Case Study: Project Lemonade: Human Capital’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Learning About and Responding to Employee Challenges

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Talent Management Team launched “Project Lemonade” – an initiative to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and create positive outcomes for our workforce. Our Talent Management Team was particularly interested in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our employees and quickly organized to gather diagnostics (e.g. focus groups, surveys) that would provide insight. Through focus groups and pulse surveys, the team quickly ascertained that our employees were grappling with fear and anxiety, economic insecurity, and work-life-home-family balance, particularly as the transition to remote schooling became prevalent.

The Human Capital Development Team continuously tapped into focus groups and surveys until mid-2020, when they began seeing and hearing consistent data.

The Talent Management Team also partnered with the Benefits Team to understand what our employees needed and how we could best support them; they also partnered with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) across the company to expand on the data gathered from surveys with the intention of gathering more detailed information from ERG discussions through voluntary engagement. In particular, they asked our ERGs to ask employees to respond to the following question: What can the company provide you?

The information gathered from the Benefits Team, ERGs, and diagnostics allowed our Talent Management Team to respond by deploying resources to employees. For example, many employees said that their new home workspace was not conducive to working. As such, the team deployed resources to help employees create a work-friendly space at home. Additionally, easily accessible resources on a variety of topics were stored on the company’s intranet site, including manager support guides (PDFs, podcasts, links); employee support guides on how to manage stress, how to set up a home office, and how to flex your day while having children at home (PDFs, podcasts, links); and ERG Connections (communications, kid based contests).

The Talent Management Team also created resources for parents around how to balance supporting family needs (young kids at school, virtual learning) with work needs. Instead of simply drafting a document with our work at home and flexibility policies, the team highlighted stories about how employees were leveraging Cigna’s flexible scheduling policies in order to help managers and employees understand how they could use these policies to their benefit.

Prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the team again convened focus groups so that they could home in on what parents of school-age children would benefit from most as their children headed back to school. The results of these focus groups galvanized Cigna to partner with a tutoring organization, which provided support to employees who needed additional educational resources for their children to prevent them from falling behind.

Supporting Our Leaders

Fairly early in the COVID-19 pandemic, our Talent Management Team realized that Cigna needed to support leaders who were feeling burdened by frequently needing to be emotionally available for their teams while simultaneously performing their work duties and supporting their families emotionally. Using the guiding question, How are leaders being impacted through COVID, the team ran focus groups and gathered employee survey data to understand leaders’ stress, exhaustion, satisfaction, and team connections. The leadership data that our Human Capital Team gathered early in the COVID-19 pandemic laid the groundwork for Project Enablement, which supported the launch of Leader Forums throughout 2020. The forums covered topics such as How to take Care of Yourself and Resilience. These forums empowered our leaders to acknowledge they couldn’t “fix” most of the things occurring in the lives of the people they worked with, but they could work on being deeply empathetic. Additionally, the forums helped leaders understand they needed to focus on self-care. These monthly forums for people managers have continued through 2021.

Other initiatives the Talent Management Team undertook as part of Project Lemonade included creating a one-pager of resources for employees that provided information about health and well-being programs, such as Livongo and WellBeats. The team also monitored what was happening externally by regularly reviewing content from Gartner, Korn Ferry, and the NeuroLearning Institute to compare against trends and conduct gap analyses. Similarly, the team reviewed what other companies were doing and weighed those actions against our own to ensure that were on the forefront in responding to the needs of our diverse workforce.

Creating Positive Outcomes

The Talent Management Team found that one of the best ways to connect with our workforce and tell meaningful stories during the COVID-19 pandemic was through a new employee podcast. The first podcast was entitled “Coping with COVID.” The topic was a hit with employees who craved stories about how other employees were managing to navigate work-life balance during the pandemic. Employees also responded well to the subsequent podcast “What does it mean to be flexible?” In the latter, we discussed blocking time, balancing responsibilities with a spouse, and changing work schedules and hours to accommodate family commitments. Podcast topics initially focused on coping during the COVID-19 pandemic but naturally evolved to focus on other salient topics. For example, social justice issues were highlighted on the podcast as were various departments within the company.