Kevin Leggio is the senior manager of people development at Modern Health. We spoke with him about Modern Health’s future-of-work strategy, managing the mental health of the workforce, and the things worth keeping about the great work-from-home experiment.
Q. What is top of mind for you as a people leader as you develop your strategy around employees returning to a physical office?
A. Safety is my first concern. The change that sent us home happened so quickly and something else could happen just as quickly that would take us back again. But immediately following the safety question is, “How do we ensure we’re adopting the right safety protocols without being too rigid?” Everyone on our team has individual considerations we need to be mindful of, and being overly cautious can be paralyzing—so I want to strike the right balance where we’re enabling our workforce to be in the office safely while retaining some flexibility.
Q. What do you think we’ve learned about ourselves as remote workers over the past year?
A. I think back to when we first started working from home and everyone was worried that productivity was going to go down. As it turns out, almost the opposite happened—people are working too much and we lost some sense of balance.
We also learned that we can stay connected while being physically apart, though that is still a challenge we need to stay focused on.
Q. What do you think is worth keeping about how we’ve been working for the past year?
A. It’s great that we’ve learned to give people more choices. Being open and honest with your workforce and then trusting them to make decisions about their day actually makes workers more engaged and productive. Another way to think about it is truly seeing your workforce as being composed of individuals with individual skills, needs, lives, and challenges. Management has to listen to the individuals who comprise the workforce and leverage what they’re hearing in order to make this work, but I think the added flexibility is a good thing.
We’ve also learned how to give people some time back in their day by removing their commutes. Some people now have hours back they didn’t have before, and they can decide how they want to spend it: with their partners or families, getting some exercise, or reading the newspaper. It’s a silver lining of the pandemic and I hope people leverage this time for themselves instead of just working more.
Q. How is Modern Health approaching a return to a physical office space?
A. Our plan is still a work in progress, but we know we will adopt a hybrid model with some employees working at least a few days a week in our San Francisco office and others will be full-time remote. (Before the pandemic, all employees were in the office full time.)
At the start of the pandemic, we implemented our work-from-home strategy in phases because we didn’t know how long we would be away from the office. We learned a lot from that, and just as we got here in phases, I believe in phasing us back. We need to be confident enough to take a stance on returning but also be flexible enough to learn from the process and try some things out.
I don’t think we’re perfect at this—no one is—and we need to just listen to our employees along the way. Just a few weeks ago, we sent out a company-wide survey on burnout and we’re currently analyzing the results to understand what we can do about it. We’re listening for themes, while learning just how unique everyone’s own situation is. I think more listening to employees is warranted. To the degree that we are confident in our decisions, I think it’s listening to our employees that makes us so.
Q. How can companies support employee mental health through this transition?
A. First, you have to make sure people are connected to the right resources and that those resources can change and evolve with your employees. That’s something I love about the Modern Health model—it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We don’t treat any single care modality as a silver bullet. Your employees’ mental health needs are going to change from week to week and the resource needs to adapt to support that.
Second, managers and leaders need to be open to talking about their own mental health and situations in a productive way. Everyone is dealing with their own personal challenges and while managers might not always know what their individual team members are going through, this way of working has blurred the lines between work stress and personal stress. If managers want to make sure they’re supporting their team members in the right way, they need to be willing to be vulnerable sometimes, for example by saying, “I’m not doing great today.” Sharing that as a leader humanizes the conversation for everyone and you’re able to build better working relationships in the long run.
Q. Do you have advice for other HR professionals who may be feeling burned out after the increased demands of the past year?
A. Human resources is a hard position to thrive in; people are complex and especially in a growing company, their needs change often and we need to constantly adapt to that. I consider myself a resilient person and I’ve done and seen a lot, but over the past year-plus I have been personally challenged in ways I’ve never experienced before. I think it’s important to give language to those feelings and to understand yourself in all of that.
I want to emphasize again how pivotal it is to have mental health support available, including for members of the people team. My previous employer is a customer of Modern Health, and I was able to use Modern Health as a benefit that helped me in a difficult time. 2020 was tough for me. I’m usually the support system for other people and last year I started to feel like I was hitting a wall and needed to take care of myself. I engaged with our Modern Health benefit and got matched with a coach and we ended up doing an exercise around my career values. My career values list became an anchor for me; it extended a mirror to help me make a clear decision and ultimately led to a fruitful career transition (coincidentally, to Modern Health). The learning in that story is to recognize when you need help, ask for it, and give your feelings some language. You won’t be able to effectively support others around you if you don’t take care of yourself.
Meredith Swinehart is senior editorial manager at Modern Health.