I’m a Global HR Leader, And Here’s What COVID Taught Me About the Way We Need to Support Workers

I’m a Global HR Leader, And Here’s What COVID Taught Me About the Way We Need to Support Workers


Shaunda Zilich, Global Talent Brand Manager at Qualtrics
Shaunda Zilich, Global Talent Brand Manager at Qualtrics
May 20, 2024 at 2:18AM UTC

Outside of my family’s new home in Provo, Utah, the tulips are in bloom. It’s things like these — the signs of spring — that I try to hold onto and stay grateful for amid all of the chaos. And I try to remind myself, too, that we aren’t just working from home right now, as others have rightly pointed out; we’re working from home in the middle of a crisis. 

Making that distinction for myself and my own sense of well-being is important. But as a senior leader at my company, I don’t believe in stopping there. At Qualtrics, our workforce is on a complete work-from-home basis around the world, and the specific needs and situations of our team members during this pandemic vary from person to person. Some are working parents like me who are struggling with the balancing act. Others may be facing difficulty accessing the specific resources they need, like individuals whose AA meetings have been canceled, as one example.

I’ve always believed in seeing people for the full, nuanced human beings they are, with distinct needs and goals and lived experiences. Joining a company that extends this same view to its employees was, for me, a no-brainer. And now, it’s up to us — not only at Qualtrics, but as senior leaders of any organization — to hold this same space for workers and to imbue this understanding into the way we support them today. 

Our people need us. But what they need from us will look like different things for different people.  

My boss, our Chief People Officer, took on the role of setting up an internal company task force to address COVID-19. Together, with the help of our full People-Ops Team, we’ve had the opportunity to think deeply into the different kinds of support we can offer as a company right now, both to our own workers and beyond. 

For starters, as a company, we partnered with the XM Institute to launch a series of free solutions for governments, businesses and academic institutions, along with recommended timelines of execution for those solutions. These tools aim to address a number of the pandemic’s most pressing challenges, covering everything from connecting healthcare companies with the needs of their frontline workers to helping schools navigate the transition to remote learning models. Meanwhile, we’ve also assembled solutions for businesses to stay attuned to the needs of their workers and customers. And as states inch forward toward plans to reopen, our Return to Work Pulse tool is helping employers gauge in real time how and when their employees should return to shared workplaces. 

Staying connected at this time is hugely important. 

And as a company of over 3,000 employees, we were struggling to determine how we could best stay connected to the needs of each and every employee, as well as how to systematically know the right person or resource to connect these individuals to. It was a member of our Q&Able group — our employee resource group, or QGroup, dedicated to differently abled team members and allies — that helped us realize we already had a pretty powerful tool at our disposal for this. And that is the QGroups themselves. 

This Q&Able member had reached out to me to express that some of the group’s employee members needed specific help at this time with things like getting around and getting groceries. In talking, we realized that our QGroups — not only the Q&Able group, but also our Women in Leadership, Mosaiq, QSalute and QPride groups at Qualtrics — could be an amazing “go to market” resource for any employees in need of help.

Through our QGroups, we can approach providing support to our team members in three ways.

We decided to structure our help in three parts: 1. person-to-person help (i.e. “I need groceries”); 2. resource help (i.e. AA meeting resource assistance); and 3. community help (i.e. “My husband owns a restaurant and we need carry-out orders for the business to make it”). Leaders of these different groups could be equipped to provide the relevant connections and resources to their members. By filtering support down this way, we’d be ensuring that those with the most intimate knowledge of their work communities’ needs would be involved in addressing those needs in a truly personalized way. Additionally, we know there are some things people may feel better asking their manager about, versus submitting them in a survey or adding them to a public list. 

Now, we’re in meetings to develop this QGroup-led approach further. But things are off to a promising start so far. Each group currently has plans to host a weekly virtual happy hour, for instance, and a Slack channel has also been created for each unit. In addition, lists of specific links and resources are being compiled for the leaders of these groups to reference. 

As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we’re certain there will be more to come. 

But already, I’ve been made aware of a team member who’d been struggling and was able to find some much-needed aid in these resources. In the end, as leaders, it’s about believing that employees themselves are the ultimate authority on knowing what support they need. By recognizing that, we can create channels that allow us to provide that support in a personal, customized way — and we can ensure that no employee’s experience goes unacknowledged. And that’s a crucial service for leaders of diverse organizations to be providing, long after COVID-19 is behind us.

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