4 ways this ‘traditional’ company is embracing change

A “flexible flex” policy is among the strategies Kern Health Systems is using to support its working parents.
By: | August 25, 2020 • 3 min read

Before the pandemic, only about five of California-based insurance company Kern Health System’s 500 employees worked remotely. Today, the entire employee population is working from home, and the organization is considering revising its telecommuting process for the long run.

Related: Why embracing long-term remote work is the ‘right thing to do’

The pivot was a forced but illuminating change, says CHRO Anita Martin, who notes the organization has long been a “traditional” one, where employees worked the standard 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day in the office. The remote shift is one of many that has helped to promote employee safety while also providing needed support for employees who are caregivers, including the 40% who have children who are in kindergarten through eighth grade.

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“We’ve really revamped and rewritten our flex policy,” she says. Prior to the pandemic, employees could flex their time if needed—taking a longer lunch to cover a doctor’s appointment and then staying later the next day, for instance—but the organization has since opened up that approach. “It’s kind of a flexible flex policy now because it’s not written in stone.”

Anita Martin

Martin recently has fielded such employee requests as one to start the day at 6 a.m. in order to homeschool a child from 9 a.m.-11 a.m., another to provide childcare from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and a third asking to end the workday at 3 p.m. Each request needs to be handled individually, she says.

While the organization has sought to be flexible enough to meet all employees’ unique scheduling needs, there are some considerations, such as the need for at least minimal phone coverage in some departments between 8 a.m.-5 p.m., when most customer calls come in. To manage that task, Kern turned to its HCM system, Ceridian Dayforce, which includes a scheduling tool.

“We have schedules all over the board now,” Martin says, “so we’ve leveraged the HCM scheduling so each department has the coverage it needs while we’re still accommodating our employees. One thing we don’t want our employees to do is build up anxiety and stress about how to handle their parental duties and also their work.”

Related: How a ‘menu of options’ can ease the childcare burden

In that vein, the company has focused on mental health outreach, applicable to all newly at-home employees, but especially those doing double duty with childcare. It bolstered its available EAP resources, adding additional counseling options, as well as free access to apps like Breathe and Calm.

It also leveraged L&D, releasing internally produced vignettes—through Vyond, featuring Martin, the CEO and other executives—on issues like stress, working from home and managing remote teams. In a video created for managers, Martin coached them on how to best conduct one-on-ones in the current environment—on the phone away from the computer, while both the manager and employee are outside walking.

“I said, ‘I want to hear the birds chirping in the background,’ ” Martin recalls. “And managers need to make sure they’re asking their employees three things: ‘What are you working on? What do you need from me? What are you feeling?’ ”

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Such questions, she says, encourage employees to stay connected, despite the distance, and help managers and leaders keep their finger on the pulse of the workforce—which will be especially important as the organization continues to change while the pandemic evolves.

“We should all take the lessons we’ve learned from this time and really sit and reflect; use that white-space time to reflect, take notes, be creative and use what we’ve learned,” she says. “My department has learned to do things very differently than we used to. And we won’t go back because some of the things we’re doing now are so much better than before. I think if we can take the best of what we’ve learned during this period, a lot of companies are going to come out much stronger.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.