage for each employee to have what they need. And sometimes that means that they just need permission to take some time away. Sometimes that means they need permission to raise their hand and say that they've got a mental health issue going on that they need some support with. Maybe that means that they need to spend more time with their family, they need to set new boundaries, they need to get into a routine fitness program, or maybe that means that they need some financial counseling support, or perhaps it even means they need some structure with how to help their kids to stay focused on their schoolwork while they're maintaining a five-person household where everybody's working from home and taking school at home from the same time.

I think back 20 years ago, wellbeing was sort of thought of as a fitness program for an employer adopting a step program or something like this. And certainly, that is a part, but I think wellbeing is more about the culture that the company keeps versus the programs that the company offers. The programs are what bring the culture to life. And so really, I think that well-being has to start with your leadership as well as your policies, procedures, and the way you operate your brand showcasing that you believe in your employees, you believe that they are your greatest asset, and when you take care of them, they will take care of whatever it is, the business that you're in.

And so I also think that there's no one-size-fits-all wellbeing solution. It really takes the company to decide their vision and what it is that they give the world, what their purpose in the world is. And then in order to do that, what type of environment do they need to create for their employees so that those employees show up at their best? And so I actually get super passionate about this topic because, as I spoke of earlier, as a heart disease survivor, I've never had any medical interventions or anything. The doctors actually declare my life a miracle and they've said that there would have been no way that I would live to 12 and now at 45, my heart's never been stronger. And so I truly attribute a few things and that is the lifestyle, the people I surround myself with, and my ability to reframe life, to manage the stressors, and to really find joy even in the challenges.

And so I think that that is my personal model that I then try to bring into Accenture as we create our partnerships with our different vendors as well as define who we are and how we want to show up. I think if you would hear our CHRO, Ellyn Shook, speak, she would tell you that it is about us bringing our whole best self into what we do and giving our employees the power. We've always said at Accenture, we are a consulting firm, which means that we help our clients to do business better, faster, smarter, whatever it is that we're looking to do. So we don't produce a product, and so we produce a service and a service is only as good as the people. And so that's why we know that our people are our greatest asset and it is worth every moment of time to invest in our people so that they can bring our clients their best solutions.

So a couple of things that we've done, number one, in partnership with Bright Horizons this year, I would say that this has been one of our most creative suites. We really amped up our game a bit when it comes to what we offer our parents because we heard loud and clear, parents were saying, "Help. I'm drowning out there. I have a house now of children who are all doing work from home, school from home. I have a partner who's also working from home. I'm feeling overwhelmed." And so we really found that there was a couple of really great wins that we had right away when we went to our Bright Horizons and said, "Help us." And so one of the things that we did is we engaged in virtual tutoring for our kids.

We had learning centers that were designed around social distancing and safe spaces of similar students coming in each day. And we expanded our backup-dependent care. We just enhanced our hours so people had more backup care and more crisis care support. Outside of that, as I said, with the showing up as our whole best self and developing this holistic framework, we really try to... The word pivot was, I think, the word of the year, right? But we try to pivot to really say, "How do we keep our people feeling seen, safe, and connected during a time when everyone's sort of hiding behind their computer?" We're not bringing each other face to face physically. So how can we create those experiences? And so we did a lot of things to amp up our programs where people could feel as if they were seen, that they were safe, and that they're connected back in.

I'll go over some of these programs a little bit later, but one of them that we did was just enhance our... We do wellbeing in each office. We have over 50 offices in the U.S. and over 12 in Canada. So for North America, we had 60-plus offices where we were working one-on-one with our wellness champions to do virtual fitness, virtual nutrition lessons each month in each of those offices. So the small group of people from each office comes together and it's not some national webcast where you don't see anybody, but people really were connected into topics. I know I broadcasted from my kitchen on Friday afternoons teaching a healthy mocktail for the day or a healthy appetizer or snack for your Friday night. And people loved it because it was real, it was authentic, and it was something we had never done before. We even tried things like paint parties where you have a painting that you do virtually with everyone else in your office. So we really tried to get very creative with the ways that we could connect people. The cool thing is even though now that we're starting to come back into person, I believe some of those ways that we connect have taught us how to be, I guess more innovative and really value each other so much more.


Maribeth: Thank you, Julie. And you are a miracle. And I really appreciated, and it's really interesting, this whole thought of how wellbeing is really becoming what's defining a culture and really becoming how companies are defining their culture, and we would not have said that a few years ago, but it's becoming so much more important. And, look, work and family, I mean, work and family and life are integrated in a way they never have been before. So really important points. So, Jen, in your view, how can organizations support employees' wellbeing, and specifically organizations that have remote and hybrid employees and may have a bit of both?


Jennifer: It's a really interesting challenge to support wellbeing at a time of so much change, but even in "normal times" because it's such a personal thing. And someone's state of wellbeing might change day to day or week to week. And we saw this prior to the pandemic with the proliferation of niche benefit programs that were really aimed at different target audiences and supporting their individual needs. So even prior to the pandemic, we saw dozens, and dozens, and dozens of new companies popping up that filled a very specific purpose, and that might be supporting parents. Getting even more specific, it might be supporting parents with young kids versus parents who have kids going off to college or supporting people with caregiving needs or taking care of their elders, and so forth.

And when it comes to fitness or mental health, there was an equal proliferation of niche programs because someone might need help with resilience or managing stress and another person might need health with help with clinical depression and they need support with that in order to work on their wellbeing. So that has been a challenge for companies that has just accelerated during the pandemic. And I think we've seen even more new programs introduced that really support a specific group of folks. And that can be really, really compelling, but then it comes with the challenge of how do you then get people to even know that those programs are there and all of the different work arrangements, whether you have some people remote, some people hybrid, some people in manufacturing facilities, some people on a retail floor, all of that just adds another layer of complexity. So to really support wellbeing, we have to be really smart with communication that gets to those personal needs and that where you're frequently reminding people of all of the great programs that are out there.

And I think my whole career, one of the biggest pain points for HR leaders is around people not using the programs that are available to them that they know would make a big impact on their lives. And, we talk to clients all the time who are frustrated because someone comes to them with an issue that there's a program to support them with and they didn't know that it was there. So just as we were talking about the frequency and transparency of communication, that has to be in place with wellbeing programs too and you have to constantly remind people what's available because the person who might need that program today is going to be very different than the person who needs it next week, or next month, or next year.


Maribeth: Absolutely, Jennifer. I think for the first time in my career, EAP got into the spotlight. For years, employees, you would say, "Well, we have this program." "We do?" "You can get legal advice here." 'I can?" They had no idea. And all of a sudden EAP came to the front light because we were able to say, "Yes, and here it is, and here are ways to help." And I think we need to continue to enhance those things. Other thing that's amazing to me is today, employees expect this. The benefits of medical, dental, and life insurance, those are just...yeah, that's just that nice-to-have. Those, you have to have. They have expectation, whether it's pet insurance, whether it's childcare, whether it is backup care, elder care, employees are now coming in expecting these things.

I think the other thing in regards to well-being and benefits is that I think employers are beginning to be more not one-size-fits-all, but it's almost like the old cafeteria-style where they're providing different benefits for different employees at different life stages based on what they may need. And we are also beginning to think about that. So great points, you guys. Thank you. And before we go on to talk about managers, I do want to remind the audience that if you have any questions... Probably should have said this to you at the beginning, but if you have any questions, please put them in the Q&A and we will work to get to those at the very end. Okay? So now, managers. Jen, how have you seen organizations shift in how they are supporting their managers during this time, these times?


Jennifer: There's been a really interesting dialogue that we've seen or shift in dialogue that we've seen with managers where there's a recognition that the managers need all of that support for their own personal wellbeing in order to be able to show up for their teams. So we have to make sure that our managers are taking care of themselves in order for them to be there for their people. And a lot of our clients have really increased the amount of manager communication that they've been doing just to remind them of the benefits that are there for themselves personally. But the shift that I think is most interesting is actually teaching managers to be comfortable talking about aspects of wellbeing that we might not have ever wanted them to touch in the past. And, with so many organizations, prior to the pandemic, we would have said, "We don't want managers talking about mental health. We don't want managers to be the experts on benefits. It's too much to ask them to know how these different programs work and they're just going to give people false information."

That's been a big shift to say, "We do want managers to be able to talk about wellbeing, we want peers to be able to talk about wellbeing, and then at a minimum, we want managers to be able to direct people to where to go for more support." So we've been doing tons and tons of education and training for managers really scripting those conversations for them. When you hear your team members say, "I'm overwhelmed, I'm stressed, I'm burned out," what do you say in response, and then how do you push them to programs or resources that are going to support them? And that's been really interesting. And our clients who have been doing that have been getting tremendous feedback on it. It's been a great investment and really helped them improve the way that people are accessing information.


Maribeth: Jennifer, it's a great point because for years, we have said to managers, "No. Don't go there. Don't, you know..." And I agree, we need to give them the tools and the talking points because they are the person that employee is going to turn to. Julie, what's Accenture doing? Are you guys doing anything in regards to helping managers?


Julie: Well, I had to sit here and smile as Jen was speaking because everything she just described is exactly what we've seen. We know that, number one, our managers, we call... A name we interchange sometimes with anyone manager and above is a people lead. It is someone who typically, once you get to the level of manager, you're not only responsible for a certain set of work, but you're also responsible for people under you who are helping to produce more work. And so you're not only responsible for your own productivity and health and how you show up every day, but you're also responsible for a subset of people. And so, the old saying from the airplane, put your oxygen mask on first applies. And so we have made sure that, for example, we developed a really cool, I'll say, resiliency series that we developed and the first few sessions are only for the people leads or managers and leadership to embrace and understand because we recognize that if we try to roll out a message to employees or you can take advantage of this program or this was built for you to do it, but they don't see the people that they're reporting to doing it, it will not be successful. They will not believe that this program is actually for them. And so we design it specifically so that our managers and above embrace the program, understand the programs, understand what's available to them and understand the way that Accenture thinks about health and wellness, resiliency, and especially in this year mental health and then giving the tools to the entire team to sort through together.

And so I think a couple of the ways that we've really worked with managers are to design the manager-only sessions to help them to understand and to acknowledge the stresses that they have, that they're not only taking on their own worries of COVID in the world and their family, but they're taking on the stressors of their team too and they're having to solve for all of these challenges for their team. And so they're now playing HR, they're playing maybe employee relations, but they're playing all of these different roles within their particular level. So the other thing that we've done is we've developed programs such as mental health allies training. This is an area where if you're interested, and although we allow it to be for any level of our organization, we do try to emphasize that our managers and above take this program so that they can recognize signs when somebody is not okay. And they understand the words to use to address it so that that doesn't feel threatening or it doesn't feel as if you're going to be punished or penalized if you admit that something's not quite right today, but also that they have the direct tools to guide that person to support. Our goal is to always make sure that people feel that they're safe and that they can get connected to support right away. And so we arm our managers with the proper conversation starters as well as where to send them. They're not to diagnose or to try to get into anything more than saying, "I recognize my team member doesn't seem okay today. I'm going to make sure that we take care of them and point them to where they need to go to get their support."


Maribeth: That's wonderful. That's wonderful. Either just providing them with like, what are those key triggers? What are the things that we should all be aware of? And we're doing it virtually. So how to be aware, how to notice things or hear things. And then train them to respond accordingly. Because it's also interesting, Julie, what you just said. I never thought about this, but employees aren't like walking by HR people. They're not walking down... They're not seeing each other where sometimes that's where they would ask questions and sometimes, in a very informal way. But now that all those communications are not happening like they used to, around the watercooler, it managers our hearing a lot more.


Julie: Yep. That's right.


Maribeth: So the last theme is technology. And I know for me, man, I remember when the pandemic first started, like seeing newscasters do their job from home. If you had said...if somebody said to you, "I'm going to be a newscaster and I'm going to work from home," you would've gone, "No. That's just not going to happen." Or I remember when my doctor said, "I'm doing my physical exams over Zoom." And I'm like, "Oh, really?" And so we did, but if she had told me that before the pandemic, "I'm now going to work from home and do all of my..." I'd be like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no, no. I'll find a new..." Technology has just changed our world so quickly in the past year and a half. I mean, I just think of this platform that we're all meeting with today and how many of you in the audience, are sitting at home and we're able to have this conversation with. I mean, it just is amazing to me. So, Julie, let's start with you, Accenture, and you do a lot of consulting for companies that are going through these big changes. How has technology during the pandemic and now?


Julie: Well, we are a company that does focus on technology-forward solutions and so we do take a lot of investment and trying to be aware of, and learn, and be educated on the latest and greatest things coming. And so as COVID came into our lives, we absolutely took a look at all of the different technology opportunities that we had to reach people. And, again, our words were to be seen, safe, and connected. And so a few of the things that we did right away was we understood that healthcare was going to be added absolute premium when it comes to so many people have needs, not enough healthcare practitioners to meet people's needs. People are not going to be able to go into centers to get the care they need. And so we immediately started to work with our carriers, and providers, and different solutions to open up the Teladoc options, the video on demand, working with making it easier and quicker for people to get what they needed.

We also worked with our providers in scheduling things like COVID tests and knowing how to get things that quickly. We felt that timeliness was very important to our people. If they had to wait six months to get into their doctor, it was no good, so how do we help our people to connect? And a couple of other things we did. So we also partnered with companies, for example, Wysa is a company that we use with mindfulness. It's an AI bot that when somebody is not feeling great or needs a little bit of a mindfulness coach, this is an AI bot that they can use. Now, some people may prefer speaking more with a person, but some people would rather just have this interactivity where a resource that's guided tells you what to do in order to, in that moment, to take the edge off or to take a few breaths.

We implemented also...something really exciting that we've done is bring in virtual reality. So many of our folks have virtual reality headsets. Yeah. And we started with new during our orientation. So our new employees coming in so that they could...before, they were all brought into a room together so they could see each other. And now that they couldn't do that, the virtual reality was key so that they could actually still see each other and feel as if they were in a room together. And now we've been able to take that concept and implement it in different ways where our people feel more connected across the world, including with some fitness programs that we are rolling out and helping our employees to work out together on a beach in Maui or wherever we want to go. So lots of cool things there.

And then I think the last thing I'd want to mention is with mental health. I think that every employer had to face and focused the challenges that COVID brought and will bring. I think that mental health will be the next pandemic for people to deal with, the after-COVID trauma, and all of the things that we've had to adjust to. And so making it easier. We know right now that counselors are also at a premium. It's very hard to get into counseling services. And so finding like virtual counseling opportunities using apps and tools where we could speed up the process to getting people into licensed professionals more quickly are also really, really important for us. So that's some of the ways that we leverage technology to try to meet our people where they needed to be met.


Maribeth: No. That's really cool. I love the virtual. And look, Accenture's a cool company. And so, yeah, that's really neat. Jen, how about you? Have you seen, in different companies, innovations in technology, different kinds of innovation coming out?


Jennifer: Absolutely. This was one of the things we saw happen so fast at the start of the pandemic. We had the adoption rates for collaboration software, for video software, for different internal tools just skyrocket. At the same time, the use of things like virtual telemedicine and telemedicine for mental healthcare and all of the things that Julie just described, the new tools that connect people to different experiences that are going to support that wellbeing, those just took off like wildfire and the data around how fast the adoption of a lot of those new technologies was is unbelievable. What would've taken 10 years happened in four weeks and so forth. So I think what's important for benefits leaders and HR leaders to think about is we really have a lot of different areas of technology at play. And so we have how technology is influencing the way that we deliver benefits and the way that we deliver support to employees and that's in healthcare, childcare wellbeing, financial wellbeing. All aspects of benefits are being transformed by technology and the actual delivery of them.

Then we have internal collaboration tools that have completely changed and these have been very interesting for some of our clients because they provide opportunities for very, very niche targeting of programs. For example, one of our clients immediately had Slack channels and Slack groups pop up very tailored to the different ages of kids that people had. So prior to this, they would've never had a way to get to parents that have newborns, but now there's a whole Slack community happening that's talking about that all the time, and depending on your perspective, that's either really great or really hard to manage. So all of that internal collaboration is happening. And then just the internal communication tools as well, what are you using? Is it intranet? Is it video? Is it email? A lot of folks complain that people aren't reading email, but that's still one of the primary channels that's being used. So I think it's helpful to kind of break down the different ways that technology is changing and then think about what can you do to really use it to help people get the programs and support that they need because there's so much that's amazing in the way that technology is supporting that, but it can quickly become overwhelming too.


Maribeth: Absolutely. We saw that they've coined, Zoom, fatigue….Yet there were so many great benefits to it, but yes, it can also be used too much, but great suggestions, Jen and Julie. Great ideas. So let's turn back to the audience for a moment and see if these themes have changed at all in your minds. Would you still rank these the same or would you change? So if you can just take a moment to rank these themes again, we'd love to see if we changed your mind or if anybody is thinking any differently about any of these four themes.


Okay. I have a feeling it's not going to change, but I am interested to see, so we'll click over. Oh, a few more for wellbeing. Wellbeing was at 24%. So a little more wellbeing and a little more support for managers and technology. Not that we were trying to influence any of your decisions. Just wanted to share what we believe are four key things in supporting employees and whether that's in person, hybrid, or remote. So also, if you have questions, please feel free to submit those. We have a few minutes left and we would like to turn... We do have a couple questions that have been submitted. So let's start with that. And, Julie, I think I'll turn this one over to you. And this is a great question. Do you have examples of questions to use in listening sessions as sometimes employees are hesitant sharing in a group? It's a great question.


Julie: Yes. It's a great question. So thanks to whoever asked that. Listening sessions are... We have to get back to what is the intention of the listening session? It is to unlearn, right? It is maybe we believed our employees thought one way or maybe thought we were solving for the challenges our employees face, but a listening session is for us to actually say, "What are you really challenged with? What is in your heart? What is on your mind? How are you feeling? And what is it that you believe we can do to show up for you?" And so, they can be something that can be extraordinarily personal or could be topics that are more general. So it really depends on the topic, but if it's something where it might be an area that somebody is uncomfortable with potentially sharing, I think there are some considerations to make. Might be good to set some ground rules at the beginning of a listening session and the moderator of the listening session should be someone that those who are attending will feel comfortable with. Often, whoever is leading that should be someone who they can trust and they believe has their best interest in mind. And they also need to know what's going to happen with the feedback that they're giving. So if they give information that there's no penalty or punishment, that this is truly used to learn so that we can do better for you.

And so I think that some of the starting points might be to start with more general questions around, how are you feeling? And continue to cascade as people start to share. What I tend to find is it takes someone to start the conversation and to start sharing and then other people have courage to share as well. But I do think setting up a listening session to be safe and supportive, people understand exactly what is being used for. And I still think that employees sometimes will have a sense of big brother, right? Well, what's going to happen? If I admit this, what's going to happen to me? Will somebody now know that I feel this way? So really protecting them from really feeling that there could be any retaliation or anything against them for being real, that we're looking for. And so often, you can also do... We've done listening sessions where we anonymize people's feedback too. Sometimes it's good for people to be seen, but sometimes it's being able to give that feedback without feeling as if their name is attached to it can also be a safe space too. So I think that it depends on the topic and I think it depends upon what it is that you're seeking, but I do believe that identifying the purpose, what you're going to use the information for, that it is truly about the employees and helping the employee and the employer to get out of their own way in order to help employees to lift themselves and to be more of the company that they want to be for the employees. I think all of those are really important messaging. And the moderator is key, having someone that people trust.


Jennifer: And this is an area as well, I agree with everything Julie said, where technology can help because there are some incredible platforms for doing online focus groups that are anonymous. And we've been doing those with lots of clients and you can collect a ton of feedback where it's truly anonymous and then, when you've gotten that level, use those listening sessions with a smaller group dialogue to get even deeper.


Maribeth: Thank you both. So we got another good question. What are good ways to disseminate information about benefits like EAP? And are virtual benefit fairs effective? Our managers are so saturated with org emails that they've stopped reading them.


Jennifer: We hear a lot that people are inundated with email and they tune out. So email is still a great way to reach people, and a lot of times, email can be improved greatly by looking at the format and simple things like the subject line and so forth. But when it comes to really communicating benefits, you have to do it year-round. You have to use multiple channels. And for most organizations, you really need a way to reach the family members because they're so often the ones who are making the decisions or who are using the programs and so forth. And I think of all of the different strategies and so forth, making sure that it's an ongoing conversation is the most important. And that's where we've seen the biggest changes in engagement, is when organizations really make the switch from talking about benefits and wellbeing a few times a year to talking about it all the time in every channel that you can possibly reach to the point that you are tired of talking about it, that's when you're probably going to start to really reach people.


Julie: Yeah. I would only just add to... I love that, Jen. The thing I would add is what we have found is that our employees are afraid if they don't know what the experience is. So, for example, they've heard about EAP, they understand that they're getting five free counseling sessions if they call in and request a counselor, but they're even afraid of that initial dialogue. What am I supposed to tell someone? What are they going to ask me? The stranger's answering a phone and asking me what's happening. They have all of these concerns about what is that experience. And so we've done these little one-minute videos that explain experiences of using different programs, what you're going to be expected to do once you get into that program to help people to see it's a very simple process and to make sure people understand it when they're calling in or when they're leveraging something, this is the intention of it. Really bringing that program to life for them so that they don't have to be afraid or uncertain about it, they know just how to use it.


Jennifer: That's great. And how much time to set aside too.


Julie: Yeah. I think it has saved us lots of cute questions, lots of inbox questions that we can also drive people to is, "Hey, watch this video. This should be the experience for you." And the thing is I've been able to shoot so many of those videos myself just being sort of an expert in some of our programs and really making it feel personal, that this is the way we've designed this program, this is why we've done it this way, and here's how you'll experience it. So it does, we think, save a lot of time in the long run as well.


Maribeth: Absolutely. Thank you, both, so very much, not just for the answers to that question, which is a great question and great answers, but for the last hour of your time. So appreciate, Jennifer and Julie, all that you're doing and sharing your learnings with this team...I mean, with this group. To everybody on the call, we wish you the very best. I keep saying to people, "This is HR's defining moment. This is a time when we can really shine. And this is a time when we can really help our employees." As Maya Angelo said, it's not what you said, it's not what you did, it’s how you made people feel. And this is all about doing the right thing. Thank you guys so very much.

About the Speakers

Julie Wilkes

Leading a nationally award-winning well-being program for Accenture North America for the past 15 years, Julie is responsible for global leadership development, employee wellbeing and mindfulness, facilitating courses in-person and on-line on well-being, leadership and mindfulness. Julie holds a PhD in Organizational Psychology from Capella University, a master’s degree from Ohio State University and an undergraduate degree in International Business from Marietta College. Outside of Accenture, Julie owns a self-care retail shop and a fitness/yoga studio concept, is a published author of 'The 7 Life Miracles' and is a motivational speaker. She has spoken across the globe - from the Tower of London to The White House, and has given several Tedx Talks. Julie is a heart disease survivor who pays forward her second chance at life through her daily work and passion.

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer leads Segal Benz, a consulting firm that helps organizations engage their people and drive business results through effective communication. As an influential voice in the employee benefits industry, Jen is widely quoted in publications, including the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Employee Benefit News, and Human Resource Executive. She has testified twice about retirement education before the Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council, and Workforce magazine named her an industry Game Changer. She served for 3 years as the program chair for the HR Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference, one of the industry’s premier events. She also advises several industry organizations and startups.

Maribeth Bearfield at Bright Horizons

Maribeth Bearfield joined Bright Horizons in 2017 as SVP, HR and Chief Human Resources Officer. Maribeth brings a background as an educator and more than 25 years of human resources experience to her writing. Prior to joining Bright Horizons, Maribeth served as CHRO at Kaseya Corporation and Hanover Insurance, and as Chief Talent Officer at State Street. Maribeth has also held positions at Cisco Systems, Oracle and GTE.