Jennifer Young, TD Bank’s executive vice president of HR, has a full plate when it comes to addressing the needs of the company’s massive workforce.
“We have 95,000 employees, and there’s probably 95,000 different scenarios of support,” she says. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”
The bank worked tirelessly to support employees throughout the pandemic, with robust mental health resources, wellness ambassadors who served as intermediaries between employees and people managers, and flexible work policies. Today, Young is helping managers lead with empathy, and keeping TD Bank ahead of the game when it comes to guiding employees through this next phase.
“We ground all of our decisions in what is the right thing for our customers and colleagues,” she says. “What are your colleagues telling you? It’s very practical — happy employees are engaged employees, and engaged employees produce better work.”
Today, Young is working on getting employees reenergized with a return to the office, though many are choosing to work remotely permanently. She chatted with EBN about the balance the bank is striking, and how the perpetual stressors of the last few years have impacted her leadership skills.
There seems to be this attitude of, ‘COVID is over, let’s get back to normal,’ but is that actually the case for employees right now?
People want it to be over, and we are starting to see more of an uptick on people just wanting more normal routines and wanting to see other people. I’ve been in the U.S. offices and then the Canadian offices in the last couple of weeks, and there’s a tremendous amount of affection and comradery. It’s a wonderful energy. But I wouldn’t say that’s 100% of our population. The other half is saying, working remotely really works for me. What we’re really trying to reinforce is that we’re returning on a voluntary basis — do what works for you, do what works for your family.
How is TD Bank managing that balance — it seems like a push and pull.
We’re very mindful that this is going to be a long learning period before we have a permanent model. We’ve actually put in place people manager training to lead and communicate with empathy and really start conversations with, “How are you doing? How is your family doing?” We want to have a genuine connection with employees, to understand what we need to be doing to support them. We have to continue to lead with empathy and understand what the roadblocks may be and what additional support may be required, and then mobilize that support.
What are some of those resources that TD Bank implemented during the pandemic that you’re relying on now?
There’s been an unbelievable increased demand for additional resources. So we’ve really supercharged what we offer. It started off with having wellness ambassadors, because that’s something that we could mobilize really, really quickly. We trained onsite ambassadors so that if you didn’t want to go to your people manager, you could go to somebody else in a confidential manner and they can tap you into various resources in the TD Bank benefit and wellness program. We also partnered with LifeWorks to offer employees and their families free counseling services, either in-person or video. They could address anxiety, depression, relationship issues, family dynamics, substance abuse, and all of the areas that we were seeing really ratchet up during the pandemic. We also offered education on our employee and family assistance programs. Not only is this about supporting families, but also helping them understand what they had access to. We did lunch-and-learns focused on relaxation skills and meditation, yoga, healthy eating, the whole gamut.
But now what we’re seeing is one anxiety is replaced by another. There is a bit of anxiety around returns to the office, but it’s also, look at what’s happening between Russia and the Ukraine. There’s more worry around personal safety. We just can’t seem to get out of a bad place, and as an employer, we’re trying to provide those resources.
Do you think this has made you a more empathetic leader?
I’ve been profoundly changed by it. I’ve become this very different person around workplace flexibility. My personal preference is to be in the office — that’s how I’ve grown up. That’s what I’m used to. But I’ve become so much more open and really trusting of people to get their work done in whatever environment works for them.
I do shudder sometimes when I read about a very prescriptive approach — who that’s going to work for? People will make a choice to say, I’m going to opt out and find an organization that will accommodate or who is more evolved in their thinking.
We ground all of our decisions in what is the right thing for our customers. We have to take the same approach [with our employees]. What is the collective voice of your colleagues? What are your colleagues telling you? Because it’s all about employee engagement, it’s customer engagement and it’s community engagement. It’s very practical — happy employees are engaged employees, engaged employees produce better work.