In 2020, the working world had to change business operations overnight and, with it, help employees find a sense of continuity. Global Head of Culture, Inclusion and Employee Engagement at GE Healthcare, alumnus Rachel Scheel shares how this global brand supported employee wellbeing and inclusion in a year like no other.
It is well understood that culture change takes time. It takes time to influence leaders and for employees to adjust to new and changing expectations. But in 2020, there was no time to allow for adjustments.
The way we work changed significantly overnight. At GE Healthcare, we focused on two key areas to support our employees through this change and maintain a strong, inclusive culture where people felt connected to their teams and the company’s purpose and values.
1. Mental health awareness
While working from home increases flexibility, it is important to consider individual wellbeing and support needs. For some, the isolation of working at home, balancing family/work commitments, or even lack of home office space added anxiety and stress. Focusing on the right support mechanisms is crucial.
To help employees adjust to this new virtual way of working, we developed toolkits and resources focused on health and wellbeing.
Online learning resources
Shifting existing programs to virtual learning, we also redesigned these programs to be shorter, interactive and self-guided. We added resources on virtual ways of working, connecting, and engaging, and developed virtual icebreakers to help teams collaborate.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
EAPs are a critical support mechanism for employees and their families. We promoted our free EAPs as a confidential line of support and counselling.
Physical and mental health
Rather than drive team building through virtual meetings, we added a series of events that focused on employees taking time for themselves. To help employees focus on their health, we offered:
- meditation and mindfulness sessions,
- exercise challenges, and
- tips, reading materials, and programs focused on self-care
Leaders demonstrating work-life balance
We asked our leaders to role model healthy work-life balance behaviours to their teams. Team managers shared how they were creating their own balance, and what boundaries they were setting to switch off from work and focus on family and health. Leaders also made commitments to their teams around hours and expectations.
2. Remote connection and inclusion
Before COVID, teams could connect easily through office banter, coffee chats, meeting breaks, and various corporate events. The remote work environment presents challenges for maintaining informal interactions.
Taking time to care
In this virtual world, leaders need to be more intentional about their connections. Simple actions like checking in, asking how individuals are feeling, demonstrating gratitude, and spending time discussing non-work topics help to create this connection. We actively encouraged teams to take time out for these moments, and use technology such as Slack and WhatsApp to socialise.
Virtual meeting guidelines
With everyone online, we had the opportunity to rethink our meetings. We established three simple guidelines focused on consistency, inclusion, and team participation:
- Video on to ensure everyone could visually connect, emphasising the importance of face-to-face relationship building.
- Everyone participates, either verbally or through chat or whiteboard functions. We encouraged leaders to ensure that everyone participated on every call.
- Allocating time for social discussion to drive connections and informal communities.
With extended isolation, it has become critical for leaders to consider how to engage their teams to feel included and connected. Equally as important as maintaining business continuity is ensuring employee morale, well-being and engagement is a priority.
Having seen many employees feeling more empowered and supported to take accountablity for their own health and wellbeing, I am confident these new ways of working and connecting are here for the long term.
More about Rachel
Rachel graduated from QUT in 1997 with a Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management). She now lives in the United Kingdom where she is the Global Head of Culture, Inclusion and Employee Engagement at GE Healthcare. Rachel is passionate about culture, talent, inclusion and diversity, and driving change that positively impacts the employee experience.