Recognizing the extra stressors employees are facing as the pandemic stretches on, a Michigan-based tax and accounting firm came up with a plan to make life easier and keep people productive and sane.
Southfield-based Plante Moran — which has over 3,000 employees at offices in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and around the globe — on Oct. 1 enacted “Work-from-Home Remedies,” a program that offers perks and investments built around four pillars: technology, flexibility, recharging and finances.
Managing Partner Jim Proppe said the plan was born out of compassion.
“The last six months have been challenging for all of us, particularly those who are working parents. As we worked through the details of this program, we thought about the things we could do to address their biggest challenges and provide some relief,” he said.
“There’s a mix of things, both large and small, from shortening virtual meetings to adding financial support for larger expenses necessitated by our extended plans to work from home. Our co-founder Frank Moran reminds us ‘the whole person comes to work.’ That statement continues to ring true — even when that workspace is our homes.”
The Work-from-Home Remedies program includes the following benefits:
- 50% reimbursement of up to $2,000 per household to help working parents defray the costs of day care, tutors and virtual learning necessitated by the pandemic
- Extra funds to upgrade home offices, as well as two external computer monitors, a keyboard, mouse and docking station
- Expansion of its athletic reimbursement policy to cover costs for in-home athletic equipment, such as treadmills and free weights
- Greater flexibility in scheduling, including the ability to take off a few hours to support kids’ online learning or wholesale reduce weekly hours for one, two or more months
- A three-day weekend in mid-October to encourage a “battery recharge” for all
- A challenge program to combat meeting fatigue by shortening all virtual meetings by 25%
Diana Verdun, Plante Moran human resources director who is based at the firm’s Grand Rapids location, said the components of the program were brainstormed by a Plante Moran task force that listened to employees about their needs.
Verdun said while staff definitely appreciated the financial and technology aspects of the program, the recharge and flexibility components — shorter meetings, the mid-October break and greater scheduling flexibility — seemed to have had the biggest impact on well-being. Positive feedback poured in from employees
“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Cheri Stein, a partner and trust managing director for West Michigan, who lives in Grand
Rapids. “When this was rolled out to the partners, I finally felt like the firm knew what I was going through as a parent. The full package of (Work-from-Home Remedies) was by far the best I’d seen anywhere. It felt like the firm acknowledged these challenges and said, ‘Parenting is hard. It’s okay. Do your best.’ It freed up some of the pressure I’d put on myself.”
Ann Massey, operations manager for Plante Moran’s financial advising practice in Kalamazoo, said the mid-October break was just what she needed.
“Recharge Weekend involved a trip up north to enjoy the fall season and a little family time with my twin sister and mom,” Massey said. “We spent a lot of time enjoying my parents’ beautiful and peaceful property and took a day trip involving missing an exit and coming across Natural Way Cheese in Clare, where we got to watch Amish artisan cheese being made (the unplanned sometimes yields great rewards). Good food, good company and good times. Thanks to the firm for the extra day to relax and recharge.”
Verdun said often when people take a long weekend off, come Monday morning, they’re buried by emails and catch-up tasks from everyone else at the office. But for the mid-October three-day weekend, Plante Moran partners and employees were all told to refrain from emails.
“Starting Thursday night, people did it, and then Sunday night, when people started looking at coming back to work on Monday, there was nothing there, and it was incredible,” she said. “It took off on social media and internally on our intranet — people talking about what an incredible recharge it was just to feel like they could truly unplug without feeling the pressure of other people needing them, because as an entire firm, we did it.”
Verdun said the greater scheduling flexibility was an enhancement of an already existing work-life flexibility policy at Plante Moran, in which people had been allowed to set up telecommuting or adopt compressed work schedules. But those agreements were typically planned out as part of an annual review, and people would usually adopt an altered schedule for a year or more, or perhaps indefinitely.
“We just knew that in this (time), we needed to provide even more flexibility for people whose situations might be changing more rapidly,” Verdun said. “… So, we started allowing what we called the AWA flex, or alternative work arrangements flex program that allowed people to adjust and ebb and flow as needed based on their circumstances.”
The company also tweaked its already existing flexible time off policy — sometimes referred to as “unlimited PTO” — so that employees no longer need to record full-day increments; they can use flex time for a couple hours of virtual schooling, caring for elderly parents or taking short breaks each day.
Abbreviating meetings by 25% was motivated by the same reason — to give people time to walk their “COVID puppy” or get a snack and move around a bit for a few minutes without rushing to the next virtual call.
“People are facing all kinds of things that we don’t even know,” Verdun said. “Some people are taking care of their parents, because maybe they have elder care that isn’t available now because of COVID — there are all these little things that you just can’t fit into your day. If it’s meeting after meeting after meeting, people very much start feeling this meeting fatigue. When we rolled this out, we hadn’t even officially started some of the other programs yet, and this caught on like wildfire. People started changing recurring meetings, people started scheduling in this way, setting their Outlook calendar, and it’s had an incredible impact on everyone’s emotional well-being, because you have some breathing room, and everybody needs that.”
Contrary to what some might think, Verdun said people are actually more productive when given this type of personal agency over their work-from-home schedules. While the firm still has to track billable hours, because it has client obligations, Plante Moran sets hours expectations by role and is able to provide flexibility within those hours ranges before people even need to consider an AWA flex arrangement.
In addition to the Work-from-Home Remedies program, Plante Moran also is rolling out an emotional wellness campaign within the firm that will go beyond what is already in place to help with workers’ mental health.
Verdun said while Plante Moran is a private company and doesn’t disclose revenue numbers or expenses, the Work-from-Home Remedies program likely cost the firm “millions” of dollars. But she said it already is paying dividends in terms of employee engagement and satisfaction — often-cited factors in talent retention.
She said for any companies considering implementing a similar program, she recommends taking into account the nature of the workforce and the needs of employees.
“Our staff are working in a professional services environment, but every organization is different. The first thing is knowing your staff members and trying to truly understand what their needs are and what they are challenged with — what they are facing. And then from there, you can design support options. If you try to design support options without really understanding what the needs are, you’re going to miss the mark.”
She added designing an official, holistic perks package, rather than one-off arrangements here and there, will lead to greater physical and emotional well-being and better productivity.
More information on the firm is at plantemoran.com.