Meet Mary Teresa: Making Connections in the Workplace Day-After-Day
When employees struggle at home, they often bring that stress into the workplace, affecting job performance and workplace employee retention. That's where people like Mary Teresa come in. Mary Teresa is the Resource Coordintor for Work/Life Solutions, United Way's innovative program designed to help employees with issues that arise outside of the workplace. By physically setting up shop in participating worksites, she's just a short walk away from connecting employees to the resources they need at home.
We sat down with Mary Teresa to learn more about what her typical day looks like.
What does a typical day look like for you on-site?
I can honestly say that there is no typical day. As the Work/Life Solutions Resource Coordinator I have learned that flexibility is a must. My days onsite at our participating employer locations can be a mix of scheduled back-to-back employee meetings, drop-ins, and spending my time in shared spaces such as employee break rooms or clock-in areas. This mix allows employees to access services the way that they feel most comfortable while maintaining visibility and increasing awareness of the program. Conversation and relationship building allow me to explain and frame the program services in a way that makes the employees say, "Oh, can we talk? I didn't know the program could help with that!"
Are people hesitant to connect? Do you get to know people?
Yes and no. There were people that heard about Work/Life Solutions and immediately reached out, while others were a bit hesitant. In addition to flexibility, the relationship building aspect is another essential piece of the Resource Coordinator role. I get to know people and I let people get to know me. Building a foundation helps to establish trust. I think trust makes it easier for people to reach out and open up. In some instances they don't need to necessarily seek services, I am able to identify a need through casual conversation. For example, I was in the breakroom at one of our employers one day, chatting with employees and was exposed to a discussion between two co-workers where one was sharing that he had not been able to access his usual method for tax-filing. He was frustrated and nervous that he would not have time to get them filed, he didn’t know where to go and he was concerned about the cost. This employee was initially resistant to the program, however, I approached him and offered to identify VITA tax sites that were still open. The employee was surprised and said he did not know this was something Work/Life Solutions could help him with. Together, we were able to identify a free tax preparation site that was open and close to the employee’s home. Equipped with a list of documents the employee would need for the appointment, they were able to file on time, for free, with a whole new outlook on the Work/Life Solutions program offered by their employer. The happiest part of this ending for me: this employee engages with me weekly now.
Are there particular moments with employees that inspire you?
There have been so many inspiring moments since we launched in January 2019, the list is extensive! I think what is most inspiring is the grit and determination of the Buffalo workforce. Already I have supported employees of all levels and backgrounds through some extremely challenging and emotional situations. Despite the personal obstacles that the Buffalo workforce faces in their lives outside of work, they pull it together, brush themselves off, and show up. That is inspiring.
An employee was facing eviction in less than 72 hours after a slew of unexpected circumstances catalyzed the urgency of the situation they were facing. Even if they would have not been eligible for the Work/Life Solutions Loan and Savings Program, they were happy with whatever time I could spend to listen, help prioritize, and resources I could link them to. We strategized and identified avenues to provide support through the immediate weekend including shelters, as well as personal relationships; resources the employee was not able to consider initially in a state of such stress and frustration. They were truly grateful for our time working together, the space to acknowledge the stresses, and a helping hand to help them get organized. Though they were visibly upset and understandably so, they never once became frustrated or rude. They were confident they were going to figure out their situation and were willing to do whatever they needed to in the meantime. In the end, they were eligible for the Loan & Savings Program, were able to pay the outstanding balance owed, avoid eviction and now remain stable in their housing, but what was truly inspiring in this moment was their demeanor and drive. They have since maintained contact, sought and utilized referrals to further stabilize and address the peripheral obstacles that contributed to their situation.
What do you like the most about your job?
Connecting with people, hearing their stories and building relationships. I am an employee of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County but I feel just as much a part of the team at Evans Bank, SoPark, MoldTech and HighPointe on Michigan: a Kaleida Facility. I enjoy seeing the same familiar faces, receiving updates on people’s lives and the “aha! moments” when I reach someone new. That is why I love my job, the people I work to support make it so enjoyable.
Why is Work/Life Solutions so important? Does it make a difference for employees and employers?
Work/Life Solutions is so important because it is making a difference for employees, employers and the Buffalo community. Employees have shared that they feel valued and are appreciative that such support is available to them; being connected to the programs and resources that exist in their communities, they are being bolstered and empowered to enjoy their highest possible quality of life.
Our employers have also shared a feeling of confidence in offering the program, observing a noticeable positive change in the demeanor of their employees. They are often surprised to learn about the range of obstacles their workforce faces, it really brings a new perspective to the table
When you see successes, how does it make you feel?
Fired up and moved! There is honestly no better feeling than seeing or hearing from an employee a day or week after our meeting. There are visible changes. They are walking with their heads up, there is a light in their eyes, there is pep in their voice and they’re excited to be coming into my office or calling me. It brings a smile to my face, and I will admit, sometimes tears to my eyes. There have been employees able to avoid homelessness, employees able to get connected with affordable child care, employees that have received a benefit they did not know they were eligible for, employees that obtain housing on their own and are no longer dependent on family, and so many more. One success I love sharing is that one employee who borrowed the Work/Life Solutions loan shared that they had paid it back in full, early. They were so excited to share that it was the first loan they had ever paid off that they even took a selfie with the bank teller. They saved on interest and were confident in increasing the amount of money they were putting into their savings as well.
What do you want people to know about this program?
It can be difficult to fully express the service offerings of Work/Life Solutions in one interaction. People will often walk away with their own interpretation of what the program is, usually saying “Oh yeah, the Loan Program.”
To this we say, “It is SO much more than a loan program!”
The Work/Life Solutions Loan & Savings Program has a very particular purpose: to help employees cover unexpected expenses without turning to predatory payday lenders or taking money out of 401k. It enables employees to avoid hardship and build credit and savings, but the Work/Life Solutions program as a whole has such a wider scope. We are there to help an employee with all personal life issues, financial or otherwise, anything and everything that could add stress and prevent them from focusing on, or showing up to work.
There was an employee who needed a full roof repair and they knew the Work/Life Solutions Loan & Savings Program would not be enough to offset the costs. Out of curiosity they asked if I knew of any programs that may be able to help them out. Utilizing the resources available to me, including our extensive database of searchable programs and resources and a personal connection with a local community partner, the employee was able to link up with an obscure program that they happened to be uniquely eligible for that is going to cover their roof repair in full! I am always encouraging people to just ask. Not all situations are financial. Even if they know what they want to do about their situation or they do not have any interest in a loan, just ask!
Learn more about Work/Life Solutions here.