October 21, 2021

3 Components of Building a Culture of Trust Amid COVID and Beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to adapt our workplaces as never before. It changed the way in which many of us work at least temporarily; for others, more permanently as some organizations make the decision to adopt long-term strategies for their workforce based on lessons learned from the pandemic.

As a business, Healthesystems’ responsibility is to our payer clients, claims staff, and the well-being of the injured workers we collectively serve. But we’re also an employer, who maintains an unwavering responsibility to our people. And like many employers over the last 19 months, we’ve found ourselves navigating the unchartered waters of managing our workforce amid a pandemic – mostly with success, but with some learnings along the way.

Two major components of what have helped keep our workforce informed and engaged amid the disruption: transparency and trust. They’re both major tenets of what we promise to our client partners, and they’ve long been integral to our internal culture, too. To quote some pretty smart folks over at the Harvard Business Review, “Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than working at low-trust companies.”1

Since we’re all in this together and learning from each other’s successes and missteps, we thought we’d take off our medical benefits management hats for a moment to talk, employer-to-employer. Here are three takeaways from what we’ve learned, what we have found to be successful, and some inspiring advice we’ve gathered along the way.

#1 Communicate with Authenticity and Intention

A key attribute of organizations that “got it right” during the pandemic? Support and communication from leadership. Regular town halls, internal social media platforms, employee e-bulletins, or other means of communication help employees understand current policies and expectations, while regular communication can also help reduce anxiety among employees in fraught times. 

It’s a delicate balance to help employees feel informed without feeling overwhelmed. The world outside an employee’s workplace is information overload – in some cases, even misinformation. Employers have an opportunity to arm their people with accurate and up-to-date guidance, as well as translate for them what this information means in terms of policies and expectations in the work environment.

At an organizational level, Healthe has been very intentional about how, what and when we communicate to our people.  Heather Stempien, Healthesystems’ Director of Employee Engagement explains, “Having a strategy in place around this has brought some consistency to how the team is being presented with information, which makes these uncertain times seem a little bit more predictable.”

Another consideration: lines of communication can and should occur via multiple channels to account for the varied communication preferences among employees. This includes forums that allow for bidirectional interaction that empower employees to participate actively in the conversation, should they want to. Comfortable asking a question during one of our all-company virtual coffee hours? We love that. Prefer to send an email or respond to an anonymous survey? We have the vehicles in place to ensure our employees are covered there, too.

#2 Foster Togetherness, Even When We’re Not Together

Healthesystems adapted in a big way at the onset of the pandemic and converted to a 100% offsite workforce. We were very lucky to be in an industry and in roles that allowed us to do this, but it took more than luck to do it successfully.

It is a daunting task to equally balance the well-being and engagement levels of employees in a remote workplace, while ensuring that business continues to function at high levels of productivity and quality. Stempien is happy to report that we saw both. “We saw our highest-ever engagement levels over the first year of working remotely, which is the case with a lot of organizations that were able to respond quickly at the onset of COVID. We also saw an increase in productivity.”

So what are some solutions that have kept Healthe’s workforce connected and engaged when we’re not physically together? A combination of enterprise-level technology solutions that drive business collaboration, such as whole-heartedly embracing Microsoft Teams, along with initiatives that help connect people outside of their day-to-day work. Internal recognition programs, virtual greeting cards, quarterly mailings that deliver a mix of fun and functional items to employees, virtual games, happy hours and watch parties for our world-class Tampa Bay sports teams, and continuing charitable contributions to causes that our people are passionate about – these are just some of the ways we’ve continued to maintain our culture outside the walls of our office space.

And the goals of employee engagement go beyond workplace culture and productivity to help support mental well-being. In addition to our many general wellness initiatives, Healthe prioritized employee mental health early in the pandemic through the promotion of multiple available resources, including our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), mental health services included within our benefits packages, and recommendations for additional, self-guided resources, including a meditation app.

#3 Continue to Invest in People

COVID has caused a tremendous strain on the healthcare industry, leaving many organizations trying to do more with less. Within the workers’ compensation industry, we’ve seen the impacts of this on injured worker care; but as businesses in the industry, we’ve also all felt some level of impact from a claims volume perspective.

Despite this, at the onset of the pandemic, Healthesystems decided it wasn’t time to take our foot off the gas, but rather, invest. This included investing in product innovation so that we can continue to bring new and enhanced solutions to our customers and the market. And it also included continuing to invest in our people through a variety of ways, including learning and growth opportunities.

Pandemic aside, 2020 was a pivotal year for other reasons, bringing racial inequality to the forefront of the national conversation. It was a welcome opportunity to bring this conversation to the workplace via a formalized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, which brought structured and collaborative learning to all levels of our organization, taking our people on a journey of self-discovery and understanding about their individual and collective roles in fostering an inclusive culture. It was also a chance to find other ways to acknowledge and celebrate the different cultural values our people hold close, including the addition of a Floating Holiday to provide employees with an opportunity to celebrate a day that is personally meaningful to them.

Working remotely actually expanded some opportunities for our already-existing Never Stop Learning culture – allowing for record attendance at our twice monthly Lunch ‘n’ Learn opportunities and our weekly TGIF meetings, where we share learnings and successes from the week, celebrate new hires and employee milestones, and take a few moments to learn something about our business or the world around us. These levels of attendance were never quite possible before, when confined to the walls of our largest meeting room.

Speaking of big meetings, it just so happens that we recently held our annual, all-company meeting –about a week before this article went live. During it, Healthe’s founder and executive chairman, Ron Roma, shared a favorite quote from American naturalist, poet and essayist Henry David Thoreau: “I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.”

And in a world turned upside down, with challenges yet ahead of us, we certainly will continue to do what we can to make the days better for our people.

1. Zak PJ. The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review. January-February 2017.  https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust

This article originally appeared on WorkCompWire.

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