Agencies, brands tackle post-pandemic employee wellness

PRWeek spoke to five agency and in-house teams to find out how they are addressing the challenges of hybrid working, burnout, mental health, quiet quitting, the Great Resignation and recruitment and retention.

Method Communications wanted to help employees connect by hosting a company summit. (Photo credit: Method Communications)

Inkhouse

At the start of 2022, Inkhouse launched its “flexible Fridays” initiative, giving employees every other Friday off. Staffers have been alternating, with half the agency taking one Friday off, the other getting the next.

Inkhouse CEO Beth Monaghan says it took a quarter to “iron out the kinks.” To make it work, the agency created new processes around how to hand off work to teammates every week and coordinate around people’s vacation schedules.

It also took time for employees to change their habits and realize they had permission to log off.

“They don’t have to check messages when they are off, but we appreciate it if they are available by phone if there is an emergency or a question,” says Monaghan. “But we don’t want them doing calls or emails or [being] tied to Slack all day long.”

Inkhouse has published two books of employee essays about the ordeals over the past few years.

Inkhouse’s offices in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle are open, but employees can continue to work from home. To encourage people to come into the Boston office, Inkhouse buys everybody lunch on Thursdays.

Because staffers aren’t in the office all the time, Monaghan conducts listening sessions with every employee twice per year to understand what they want and need.

Inkhouse also offers unlimited vacation days, a mental health day, employee essay contests and, for its 15th anniversary this year, the firm got staffers together in Rhode Island for a few days to celebrate.

But perks or benefits don’t matter much when it comes to retention, she says.

“You have to hold two things in equal stead: high standards for the work and empathy,” Monaghan says. “If one overcomes the other, we have a problem. People stay because they can bring their whole selves to work and a place challenges them to be the best they can be. This fosters the kind of community where people find new opportunities in your workplace and get connected to each other.”

General Mills

What is the secret to an effective hybrid workplace? General Mills chief human resources officer Jacqueline Williams-Roll says it all comes down to trust.

“When you offer flexibility, you say, ‘I trust you to make the right decisions for yourself, the team and for General Mills,’ and that is the secret sauce,” says Williams-Roll. “If you trust your employees, they are more engaged and will make more of an effort — and your stock price will go up.”

Wellness, she adds, is a combination of physical and mental well-being and building a community in a place of belonging. The food manufacturer approached its wellness offerings with a “learning mindset,” co-developing solutions with employees through surveys and focus groups.

In September 2021, General Mills launched its Work with Heart program, which acknowledges that, in times of stress, flexibility is table stakes for any organization to attract and retain competitively superior talent.

The program allows employees to work from home or the office based on their needs and the needs of the business. General Mills does not mandate working in the office on certain days of the week or for a set number of hours.

Through the program, managers must be clear about priorities and planning requires compromise from leaders and subordinates.

General Mills has an onsite fitness center for employees, and allows staffers to work from home or the office depending on their needs.

The CPG company also believes there is power in coming together, so every department is asked to meet in-person for “moments that matter.”

“When you force yourself to be intentional about those things, great things happen naturally and people will come in,” Williams-Roll says.

To lure people into the office, the company offers staffers a free breakfast and holds a happy hour every Thursday.

General Mills has an onsite fitness center and also offers virtual fitness, yoga and meditation classes. The company also partnered with Spring Health, a platform that connects employees and mental health pros within three days. Additionally, every Friday after 2 p.m. employees are not required to be in meetings.

Praytell

In September 2021, Praytell adopted a four-day workweek. The agency did two three-month tests and formalized the plan in spring 2022.

Founder Andy Pray calls the move “the most impactful thing we have done as an agency,” serving a need to give people a better work-life balance. Though he adds it is an imperfect and evolving program.

Praytell does surveys every quarter and found that the move — even with its “warts and pimples” — continues to have 100% client and employee buy-in.

Pray notes there is an understanding among employees that sometimes they’ll still need to work on Fridays if there is a client launch event or crisis.

“We are trusting folks to do what they have to do on Friday on their own terms,” says Pray.

Pray wants to make the office a magnet, not a mandate, for employees. However, after giving employees a choice, he found most people prefer working from home.

“We never felt good about the passive aggression of strongly encouraging people to come to the office,” he says.

Using partners such as Confetti, Praytell has smaller virtual gatherings after finding most people prefer working from home. The agency also adopted a four-day workweek in September 2021 that has been a huge hit.

Praytell, which has offices in New York (Brooklyn and Manhattan), Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, Australia and London, is divesting most of its leases and using its offices for new business and social gatherings.

The firm offers a mix of major in-person gatherings such as Camp Praytell and Global Volunteer Day, alongside smaller virtual gatherings using partners such as Confetti.

Pray wants the work experience to be as thoughtful, productive and transparent as possible. He would rather be prudent than spend money on perks for employees, as newsfeeds fill up with stories about layoffs and recessionary fears.

“Our business is strong, but employees are asking about that,” Pray explains. “Part of the employee experience of wellness is knowing they are going to have a job and knowing employers are spending money on the right stuff.”

Weber Shandwick

Weber Shandwick, Interpublic Group’s largest PR firm, approaches employee well-being through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Mental health is a part of DE&I,” says Weber Shandwick’s EVP of global DE&I Judith Harrison. “If the whole idea is for us to create inclusive cultures where every person feels supported, we have to look at it in that holistic sense.”

By doing that, a company creates an environment where people are proud to work and they have a sense of purpose in their jobs, she adds.

After the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, Harrison launched a series of calls in North America named Time to Connect for people to unpack their feelings about race issues.

Weber Shandwick has committed to creating a sense of community, which includes inclusivity, in the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020.

“I have these calls because there are so many things happening in the world that have this cultural and mental health impact,” says Harrison. “People don’t leave their feelings about everything going on around them once they start working.”

The calls are typically held once a month and have around 200 to 400 attendees. Topics range from race to misogyny to anti-Semitism to violence to mental health. In November, three sessions were held: one about mental health, another about anti-Semitism and Kanye West and a third about the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. The agency recently started making the series a global offering.

“People share amazingly personal experiences, feelings and anxieties,” says Harrison. “The support they give one another verbally and in the chats is incredible. At least one person cries on 99.9% of the calls.”

The series, she adds, gives employees a sense of community, pride in the agency and is “factoring into people’s decision to work here.”

Additionally, for employees feeling “overwhelmed and squeezed,” Weber Shandwick’s Juice program gives them a stipend toward a service or activity every month that enhances their mental or physical well-being, Harrison explains.

Method Communications

Since the pandemic hit, Method Communications lets its employees decide how often they want to come into the office.

“Everyone can define their work hours, workspace, how often they want to come in and what they want in the office,” says Heather England, COO of Method.

Staffers are given a voice in company decisions through a survey and, because employees aren’t going back as frequently, Method started downsizing some offices.

“My gut is, as time goes by, we will see more people go in,” says England.

The firm is revamping its offices in Salt Lake City and San Francisco to better suit employees’ needs.

England says these changes will include a big conference room, a couple of private offices, areas where people can work collaboratively, some desks and big catering kitchens where people can keep their food and where snacks will be offered.

Additionally, through the Method Anywhere program, employees can work remotely for six months or less in another location; or even make a permanent move.

The firm also offers staffers a wellness stipend, which allows them to submit up to $500 to be reimbursed annually for anything that makes them feel better physically or mentally, such as a massage or concert.

Because employees aren’t sitting together in the same room every day, the agency introduced Culture Corner, a group that enables employees to share something about themselves they may not be able to bring to work every day.

“People laugh and smile and ask questions and follow up,” says England. Method also has interest-group Slack channels that are not policed.

The agency is connecting people in-person with hub events in New York, Salt Lake City and San Francisco in 2023.

Method Communications held a summit in 2022 to help employees connect, and the agency plans on holding in-person hub events in New York, Salt Lake City and San Francisco for the same reason in 2023.

“Not feeling connected and that sense of belonging contributes to the Great Resignation and quiet quitting; we are trying to mitigate that,” says England.

Method had 20 people join the firm and eight people leave in 2022, with a retention rate of 92%.


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Explore further