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By Andrea Tobias
From the outside, Kim LaMontagne’s life looked enviable. People saw her as a top-performing corporate sales professional, an award-winning leader, a trailblazer, and mentor.
What they didn’t know, she says, is that she downed up to eight glasses of wine at night, accompanied by blackouts and hangovers. “I wore a mask of high performance during my entire career to conceal that I was living with major depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and alcohol misuse,” she admits.
Now 12 years sober, she never forgot how it felt to be too afraid of judgment in her workplace in order to ask for help. In April 2020, LaMontagne left a lucrative corporate job and became a leadership trainer. She focuses on teaching companies how to create and sustain a workplace culture that supports employees’ mental health.
LaMontagne is part of a transformative conversation that Americans are having about mental health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December. Though the Great Resignation has been most dominant in leisure, hospitality and retail, employees in other fields have shown they’re ready to find new opportunities if their current employers don’t support them in ways that make their lives less stressful. Workers are speaking up about the need for a workplace culture and benefits that help them avoid burnout and support their lives outside the office.
Employees want meaningful benefits
Easier access to mental health benefits and more flexible work hours to support caregiving are among the most common changes employers have made in response to COVID-19, according to a survey of nearly 300 employers by The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans last year.
Even employers previously recognized for their culture and benefits began enhancing their offerings for employees during the pandemic. “We definitely pivoted to invest more in the mental health and well-being space,” says Shannon Daly, senior director of global benefits for VMware, an international cloud computing company headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., with offices in Boston and Burlington, Mass.
In partnership with a vendor, VMware now offers each employee 12 paid sessions with a therapist or coach. Employees can choose from a diverse roster of professionals, including those experienced in working with the LGBTQ+ community or people of color. If an employee needs ongoing support after 12 appointments, “we set it up to go to our medical plan, so they don’t have to worry about disruption of care,” Daly says.
Each VMware employee receives a “well-being allowance” — in the United States, it’s $1,000 — to spend as they like, from launching a charity event to taking their kids to Hawaii. The company’s benefits package supports family life in other ways. VMware provides back-up daytime care for children and for seniors through a vendor. It reimburses expenses for adopting a child or using a surrogate, up to $12,000 per child, and access to fertility treatment services.
If all of this sounds a little eye-popping to people who are excited just to get dental insurance, Daly says the expanded benefits have helped the company compete in a hot market for tech talent. Daly also credits the company’s emphasis on choice and flexibility about work location and hours. Remote and hybrid arrangements are common at VMware, as are schedules that assist working parents.
A trend across industries
Sure, you’ve got to do all this to attract tech talent, a skeptic might claim. But is it really necessary for a company in a more traditional field, like a bank?
Meet Rockland Trust, a community bank headquartered in Hanover, Mass. Rockland Trust has landed on The Boston Globe’s Top Places To Work list every year since 2009. The bank’s approach to benefits is one reason why. Its benefits package includes tuition reimbursement, childcare assistance, pet insurance, discounts to local gyms, professional service providers, and more.
During the pandemic, Rockland Trust has sent weekly tips to employees via email on cultivating emotional and social well-being, particularly related to COVID fatigue and navigating the pandemic inside and outside of work, says Maria Harris, director of human resources. The bank aims to offer a culture of empathetic leadership. “When leaders throughout the organization genuinely care about listening and building trust with their teams,” she maintains, “our colleagues feel supported and bring their most authentic selves to work.”
This kind of conversation is essential, LaMontagne believes. Part of her coaching involves educating executives on how to shift their language around mental wellness to support employees who are having difficulties and seeking help. A company’s support should be clear in its policies as well, she says. Many workplaces have “procedures in place to help an employee who comes back from a heart attack or stroke. But what do we have in place to help people who are living with a mental health challenge?”
Remote and in-office benefits
“At the end of the day, not everyone has the same needs, physically, financially, mentally, and socially,” says Jennifer Mangiaratti, director of benefits at Point32Health. “And our job as a workplace is to create competitive benefits programs that support the individual colleague in many aspects of life.” The health plan recognizes that the support could expand to include needs beyond the individual employee, and has committed to connecting the workforce to multiple lines of support through Bright Horizons for childcare, elder care, and college planning.
The health plan, provided by the parent company of the recently combined Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan, has been especially attuned to the needs (and wants) of a workforce that is transitioning back to a brick-and-mortar setting for the first time in over two years. At the Point32Health corporate headquarters in Canton, Mass., employees can readily access extensive well-being support, including an onsite, state-of-the-art Health Center and Fitness Center, staffed with a dedicated nurse practitioner, wellness coach, and personal trainers — for preventive care, acute symptom care, lab services, wellness coaching, and personalized exercise programs. The health plan is also exploring offering onsite childcare. Mangiaratti says, “It’s important that we find new ways to reconnect in our physical space as well. We want to provide people with a safe space to build personal connections in while supporting their health and well-being needs.”
Similarly to Mangiariatti at Point32Health, Harris at Rockland Trust is among those human resources professionals who believe employees are thinking more deeply about what gives them a sense of purpose, and are looking for companies whose values align with their own. Benefits are an important consideration, but not the full story, she says. “Benefits can draw a candidate in. But it’s a sound and dependable foundation of trust, respect, and care that keeps our colleagues engaged.”
Point32Health is founded on innovation, engagement, and the voices of its employees and members. Our workplace embraces flexible, hybrid, and remote options; offers competitive well-being benefits; and continues to do things differently. Ready to join the Point32Health team? Learn more here.
Sponsored by Point32Health
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