By Ingrid Kessler and Sarah-Valin Bloom, LSCW
November 20, 2020
At Quartet, we work every day to make it easier for people to get the mental health care they need. We know that mental health is just as important for our employees as it is for the patients we help every day. This is even more crucial in the midst of a pandemic. Earlier this year, as we started to hear about COVID-19, our staff’s health and safety was our top priority. That’s why we took immediate steps to keep people safe by giving our staff the option to work from home in case they were feeling vulnerable to coronavirus or just felt safer being at home. Then by the middle of March, we instituted a mandatory work from home policy for all staff and canceled all work-related travel.
During this time we added extra Zoom hangouts, had virtual guest speakers, happy hours, workouts, and even hosted regular Q&As with our resident Chief Medical Officer, who just so happened to be an infectious disease specialist, to answer the team’s questions. Like most companies, we thought the quarantine and work from home would only last for a few weeks, but as spring gave way to summer and the rate of COVID infections and hospitalizations continued to fluctuate, we knew we were in for the long haul. We started thinking long term about how we were going to keep our staff both physically and mentally healthy as they entered yet another season of staying home, juggling work and, for many, caring for children, with no end in sight.
Pre-COVID, our Quartetians were split between our New York headquarters and around the country. We did our best to knit these two groups together. In fact, when we were trying to navigate our “new normal,” it was our Employee Resource Group of remote employees who were working from home pre-COVID that shared advice on how to protect your mental health while working remotely.
At Quartet, we pride ourselves on creating a healthy culture for our staff. We’re honored to have been named one of the Best Places to Work in Healthcare four times. We offer benefits that enable a healthy work-life balance, including a flexible work schedule, enhanced mental health benefits, generous insurance benefits, parental leave, and unlimited vacation and sick time.
As we continue to navigate and support our employees through these uncertain times, we’ve made employee wellness a top priority. The reality is that free snacks and yoga classes are great, but they certainly do not equal wellness. Wellness is much bigger than offering workout classes during the day (although that’s pretty nice!). Organizational wellness has many facets and we must think about it and address it from all angles, including basic things like benefits, the physical (or virtual) work environment we create, the tools and supportive resources we make available, and most importantly, our culture and how we make people FEEL. Managers who lead with empathy, leaders who encourage folks to take advantage of benefits, and a workplace that fosters psychological safety and a sense of belonging for everyone – these are the keys to sustainable wellness.
Pushing ourselves to build an even stronger culture of wellness at Quartet when we can’t rely on typical perks and our employees are faced with challenges from a global pandemic, we asked – can we continue to build and sustain a culture of well-being? The answer is yes, and here’s how:
Add a Clinician to Our People Team
The People Team is a key part of building the culture at Quartet. We’ve always had a Clinical Team led by mental health providers to advise on our product so we can make it easier for people to get the best mental health care for them. We realized if we want to make the well-being of our employees an integral part of our offering as a company, we need a full-time clinician on our People Team. So we turned to Sarah-Valin Bloom, a licensed clinical social worker, who has been a vital part of the clinical team at Quartet and contributor to the Quartet Blog, Mental Notes. Having someone with the clinical expertise to help innovate and refine how we support the mental health and overall well-being of our own employees is a game-changer as a company.
Institute No Meeting Thursdays
We regularly check in with staff to see how they’re doing and how we can support them. One thing we learned was that they were feeling overwhelmed as they tried to balance meetings and time to complete their work. That’s why we instituted a “No Meeting Thursdays” policy where we’ve designated every other Thursday as a working day to allow people uninterrupted time to focus on their projects. This means no meetings as well as clear expectations on the limited use of email and Slack messaging throughout the day.
More Time Off
Quartet has an unlimited leave policy. But during a pandemic, we know that some people may be less inclined to take time off since they cannot travel. We also know that lines are blurred between home and office, so people tend to work longer hours every day. We understand that rest is important so in addition to the standard Federal holidays we’ve given Quartetians the full week of Thanksgiving off. We also made Election Day a paid holiday so that each Quartetian was able to participate in voting or volunteering.
Without coworkers around it can be easy to go straight through the workday without stopping. That’s why we’ve built in breaks for stretches, guided meditation, and lunches on everyone’s calendar to help remind them to take a few minutes away from their desks.
We’ve implemented new benefits to reflect the realities of working from home. Quartetians have a stipend to help set up a home office as well as reimbursements for internet use. During the summer months, we offered a virtual summer camp benefit for parents and guardians of young children. We also expanded our mental health benefits to include reimbursements for teletherapy visits, an important way to receive mental health care while at home.
This past year has changed the way we think about wellness. These changes have been in response to COVID, to the schedules and isolation that happened in response to COVID, to the serious issues of racial inequality that have been highlighted during this time, to climate crises, and to a divisive political climate that triggered and exacerbated immense stress for the nation. To truly build a culture of wellness, we have to think about programming, diversity, inclusion, supportive tools and resources, the way we communicate, the benefits we offer, a focus on encouraging work/life balance, and ways to provide equitable opportunities for growth. All of this needs to come together to foster the well-being of our staff. When our employees feel their best and feel supported they perform better, are more satisfied, and are happy to be at work.
At Quartet, we know that mental health care isn’t one size fits all.
COVID-19 added a layer of complexity for mental healthcare workers, who may be experiencing their own stressors and anxieties related to the crisis.
For some, following the stay-at-home orders for one pandemic may render them vulnerable to another: domestic violence.