Keeping Employees Engaged, Productive, and Healthy During COVID-19

How Woodruff Sawyer embraced COVID-19 challenges and developed new programs and benefits to keep employees focused, productive, and healthy.

The year 2020 has been pivotal for nearly every employer. The COVID-19 pandemic required organizations to transform overnight, reinventing the workplace. Leaders discovered that as new work routines were set in place, employees needed new forms of support to stay engaged and productive. Employee insights and virtual programs are key to maintaining healthy and active teams.

Sun shining through office window

These challenges were met with creativity as employers, including Woodruff Sawyer, discovered new ways to remain engaged with their workforce and maintain a vital company culture.

I interviewed our own Chief Human Resources Officer, Elyse Douglas, to discover how Woodruff Sawyer embraced the challenge, developing new programs and benefits to keep employees focused, productive, healthy, and having fun during this unforgettable year.

Q: The year 2020 has presented numerous challenges, including COVID-19, for employers and employees alike. Can you elaborate on what the Woodruff Sawyer workforce experienced?

Like many employers back in March, Woodruff Sawyer had to transition overnight to a 100% Work-From-Home (WFH) arrangement. Fortunately, we could build on our current WFH option for employees, training them on new ways to work fully remote and support managers on the frontlines—all while keeping our business fully up and running.

But it wasn't just the pandemic. Economic turmoil, as well as political and social unrest, were major concerns for everyone. For those of us here on the West Coast, we were also faced with record wildfires and resulting air quality issues. It has really been a perfect storm.

I think many employers were concerned about productivity at first but realized the bigger issues are wellbeing and potential burnout.

Stress and the resulting sleep disruptions, personal financial concerns, and the challenges that have arisen from being home 24/7 with our families are entirely new situations for us.

Q: Can you share any insights on how Woodruff Sawyer addressed these pandemic-related work-from-home issues within our organization?

Our people and our culture are important to us. There's not any one thing that can solve this, so we're approaching these new challenges from all angles to promote and encourage fun and humor; physical, emotional, and financial wellness; professional development; and downtime to make sure people adapt in healthy ways to these new stressors. We're innovating and adjusting day by day.

Q: You mentioned that physical, emotional, and financial wellness is a concern. How did you determine how our people are really doing and what they need?

We started with simple employee surveys that measured physical, emotional, and financial wellness. This helped us to identify gaps and new opportunities to support our people. Based on their feedback, we were able to create a wellness strategy that addressed emerging issues that we had never before experienced.

To show our care and investment, we launched a Wellness Week campaign that highlighted our existing employee benefits and introduced new benefits, too. Our communication strategy included traditional methods like email and focused on increased awareness through Zoom demonstrations, Slack online chats, a wellness website, and more.

One important part of Wellness Week was to use it as an opportunity to break down the stigma of mental health by reinforcing the benefits available to help employees and their families. Nationwide, mental health issues have risen exponentially. We realized that now is the time to showcase those offerings, and we encourage our clients and all employers to do the same.

Q: Can you give us an example of programs Woodruff Sawyer implemented to improve the work-from-home experience?

We know that fun and humor are great ways to relieve stress. We did simple things like create a Fun Committee to provide daily distractions that let people be people—letting them laugh, be silly, and retreat from all the seriousness in everyday life. We also found out that we have some very competitive staff members when we offered an extra PTO day as a prize for our weekly contests!

The core of our approach is to let people know that we care about them and highlight how we can help them. We find that this approach improves engagement and demonstrates our concern for their wellbeing.

Q: Were there other simple yet effective offerings that helped Woodruff Sawyer staff enjoy themselves?

We implemented a few other programs that could be of value to other employers:

  • Online recognition program: Anyone in the company can recognize anyone else, including company leaders who got a chance to acknowledge their staff members.
  • Design and innovation challenge: This allowed employees to share their creative talents—and win prizes—as we came together to envision our future workspace when we do return to the office.
  • Wellness teams: We helped employees form virtual teams to exercise, run, and bike together while others could cheer them on.
  • Professional education: We offered new online training and certification courses to support employees to develop and grow in their careers.

Employers are only limited by their creativity. The more employees reached out to help one another, the more they became engaged in creating a support system for each other.

Q: What advice do you have for other employers who are struggling with how to address total well-being and may not have resources or programs in place?

The first step is always to ask your employees. There are lots of no-cost or low-cost online tools that will allow you to survey and gauge what your workforce really needs. Based on their input, you can identify what resources and programs you already have, and which ones need to be built out.

Dial up what you already have. There is a wealth of benefits in your existing portfolio that are probably unknown or underutilized. Launching a communication program to remind employees of what assistance is currently available is incredibly valuable.

Think holistically about your programs. Do they address physical, emotional, and financial wellness? We are living through some incredibly challenging times that will probably stay with us through 2021. Your employees are more likely to stay with you for the future if you give them support for their total wellbeing today.

At Woodruff Sawyer, we've experienced the same issues that every other employer has faced, including family financial concerns. We just introduced a customized personal financial assessment that identifies three specific focus areas for each individual and provides unlimited access to a certified financial coach to help. 

Your employee benefits consultant is a great resource for understanding and designing innovative programs. Like every other employer, we found that employee benefits and related programs go beyond engagement by supporting the health and livelihoods of the entire workforce.

Keep Your Company Thriving During a Pandemic

Employees need to know that their employers care about them. Providing benefits that support your workforce during these challenging times not only helps them to survive, but also helps you thrive for the long term. You do not need to wait until open enrollment to take advantage of the resources available. Woodruff Sawyer can create a suite of robust benefit offerings that support your employees' physical, emotional, mental, and financial health.

To learn more about how benefits can be tailored to your company, reach out to me or your Woodruff Sawyer contacts.



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