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Creating Employee Connection Innovations in the HR, People & Culture Space

How a world-wide shutdown led to the biggest shift in Human Resource practices

Creating Employee Connection Innovations in the HR, People & Culture Space

GUEST POST from Chris Rollins

While the world was experiencing widespread shutdown and companies promptly shifted to remote work from home, the focus was on how companies would adapt to this new normal of the pandemic. At the same time, while many people were facing daily stress about their job stability, their financial livelihood, and their families’ health & safety, social justice issues were also at the forefront with the murder of George Floyd. In response, we’ve seen the evolution of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments in the workplace. For smaller companies and organizations with a less established DEI function, however, it’s HR leaders out front navigating these issues and leading the change, often with little support or guidance.

The Human Resources space went into crisis mode at the onset of COVID and was forced to innovate incredibly quickly as every facet of our work was impacted. HR leaders have more responsibility than ever and increased influence at the C-Suite level, especially as they implement changes to their people practices in order to keep up with what employees want and need from their employers today. HR professionals, in close partnership with the CEO, had to create covid policies, work-from-home guidelines and return-to-work plans, all in an extremely short time frame, which required innovative thinking and presented an opportunity to leverage technology to better support their employees. We also saw the rise of many HR communities, including niche groups like QueeHR, to create space for HR leaders to connect and support each other during these times.

Proactive employee mental health benefits

Another major difference between HR pre-pandemic is that although there was already a focus on employees’ mental health and wellbeing, it was being handled reactively. Now, Human Resource teams are taking note of employees’ experiences and emotional health, as well as developing skills to detect problems early and to step in to provide help. This sounds like an easy process once implemented, but with today’s massive shift towards hybrid or remote work, it’s challenging for HR professionals to constantly stay up to date with each and every employee’s experience. Creating space for more consistent coaching conversations and 1:1 meetings with managers is imperative to staying connected. Having “difficult conversations” at work used to look like a 1:1 in the boss’ office, and now has shifted to video or phone calls where body language is hard to distinguish. HR professionals must also train leaders how to be great coaches and to bring a healthy dose of empathy into the virtual environment.

The experience of LGBTQ+ employees

A common topic of conversation in the HR community is the experience of underrepresented employees. Ensuring that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts include individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) is essential for business success. Although many companies offer health benefits and other policies that support LGBTQ+ workers, a company’s culture plays a key role in whether employees feel safe bringing their whole selves to work. While many LGBTQ+ workers have the skills to be great leaders, a strong sense of belonging is crucial in order to establish their leadership voice and style at work.

For companies, there is a high cost to not creating an inclusive culture where underrepresented employees feel they belong. One of the common challenges for LGBTQ+ workers is trying to do their job and lead their teams while spending valuable mental energy figuring out if or how they fit in. A lot of wasted energy goes into assessing the level of safety and comfort. Considering this impact at scale across an organization, that’s a lot of lost productivity, and puts LGBTQ+ at a disadvantage in the context of performance, promotions and career growth.

While figuring out the right approach to these challenges is not “one size fits all”, the impact and positive benefits of a more diverse workforce with a focus on employee wellness is huge. HR leaders are adopting a “people-first” approach to leading their organizations, and getting more specific with employees to understand their unique needs. Each company, industry, and workforce is entirely different, but by taking a look at the overall workforce and gathering data from employees about their experience, companies can design programs that will actually move the needle and positively impact employee experience.

Employee resource groups/ERGs emerge as a trend

ERGs, or employee resource groups, are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. Although they have been around since the 1960s, they are becoming increasingly relevant today as questions of personal identity and politics are creating difficult conversations in the workplace. Typically, ERGs are more common in companies with a minimum of 500 employees, but they are continuing to increase in prevalence.

ERGs are creating a ton of innovation and impact in the workplace, as many companies are increasingly establishing employee resource groups for various identity groups – like LGBTQ+, POC, LatinX, Women, etc. Those spaces are creating and helping build community among like-minded folks, while also creating opportunities for allyship. The groups truly serve to inform the business about things they could be doing as a whole to create more inclusive practices. For example, the LGBTQ+ resource group could make it clear that the benefit policies are not inclusive, and don’t offer gender affirming care benefits. The LGBTQ+ ERG can raise it as a group to enact real change for the company, which then has ripple effects for how they recruit new people, communicate their employer brand, etc.

Can ERG’s eventually become a paid role?

Currently, employee resource groups are 100% volunteer, but companies such as LinkedIn are starting to pay their ERG leaders to show their appreciation for these extra hours of work. Many ERG chairs are working overtime to host meetings, plan events, and gather information to present to the C-suite, but the positive side of this extra time are the leadership capabilities these team members learn. ERGs create a whole new opportunity for employees at any level of the organization to take on leadership roles and build their skills. It’s another way to develop talent in the organization and create opportunities for innovation across the business.

With LinkedIn being a standup example of paying their ERG leaders an additional $10,000 per year, there are infinite benefits to adding these types of leadership resources to the team. ERG leaders are getting hands-on training on how to be great leaders through leadership development programs. By encouraging and supporting employee resource groups at a corporate level, employers are truly communicating the importance of investing in their own employees, as well as considering the impact this type of experience will have on their career.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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