At the beginning of the pandemic, Shannon Sutton took action to keep First Carolina Bank employees safe. As the HR manager, she worked with the executive team to create a list of minutes.

Before Sutton split everything across all six branches of the $ 934 million bank, however, she asked her own employees to weigh up what they would need to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Their answers changed their approach.

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“The greatest thing we can do for people is listen to their concerns and preferences,” said Sutton. “After we made this list, we presented it and the end result was that we scraped off about half of it.”

While the logs were meant to maximize security, they also got in the way of employees trying to do their jobs well, Sutton said. For example, adding plexiglass to the checkout stations caused employees to walk around while working on paperwork with customers. The barriers have been removed and instead a limit of two customers has been set at the same time.

“It’s the little details that we as leaders don’t think about because we don’t do this day-to-day job,” she said.

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First Carolina’s chief operating officer, Kristen Brabble, was a branch manager nine years ago, running Sutton.

“Shannon started out as a cashier and now leads Human Resources as the general manager,” said Brabble, who recognized Sutton’s potential early on and nurtured her talent. Sutton recalled how Brabble encouraged her to take on stretch assignments that expanded her skills and resulted in multiple promotions.

Running a bank’s human resources department is not an easy task, especially during a pandemic, Brabble said. Still, Sutton continually goes beyond her day-to-day work – which includes projects like working with business leaders to create a new market reporting process – to find creative ways to support and retain employees, she said.

Sutton is interested in holistic wellbeing, which helped inform one of her recent initiatives. One wellness challenge she implemented for 2020 gives employees two goals per quarter, one with an emphasis on physical health (like drinking water or walking) and one with an emphasis on emotional health (like meditation or a 15-minute daily break).

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“We developed this program specifically for our employees. So that’s not going to work if you take it to the bank later and ask them to implement it, ”said Sutton, delighted that employee participation continues to grow. “When you see your colleagues enjoying these challenges, the numbers increase every week.”

Sutton also led the establishment of a cultural committee to bring staff together with virtual events amid the stress and isolation of the pandemic. She said employees value these networking opportunities.

From their point of view, their overriding goal is to build a “culture of encouragement”.

“Your company will only be as strong as your least satisfied team member,” said Sutton.

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