Originally published in The Tennessean, April 2022
A few weeks ago, BlueCross invited all employees to our Chattanooga headquarters for lunch as we celebrated March Madness.
College basketball fandom wasn’t a requisite to attend, but it was a nice hook (pun intended) to bring our many work-from-home employees back on campus, even if for just an hour. It provided an opportunity to see familiar faces in person, some for the first time in years.
As I joined co-workers in the cafeteria that afternoon, I marveled at the energy and joy present. People were hugging, ribbing each other over their brackets, and overall just reconnecting. I was reminded that the way to best serve your customers is with great people.
Embracing change by listening
BlueCross has a strong track record of attracting and retaining top talent, but we weren’t immune to the pandemic’s effects on the overall health of our workforce. Anxiety and burnout are very real concerns for all employers. My colleague Dr. Judith Overton recently wrote about how leaders can help their employees manage stress on the job and shared what we’ve learned since 2020.
Being more agile and listening to employees are essential. That’s why from the outset of this pandemic, we encouraged our employees to talk to their manager or close colleagues if stress levels were ratcheting up.
We offered access to counselors and provided confidential employee engagement surveys where we knew we’d receive unfiltered feedback.
What we heard was a desire for flexibility that resulted in our FlexWork hybrid model. Most of our employees — those we call “FlexHome” — found they preferred working from home and could serve our members just as well, if not better. Other employees preferred “FlexOffice,” being present in our office facilities at least three days per week. Every six months, employees can reconsider their FlexWork status.
We’ve learned that a successful flexible work model requires an openness to creativity and evolution that emanates from every level of the organization. Here are a few tips we’ve shared with our BlueCross community in recent months:
- Separate home and work. Creating boundaries and designating a workspace are essential to a healthy routine.
- Manage mental health. Staying connected to loved ones, limiting negative media exposure, and finding creative outlets can reduce anxiety and stress.
- Manage time. Determine your personal and professional goals, even if just for the day ahead.
- Establish communications norms. Fundamentally this means creating a system of mutual accountability amongst teams.
- Practice emotional intelligence. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management are areas to focus on to help make informed decisions about what matters most.
- Build relationships. Having healthy working interactions makes time on the clock more engaging and fun.
Meeting needs of the many
The flexibility of FlexWork has been a good fit not only for employees, but for the needs of our group customers, our provider partners and especially our members. But we understand needs change, so we’re always listening to our employees. We’re implementing other opportunities for feedback like quarterly culture check-ins to ensure our company culture remains strong.
We’re working to keep FlexWork employees energized by bringing them in closer proximity. That means reimagining our spaces to be more collaborative and ensuring they’re environments our employees want to be.
For those at home, we’re working to ensure they feel connected to their teams. We’re also now hosting monthly company-sponsored lunches and other on-site events to keep those face-to-face interactions intact and spirits lifted.
FlexWork is key to retaining our strong workforce, as we’re experiencing lower voluntary turnover than national trends. That started with an empathetic ear. Taking the time to listen — and respond in meaningful ways — can help ensure your workforce thrives, as well.