Retention Strategies In Uncertain Times With Mary Rusterholz of Constant Contact

Imagine you had a playbook to navigate employee retention in the most uncertain of times. Well, consider this episode your guide as we sit down with Mary Rusterholtz from Constant Contact. Mary dives into how they adapted to the pandemic, ensuring their employees remained the heart of the organization. She highlights the creative changes they made to their benefits, development opportunities, and affinity groups. She also introduces us to their inspiring initiative – “Remote with a Purpose” – a testament to their dedication to the well-being and growth of their staff amidst the chaos.

But the conversation doesn’t stop there. Mary enlightens us on how Constant Contact ensures their new hires have the resources they need to thrive from day one. From connecting employees who start on the same day to conducting 30-day surveys, it’s evident they’ve re-imagined the onboarding process. She also speaks on their expansion of mental health and wellness benefits, emphasizing the importance of an environment that nurtures continuous improvement and inclusivity. And to top it off, we delve into the success of their new programs and affinity groups – initiatives that have significantly contributed to employee retention and engagement. Whether you’re an HR professional, a team lead, or simply interested in effective employee retention strategies, this episode is brimming with insights you don’t want to miss.

Listening Time: 24 minutes

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Mary Rusterholz
Chief People Officer Constant Contact

High energy global HR Executive and trusted business partner with demonstrated success across the full spectrum of human resources, strategic planning, system implementation and project management with P&L accountability and organizational design/development. Proven management experience within startups, M&A, growth, and downturn environments.


Retention Strategies In Uncertain Times With Mary Rusterholz of Constant Contact

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Say, we have Mary on from Constant Contact and our topic today is retention strategies in uncertain times, which of course, we’re living in or right now. So this is a great topic. Mary, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and constant contact.

Mary Rusterholz: Absolutely. My name is Mary Restal. I have the pleasure of leading the people function at Constant Contact. And Constant Contact is an organization that supports small and medium businesses. We have hundreds of thousands of customers, and having the right people in place to do that support is absolutely critical.

William Tincup: And I’ve used Cons Deck. Good god, it’s been a hundred years ago, but a won such a wonderful company. Where are y’all? Where are y’all headquartered? Not that it matters these days, but we’re

Mary Rusterholz: headquartered in Walt and Mass. That’s what I thought. We also have an office in downtown Boston, a great office in [00:01:00] Loveland, Colorado, one in Gainesville, and a recent office up in Canada with commuter tech, so Oh,

William Tincup: interesting.

Do now. Obviously we went through covid, so work has changed clearly. And everybody, I think it was like a Wednesday, everybody went home on a Wednesday and whether or not they were gonna go back to an office ever again was probably questionable. But how did you deal with that?

How did you, how,

Mary Rusterholz: to your point I know the whole world had a pivot in what seemed like 24 hours and go through the lunacy of how do we work at home and Organization really did a phenomenal job, employees, and I think leaders alike at making that transition. Working through, are we ever coming back?

Are we not finding creative ways to keep people engaged? A time of uncertainty for their families, their extended families. The nice part is we’re on the other side now, of the pandemic, and then the challenge [00:02:00] becomes how do you keep people engaged? How do you support them?

How do you get them back to the office, not as it was, right? I do believe one of the benefits, if that’s even an appropriate word to use for any part of the pandemic, is organizations and HR learned a lot. We learned what employees need more of. We learned that we could be a little bit more creative, and I think that’s been a phenomenal part of kind of the coming out of the dark, as I like to say.

William Tincup: I think it’s was fascinating for me is. To see the rest of the organization, see how important HR was. Like, I think, probably like everyone else suffered through the seat at the table thing for about 30 years. And this idea, especially early on in the pandemic, it’s like, what are we going to do with our people?

Everyone looked at hr and HR was like, all right, this is what we’re gonna do. [00:03:00] So even not knowing like what was gonna go on, it just seemed like HR Rose. To the occasion, and I think it, it helped us. I don’t know, it’s crazy to think about like this it helped our internal brand.

Mary Rusterholz: Absolutely.

And we had to think beyond employees. We had to employees the whole person. It wasn’t simply what employees did for their job. It was what did they need? Or themselves, whether it was mental health support for their families, being creative and sending all kinds of creative links of how do you keep your two and four year old, entertained and engaged, when you’re in the middle of a meeting.

So I do think. HR was challenged, but did rise to the occasion. Of course, that’s a little self-promoting. No, I, but I’m really proud of the industry as well as the teams that I’ve had the chance to work with through.

William Tincup: So how do we engage folks now, and [00:04:00] again, I guess you could bifurcate that with different types of employees and different generations and things like that.

But like we’ve talked about retention before pre covid. We talked about retention, we talked about rewards and recognition. We talked about six session, compensation, recruiting, like the, these aren’t new concepts. For a lot of us. But I think there, there is a rethinking of, okay, what is recognition or what is, or how do we retain people

Mary Rusterholz: now and ex because expectations have changed.

You’re right, we’ve had to be very creative. We wanna find that balance. We wanna recognize that the need for flexibility is at an all time high, and that flexibility comes in. Do they have to come to the office or how often do they have to come to the office? How do we continue to develop people?

Development and the desire to grow has not changed. So what we’ve done is we’ve been creative. Number one, we lean in talk to us what’s important to you. [00:05:00] We use our annual survey and our poll survey and that feedback has been phenomenal in mo modeling what we do next. We expanded our benefits to include much more intense mental health support, which was important.

We accelerated and rebranded our online learning platform to ensure that the employees have access to development, whether they want to be an individual contributor or the ceo. How do we help them do that? We’ve really put a lot of time and energy and support into our affinity groups. So that employees have communities, whatever those communities need to be for them.

Whether it’s our ABLE team, our women’s group we have 10 really active affinity groups who get involved and support our employees and phenomenal resources. They help support our volunteer activities cuz we still wanna be part of our communities. So we’ve done a host of different [00:06:00] things to make sure that the employees still feel that connection and yet we are encouraging our employees to come in when they can.

What we had called Remote with a purpose about eight months ago, and now it’s evolving into, maybe Wednesdays. Come in, see people again. And it’s so fun to see the energy that happens with people like, I haven’t seen you in so long. And they’re sitting down and they’re collaborating.

And they’re brainstorming, right? So I think I always say to people that I speak to in the industry, be willing to be creative. And

William Tincup: lean. Yeah, it’s radical flexibility, which is something that, that really, at the beginning of Covid, everything was on the table. I wanna go through some of these. So with flexibility, let’s just talk, we’ll just go through each one of ’em.

How do you convey that both to employees. This is a, it is a benefit truly but also to the people that you’re recruiting. So the candidates that are, that you’d like to acquire you want to [00:07:00] convey how how constant contact goes about flexibility, thinks about flexibility, puts flexibility into everything that they do, et cetera.

How do you, I’d say market, it’s probably not market, but maybe it’s more communicate than it. Y’all are actual flexible.

Mary Rusterholz: That has changed, multiple times over the last two years. During the height of the pandemic, we were hiring people remotely. As we’ve gotten closer to the other side, we share with them upfront if you’re within the proximity of an office.

We do. We host events, team building. We wanna encourage the functional groups to get together. But it’s not a five day a week world. And we share that with them. We also share with them, we want them to be whole people. So if you’re scheduled to be in on a Wednesday and your child or sibling has a soccer game and you really wanna be there, we’re gonna treat you like adults because we expect you to behave like an adult.

So it’s very [00:08:00] much through the discussion. And the sharing. If somebody says, I never wanna come into the office, ever, and they’re, three miles down the road, we share with them the downside of that, you don’t develop those same relationships you’re gonna miss out on the annual company kickoff. So conversation goes a long way.


William Tincup: And obviously, you’ve tried some things and we’ll get into that. But, most of what happens in HR is it’s you try something and it works, it sticks and and then you do it and you’re either expand it or something like that, or you try something and it doesn’t work, which I think there’s not a lot of people that are outside of HR that know that happens.

But there’s a lot of trial and error. Programmatically with things that, yeah, we tried thought the best yeah. Mentor program, like we rolled it out, it looked good, it looked gorgeous, and and it just didn’t work out or whatever the bit is. So flexibility, I think is, it’s one of those, and I wanna go through all these, but when you’re thinking about development, [00:09:00] Of employees it’s also important to candidates.

I know that on the front end, that’s a lot of what people are asking for when the, but when they’re looking at a job, is how you’re gonna develop me? Are y’all thinking that in, in are you thinking that about more about skills these days than you were probably pre covid?

Mary Rusterholz: I think so. I think it’s a much more intentional effort.

Yeah. Prior to Covid it was like, yes, of course we’re committed and we were, I. But the demands and the changes of the workforce have really required everyone to get more purposeful. So when we speak to performance management, it’s not an event, it’s a journey. Everything from the goals when you start to the check-ins to we do stay interviews with employees.

Yeah. Which we find equally beneficial to exit. Oh, that’s cool. Then we talk about the tools that are available to them. What do you wanna be when you grow up? For example, quarter [00:10:00] to this year we do quarterly check-ins with employees. It’s very much focused on career. What type of skills do you wanna get access to?

What type of experiences, and we’re trying to get people to shift away from growth is vertical only and title driven. Versus I. I really wanna become a Tableau expert, right? And I happen to be in an area that I don’t even touch. Tableau. All right? How do we get you that exposure? Or it’s experiential.

I want to better understand financials. Let’s pull you into the budget process next year so you can see how that works. It used to be all training was sexy, and you went to a hotel and you sat in a room for 16 hours, right? That’s not realistic any longer. No. Nor interesting to people. So finding ways to do teach-ins.

If an employee does have an opportunity to go to a conference, have he or she come back [00:11:00] and do a teach-in with their team? Here’s what I learned, whether it’s soft skills, technical skills, project management, Reeses, whatever it might be, it’s a great way to get people. Involved in training others as well.

I love

William Tincup: that. I have a question about stay interviews because I’ve historically been against stay interviews, but I’ll leave my bias at the door. And because you’ve had a good experience with, I wanna find out what’s the most, I don’t know, important or what’s, what was something that you learned that you didn’t know was going on, like that really helped, gave you insight?

Or you might not have had that insight?

Mary Rusterholz: One of the most recent was with a manager who had some new employees on their team, and they said, I didn’t really understand the timing of how to set their goals and what I needed to do, and this was a relatively new manager long tenure with the company, but new to managing people that it was just [00:12:00] great input for us.

The onboarding process, we better reach out to the manager to make sure he or she knows how to set a new person’s goals, how to capture them in the system. It was not brain surgery, but it was absolutely critical input from an HR perspective. So those types of things. And it so often it’s the little nuggets of knowledge that build a really good process.

This past year, for example, we redid our entire onboarding to make sure there was great touch points, and those little pieces were part of that. I love

William Tincup: that. So take me into the onboarding process. What did, do you, did you do more or have you moved to more of a pre-boarding or thought rethought of onboarding in terms of remote employees and things like that?

Like what, without getting into all the details of what you changed, but just it’s a kind of a fascinating process to me to redo and rethink.

Mary Rusterholz: It was a combination of everything from they’ve accepted and let’s [00:13:00] say they’re not starting for four weeks. You don’t wanna go silent, right?

So don’t just send them the paperwork send them a welcome video. Tell them the paperwork that’s going to be coming, share when their computer’s going to be arriving. Give them insight into their first week, their first month. We refined when new employees start, they have a graduating class. So if we have 10 employees that start on the same day, we connect them through a separate Slack channel.

So those questions that they probably got answered, but they don’t remember the answer and they don’t wanna reach out, they go to somebody in their graduating class. Who was that lady in hr? Great. And again, making it easier for them to access information. We also do, formal 30 day surveys, just the whole survey, right?

Knowing what did you learn? What did we miss?

William Tincup: And are those anonymous? Are they tethered to a profile or does it [00:14:00] matter?

Mary Rusterholz: We send ’em directly to the employee. We do normal pulse surveys anonymously, but we tell ’em upfront, we’re gonna ask you to help us. Cuz continuous improvement is the one thing we’re we believe in.

So if you can give us a nugget, something we miss, something could have been better share that and we put it into our process. Oh, that’s fantastic. And it doesn’t mean that if somebody says I wanted chocolate instead of, candy. But it means that every time there’s information, as I always say, I put it into the blender Then we can use that.

William Tincup: I love that. How long have you, are you thinking right now onboarding? Cuz I guess you and I would’ve grown up when onboarding was a day or a binder, something very specific. But it, the way it seems that y’all rethought of it it’s kind carrying on and has a longer Tali than

Mary Rusterholz: that. It’s a 90 day process.

Wow. And it’s a combination. HR takes the first part of [00:15:00] it with the technology team. The managers are pinged, at. 30 days. Have you done your check-ins are the goal in the systems? The new employees are pinged. We continue to reach out to them during that process. We do a formal 30 day check-in.

We get ’em on a call. How’s it going? Yeah,

William Tincup: It’s interesting because, we, we’re talking about retention strategies in uncertain times. This is a great example of that. We, we romance folks in the recruiting phase we historically, we get them to onboarding the offer letter, really offer letter sign, and it’s ah, okay.

Mary Rusterholz: Yeah.

William Tincup: Moving on. And it’s like in order to just kinda sink or swim, leave, drop at the deep end of the pool and hope that things work out. And it’s like y’all have you’ve been thoughtful and in redoing onboarding, you’ve been really thoughtful and okay, you know what, we’re not gonna do that.

We’re gonna, once the offer’s letter has been signed, it starts like that. Relationship and [00:16:00] communication, et cetera.

Mary Rusterholz: And especially in a world where there is more remote and more, Google meets or Zoom or whatever technology one uses, spanning it out over time, maximizes them using the tools.

Cause even things sim, like our online learning portal, their first introduction is training. After that though, we don’t want them to lose sight. This is an ongoing resource available to them, so reintroducing our online learning portal at 30 days. Ensures that they don’t lose sight of their development and that we haven’t lost sight of their development.

William Tincup: I love that. I was gonna ask you about that because it’s one thing to kinda gather that information in recruiting or when you’re hiring someone and or even an employee that’s been there for 10 years, it’s okay, they’ve changed, maybe their interests have changed et cetera.

What do they want to learn? It’s kinda a constant, Thing that you’d want to, ask people like, Hey, you obviously wanna learn something and [00:17:00] it doesn’t matter what it’s, what would you like to learn? Let’s then make sure that you have a clear path to learn the things that you’d like to learn.

Mary Rusterholz: Exactly. So we have the technology, we’re having the discussions, we’re building tool sets for the managers, so they are more comfortable having those discussions with employees, and we’re trying to make them simple and easy. The need to overcomplicate everything is something that, 10 years ago, HR, I think, had a had a power skill in right, keeping it simple and easy for the existing employees, the new employees, the managers alike, is really a great way to get acceptance and adoption.

William Tincup: Yeah. And I think Covid helped us with that over engineering or overcomplicating things because it’s like we didn’t have time, the employees didn’t have time. Absolutely. And we viewed time in a little bit different way. Last two things I wanted to ask you about your expansion of benefits as a kind of a retention [00:18:00] strategy.

You mentioned ment mental health, right? And things that you’re doing there about, around wellness, et cetera. So take us into both what you did and also how you communicated it.

Mary Rusterholz: I think everyone realizes that, the mental health crisis was exasperated by the pandemic. So recognizing that as well as through the input we received from our employees through the annual survey they were loud and clear, they needed more support.

So during our 2023 rollout and. Continually, we introduced multiple new mental health tools. So we had our employee assistance program, which were table stakes. We introduced a cognitive behavioral that they have 24 7 access to talk therapy. They have 24 7 access to our Healthy Together program, which is through our carrier, but it provides fun opportunities for virtual.

[00:19:00] Competitions. I think the first one that the teams were competing on a walk through South America and they had a blast with it. Oh. Oh, that’s cool. So support them physically as well as mentally. And then we offered membership, recognizing that it’s not all about children. It could be elderly parents, it could be house sitters or dog sitters.

We have LifeMart, which is another series of programs that they can get. Basically reduced price to services. And the other thing we expanded are care for people who are trying to plan a family, whether they’re same sex couple, whether they’re struggling through surrogacy. And that’s been

William Tincup: fantastic.

Oh, that’s fantastic. One of the things this is probably a separate podcast all by itself. It’s like it’s once you’ve expanded your benefits like this, it’s then getting people like. I think employees and maybe even other executives don’t understand this, like it’s a game of consumption. [00:20:00] Is a benefit isn’t a benefit unless people use it.

So the idea is we need folks, we need, first of all, it needs to be right sized to what they need, right? So every year you go through this process of making sure you prune some things, you add some things, but you want consumption. You want people to use the benefits. And again, probably a separate prayer podcast where we can just talk about that.

But I love what you’ve done and I know it’s clearly helped you retain people. What have you seen with some of the consumption of the new programs? The,

Mary Rusterholz: the initial rollout reaction was fantastic, and the adoption has been equally strong. The amount of employees who proactively reach out and simply say, thank you, I really needed help, or, thank you, my child was really struggling and I didn’t have the access before they have access to it.

So it has been, received, used. The fact that it is still anonymous, right? So they don’t feel they value that, [00:21:00] but they’ve been very open. And the affinity groups are also a huge support for the employees. Those are communities. They share things with each other openly. They reach out, whether it’s a book or.

My child’s going through the terrible twos, or I need a new oil because I’m trying to grow in my beard as I transition. It is one of the most powerful and prideful things that I see the organization.

William Tincup: You you already knew where I was going next with ERGs and SIGs. I’m, I don’t know if constant contact with you use those terms or you use others, but it’s one of the things I find fascinating with kind of those, let’s just say ERGs It’s the group itself is creating a safe space for whatever group that is.

I’ve also always wondered like, how do you communicate the learns that happen in that group or do you KU to, to the folks outside the group? You know what I mean? It’s like the parent of the terrible twos. It’s what if you’re, what if you’re pregnant [00:22:00] or your wife’s pregnant or whatever and you’re having a baby and you’re not even thinking about that yet.

Wouldn’t it be great to learn what’s around the corner? First of all, tell me about your experience with resource groups and positive stuff that you’ve learned from them, but also kinda the how they operate and how they help you retain folks.

Mary Rusterholz: So how they operate, just to go back to our onboarding, at the beginning of the second week of employment, we introduce our new employees to all the affinity groups and invite them to join the Slack channels because they’re very active so that they know those resource groups are there and they don’t have to just find them.

So we make them aware of it. We do a, we have champions for each of our affinity groups. Meet with them quarterly. They share how things are going or what they might need. They all have a certain amount of funding to support events that are used to educate people the employees alike. We had a [00:23:00] a TT ceremony yesterday.

In support of Asian American month we have mental health days. We have mindful moments going on to support mental health for the entire month of May. We have a bunch of pride activities coming up that are planned. We share our giving pillars as an organization. We’re focused on youth STEM and underrepresented in business.

We provide each employee with volunteer time. Cuz if we’re not doing something as a company that is exciting for them, but there’s another activity that they want to get involved in, we want them to have the time to do that. So when we think of E R G C S R and it all folds together, right? It’s part of really creating that environment.

And there’s once in a while that the affinity groups will go offline and talk about things amongst themselves, but they are so open and [00:24:00] always looking for opportunities to share.

William Tincup: I love that. You know what, I love that you tied it back to onboarding because at the time that you’re learning, there’s this moment where we have engagement, we have their attention, et cetera.

When you have that, you’re ask, you’re asking ’em things that they wanna learn, skills that they wanna develop thing things, how they want to, training, you’re probably asking ’em different things about training. You’re also asking about their interest. And things that they care about, things that drive them.

Mary, you’re doing a wonderful job. I love what you’re doing and thank you so much for sharing pro programmatically the, some of the things that y’all are doing. I know this isn’t all, but some of the things that y’all are doing to help retain folks, thank

Mary Rusterholz: you so much. I appreciate the opportunity.

I’m very proud of what we’ve done at Constant Contact, so

William Tincup: you sh you should be. You should be. It’s wonderful. And thanks for everyone listening to the podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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