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Top Workplaces 2021: These Tampa Bay businesses prioritized staff’s mental health

Charitable giving, an employee aid fund and a virtual support group are some of the ways these employers stepped up.
Dental hygienist, Alesia Rockwell, checks notes before treating a patient at Klement Family Dental on March 8 in St. Petersburg.
Dental hygienist, Alesia Rockwell, checks notes before treating a patient at Klement Family Dental on March 8 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Mar. 26
Updated Mar. 26

Every year around Thanksgiving, the employees of Tampa-based American Integrity Insurance have gone out for a meal and decided on charitable causes where they’d like to donate. Each person gets $50 of imaginary money, and their tables must collectively decide on the recipients.

Then those gifts turn from imaginary to real — because the CEO, Robert Ritchie, or members of the company’s board, write checks from their personal accounts.

In 2020, the event was moved online, but its sentiment felt even more important, employees said. The company calls it the Gratitude Gathering, and it resulted in about $10,000 in donations last year.

“When we look at what’s happening with civil unrest, political divisions, fear for our health ... we have the blessing and the opportunity to take a minute and reflect on what we’re grateful for, but also give to others,” said Angie Quinn, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at American Integrity Insurance.

“It gives you a minute to take a breath, not worry about your emails and ... feel really good you can help people with greater needs than you.”

Read more: Tampa Bay’s top small workplaces in 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has created a long list of new issues for workplaces to navigate, one of which is the pervasive burnout and anxiety among staff who may struggle to keep work-life balance while clocking in at home, or are worried about the health of their loved ones.

Several local companies on the list of this year’s Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces found creative ways to prioritize their staff’s mental health by either adjusting pre-existing programs or by providing completely new resources.

Dree Jenkins, a product manager at American Integrity Insurance, said that her table agreed to donate their share to a family she knows that was already struggling pre-pandemic, and then the mother lost her job.

“That’s the type of people we have there,” she said. ”Everyone just seems very appreciative, there’s an atmosphere of gratitude. I know it doesn’t sound real, but that’s how most employees there are.”

Of course, not every employer was able to shift their operations digitally during the pandemic-caused shutdowns.

When everything ground to a halt in March 2020, Klement Family Dental in St. Petersburg was restricted from seeing patients for any treatments except emergencies. That meant dramatically shrinking hours and furloughing and laying off staff.

“One of the things we as a company have always taken so seriously is our commitment to our team, because we feel that’s what makes us great,” said Beth Klement, the dentistry’s CEO. “It just broke my heart.”

Read more: Can working from home mean working outside of Florida?

Klement knew that people had been struggling to collect unemployment benefits. So to lessen the financial sting for her employees, she gave them either $2,000 or $1,000 each, depending on how long they’d worked there, by personally donating to and partnering with a nonprofit, she said.

Now, the dentistry has been able to re-hire all staff who wanted to come back. But in case employees experience future financial crises, Klement Family Dental recently established an employee assistance fund, which staff can contribute to via a voluntary paycheck deduction.

“We know how financial concerns can so affect mental health and all the issues they were dealing with related to caring for their families, their kids, homeschooling, health concerns, etcetera, etcetera,” Klement said. “It takes the pressure off, the fact that they know this is available that people here care enough to make a contribution.”

Brianna Pannullo, patient coordinator at Klement Family Dental, works behind the front desk March 8 in St. Petersburg.
Brianna Pannullo, patient coordinator at Klement Family Dental, works behind the front desk March 8 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Metropolitan Ministries, the Tampa-based nonprofit that helps homeless and at-risk families, has used some of its own employees’ expertise on counseling through trauma to help staff. The charity has held weekly virtual support group sessions for employees, some of whom work in the charity’s homeless shelter, and see firsthand some of the devastating effects the pandemic has had on people.

“We’ve been mindful of the impact of vicarious trauma on all our frontline staff,” said Keri Thatcher, vice president of human resources. “We talk about the different types of safety, physical safety being important and the pandemic has been threatening that physical safety, but also with isolation the social supports aren’t there like they used to be.”

Read more: How Clearwater’s Monin syrup company bounced back fast from COVID-19

Melissa Oliver, who teaches parenting classes at Metropolitan Ministries, said she regularly attends the support group and it has helped her prioritize self-care during the past year. Her classes have all shifted online during the pandemic, which left her feeling “miserable” and isolated from her co-workers.

“It’s a time during the workday where I can take time away from what I’m doing and vent, and know people will listen and not judge me and understand where I’m coming from,” she said.

Just having the weekly session on the calendar has been a reminder that “I don’t have to feel guilty about not working during that time,” Oliver added. “I think that’s led me into being able to branch that out into the week like, ‘Yes, you can take breaks.’”