In response to the pandemic and the unprecedented stressors it has brought to employees, scores of companies have upped their investment in employee wellbeing. From collective time off to a new emphasis on employee finances, employers are rethinking what wellness in a post-pandemic world means.
For Hewlett Packard Enterprise, that commitment pre-dated COVID-19. Two years ago, the organization launched “Wellness Fridays,” when employees are encouraged once a month to cut out for the weekend early and focus on their wellness. This summer, the organization expanded that initiative to full days, every other week–an effort to recognize “the unique stresses that living and working through a pandemic for over a year has surfaced,” says Alan May, executive vice president and chief people officer at HPE.
The company saw significant positive feedback, with many employees immediately take advantage of the offer. Apart from giving workers the license to invest in their own wellness, May says, it communicates to them their value to the organization.
“As one team member put it, ‘HPE cares,’ which is absolutely how we want our people to feel,” he says.
May–who has helmed HR at HPE since 2015 and previously held HR leadership roles at Boeing Commercial Airplanes and PepsiCo, among other companies–recently shared with HRE what else the company has been doing to support its workforce.
HRE: How do you think the pandemic, in general, has prompted HR leaders to rethink employee wellness–particularly in ways that will last beyond the pandemic?
May: The pandemic has made employee wellbeing an essential focus for HR leaders worldwide. Fortunately, this has been a focus for HPE well preceding the pandemic and a place where we’ve really tried to differentiate ourselves in the war for talent.
While challenges around balancing life and work existed long before the pandemic, the widespread stress and safety concerns associated with COVID-19 made it even more challenging for employees to balance their schedules and dedicate time to those who matter, whether that be themselves, their children or their other family members.
At HPE, we knew team members struggled with prolonged stress associated with the pandemic. This type of employee feedback, similar to what many other HR leaders have heard at their organizations, has made it clear that the pandemic has taken a significant toll on mental health and holistic wellness. Many companies, such as our own, have implemented safe, creative ways to help employees achieve wellness and mental health goals. For example, we provided free Headspace accounts to encourage convenient meditation as well as tip sheets for those managing COVID-19 infections, parental care and more.
This type of support and acknowledgment of team members’ health is the new expectation. HR leaders who do not continue to provide these benefits–which are now viewed as a must-have–will face challenges recruiting and retaining top talent.
HRE: How has the HR team at HPE sought to advance diversity, equity and inclusion agendas, despite the ongoing disruptions of the pandemic?
May: As a global company, HPE has a responsibility to help shape a world that is inclusive for all.
During the pandemic, we launched listening tours to hear direct experiences from team members who represent minority groups. As part of the listening tours, members of the Executive Committee, including myself, are focusing on better educating ourselves, challenging our own understandings and transforming into better allies and advocates.
Inspired by findings of the listening tours, we mapped out a working plan to address the following topics: equity, allyship, inclusion and collaboration. This working plan includes a formal allyship program spearheaded by executives and the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Council, chaired by our CEO, to guide our ongoing efforts in the space.
HRE: What do you think was HR’s most valuable contribution to HPE over the last year?
May: Almost certainly, it has been our work to support team members through the pandemic. Whether it was making mental health resources available worldwide or mobilizing to procure medical resources for our team members in India during that country’s last surge, my team pulled out all the stops to, as we have said from the beginning of the pandemic, “get through this together.” I’m incredibly proud of their resilience, creativity and passion, and our employee engagement scores bear out how appreciated their efforts were.
HRE: What is HPE’s approach to hybrid and remote work for your post-pandemic workplace?
May: Team member surveys at HPE revealed that two-thirds of our team members want to spend 20% or less of their time in a physical site. Additionally, 70% of our team members feel just as productive or more productive when working from home.
Most importantly, the survey told us that most team members want to use the office for connection and collaboration, rather than a full-time, dedicated workspace.
With a commitment to flexibility, we’re committed to a hybrid workplace moving forward, in which we will design a connected experience for our team members that coincides with our reimagined vision of the workplace. As part of our hybrid plan, some employees have been advised to work in the office, as their focused work is more appropriately performed on-site. Others will primarily perform focused work remotely and use our worksites for culture, collaboration and social connections.
May: In the past, HR was generally viewed as the compensation, benefits and labor relations team. Today, we’re the people function. My title at HPE is chief people officer because HR today is about more than just a bunch of back-office functions. We’re keepers of the company culture. People spend more time working than doing any other activity in their lifetimes. Human resources today are about helping people make the most of that time, grow, develop and feel that it is time well spent.
HRE: Outside of your work at HPE, what are you passionate about?
May: First and foremost, spending time with family. I also love travel, hiking–really anything outdoors.