The pandemic created a crash course in adaptation unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. From employees relocating to be nearer to family, to the mental health strains of always-on remote work and grief resulting from personal loss and a never ending negative newscycle, people have realized work is not just about paying the bills. This experience and subsequent realization has resulted in the Great Resignation. With so many people leaving their jobs in droves, people leaders are left to figure out how to create not just a more sustainable workplace, but one which allows their team members to thrive.
While exhausting to navigate, the upside of such a chaotic two years for people leaders has been that we’re taking the time to take a step back and truly reevaluate why we do things, who we’re doing them for, and how things can be done better. In the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to chat with four of the most thoughtful people leaders out there about how they’re navigating—and thriving in—our new workplace normal.
Identify root causes, rather than the symptoms
One of our favorite nuggets of wisdom came from Adriana Roche, the CPO of MURAL. For much of 2020 and 2021, people leaders have been navigating employee burnout. Adriana saw many trends—take the popularized mental health day, for example—but decided to put the work in upfront to determine the root cause of employee burnout.
Through facilitated listening exercises, Adriana and her team determined that norms around communication were creating an always-on, high stress environment where last minute requests were frequent. The team had grown, but the ways in which team members communicated had not adapted. For example, many team members were feeling inundated by Slack messages. While an effective way for smaller teams to communicate, the constant notifications in different direct messages and team channels were overwhelming at scale. Through this deeper understanding of the why, Adriana’s team was able to establish new guidelines around communication, leading to different behaviors and reduced stress.
Customize your story—and sell it authentically and unapologetically
Kathryn Minshew, CEO & Founder of The Muse, made an analogy about the modern workplace we can’t stop thinking about. Kathryn explained how, in a world where almost everything is customized for and tailored to the individual, the workplace is late to the game. Netflix recommends shows based on our watching behavior, search engines show us ads based on our preferences—and this is the world candidates are used to. Yet, we still expect certain perks to sound attractive to all people. Kathryn described universal “best places to work” lists as ridiculous, “it’s like saying, this is the ‘best person to marry’.”
There’s a reason not everyone on earth wants to work at Google and Facebook who offer three meals a day and on-campus haircuts, or at investment banking companies where you can make more money than in just about any other role. We all value different things. Employers will come off as most authentic when they’re clear about what makes their workplace special, and do their diligence when it comes to hiring culture fits. In her role, Kathryn encourages companies to look at employee satisfaction and retention as part of hiring metrics. She explains how, when employers are more authentic in communicating their values and thoughtful in what they offer, employees can make more intentional and informed decisions and end up more satisfied, staying longer, and generally having a larger impact at their company.
Lean into learning and development
Especially with major cultural shifts like we’ve experienced with the pandemic, it’s important for people leaders to revisit learning and development frequently. Suzy Walther, CPO of Carta, reminds us to not be afraid to retrain. She describes more seasoned managers sometimes struggling to lead with vulnerability, which, in a time where the personal and professional have merged like never before, can be harmful to the people they lead. Suzy shares that at Carta, they host “manager dens,” where managers learn from one another how to navigate tough conversations and situations. This peer-to-peer learning reminds us that effective retraining and education doesn’t always have to come from us as people leaders—sometimes all we need to do is facilitate the opportunity for people to learn from those in similar positions.
If you’re noticing burnout within your organization but aren’t quite sure where to start with L&D, Marissa Morrison, VP of People at WELL Health, describes asking the question as, “If HR were a product, how would you build it? Who is your end user and what is the goal?” From there, determine who has the best or most necessary input and lean on your senior leadership to say, is this actually useful?
Lead with vulnerability (and don’t forget self care)
People teams have had to navigate an unprecedented situation with sensitivity, care, flexibility, and creativity—and it has been exhausting. You can’t do it all yourself; asking for help and setting boundaries are crucial for people leaders as well as the teams they serve. Ashley Killick, Head of People at Modern Health, encourages people leaders to train their managers to lead with vulnerability. Especially for companies that are fully or mostly remote, this needs to be deliberate and intentional. Build time into meetings to ask people how they’re doing, how they spent their weekends, etc. Adriana says to assume trust isn’t there and you have to work on building it.
Through our work at Cocoon, we get to chat every day with inspiring people leaders like Adriana, Kathryn, Suzy, Marissa, and Ashley. The workplace is changing and we’re excited to be a piece of the puzzle for people leaders who are working hard to provide their teams with a human-forward, empathetic work environment.