Bright Horizons CHRO: 2020’s Legacy for HR

Stressed mom working from home while caring for her kids

At Bright Horizons, we do a lot of studies to see how families and employees are doing. And a couple of months ago, we conducted one focused on mental wellbeing. 

We learned that people are having a really tough time: 75% of employees surveyed said they feel more socially isolated; 67% reported higher stress; 57% are feeling greater anxiety. 

People are just emotionally exhausted. 

A year ago, statistics about mental well-being might not have gotten a lot of notice. But this is a different year. As employers, we’re not just thinking about work and performances – we’re thinking about the well-being of our people. As the head of HR of a large company, it’s what keeps me up at night. I know it’s a concern shared by clients and other employers who really want to enhance the support for their employees.  

The companies we work with have always known the power of positive cultures. But this year, there’s been a real and bigger philosophical shift across employers, measured in the number of organizations coming to us for back-up care benefits, and the explosion of interest in new ideas to support employees with families. 

In 2020, employees are encouraged to take care of themselves. One employee I know talked about a note from a manager recognizing the stress of a particularly tough week, telling people to make sure to take time to be good to themselves – that work could wait. 

People are being encouraged to connect. The head of our early learning team likes to remind us that while we may have to be physically distant, we can be (and need to be) socially connected.

We as leaders are being open about our own stories, knowing that being candid about managing our stresses lets our people know they’re free to manage their own – and ask for help. 

And we’re actively asking what people need. Let’s just say the pulse survey has never had a bigger moment. 

Perhaps most of all, we’re not just giving employees support to take care of themselves, we’re also actively encouraging it.

As we get to the end of this unforgettable year, I’ve started to wonder what the legacy for our workplaces will be – how we’ll look back on 2020 at this time next year. So much change has taken place all around us – in technology where advances are measured in months, not years; in the way we learn, shop, and live. 

It’s changed the way we manage people, too. After months of children out of school and families on screen in our Zoom calls, we’re no longer hiding our family responsibilities at work; we’re unapologetically talking about them. It’s unbelievable that not long ago we had a study showing that parents weren’t just afraid of taking time for children; they were afraid to admit they had them at all.  Today, we’re talking openly about family responsibilities, as well as stress, isolation, and anxiety; and we as employers are looking for ways to help. Work and life are no longer separate – families are part of the conversation. 

I can’t imagine we’ll ever go back. I like to think our workplaces are forever changed, and that those changes will be a positive legacy of the pandemic.

Written by: Maribeth Bearfield

December 24, 2020

About the Author

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.