Employee Engagement Through Respect

October 22, 2020

Employee Engagement Through Respect

It’s safe to say that we could have never predicted that 2020 would bring a global pandemic. From my own personal perspective, coronavirus and its myriad societal and health effects is the most complex situation I’ve faced during my 20-year career in human resources. As new details emerged about COVID-19, and companies started implementing action plans, I’m proud that Avanir Pharmaceuticals is being strategic and timely in our response and following the advice of local, state and federal entities and an infectious disease expert about how to keep our employees and their families safe. 

While logistical details and instructions were being rolled out almost daily, I found myself focusing on the human aspects of this pandemic. I started strategizing with my team, our executive leaders and human resources colleagues throughout Orange County about how we can help employees feel engaged, heard and respected during this time of uncertainty. 

In the midst of uncertainty and ever-changing situations, there remained one unchanging fact for Avanir that continued to shine: our corporate values of serving together, achieving with integrity, rising to the challenge while energizing each other were steadfast. More than ever, we are committed to demonstrating our values in a safe and responsible way that amplifies the respect we have for our employees—and one another.

Employee Engagement 

Staying connected with all of our employees has always been very important for Avanir. During the pandemic, I’ve seen employees navigate through uncertainties in their own lives, including feeling concerned for their health and the health of their loved ones. This situation has required us as leaders to demonstrate a new level of empathy and help employees when concerns arise. Our employees want to know their leaders are here for them.

To effectively engage as leaders, we started holding virtual check-ins for work teams, implemented bi-weekly all-company COVID-19 town halls to communicate important announcements, created COVID-19 taskforces that share weekly updates via email to all employees, and even kicked off virtual happy hours with our work teams to help them stay connected on those social water-cooler topics that go beyond the work itself. 

Communicating with Transparency 

Being transparent in our communication and conveying as much information as possible has been crucial during this time. With Avanir having both a corporate office of employees and field-based personnel, it was important to tailor some of our communication specifically to each group of employees. During our two-way communication and updates with our field-based team members, we’ve learned that many of our customers who are healthcare professionals have been receptive to communicating virtually with our field-based team. We’re constantly working to improve effective field communication in this ever-changing environment. 

Re-integration and Safe Return to Work 

Our COVID-19 re-integration taskforce meets several times each week to discuss what re-integration into the Avanir workplace is going to look like for various employees. Our first phase of re-integration for corporate staff at our headquarters office consists of approximately 25 percent of our employees who have elected to come back to the office. 

Before their return, we ensured that not only those returning employees, but everyone at Avanir completed a mandatory “Safe Re-Integration into Corporate Headquarters and the Field” digital interactive training, which detailed new safety protocols and procedures outlined by local, state and federal officials and by Avanir. We also issued personal protective equipment to all personnel, and asked they complete daily temperature checks at the entry of our headquarters before heading to their workstations.

In the digital training, our employees learned about the most common symptoms of COVID-19, safe work practices and proper hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus, and proper cleaning procedures and safety practices for common areas of the office. As employees return to their workstations, our top priority is ensuring that they are in a safe and comfortable environment in which they can effectively perform their duties. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that the pandemic will continue to bring new challenges. I’m also sure that as a human resources leader, a parent and a community member, I’ll be called upon to uphold and role model our Avanir values. I feel grateful to be part of a company culture that truly lives out our strong values—for each employee, our families, our community and the patients and caregivers we serve. We remain passionately committed to care. 


(Pictured above left to right: Lisa Locklear, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; Linda MacDonald, Vice President and Chief Operations Officer; Dalal Hasan, Director, Compliance Investigations; Aneta Ferguson, Executive Director, General Counsel; Kelly Parker, Executive Director, Chief People Officer; Behnaz Zahedi-Vash, Director, R&D Program Management; Nadine Knowles, Executive Director, R&D Operations)

The Authors: 

Kelly Parker is Executive Director and Chief People Officer of Avanir Pharmaceuticals.