High employee spirit creates the right ‘trust’ at Washington Trust

BAY DAY: The Washington Trust Co. employees support the Save The Bay Inc.’s International Coastal Cleanup initiative at Napatree Point in Westerly. 
BAY DAY: The Washington Trust Co. employees support the Save The Bay Inc.’s International Coastal Cleanup initiative at Napatree Point in Westerly. 

PBN Best Places To Work Awards 2023
ENTERPRISE COMPANIES #1: The Washington Trust Co.
Employees in R.I. 555
Chairman and CEO Edward O. “Ned” Handy III

“EMPLOYEE FEST” is one of the most highly anticipated events The Washington Trust Co. holds each spring. But this year’s celebration felt more like a reunion.

With the COVID-19 pandemic behind them, Washington Trust employees celebrated their peers who earned awards for lengthy careers at the bank, engagement in the community and, for the four employees who won “Spirit of Washington Trust” awards, living the brand. Spirit awards come with a $1,000 donation made by the bank’s charitable foundation in the employee’s name to a charity of their choice.

“People were so happy to be together,” said Edward O. “Ned” Handy III, chairman and CEO of the Westerly-based financial institution. “Many of them hadn’t seen each other in three years, other than on a screen.”

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Leading up to Employee Fest at Washington Trust is Employee Appreciation Week. The company holds five days of fun activities, from decorating workspaces according to a theme to playing various games.

At Washington Trust, employee appreciation is not limited to springtime. It’s engrained in the corporate culture.

“We can ask people to care about the core values of our culture, but if the company doesn’t seem to care about people, it falls flat,” Handy said. “Our [human resources] team has done an unbelievable job keeping employees healthy, engaged and mindful of each other. They make everyone feel like they’re valued and cared for.”

A high level of dedication for getting the job done, collaborating with teammates to solve problems and staying customer-focused at all times is shared by each of the bank’s 555 employees across 24 branches in Rhode Island.

Washington Trust, the country’s oldest bank, founded in 1800, still creates many new ideas, according to Mary Noons, the bank’s president and chief operating officer.

“We stay on top of what’s going on and we don’t rely on the fact that we’ve been around forever,” Noons said.

Staying safe and healthy during the pandemic was the starting point of the bank’s hybrid work schedule, which continues today.

“If we need them to come in, they come in,” Handy said. “Otherwise, we’re happy to have people work in a comfortable environment that’s helpful to them.”

True to its values, the bank also takes a balanced approach to hiring by promoting from within and adding new hires from the outside who bring fresh perspectives with them to the institution.

For the past 25 years, the bank has held monthly wellness challenges, featuring dietary, physical fitness or mental health topics. The bank partners with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Fidelity Investments Inc. and The Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. to provide content, webinars and in-person events. Whether the goal is to practice mindfulness 15 minutes a day or walk a mile each morning, employees track their progress while focusing on self-care.

Giving back is part of the bank’s corporate culture. Employees team up to send Valentine’s Day cards to older adults at senior living communities, clean up beaches, volunteer at the bank’s communitywide document “shred-it” events and Rhode Island Mentoring’s Dancing with the Stars competition. There are always different opportunities available to volunteer in the community and the bank’s Reach for the Stars program provides incentives to employees for doing it. Staff members log in the hours they’ve donated to different charities and redeem those “stars” for logoed gift items from an online catalogue.

Washington Trust also feels it’s important to look like the communities it serves, Handy said. A couple years ago, Washington Trust formed a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy and, more recently, created a 15-member diversity council representing a group of employees from different backgrounds. The council, Handy said, helps leadership think through every element of DEI inside and outside of the company, from best practices for hiring employees and engaging with the community to building equality among employees and customers.

“We have a great group of volunteers,” he said. “We try to keep it a nonexecutive, grassroots effort.”

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