5 coronavirus lessons from Ally Financial’s CHRO

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on companies in nearly every industry–not to mention their employees–the role of HR leaders arguably has never been more important.

HR professionals like Kathie Patterson, CHRO of Detroit-based bank Ally Financial, have stepped up in response to the pandemic to help lead their companies–and keep employees healthy, calm and productive–in trying times.

“Everything evolved so quickly,” Patterson says. “Every week, there’s something new to deal with. And [employees] are at different points of dealing with this.”

Patterson spoke to HRE about how she’s handling the coronavirus pandemic, what steps the firm is taking to help employees and lessons she’s learned so far.

Kathie Patterson is CHRO of Ally Financial.

Put employees first. Employees are understandably stressed and anxious in the current environment–and workers at Ally are no exception. When the pandemic first appeared and before companies widely closed their doors and pushed employees to work from home, Ally shifted to allow many employees to work remotely, especially older and high-risk workers who did not want to come into the office. “Even at the onset, employees had an enormous amount of anxiety about this pandemic, including about going to work.” Overall, the company has committed to having “the primary focus be on the health and safety of our employees.”

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Related: 8 benefits employers should zero in on during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alter and add offerings to address employees’ needs. Employees are in need of all kinds of support during a time like this. That’s why employers should rethink and add benefits accordingly, Patterson says. Ally Financial, for example, enhanced caregiving policies and childcare benefits, offered 100% coverage for virtual doctor visits and online health services and gave workers making $100,000 or less a one-time $1,200 tax-free financial assistance payment. “It was so very clear to our leadership team that the biggest support we could provide to our employees was to make sure we are providing the right support,” Patterson says.

Related: Ally Financial’s COVID-19 strategy: Embrace employee benefits

Be flexible. “We need to provide more flexibility than what our employees are accustomed to,” Patterson says. “A lot of employees say, ‘There’s no way I can sit at a desk for eight hours with my kids running around.’ So it’s really about helping our leaders understand how to listen and figure out how to provide greater flexibility in the workday.”

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Have empathy. Support and empathy are key for HR and other corporate leaders during the coronavirus pandemic, Patterson says, as every employee is going through something during this time. “We’re working on helping people understand they are going through a grief cycle, [they’re] going through a loss,” she says. [So we’re saying], ‘Here are some things we know about grief to help [you] build [your] awareness around it,’ and we’re doing education and workshops for leaders to think about how they can be more supportive.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.