The last year has been tumultuous, and I’ve been so immensely proud of how Blue Shield of California employees mobilized to help our members, communities and people find care and keep safe. As a company, we have continued to demonstrate our commitment to the communities we serve by assisting the state of California with COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.

The opportunities to feel proud are abundant. Doing these amazing things, all while continuing to serve our 4.5 million members, is a lot of work. In addition, this extended period of working from home presents challenges to our employees; we know that many are struggling to balance work and home lives, and the long separation from family, friends and colleagues has left a gaping hole for many.

As a chief human resources officer, it’s my job to think about these things from an organizational perspective—and the mental health of our people has weighed heavily on my mind.

Days like today reaffirm my decision to join Blue Shield of California eight years ago. Today, we announced new practices aimed at creating more “breathing space” for our employees – initiatives aimed at alleviating stress and better supporting their mental health and wellbeing. These include:

  • Additional days off for Memorial Day and Labor Day to create 4-day weekends

  • Summer Fridays (when our workday ends at 2 p.m. on Fridays during the summer)

  • Meeting-free “quiet hours” and “ground rules” that will help keep stress at bay, enabling us to work smarter and stay true to what matters most.

We also held an all-employee town hall this morning with New York Times best-selling author and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb (“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”) as our guest speaker. Her insights on building an emotional immune system, managing children’s anxiety and quieting down enough to hear our own needs were exactly what we needed to hear. Already, the feedback from our employees has been overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude for the acknowledgement of today’s mental health challenges.

I’m so grateful to be part of a leadership team that takes steps like these to protect the wellbeing of our employees. Having the opportunity to collectively recharge is important. High-performing teams need time to rejuvenate, refuel and gain perspective. And keeping an open dialogue about mental health and the challenges we’re experiencing is how we’ll remain true to our values of being human, honest and courageous.

This has been a year of exceptionally rapid change on so many fronts. It hasn’t been easy, and I know this is not unique to our employees at Blue Shield of California. I encourage all employers to consider what they might be able to do systemically to release some pressure on their people. Small gestures can go a long way and all leaders—at all levels—can make a difference.