Editor’s Note: HR’s Strength

By Debbie Bolla

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact daily lives, organizations and HR teams have to act with agility in order to ensure the safety and wellness of the workforce. In this issue, experts share how to best approach some strategies that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront: virtual hiring, remote work, mental health and wellness, and even mindfulness practices for stressed employees. See our coverage, Managing During Uncertainty.

In the midst of the crisis, I had the opportunity to speak with CHRO Kathie Patterson about how Ally Financial, headquartered in hard-hit Detroit, Mich., moved to 99 percent remote work almost overnight. Along with this major change came concern over employee wellness and employees’ ability to handle the isolation that is often associated with working from home.

“The majority of our employees enjoy the connectivity and collaboration that they experience at the worksite,” said Patterson. “We started virtual community groups with our employee resource groups.”

This benefits of this approach are two-fold: Employees are able to share their experiences with one another and understand they are not alone, and feedback from the sessions helps HR provide the right type of support that employees need.

Another area in which Ally stepped up its offerings was extended benefits. A few examples include immediate paid medical leave for any employee diagnosed with COVID-19; 100 percent coverage for diagnostic testing for the virus; and a $1,200 tax-free financial assistance payment for employees making $100,000 or less in annual base compensation.

At retail tech company Bluecore, Senior Vice President of People Laura Cooper set up a COVID-19 executive task force to oversee employee wellness and company culture. By leveraging technology, virtual happy hours, pet happy hours, and game nights help keep employees engaged with each other.

“Organizations should also consider augmenting the emotional well-being of the teams with programs and offerings around health and wellness, so everyone has the support they need to psychologically get themselves through,” she recommends.

To support work-from-home health, Cooper allocated funds for employees to purchase at-home fitness equipment. And money previously spent on onsite lunches onsite now goes to Feeding America as a donation.

During this crisis, HR is truly showing its strength.

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