Top Workplaces Big Winners Find Creative Ways To Deal With Pandemic Stress

As businesses return to normal after the worst of the pandemic, some of Connecticut’s large employers are finding creative ways to deal with new types of stress at work.

At Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, that means managing what has been, at least for some time, the hottest real estate market in memory. It’s a good kind of stress, but one that requires balance – and the help of a psychologist – as CEO Candace Adams describes.

At Westport-based Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, the challenge is to maintain a mode of operation deemed intense and downright critical while most employees have been out of the office.

“Because we are a tight-knit community and operate as a vibrant think tank, it has been a great adjustment for us to bring this part of our culture to a remote environment,” said Nir Bar Dea, Managing Director Bridgewater Deputy, in the comments emailed.

And at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, the stress of COVID-19 has been direct, with many patients transferred from acute care hospitals, and protocols changing rapidly.

“The general pressure – you could feel it going up in the organization. But we have great communication, we have great collaboration, we’re very team-oriented and we’ve actually become stronger, ”said Wally Harper, vice president of human resources at Gaylord.

The skillful manner in which these three companies have handled pandemic stress has led them to rank among the Top Large Employers in the Hearst Connecticut Media Top Workplaces awards for 2021.

There are five winners in the category with 500 or more employees and they cover a cross section of the Connecticut economy in education, finance, health care, and real estate.

For a fourth consecutive year, Wallingford-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices ranked No.1, with Bridgewater No.2 and Gaylord No.3. Liberty Bank, based in Middletown, and Post University in Waterbury completed the category.

These companies are still trying to figure out next steps, while remaining alert to new developments such as President Joe Biden’s tenure in early September that large employers require employees to get vaccinated against the virus or undergo weekly tests.

Hearst Connecticut Media Top Workplaces 2021 large employers

# 1: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Properties in New England

Headquarters: Wallingford

Number of employees: 790

Number of years ranked in the best workplaces: 10

# 2: Bridgewater Associates LP

Headquarters: Westport

Number of employees: 1,268

Number of years ranked in the best places to work: 4

# 3: Gaylord Specialty Healthcare

Headquarters: Wallingford

Number of employees: 629

Number of years ranked in the best workplaces: 1

“An advantage and a privilege”

Bridgewater, the biggest winning employer, returns after a five-year hiatus from the best places to work list. Bar Dea, the deputy CEO, described the hedge fund’s efforts to create facilities, protocols and tests to hold outdoor meetings during the pandemic.

“We set up semi-permanent tents on our campuses, fitted with fully functional A / V systems, and even found software that would reduce the background noise of birds chirping in the background,” he said. .

But the deepest constraints came from managing and shaping the corporate culture where founder Ray Dalio, Connecticut’s richest resident, created a system of “radical transparency” and what Bar Dea calls “the relentless pursuit of truth and excellence”.

“For us this applies to everything from understanding how the world works to understanding what people are,” he said – including a lot of conflict and self-exams, all the more difficult in the event of a pandemic.

“Today we are thinking about the next round of complex decisions,” added Bar Dea. “How do you make being on campus an advantage and a privilege? How do you enable employees to benefit from the flexibility of remote working while creating the intangible assets that occur when people are under one roof? And how do you make sure that one person’s flexibility doesn’t affect others. We are in constant conversation with our employees and are preparing to go through an experimental process, collect feedback and determine what works.

‘Stress and fatigue’

Gaylord Specialty Healthcare saw a handful of employees leave last year rather than undergo mandatory vaccines and testing under an executive order from Governor Ned Lamont. This happened despite the company offering exemptions for medical or religious reasons, according to Harper, vice president of human resources.

With its main campus in Wallingford, Gaylord focuses on the rehabilitation of patients transferred from intensive care units to hospitals. At times throughout the pandemic, Gaylord has had about 30 patients at a time recovering from a severe COVID-19 crisis.

Amidst this stress, Harper said, the nonprofit continued to pursue goals it set for itself before the pandemic, such as establishing a residency program for physicians with expertise in niche.

Then the influx of patients happened, said Harper, “We didn’t panic… we started to swell and grow and hit the highest count we’ve ever had, and that takes a lot. stress and pressure on staff. “

Harper said Gaylord has placed people in new roles as best he can, including from his Connecticut satellite offices that focus on ambulatory care and physiotherapy.

“We have found that some of the different clinical staff who do not typically interact with their patient types were a valuable asset and found new companionship, new teamwork, new opportunities to work across lines. “Said Harper.

He added: “We keep talking about how well it went and how the staff who made it felt really good to learn from other parts of the business… some of these members. of the staff who have done so have become widely recognized for their contributions. “

“We had to become psychologists”

The fuses shorted and brokers and agents faced an overload in Berkshire Hathaway as sellers sought to capitalize by putting their homes on the market and buyers found their deals beaten by better deals.

Berkshire Hathaway hired an industrial psychologist to help brokers and employees feeling overwhelmed.

“We had to become psychologists, counselors, just navigate the hustle and bustle of the market,” said Candace Adams, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties and former recipient of the Top Workplaces Outstanding Leadership Award.

“There is definitely an increased level of stress for everyone,” she said. “I think we all need to understand this. We have to be more patient, we have to be more aware of emotional states of mind, not just physical well-being – of how people are feeling. “

As the boom has stabilized, Adams said Berkshire Hathaway’s move to remote working arrangements has been welcomed by the vast majority of its brokers and agents. She added that the company would keep this operating practice in place, while reducing the size of its offices in some locations to reflect the shift in real estate online.

“We have continued to automate almost everything our agents have to do with their customers,” Adams said. “It’s a real advantage for them because they don’t have to be in the office if they don’t want to be.

“A Herculean effort”

Liberty Bank was rushing to another front during the pandemic – administering the paycheck protection program that provided several weeks of funding to businesses as an alternative to laying off workers. This was one of the key provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Security Act, with the US Department of the Treasury releasing the details of the PPP just hours before the application window opens.

“We had teammates from across the bank who supported our commercial bankers,” said Rob Parry, senior vice president and chief administrative officer. “It has been a Herculean effort on the part of our business teammates, branches and corporate bank offices as well as our back office teammates seven days a week and late at night and early in the morning to help customers and non- clients. And we did it by adjusting to a very fluid process and changing direction frequently. “

Liberty Bank is already considering the next challenge – a vaccination mandate that will go into effect for its employees in mid-November.

“It was a painstaking decision, but it was the right decision,” Parry said. “By returning our teammates to our fully vaccinated offices, it helps us carry out our mission, vision and values ​​and strengthen the culture we have that makes Liberty a special place to work. Our mission is to improve the lives of our teammates, clients and communities for generations to come. “

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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