Ilia Rodríguez

A case study in HR practices during an unprecedented time

The onset of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown imposed in Puerto Rico in Mid-March forced us at Triple-S to pave a new path for our employees, to keep them safe, provide for their overall wellbeing and facilitate remote work based on a new reality.

On March 15th, Puerto Rico ordered one of the first and most restrictive lockdowns in the U.S. and its territories to limit the advance of Covid-19 in our population. Only a few sectors of the economy were classified as essential, among them managed care companies. Mostly, people could go outside their homes solely for food, medicines, gas, and health emergencies.

As one of the largest private employers in Puerto Rico, with nearly 4,000 employees, we focused on the following key areas:  safety, financial stability, communications, total wellness, and talent development. We framed our initiatives in those areas with a large dose of empathy and appreciation for our colleagues who would have to go to work as well as for those who had to work remotely. Both would be facing unique challenges.

Early on we provided for the safety of employees who had to work with the public. We urged hand washing, and placed hand sanitizers in departments and public areas. We also distributed face masks for employees who had to work with the public. As we continued to evolve in the situation, other protective equipment was readily available. For those who could work remotely, we immediately proceeded to provide for remote working conditions. The existence of a Work-from-Home program facilitated our rapid deployment as well as the commitment of our IT department, which worked tirelessly to provide equipment and safe access, while protecting our data. By the second week of the lockdown, nearly 9 out of 10 of our employees were working from their homes.

One of the most critical concerns among employees was financial security. We have met our payroll responsibilities non-stop and have provided up to 15 company granted days to those impacted because their job function could not be carried out remotely. Our annual salary raises scheduled for April went into effect as planned, regardless of the pandemic and the uncertainty it brings. We instituted additional flexible HR policies to allow for paid-time-off used according to the individual needs of our employees. Aside from Work@Home initiatives, other options implemented included additional work shifts, and work-week and days rotations for those who needed to perform tasks at our facilities, in particular Triple-S Salud, our managed care company, which was considered an essential service organization for the crisis.

Meanwhile, most of our employees in Triple-S Salud were busy addressing the needs of our members, providers, and community. They were facilitating access to care, providing much needed education on how to identify Covid-19 symptoms, how to self-care, when to go to the hospital, how to engage in a telehealth consultations, distribute much needed protective gear while supporting NGOs focusing on food security through our Foundation and even launching a new home delivery prescription service. As COVID-19 reached our shores, we launched a campaign asking for people to stay at home. We followed that with three uplifting ad campaigns, one for the Medicare Advantage segment, another for Property and a third on behalf of our brand.

As most of our employees were isolated from their co-workers, we realized we had to facilitate effective connections among them and a constant flow of communications. We hosted Live Broadcast meetings with our CEO, Bobby García and top management. These events have hosted up to 2,000 employees. We also organized large group calls to hold Q&A sessions to address COVID-19 work matters and anything that was important to our employees. Our Human Resources Department issued all information to employees related to policies regarding COVID-19. Thus, we ensured one source of formal information, several times per week with direct and clear messages that let employees know immediate and future short-term actions under planning phase.

Aside from the meetings held by supervisors and co-workers, we partnered with our own medical management leaders and issued constant education efforts to address employee concerns and provide useful recommendations on how to address the crisis and achieve a positive work-life balance as they worked remotely. Because work from home was forced and unexpected, we provided tips on how to organize the work day at home. We shared information on how to take physical and mental breaks at home to avoid burnout, how to manage anxiety while sheltering at home during a crisis, provided advise on ergonomics and on how to properly wear a mask. We also provided information on how to stimulate mindfulness in our kids and care for their elderly. We strengthened our Wellness initiatives with what we called Tuesday and Thursdays Wellness Days, when we provided direct, practical and easy to follow recommendations for our employees and family to manage the new challenges of living and working under lockdown conditions.

The extended lockdown also provided an opportunity to promote professional development among our employees, not only to further their career but also as a way of promoting a positive outlook. Thus, we launched a battery of workshops to continue professional development during this period. This has been critical to focus our people on continue building capabilities while strengthening their confidence in managing the current personal and work situation. A key item to master during this period has been how to use Microsoft TEAMS to host effective virtual meetings. We also launched a Virtual Leadership Development Series and a Virtual Employee Growth series. It was very important to continue investing in our valuable people.

Still mindful of the wellbeing of our employees, our HR staff began calling our employees directly just to make sure they were OK. Over a period of three weeks, we reached 13% of our workforce. Combined with this outreach effort, we issued two surveys. We wanted to understand how they rated their experience of working from home and how they felt about our management of the COVID-19 crisis. This valuable feedback was shared with our employees in our virtual townhall meeting.

Building connections among our workforce while fostering a high level of engagement has continued to drive our output. During this period, we have made a point to recognize extraordinary efforts by our employees as well as to celebrate personal achievements among our colleagues and their families. Thus, we have recognized those at the frontline of health services, kids’ graduations, sent a Thank You card to our managers for their strong leadership throughout the crisis, and held a virtual Summer camp for our employees’ children.

After more than three months of lockdown, our employee engagement remains high as well as productivity levels. Eight out of 10 employees believe the company is actively caring for their wellbeing. The same proportion report they have the right support from their direct supervisors, work group and that information has been clear do deal with the current work environment under lockdown.

As we now focus on how to gradually return to work, we launched the first broad scale epidemiologic study in Puerto Rico of our employee workforce and of family members who are part of our employer provided health plan and are employed by any of the companies from Triple S. We issued a testing schedule for COVID-19 that concluded at the end of May. Participation in the study was voluntary. Any employee or family member who had symptoms and tested positive to the serological test would be given the molecular test. All employees who are participating in the study completed a questionnaire designed by a prominent local epidemiologist and researcher. The study should be completed in three months. As the largest health plan in Puerto Rico, we believe we need to contribute to the universal and scientific knowledge of this novel coronavirus as we aim to keep our employees safe and the public we serve.

We are still learning from this unprecedented experience. However, our commitment to our employees, and communities remains as strong as it has been for more than 60 years. ###