Building a Community of Care

Building a Community of Care

By Laura Purdy


For the past two years, we have championed mental health awareness at pep. Leaders within various roles have started these difficult and vulnerable conversations by sharing their personal stories of hope, growth, and learning. We now shift from awareness to action, intent on continuing to build a community of care. At the foundation of a community of care, there are three essentials: self-care, care for others, and accepting care yourself. On August 8th, pep held a fireside chat for the entire agency where I sat down with our CEO Ben Seinen, our EVP of Client Growth, Susan Goodyear, and our EVP of Talent and Culture, Leah Schaefer, to discuss this topic and what we can do starting today. Ben, Susan, and Leah have been with pep since the beginning, and as senior leaders, they are committed to cultivating a workplace where everyone can find success and feel they belong.

Each senior leader answered one question, and we started with our Ben Seinen – “How can each of us be accountable to our own role, responsibilities, and self-care AND follow through on the things that show care for our teams and colleagues?”

Ben spent time explaining why none of us can juggle all of these things, all of the time. Through a series of micro decisions each day, we can be intentional about what we can accomplish and what we can pass off or ask for help to complete. This includes being present for our colleagues, prompting an actual response and listening when you ask how someone is doing, relying on your team and network to check in when you are short on time and energy.

He also spoke about knowing our priorities – where we will flex and what is set in our routine. As we build trust with our teams, we can be vulnerable and confide in them, trusting them to support us when we need it and to ask for help with the reverse. pep promotes a culture of honest and transparent communication and values excellence and accountability. These efforts merge as we establish relationships with our teammates and colleagues to develop an environment where each of us fluctuates between self-care, caring for others, and accepting care ourselves.

The next questions went to Susan Goodyear – “Often accepting help is the most difficult of the three types of care. It can be even more difficult when we do not know what help looks like. How can we break down the myth that asking for help shows weakness? And how can we have open conversations with our teams when help is needed?”

In order to accept help, we must first be self-aware, consistently checking in with ourselves and with our teams. We strive to create a culture of psychological safety, so we can allow people to take risks and make mistakes without fear. And our focus is on teamwork, servant leadership, and empathy. With empathy comes the ability to bring our full, vulnerable self to work alongside our colleagues and to say, “we are going to figure it out”. Susan instructs leaders to define pep’s true scope with our clients and to allow team members to grow and develop with our myriad training resources.

For employees who are not comfortable sharing with their leader, we have peer support networks, people operations partners, employee resource groups, and an employee assistance program. Everyone is encouraged to choose development opportunities that will positively impact personal growth and the organization as a whole. Senior leaders at pep utilize modeling to emphasize our purpose and values. Ben chimed in to say that leading by example means, if you expect your team to accept help, you should also accept help. We are all responsible for shaping an environment where, instead of quietly struggling, we start speaking up. We start flexing the muscle until it is strong. One expectation of this conversation, this day, is to start having the tough conversations. We start saying, “I need a break now and need you to step up in these ways, and I’ll do the same for you later”.

My hope is that this conversation rings true for most, but Leah was tasked with answering – “What suggestions do you have for employees who may not feel supported or able to bring their authentic selves to the office or virtual workplace?” Leah encouraged a reflection of why you may not feel supported – is it something you directly experienced, that was said or heard secondhand, or is it related to past trauma? After identifying the root cause of the feeling, utilize our programs – Teladoc Mental Health or the myriad resources in our Employee Assistance Program. Or find someone and start a conversation – a leader, people-team partner, or senior leader. If you are private and prefer to separate work and home life, we encourage talking to someone outside the workplace. We respect the privacy and beliefs of our employees. We do not accept biased or discriminatory language or actions.

As a lovely close to a community building conversation, Ben, Susan, and Leah were asked – “What would you tell yourself on day 1 at pep if you could?” It was no surprise to hear words of encouragement and care that resonate with all of us. Establish boundaries, ask for help, and seek balance. Give yourself grace under pressure. Be compassionate to yourself and others. Enjoy the ride and be present – you’re going to meet the people who are going to be the most influential in your life. Be there for people – make sure they know they are not alone. Don’t shy away from the hard stuff. It was a lovely close to a community building conversation.

For pep, this is only the beginning, and we all play a part at work and in our communities. We can be mindful of our needs and the needs of those around us. We can strive to meet each other halfway. This concept of building a community of care is top of mind and heart for us. We hope it will be for you too.

Let’s get to work.

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