Employee Experience

The Hartford’s Director of Employee Experience on the need for a flexible work environment

In this installment of our Employee Experience Visionaries series, we hear from Rick Fountain, Director of Employee Experience at The Hartford, about:

  • How telling stories has shaped his employee experience.
  • Why only companies that are flexible will attract the future generations of talent.
  • The ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas his human resources (HR) peers are trying—and the one he’s most excited about this year.

On his best employee experience

“The stories we tell our employees about the history of our company really make an impact.”

This year marks 18 years for me with The Hartford, all of which have been in HR in our home office. We have a long, rich history with museum spaces in our Hartford, Conn., headquarters displaying several artifacts telling our company’s story. I’m delighted to serve as our lead tour guide. The tours we give employees on their first day at The Hartford make a lasting impression.

We recently conducted our annual employee survey with Qualtrics and one employee gave us feedback that our company should look to its roots for inspiration. As an example, the employee told a story about one of The Hartford’s first presidents that demonstrated his innovative spirit over 200 years ago—the very story that we tell during our tours! I shared this anecdote with my fellow tour guides to illustrate how the stories we tell on day one really make an impact on our employees.

On his passion for employee experience

“I’m most excited that there’s such a focus on how people are experiencing a company—and the efforts behind trying to improve that.”

HR today is much more people-centric. When I used to say “I work in HR,” people immediately thought “hiring and firing.” Now, there’s so much more focus on the employee, and rightly so. I’ve always been an advocate for the employee, so seeing the shift to measure and support employee experience is both exciting and encouraging. Ten years ago there was no such thing as employee experience, and now it’s a strategic HR objective for so many organizations, including ours.

My favorite thing about the employee experience space is that I’m able to meld my creative skills with my background in HR information systems. It’s also one of the things I love about the Qualtrics platform; we’re now able to collect data and report out analyses—with visualizations—on what our people are thinking and feeling about their employee experience.

On the future of work

“We’ll need to consider the work environment more than ever before. As an employer, we’ll need to be flexible.”

The future of work is going to be about employers adapting to people’s lives. Given these unprecedented times and how it’s affecting everyone, flexibility and work environment will be more important than ever. In addition, since automation and AI continue to evolve, reskilling employees for the jobs that will be needed in the future will be another focus area for a lot of companies.

On acting on employee feedback

We’ve done a lot of work with our front-line call center roles—which are the face of the company to the majority of our customers. We’ve conducted focus groups and worked with predictive models to improve the experience for this mission-critical employee population.

From this process we’ve learned that some outdated policies—like those around tardiness—needed to be modernized. So, we’ve instituted a managing-with-discretion program for leaders to help them use judgment in applying company policies. It’s been a culture change for managers, but our engagement scores have gone up and attrition numbers are improving significantly. It’s rewarding to see things improve, but there’s always room for continual improvement.

On his favorite book for leadership

“Getting creative—and understanding what motivates each individual employee—is part of the secret sauce for managers.”

Recognition is an important part of employee engagement. I’m always trying to think of creative ways to motivate employees outside of salary and Bob Nelson’s book 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees is a great resource.

On pushing the boundaries of HR

“I always want to know what my peers are doing, what new thing did they try—and most importantly, what worked!”

I like to know what unorthodox ideas other HR leaders have tried. As in: “Really, you don’t have performance reviews?!”

This year, The Hartford will pilot an always-on feedback mechanism via our company intranet. For us, it’s an innovative way to hear from our employees throughout the year, not just at annual survey time. It’s a goal of mine to be better at demonstrating to employees: “We took this action because we heard from you.”

On the biggest obstacle he faced in his role

My greatest challenge has been determining what my career objective is: Is it to get promoted? Or, is it to do something I love? Striving towards something that’s ultimately not going to make you happy will only create more obstacles. Instead, you need to find what gives you energy.

Career achievement, to me, looks like being the person others look to for answers and being a respected thought partner. Once I figured that out, I was able to direct my energy towards accomplishing my own goals—not the ones others assumed I had.

On his personal mantra

“Keep things in perspective.”


Free eBook: 4 Pillars of Employee Experience Success