“500 Gem ready” is the phrase Heather Dunn uses when she is thinking and talking about scaling. After joining the team as Chief People Officer in late 2021, her first task was to look at every stage of the employee lifecycle. Over 45 days, she talked to every single Gem employee to determine current state, future state, and what gaps the people team needed to fill.
Her goal? “To get every People program, process, and experience ready for when we are 500 Gems.” Some processes, like onboarding, Heather knew she needed to tackle head-on. For others, she said she was “in a fortunate position that the company had invested in People early and laid a great foundation.”
Setting up leave for scale
Gem’s People team had already set employee leave up for success at scale when Heather joined. Lara Poncia, Director of Human Resources at Gem, was a one-person HR team when Gem was a 77-person organization, pre-Heather.
One of the first things Lara asked when she joined the team was how Gem handled leaves. She said, “I researched and compared several different leave management providers and found the team at Cocoon to be the most knowledgeable and the Concierge service was amazing.”
Onboarding was smooth, with a dedicated customer success manager (CSM) walking Lara through the implementation process. Lara said, “[Our CSM] provided us with some great benchmarking data to help us understand what other companies at our stage and size were offering around parental leave, which helped Gem when developing our own new parental leave policy, which is 16 weeks.”
The impact of leave on the employee experience
As a seasoned HR leader, Heather had lived through leave nightmares at other companies. She said, “I’ve had a couple of experiences where [my team] was using the best leave management tools available at the time and there was still always a common complaint. The process felt impersonal and people didn’t understand how to do it.”
She described how harmful it can be when a leave goes badly, saying, “When someone's going through a huge life change, and they have confusion and anxiety about the process, it can absolutely be damaging to the relationship between that individual and the workplace.”
“When someone's going through a huge life change, and they have confusion and anxiety about the process, it can absolutely be damaging to the relationship between that individual and the workplace.”
- Heather Dunn, Chief People Officer @ Gem
Always looking toward future-proofing for 500 Gems, Heather said, “I wanted us to be on the leading edge of what leave looks like. Let’s make this a differentiator for us and invest in a really thoughtful, thorough, articulated process and program.”
The importance of partnership
The partnership the Gem team has with Cocoon leaves them feeling confident they’re set up for success now—and as the organization grows. Heather said, “We invested in Cocoon early [for Gem] in the sense that we’d probably only had one leave beforehand. Now, we have the process, program, and assurance that Cocoon will take care of our employees.”
In addition to implementing changes based on Gem’s feedback, Cocoon also demonstrates partnership by guiding Gem toward competitive offerings based on data.
“We want to learn what’s best in class for our size and stage and Cocoon has been an incredible thought partner in how to evolve our leave process. That’s so helpful for a people leader in a complicated, sensitive space,” Heather said.
Simple workflows lead to an enhanced employee experience
While the human aspect of leave is incredibly important, it’s also crucial to the employee experience that the logistics are taken care of, too. “I cannot overemphasize how painful it is,” Heather said of working with payroll without Cocoon. “We could never get it right. It’s important that someone knows they’ll get paid the right amount at the right time.”
With Cocoon, workflows are made simple for both People and payroll teams.
Heather said, “Without Cocoon, our payroll team could be sitting there trying to calculate what we pay versus what the government pays—that’s a nightmare. So there’s a huge impact not only on [the People team] but we’ve gained trust from our Finance team in the sense that we all understand exactly what Gem needs to pay and have the confidence we won’t make errors.”
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“Call Cocoon. I’m serious.”
After more than a decade as a progressive People leader, other People leaders turn to Heather all the time when it comes to advice about leave. Her response?
“Call Cocoon. I’m serious. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of leave management companies that do about 60% of it. And Cocoon is solving the other 40% of that painful process. To me, that’s a no brainer.”
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