Susan also explains how times of crisis like the pandemic are a chance to think differently and express your point of view: “Intentionally take time to ask yourself, ‘What does my business need?’ and ‘How can I contribute to shaping the future?’ Then, bring your voice forward and state your opinion! Now is a beautiful time to experiment with new ways of working and demonstrate your future-forward and agile thinking.”
She notes that MetLife itself is embracing this process by, “pivoting to prioritize what matters most to all the stakeholders who rely on us, while at the same time accelerating the future and re-imagining what we do in a Post-COVID (“PC”) world. Now is the time to break through inertia in the system and harness the benefits of working in this virtual PC world.”
In particular, the company is examining ways to sustain its performance at the very moment when employees are conflicted between priorities in their personal and professional lives. To help employees, Susan believes that companies must better segment and understand employees’ specific needs, ranging from working parents to employees who care for elderly family members.
“The answer, first and foremost, is that companies can provide security through robust benefits, followed by flexible workforce practices, which are encouraged within the workplace culture,” says Susan. “For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, their CEO urged leaders to operate with maximum flexibility so that employees can integrate their work and life as best they can. That signal was so important.”
She describes how this from-the-top directive prompted communications to managers, to support real conversations with employees about their needs. “By building safe and trusting environments where employees feel they can bring forth their needs, you can gain real insights and sometimes uncover some very simple solutions,” says Susan. “For example, when we asked working mothers with school-age kids what would ease their challenges, the simple answer was, ‘Don’t schedule meetings between 2:30-4:30pm, since we are pulled in too many directions during that time.’” But the key is to create the culture of open communication so your input can help identify potential broader solutions for all employees through Human Resources, or a more tailored solution through conversations with your manager.
In addition, Susan points out that the pandemic has reinforced her emphasis on mental health: “This is an area where companies must double down, since the mental health impact is more pervasive than many believe. We talk about mental health, train our leaders and provide platforms for peer-to-peer coaching and support. We are trying our best to support employees during these uneasy times and we want them to know, through our actions, that we care for their total well-being.”
While Susan admits that all the acute demands in this “new normal” can be draining for many, she affirms that, “Now is the time for individuals and employers to build resiliency in ourselves and in our workforce. If women stand up for yourselves, stand for each other, and have your point of view heard, with the help of responsive employers, we can manage and find ways to flourish in these difficult times and gain a competitive advantage.”
For more inspiring stories from women leaders in financial services visit home.kpmg/mindthegap.