For more than 200 years, The Hartford has been widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust, and integrity. As a top workplace, the company is committed to providing its employees with a supportive culture along with inclusive and innovative benefits. The Hartford has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as a Best Place to Work for LGTBQ+ Equality, by the Business Group on Health as a Best Employer: Excellence in Health & Well-Being, on the Best Places to Work for Disability Equality Index, and named to Fairygodboss’ Best Companies for Women list, based on company reviews from current and former employees, among others. 

With 19,500 employees across a variety of disciplines, designing employee benefits that are inclusive, meet all employees where they are, and are highly used and loved by employees is an art. The Hartford kicked off 2020 with expanded family benefits—it doubled paid parental leave and adoption benefit reimbursements, increased fertility coverage by 150%, and introduced Maven to support employees and their partners as they navigate diverse paths to parenthood. 

Now, as we begin a new year, we caught up with Judy Gordon, Director of Wellness at The Hartford, to talk about what she’s been hearing from employees, how they have stepped up support for working parents, and why mental health support is more important than ever. She shares learnings from navigating employees’ needs and best practices for the coming year for engaging employees virtually.

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Q&A with Judy Gordon, Director of Wellness at The Hartford

How did having on-demand, telehealth benefits in place before the pandemic help meet employees’ needs through this crisis? What kind of engagement or feedback have you heard from employees about how telehealth benefits are helping them and their families? 

Prior to the pandemic, we offered telehealth and telebehavioral health benefits through our medical plan as well as telehealth services for those on their journey to parenthood through Maven. In an effort to encourage our employees and their families to seek care when needed while avoiding unnecessary visits to provider facilities, we expanded coverage to 100% for telehealth and telebehavioral health visits in April. 

We quickly saw a dramatic increase in virtual visits including a 350% increase in telehealth visits in first 7 months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and virtual behavioral health visits increased from an average of 15/month in early 2020 to 800/month in the summer. We also experienced an almost 80% increase in engagements in virtual care through Maven between early in 2020 and the end of September. 

We know mental health support is so critical for you, and so many other HR and Wellness leaders are seeing how the pandemic is impacting mental health among their workforce. What are some of the best practices you recommend for supporting employees’ mental health? 

Initially, we all thought the pandemic would last for a few weeks or months but as the months have worn on with no clear end in sight, it is certainly having a toll on the emotional health of our employees. Heading in to 2020, we already had a strategic objective, like many companies, to focus on the emotional well-being of our employees. The pandemic reinforced that objective and throughout 2020 we consistently promoted the benefits and well-being programs, like Maven, we have in place to support emotional health. 

What have you heard from parents about how their needs have shifted due to the pandemic? 

The pandemic has certainly put a strain on our working parents as they try to balance their work responsibilities with the needs of their children. When the pandemic first hit, our parents naturally thought they just needed to be creative for a few months. As the pandemic continued through the summer, our working parents again needed to adjust their plans but found it a bit less challenging since school was not in session. As school resumed in the fall, the strain really began to show itself with women, in particular, expressing concern about their ability to bring their best to work and to parenting every day. 

What has surprised you most in terms of what parents want and are most receptive to in terms of support you all are providing? What have you implemented since the pandemic that you’ve found successful? 

To support our parents during this difficult period, we took a three-pronged approach. Fortunately, The Hartford had a comprehensive well-being program in place before the pandemic hit so we quickly focused on ensuring our employees knew about the resources already in place to support them, including Maven. Secondly, we encouraged our managers to focus on the needs of their team members with an understanding that each person may have different needs. We encouraged trust, creativity, and flexibility, including formal and informal flexible work arrangements. Lastly, we identified where we might have gaps and, as a result, chose to offer all of our employees a no-cost membership in a digital caregiving platform.

What best practices would you share when it comes to making sure parents feel supported in the workplace through childcare or school challenges? 

The most important thing you can do is listen to your employees. Don’t make assumptions; instead, ask them what would be helpful. We have a very active working parents interest group at The Hartford. We regularly checked in with them to see how they were doing and what the company could do to support them. We heard loud and clear from our parents that what was needed most was understanding and flexibility.

So much has gone virtual for you all (and so many others). What are some of your tips for engaging employees virtually?  

I believe the pandemic has shined a light on the benefits of virtual programming from telehealth to virtual fitness classes and the demand will live on long after the pandemic ends. In our case, prior to the pandemic, almost 40 percent of our employees worked remotely so we already had virtual work practices in place. Having said that, when all of our employees became remote overnight, we leaned on the experiences and best practices of our experienced remote workers.  

The Hartford is well known for having an exceptional family-friendly culture. What steps have you taken to make sure that culture is felt when employees are virtual? Any tips or creative ideas you’d share? 

We have adopted a saying during the pandemic: “We love children and puppies”—sending a message to employees that interruptions during virtual meetings are inevitable and understandable. We also conducted a panel discussion for leaders and managers that featured four managers who shared best practices and examples of how they fostered an environment of trust, understanding, and flexibility within their teams, which our leaders found extremely helpful.

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