The well-being of people is always our focus, and during the pandemic, HR and university partners joined together to provide real-time support for every aspect of employees’ lives. Support for the whole person spans from physical and mental health to family care, flexible and remote work and professional learning.
From flexible work arrangements to telehealth, prescription delivery, financial education sessions, 24/7 work-life support, mindfulness sessions, health coaching, family care resources, virtual learning opportunities, and a managers’ hub to help people lead their teams through new challenges, a wide array of resources are available to empower employees to make their health and well-being a priority for themselves and their families.
“The pandemic highlighted the important need to continue to build a culture of care for our community – from healthcare workers on the frontlines to staff adapting to delivering our missions remotely,” said Amanda Pope, director of HR communications and employee engagement.
To help people cope, HR collaborated with the Department of Psychiatry, as well as the School of Medicine, Student Affairs, Brown School and other leaders to ensure access to mental and emotional wellness resources and services. Through this community support group, the focus was on promoting and delivering mental health support, helping people build resiliency, find hope and peace, and get help when needed. The charge is to lean in and help our own.
As a part of these well-being efforts, an important initiative is helping gauge employee well-being throughout the pandemic. Starting in April 2020, HR partnered with Dr. Bradley Evanoff and his team in the Washington University Healthy Work Center to assess the well-being of faculty and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the EMPOWER Survey, which stands for Employee Well-being During Pandemic Response, employees can take 10-15 minutes to answer questions about health, mental health, financial well-being, work and family life and other core topics to help provide a picture of how people are doing at different stages of the pandemic.
What we’ve learned about employee well-being
The survey results have shown, unsurprisingly, that people are struggling with diverse challenges: anxiety about COVID-19 exposure, managing care for family members, and navigating remote work. Health care workers in particular are experiencing work exhaustion. The survey also showed that support by supervisors has a strong impact on employee’s overall well-being, which speaks to how important it is for leaders to create supportive and healthy work environments for their teams.
Data-focused changes we’ve made
In its first three iterations, the survey identified key issues that can lead to employee depression, anxiety and work exhaustion, and collected information from employees on the use of existing wellness programs and their additional needs. The survey data is being used to inform the university’s efforts to provide real-time support to meet employee needs and address well-being.
“Our goal with the EMPOWER survey is to create actionable information that will help people and improve their mental health and overall well-being,” Dr. Evanoff said. “The University is using these data to craft an evolving plan and share knowledge that we can all apply during this pandemic.”
Among others, some of the measures taken thus far to support employees are:
- Flexible work arrangements to balance family needs, particularly concerning care for children or older adults.
- Clear expectations from supervisors and regular communication.
- Strengthen awareness of employee well-being resources and encourage engagement.
- Safe, physically-distanced opportunities for coworkers to connect socially.
Despite these adjustments, employees sometimes encounter barriers to use the support available to them. Time limitations and concerns about asking for help were common reasons employees cited.
To improve awareness and access to resources, Human Resources is continually enhancing its communication channels, outreach, website and resource offerings to ensure employees understand what’s available, and managers know how to help their teams. The aim is to help our community achieve success in our work and collective mission, as well as find balance and elevate employee well-being.
“The data from the EMPOWER survey has helped us take steps to further a supportive work environment for each other,” said Emily Page, senior employee wellness manager in Human Resources. “We hear what people need and we have been working to provide relevant tools and resources. We want to meet people where they are and empower them to work with us – one solution does not fit all.”
Here are some of the recent additions:
- Expanded Flexible Work Policy and support for managing remote workers.
- Expanded backup childcare from our partner, Bright Horizons.
- Hired a full-time Child and Family Care Facilitator to help employees connect with care for family members.
- Support for managers to train teams on well-being.
- Partnered with Washington University Psychiatry to provide mental health services for employees and families – dedicated access for University health plan participants.
- Offer ongoing wellness challenges to the community for team-based activities that focus on living a healthy lifestyle.
- Offer daily mindfulness practices guided by expert Mindfulness Consultant, Meg Krejci.
- Expanded financial wellness tools and support for current and future financial needs.
Help the WashU community – take the survey
As a reminder, the EMPOWER survey is anonymous. To help WashU’s research and HR teams measure how our community is feeling over time, please take the fourth-wave of the survey.
The fourth wave of the EMPOWER survey launches on March 1. We encourage employees to take the survey during each wave so we can understand how well-being is changing over time.
Washington University Human Resources