Let’s rewind to March 2020. COVID-19 has just been declared as a global pandemic, and employers were figuring how they were going to keep their businesses and workers productive.
In this context, US financial services giant Discover shifted its 18,000 workers, including 9,000 call center agents, and 7,500 contractors, to working from home.
While this wasn’t a big change for non-customer facing employees, not all those call center agents were equipped to work from home, explains Jill Coln, vice-president of talent performance and development at Discover.
But by April 2020, “98% of that entire workforce was home based; that was huge piece of work for us”.
As the months (and years) went on, Discover’s HR team surveyed all employees regularly about their experiences of working from home.
In response, Discover expanded its benefits in the employee assistance program (EAP). This included no cost counselling support, ‘Wellness Time at Work’, which is dedicated time for agents to have wellbeing-related programs and activities at work, free virtual fitness classes and weekly mindful meditation sessions in work hours.
Also, the HR team organized a ‘My Mental Health Matters’ campaign – there were 31 sessions during the pandemic, and 4,700 employees participated. “People really valued it”, notes Coln.
The future of work at Discover
As the pandemic eased, Discover implemented a hybrid model for all employees, including customer-facing workers.
Coln explains that getting people together is at the heart of Discover’s culture. “Having people collaborate is core to us being successful”.
As things stand, this hybrid model remains in place. “We are still in the process of working through what hybrid looks like for us an organization with culture at its center,” notes Coln.
For now, “we have been asking leaders to find more ways to bring their teams together in the moments that matter – town halls, leadership meetings, team building [events].
“We want leaders to be thoughtfully planning how to get their team together, whether it be on a project or just to reacquaint with each other”.
Discover has particularly focused on the connection and engagement of employees who joined the organization during COVID-19 – this includes Coln herself who only started at Discover in November 2021.
They were invited to a two-day event at Discover’s headquarters in Riverwoods.
“They not only got to interact with business leaders, but they got to hear from employees that had been with the organization from when Discover was born; we call them Dawners”. There were also social activities, and in total, 1,500 people participated.
Reworking the EVP
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Discover wasn’t just grappling with shifting to remote work and ensuring that employees were engaged. The employer was also in the midst of a piece of work to rethink its employee value proposition (EVP).
“Usually, EVP is about how to attract people to the organization, but we also wanted to make sure that we were still looking into it from an internal perspective”, explains Coln.
“We wanted to understand if we were delivering on our EVP – do the people that are here really feel like we are listening to them? Do they feel like what we promised them is what we are delivering?”.
To do this, Discover leveraged employee engagement surveys to “get a baseline” – it focused on questions across the three pillars of the EVP: “Being inspired to grow, doing meaningful work from day one and feeling at home”.
“Once we got the baseline, we then went out and worked with an external vendor to get underneath the hood of that”, notes Coln. “We went and looked at these experiences that employees have…and figured out where we were doing well and where we weren’t”.
Now, this year, Discover is focused on prioritizing those experiences where employees (and candidates) want more, with the aim of driving more meaningful, purpose-driven workplace experiences.
The Great Resignation and DEIB
All of this data collection helped Discover in the Great Resignation. It meant the HR team could figure out “where we were losing people and why they were leaving”, notes Coln.
Discover then created a retention toolkit in 2022.
“Research tells us that the relationship with the manager [is key in retention]. We leaned into doing more things in that space, really helping leaders have better, and more meaningful, conversations with their employees”.
A major cause of the Great Resignation has been a lack of career development. Career growth is a core part of Discover’s EVP, but it leaned into this more by rolling out “quarterly conversations with employees and leaders”, which focused on goal setting and getting feedback on additional support workers need.
This was a real boom for Discover’s engagement scores, as was the employer’s inclusion training program for people leaders.
In 2022, all people leaders were invited to take part in a 60-day inclusion challenge. “They had to start a new inclusive practice and make more equitable decisions. The inclusion challenge helped leaders stay curious and open to new ideas, build a more diverse network” and further drove their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB). To date, 61% (or 2,000) leaders have taken part.
Discover is genuinely committed to DEIB – this is articulated through its North Star Goals – “this is not just talk. These are strategic, intentional goals”, notes Coln.
Importantly, at Discover, this DEIB work isn’t just to the benefit of employees – the financial services employer has a strong community focus.
“We are determined to serve our employees, our customers and our communities,” states Coln. This community work is central to why Coln sees Discover as a great place to work.
For example, in 2021, the employer opened up a customer care center in Chatham, a predominantly Black community in the South Side of Chicago.
Employees at the Chatham center are locals, so it provides needed jobs and financial stability in an overlooked part of Chicago.
According to Discover’s 2022 diversity and inclusion report: “Chatham is an important step on our DE&I journey, one that tangibly shows the difference we can—and will—make as we continue to tackle challenges within and beyond our walls. It reflects the responsibility we feel to bring opportunities to people who have been denied for so long.”
Discover is hoping to emulate the success of Chatham in Whitehall, Ohio.
Want to hear more about how to create a meaningful culture at work? Coln will be speaking at UNLEASH America 2023, 26-27 April.
It’s not too late to join us in Las Vegas; you can grab your ticket here!
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