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Many companies say that their people are their greatest asset, but Zurich’s response to COVID-19 actually demonstrates the power of this approach. CEO Mario Greco believes that caring and compassionate leadership of people is critical to protect his employees’ well-being during the crisis and build a robust and motivated workforce for the future.

This means protecting employees’ health while also addressing their fears and anxieties about the pandemic and what the future holds. “The leadership challenge of the crisis so far is the sense of responsibility you have for protecting your people from health issues,” he says. “This begins with reducing risk. As I have told my people many times – no one joins an insurance company thinking that it comes with a life risk!” At Zurich, this focus on protecting people’s health translates into concrete actions. For example, the company offered – on a voluntary basis – testing for employees and their families.

Today’s crisis also requires compassionate people leadership to address employees’ deep-seated fears and anxieties. “For months, much of the news that people heard from the media was bad news,” he says. “Normally, if you meet people in a work situation, you talk business. Today, though, people are fearful about what the future holds for them and their families. Today, you need to be a people leader above all else.”

Zurich has taken a number of steps to address people’s sense of anxiety, including stepping up CEO communications. “I communicate through everything from virtual town hall meetings to virtual one-on-ones,” he explains. “According to my office, I spoke to 15,000 people between March and June, which is a significant increase on the usual pattern.”

As well as communication, Mario Greco believes that CEOs need to understand – and empathize with – the specific stresses and demands on people’s lives. “In cities in Switzerland, we are fortunate in that we can access mountains and enjoy walks in the woods,” he explains. “But for those in bigger cities – like Jakarta or Hong Kong – it’s not the same. People might be locked down in small apartments. To help deal with stress, Zurich has offered psychological support to those who are affected."

While the situation is still uncertain and evolving day-to-day, Mario Greco feels Zurich can be pleased with the results of its people focus and how it is helping keep their employees positive and resilient for the future. “We have just run an employee satisfaction poll that we do regularly twice a year,” he says. “The results this time are incredibly high. The way we have lived our purpose when it comes to our people has clearly been appreciated and recognized. In tough times, maybe we see more clearly than in normal times!”