In a perfect storm of challenging events, Karen Laurel held it all together at Purdue Pharma

Employees faced layer upon layer of stressors. Karen Laurel helped maintain stability, earning her recognition as an HR Leader in Ragan’s Workplace Wellness Awards.

By Tony Silber      

The last two years have been a perfect storm for Purdue Pharma. The drugmaker filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2019, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty for more than 600 employees. Then add a global pandemic that required a chunk of the workforce to go 100% remote. These were among the layers of stressors employees faced. Health. Safety. Worries for family. Worries about employment. Financial concerns. It was a confluence of factors that would make any HR leader cringe.

Not Karen Laurel, the company’s vice president of human resources.

Karen Laurel

As the company moved towards bankruptcy in the fall of 2019, Karen Laurel developed an overarching strategy to enhance employee well-being. And when COVID-19 hit, she added multiple new layers of support. Her strategy is not just about addressing the challenges faced by employees—it’s also about helping them embrace opportunities to maximize their success, both on the job and in life.

Over the course of the year, Purdue offered more than 20 programs aimed at cultivating resiliency and dealing with uncertainty. It instituted a career-advancement program with on-demand online learning resources that included leadership and business courses, courses on productivity, and certification preparation.

For those feeling stressed due to the bankruptcy, COVID-19, or life issues, Karen Laurel made sure employees had access to around-the-clock free professional counseling. She established new resources for parents, including a wellness webinar on navigating the 2020-2021 school year. The company offered online courses for kids who were stuck at home before formal online schooling began. It offered back-up child, adult and elder care.

In June, amidst heightened racial tension, Karen Laurel established support groups. She was co-creator of an advisory group on diversity and inclusion. She communicated regularly with employees on this and other issues. She continues to send wellness newsletters to all employees.