August Free Days: Genesys Leads Through Crisis with Empathy

In early March 2020, when the world shifted to working remotely, many employees packed up their laptops and headed to a home office — some to impeccably designed workspaces and others to makeshift stations at the kitchen table. But few envisioned this would become the status quo nearly five months later. As employees adjusted to this new-to-many work-from-home model, they tended to clock longer hours — logging on earlier in the morning and signing off later in the night. And while companies have benefited from increased worker productivity as a result, the mental well-being of employees has also become a concern. The Genesys Executive Team understands this — and stepped in to help.

I spoke with Eva Majercsik, Chief People Officer at Genesys, to discuss how current world events affect workers across the globe and what Genesys is doing to keep its employees engaged and happy — and to alleviate some of that stress.

As Chief People Officer at Genesys, what has been your primary focus in 2020?

Eva Majercsik: I’m relatively new to Genesys, so my immediate focus has been to get to know the company, learn the strategy and become familiar with the HR function here. My next step was to identify immediate priorities. But most importantly, and looking to the future, I’m focusing on building a comprehensive People Strategy that aligns with the Genesys overall strategy so that everything we do supports that.

Ideally, I would like to have the Genesys People Strategy locked down before the end of this year. My approach is to create a North Star for the function in collaboration with my team, have this reviewed and agreed upon by the business, and then publish in a very consumable manner. This will provide the direction and ensure that everything we do as an HR function going forward will support this strategy.

This year has been different than any other for companies and employees. What is the emotional state of employees during this unique time?

Eva: That’s a really hard question because there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. I think that all of us, and I include myself in this spectrum, have gone through a myriad of emotions and awareness. At first, it was adjusting to the fact that we’re working from home and we’re not socializing with each other as much. Adjusting to all that was the start and then we got into a rhythm. But suddenly, we’re getting to the point of getting tired. We want to go on vacation, but we don’t know where. We want to meet our friends, but we’re afraid of getting sick. We’re worried for our loved ones. I think we’re in a very fluctuating reality.

One of the things that concerns me the most is the emotional and mental well-being of our employees, which is why we’re trying to create an environment with as much flexibility as we can. Genesys as a company leads with empathy, and we strive to create an environment where we put our employees first and provide them with well-being resources. We also understand that people need to wade through lots of, often times conflicting, information. When faced with situations like this, employees look at their employers as a trusted source of information, so we’ve doubled down on frequent communication to our employees. Lastly, we realize that our teams are working extremely hard and we need to create an environment where employees can take disconnected time off. This is what prompted us to create the “August Free Days” this year, giving employees every Friday off in August.

Can you tell me a little bit more about August Free Days? How did the idea come about — and what are you encouraging employees to do during those days?

Eva: We’re acknowledging that people are working extremely hard. We’ve conducted surveys and they show that over almost 80% of the population – not just at Genesys, but across the board — feel that they’re being more productive while working remotely. But, with that increased productivity come a lot of challenges. How do you create boundaries between your personal and your work life? You might feel like you have to work all day — or you want to — because sometimes you don’t have anything else to do. That all really leads to fatigue — mental and emotional.

We were wondering what we could do. Do we give a week off, a day off, what would be the best solution for everyone globally? We decided that a good way to inject and encourage some additional rest would be to give employees a three-day weekend each week in August. We’re going to remind everyone – and the Genesys Executive team is going to lead by example – the only rule is no email. We really want people to disconnect so that, on Monday, you can actually start the week fresh.

What do you plan to do with your August Free Days?

Eva: I’ll take long walks and spend time with my family. I’ll work out, I’ll read a lot, I’ll organize my storage room (which has been on my “to do” list for a while). It’s just doing nothing. It’ll be hard; we’re always in catch-up mode and always thinking ‘If I just had one more hour to clean out my email….’ But I’m going to try to teach myself not to do that. And I have a son and a daughter who remind me not to do that all of the time.

As important as it is to work, it’s so important to take the time to step back and refresh because then you come in with a new energy. I love to work out; I exercise and train a lot. And, as an athlete, you know that as important as it is to exercise, it’s just as important to take that rest or recovery day. You need to recover. I equate it to that.

What other ways can companies keep their employees engaged and happy at work year-round? How should those efforts shift during moments of crisis?

Eva: At the end of the day, engagement is so important. Regardless of where you are, one of the things that struck me in coming to Genesys is the way leadership communicates with employees in a very honest and transparent way — with empathy. All humans appreciate honest communication and timely feedback, especially in times of uncertainty. That goes a long way in keeping employees engaged. They feel that the leaders and the company care about them, not just as employees but also as humans. That makes all the difference.

Mental fatigue is probably one of our biggest challenges. There’s no line of sight to the end. This has been a stressful year — starting with natural disasters, such as the wildfires in Australia, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to social unrest. We’ve been hit by a number of things globally. So, let’s not underestimate the importance of taking care of ourselves and using all of the resources that, as a company, we put out to help people. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or reach out. But most, importantly, focus on taking care of yourself. Just take care of you.