Inside Citizens Bank’s unique COVID-era benefits

Susan LaMonica is well aware that every one of Citizens Bank’s employees is directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc all over the world for half a year.

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“This isn’t just a work crisis for people; this really is impacting every aspect of colleagues’ lives,” says the bank’s chief human resources officer. “Every employee has a unique situation, whether they have underlying health conditions or they live with someone with an underlying health condition, have childcare issues or a spouse or partner who lost their job.”

Though safety, health and moving the majority of its 18,000 employees remote were top of mind at the beginning of the outbreak–goals shared by many organizations–the Providence-based financial services firm quickly turned to focus, through a variety of new benefits and programs, on the stressors affecting its employees.

Susan LaMonica, Citizens Bank CHRO
Susan LaMonica, Citizens Bank CHRO

One such program–called Family Care Assist–is available to employees’ spouses and children who have been laid off. The innovative AI-based program, managed through consulting firm Leigh Hecht Harrison, allows participants to engage with a virtual job search agent that curates jobs from around the globe and returns daily results based on the participants’ personal job criteria, such as role, location and skills. The chatbot learns through interaction and continues to narrow down and return jobs that are in line with skills and capabilities.

“In this economic environment, many of our employees’ spouses or partners are out of work and need help in terms of getting back to the workforce,” LaMonica says. “I think the most important thing we can offer to people are leaders and managers who are committed to helping to work with them on their individual situations–that’s the most important piece.”

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The company also launched a program called Homework Connection, through provider LifeCare, which provides five hours of tutoring help per dependent, per month. Employees can also, for a discounted rate, buy more time if they need it.

“The intent there is so many parents–with homeschooling and this hybrid model–are really struggling,” LaMonica says. “We’re asking them [about their struggles], and this continues to bubble up–parents saying, ‘I’m not equipped to be a teacher; I can use a little help.’”

Flexible work arrangements also aim to help working parents at Citizens. “They can work on a Saturday instead of Monday if they need to stay home and homeschool their child,” she says. “It’s really accommodating as many people as we possibly can while still meeting the needs of our customers.”

Helping working parents has been a popular topic among HR professionals recently, as scores of research find just how significant a toll the pandemic is taking on working parents who are struggling to juggle childcare and work responsibilities. Nearly half of working parents have had to quit or reduce hours because of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by FlexJobs.

Related: 8 trends in employer support for the childcare crisis

Overall, flexibility has been a big strategy for Citizens.

“We’ve really encouraged managers: ‘You’ve got to be flexible, and you have to take the time to understand what is happening with each individual colleague. You have to work with people.’”

To that end, the employer also has hosted weekly manager calls centered around “helping to get them the tools to get their team effective and engage them,” she explains. Each call focuses on a different topic that’s relevant at the time. Experts in HR often offer insight and expertise on the calls.

And company leaders, including LaMonica, are encouraging managers to lead with empathy and support during this time of uncertainty.

“We recognize the strain this has put on families and on our colleagues and on our customers,” she says. “We do all have to show compassion and empathy and flexibility. Those are really the keywords we keep reiterating over and over again.”

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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.