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How to celebrate the holidays at work in 2020

Now that you’ve skipped your annual office Thanksgiving potluck, or moved everything to Zoom, the time has come to decide how to mark the December holidays amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, the typical office holiday party is off the table this year (unless you’re wholly unconcerned about endangering your employees and their families). With so many hallmarks of the season in high-risk territory due to potential virus exposure, it may seem easier to just push things off until next year. As employees continue to struggle with anxiety and burnout though, the need for employee initiatives and engagement efforts has never been higher. How do you safely celebrate with your employees this year in a way that’s authentic, fun, and effective?

We know it’s been a difficult year and many are facing budget cuts in addition to the ongoing restrictions. You may be burnt out yourself and the prospect of planning something for employees on top of all the end of year tasks may feel like too much to shoulder. We hear you. Knowing how crucial connection and camaraderie are to the employee experience though, even for HR professionals, we’ve assembled a short list of ways to honor your traditions, acknowledge employees for their hard work, and still keep everyone safe and healthy, including yourself.

Set yourself up for success with strong planning & follow-up

As with many things, a great deal of event success hinges upon having a strong plan in the lead-up, and a strong follow-up game in the aftermath. Start your planning by consulting employees. Unless you’ve conducted surveys after your holiday parties in years past, you likely only have guesses as to what employees did and didn’t like about previous events. Perhaps they weren’t wowed by the entertainment you brought in and just enjoyed spending time with their coworkers. More importantly, a lot of what was relevant to employees last year may be different now after the year we’ve all had. Accordingly, start by asking your employees how they would prefer to acknowledge the holidays this year in a company context. Get their input first to ensure that whatever you plan hits the mark.

Don’t stop after the initial outreach, either. If you have follow-up questions after the first employee survey, don’t hesitate to ask people for their thoughts. Just as consultants may check in frequently with clients to ensure the project is proceeding to their liking, whoever is in charge of events for your company should regularly solicit employee input. Similarly, feedback after the fact is crucial, too. Make your follow-up plan before the event, so you can deploy it in a timely fashion. Employees need to feel engaged in the process in order to remain bought in to the event and interested in attending, so ensure you’re giving your team what they need through polls and conversations.

Ideas for COVID-safe holiday celebrations

While asking your employees how they would like to mark the holidays this year is one of the most important steps you can take, we’ve assembled a few ideas to help inform your process:

  • Organize a virtual team activity. In response to the urgent need for social distancing brought on by the pandemic, many event and activity providers have transitioned their offerings to a virtual format. This includes everything from murder mysteries and escape rooms to tasting parties and cooking classes. If bringing in the professionals isn’t in your budget, you could instead host a virtual game night, talent show, or other event that gets everyone involved and having fun.
  • Send out some DIY cheer. Consider sending employees activity kits to work on either together or alone. This could include decoration boxes (ideally non-denominational) where everyone decorates their workspace or other area and comes together on Zoom to compare (or even compete!). Alternatively, cooking or painting kits that everyone can use while on video chat can be a fun way to get your people engaging with each other in a non-work way. Even if you just send some treats to say thank you for their hard work, such as snacks, sweets, relaxation boxes, etc., it will help to at least acknowledge that you’re thinking of them and their wellbeing at this difficult time of year.
  • Give back to your community. Volunteers and donations are needed more than ever this year, as so many individuals and families have experienced dramatic losses in income and stability in recent months. Bringing your team together for some virtual volunteering, running a charity drive, and/or matching donations can help your team reconnect with what’s important, and feel good about the fact that they work for a company that prioritizes more than just the bottom line.
  • Create a ‘choose your own adventure’ day. The authenticity and flexibility of employee-led events might be just what the doctor ordered this year (besides social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing). Empowering employees with the tools and budgets to run events for their colleagues gives you the ability to offer a variety of options for people to engage with their coworkers without the stress and overhead of one person or team trying to manage everything. Ask for employee suggestions, and enable them to lead activities, learning sessions, or other events for their fellow team members.

Planning for the holidays this year is undoubtedly more difficult and complicated than usual, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. Ask your employees what would be meaningful to them; it may be the case that staff would prefer to just have a bit of extra pay rather than any sort of event as some may have seen reductions in household income. If your team does express interest in events and other ways to bond with colleagues, Workrowd can help. Visit us at workrowd.com to learn more about our employee empowerment model, or drop us a note at hello@workrowd.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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Cultivating a culture of gratitude in your organization

It’s that time of year again: the beginning of the winter holidays in the U.S. Thanksgiving will kick us off in just a couple of days, but for many, it won’t remotely resemble the Thanksgivings of years past. As a result of COVID-19, many won’t be visiting family to share a meal, and more tragically, the more than a quarter of a million Americans whom we’ve lost won’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving ever again. During this dark year when it can so often be difficult to suss out the bright spots, finding reasons to be grateful is more important than ever. This is true of both our personal and professional lives.

Many have lost jobs this year, giving those who have remained employed an obvious reason to be thankful. Among those employed however, the anxiety and grief of watching friends and colleagues get laid off, along with increased workloads and personal responsibilities have made it difficult to focus on that point. Similarly, the daily drain of a 24-hour news cycle that promotes negativity and scandal over stories of hope and uplift has done little to help people towards a mindset of gratitude. Ultimately though, practicing gratefulness is one of the few ways to get through the multiple, compounded crises of the present with our mental health intact.

The health and financial benefits of gratitude

While many of us know that it’s important to be grateful, few are aware of the far-reaching health and wellness benefits. According to an article in Psychology Today, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than their peers. Gratitude also leads to a reduction in toxic emotions resulting in increased happiness and lower risk of depression. In addition, grateful people sleep better, and we all know that the duration and quality of one’s sleep has major health implications.

On the financial front, gratitude can improve your employees’ performance, making you more money and demonstrating a clear ROI on strategic culture change. Grateful people are better at building relationships with others, which is a critical skill in most business roles. In addition, gratitude increases empathy and reduces aggression, making it more likely that your team members will collaborate productively rather than falling victim to pettiness and infighting. Lastly, gratitude boosts self-esteem and increases mental strength and resilience, all of which we’ve seen become crucial traits in the workplace this year. Grateful employees are better to themselves, better to each other, and better to customers, leading to higher revenues.

Ways you can infuse more gratitude into your organization

Companies spend a great deal of time crafting and attempting to live their values, but gratitude rarely makes the list. As is the case with virtually all values though, gratefulness must be practiced every day and in every interaction in order to deliver on its full benefit. With the upcoming holiday in mind, we’ve assembled a short list of ways to infuse your organization with more gratitude this week and in the months ahead, as we continue to wade through all the ups and downs of 2020 and beyond.

Some important strategies to consider when working towards a more grateful company culture include:

  • Model gratitude from the top down. In order for gratitude to make inroads at your organization, it has to be modeled by leaders. Consider offering a training to help leaders learn ways to infuse gratefulness into their day-to-day interactions, or provide them with reading materials that include strategies for giving thanks more regularly.
  • Implement processes to encourage reframing. When a project goes awry or a deal is lost, help employees look for the silver lining rather than fixating on their disappointment or frustration. By acknowledging that this represents an opportunity to pursue bigger or better efforts, and/or discussing what everyone has learned from the experience and how it will support them to do better in the future, companies can help their teams bounce back faster and more productively.
  • Reevaluate your rewards and recognition programs. While it may not seem to be the best time to work on your rewards and recognition efforts when budgets are being slashed, it’s actually the perfect time to ensure your programs are meeting employees’ needs. Show your team that you’re grateful for them and all of their work by doing what you can to improve their quality of life during this difficult time, and give them ample opportunities to show their appreciation for each other as well.
  • Consider going analog. Handwritten thank you notes are a rarity in the age of digital communication, but they can really show the recipient just how much you care. It may not be the right fit for you, but if you think a handwritten note and potentially a small gift might make a difference for your employees staring down the black hole of burnout, don’t hesitate to seize the opportunity.
  • Give back. Volunteering is a surefire way to help your employees recognize and appreciate the positives in their lives. It also helps those in need, making it essentially a no-lose situation. There are many opportunities for remote volunteering available right now, but even giving your employees an easy way to make donations, and matching them if you have the budget, can help spread gratitude and do good at the same time.

Gratitude is an underutilized word in today’s workplaces. If you haven’t thanked your team for all their work recently, do so. It could make a significant difference for employees during a very anxious and uncertain time. If you’re looking for an easier way to centralize your employee initiatives, show gratitude, and build community no matter where your employees work, consider dropping by workrowd.com. We work really hard to cultivate gratitude in our organization, and we’d love to learn about how we can help you do the same. Happy Thanksgiving, all. Stay safe and healthy.

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A chance to heal our workplaces alongside our country

After the election that seemed it would never end, we finally have an answer. For some, the result was a beacon of hope while others saw it as a crushing blow. Whatever your stance, few will argue that we seem to be irreconcilably divided across lines of party affiliation, geography, income, race, religion, age, and more.  There is a strong sense of ‘us vs. them’ across the country, and as with most societal dynamics, the same can be said of our workplaces. Aside from the various ideological and demographic divides, many companies also have ‘us vs. them’ dynamics between departments, across levels, and more.

This year has been a catalyzing force for a number of transformations in the workplace, the most obvious being the nearly overnight shift to remote work. As we look towards a new year and the associated planning and budgeting amidst rampant uncertainty, an opportunity exists to build in efforts to break down the aforementioned divides. At this critical juncture, what would it look like to actually revolutionize our workplaces, and redesign them with an eye towards empathy and inclusion, rather than division and indifference?

The state of our workplaces pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, 97% of employees and executives believed that lack of team alignment had an impact on task and project outcomes. Taking that one step further, 86% of employees cited lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the cause of workplace failures. On the flip side, companies and organizations that communicate effectively are 4.5x more likely to retain their best employees.

While lack of communication and outright division are not necessarily the same, they do feed into each other to a large extent. If open and honest communication is encouraged and fostered across the board, there are fewer opportunities for division to build up and get in the way of progress. In fact, a ProofHub study found that more than 99% of employees prefer a workplace where people identify and discuss issues truthfully and effectively. Unfortunately, fewer than half of them feel that their organization fulfills that need. If we are to move past this state and towards building better communication and connection for employees, we have to first break down the barriers to doing so by implementing effective tools and having tough conversations.

Ways to work towards unity in the workplace

There are a number of areas to focus on when looking to reduce division in your workplace. We’ve summarized them below so you can start your organization on the road to success in 2021:

  • Increase transparency. Being as transparent as possible at all levels of the company is a crucial first step towards stifling the seeds of division from the start. When left in the dark, it’s easy for employees to assume the worst about colleagues and leaders. If everyone is open about their plans, goals, and intentions, it is much easier for employees to let down their guards and not buy into divisive narratives.
  • Encourage open and respectful dialogue. Similarly, enabling employees to share their thoughts and experiences without fear of ridicule or reprisal is a key step towards promoting strong communication and collaboration in your workplace. Encourage team members to share their stories to help colleagues learn about each other as whole people, and to better understand where folks may be coming from when they react a certain way to an idea or comment.
  • Prioritize diversity and inclusion. Ensuring that there is strong representation on your team from a diverse set of backgrounds and beliefs can help everyone to feel included rather than having one ‘in-group’ and a handful of others stuck on the outskirts. While we know budgeting for DEI in 2021 can be a challenge, it’s imperative to continue championing this critical work and striving towards intersectionality rather than tokenization.
  • Ensure everyone gets recognized. A strong recognition program is also a key component of building more unified, less divisive workplaces. Having some team members frequently receiving praise and accolades for their work while others toil in silence and anonymity simply breeds resentment and reinforces ‘us vs. them’ dynamics. Ensure that your recognition program is both accessible and egalitarian, so that everyone can participate and feel acknowledged.
  • Be consistent. Last but certainly not least, make every effort to design your policies in a way that one group isn’t privileged over another. Ensuring this consistency will prevent people from feeling that others are treated better than them, leading them to experience exclusion that can cause communication to break down. Any policy that applies to one, should apply to all.

There are a number of ways to ensure that your workplace trends back towards unity rather than division as we usher a new administration into the White House. For better or worse, many of these focus areas drive back to core aspects of company culture, which can be difficult to shift especially with employees spread across offices and remote work situations. If you could use an easier way to break down silos, build connections, and streamline employee communication, come visit us over at workrowd.com or reach out directly at hello@workrowd.com. We’re looking forward to learning more about the specific challenges you may be facing, and seeing how we can plug in to help you reach your goals.

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Budgeting for diversity and inclusion in 2021

It’s been quite a year, and trying to budget for the next one can seem akin to staring into a crystal ball and anxiously waiting for something to appear. Ultimately, while this next year may seem even more uncertain than most, that doesn’t mean you should back off of critical investments such as those in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). While many companies rush to slash their DEI budgets at the first sign of financial uncertainty, this is in actuality a deeply counterproductive decision. DEI budgets drive critical initiatives that feed directly into companies’ bottom lines. By immediately jumping to cut that funding, companies show their employees in no uncertain terms where their priorities lie.

There are myriad reasons not to cut your DEI budget leading into 2021, but how do you frugally plan for inclusion initiatives during a year that may or may not be remote, may or may not include substantial policy shifts, and may or may not see your company doing well? There are certainly a lot of factors to consider. While budgeting for things you’ve never done before can be difficult, we’ve got your back with some best practice advice for budgeting for and building a robust DEI program in the coming year that drives measurable impact.

Why you shouldn’t cut your DEI budget as a way to save money

Unfortunately, despite spending $8 billion per year on DEI initiatives, many executives still believe that DEI is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have’. Part of this misconception may stem from the fact that the standard slate of DEI initiatives implemented by most companies is largely ineffective and targeted at box-checking rather than concrete business outcomes. With this line of thinking and little to show for the efforts they have made, it’s unsurprising that DEI programs would seem to be an unnecessary expense. In reality though, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Organizations that are more diverse and inclusive have been proven to outperform their peers across a number of metrics. For instance, companies with more women in C-suite level positions deliver 34% greater returns to shareholders. Harvard Business Review also found that organizations with higher than average diversity saw 19% greater innovation revenues. McKinsey reports that companies in the top quarter for racial/ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to surpass their peers. Lastly, companies with two-dimensional diversity are 45% more likely to have captured a larger portion of the market and 70% more likely to have moved into a new market in the past year. Clearly there is money to be made by investing in diversity and inclusion, but as with many things, it has to be done correctly in order to be effective.

How to ensure your DEI investments drive impact

The first step towards budgeting effectively for DEI success is to start treating DEI like any other business imperative. You wouldn’t short your marketing budget and still expect to receive the same results, so why does that expectation exist for DEI? Similarly, what gets measured gets managed. You wouldn’t put your sales people out into the field with no sales targets to just see how they do, so it’s similarly imperative that you put structures around your DEI program including measurable metrics and goals. Don’t assume that since you ran a half-day training, more diverse employees will just start flocking to your organization. You have to put in the work in order to reap the benefits.

It’s not just about counting the number of BIPOC employees at your organization, though. Companies have been tracking the number of underrepresented employees in their ranks for decades at this point; simply counting doesn’t lead to improvement without accompanying focuses on inclusion, promotion, etc. You have to aim higher. Use studies and statistics to inform your goal-setting and budgeting. Increased DEI leads to higher employee engagement, which drives productivity and other measurable outcomes, so you can design quantitative objectives accordingly.

Consider DEI’s impact on your entire company, from the vendors you engage to the philanthropies you support. Set concrete targets for what you want to achieve, then budget out how to get there, just as you would in any other department. Don’t fall prey to the belief that DEI is an amorphous, ‘fluffy’ concept that can’t be quantified beyond basic employee counts. Use employee surveys and other data to track the success of your program and ensure you’re getting your money’s worth. If you’re not, change your tactics.

Making progress on DEI is difficult, but far from impossible. It simply requires strategic focus and effort, just like any other business imperative. If you’re considering how to best use your DEI dollars, consider an integrated solution that supports employee resource groups, provides best practice toolkits and trainings, and integrates surveys and people analytics. Workrowd offers all this and more, so if we can be of help, don’t hesitate to reach out at hello@workrowd.com. However you choose to proceed, just don’t back off of DEI at this critical time.

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3 ways to manage political tensions in the workplace

Well, it’s finally election day here in the U.S. It’s certainly been a long road to get here, and no matter what the outcome, the next few days are likely to be pretty emotional for many employees. As our media outlets have grown increasingly sensationalistic, and the two parties more and more polarized and obstinate, the disagreement and animosity have spilled over into the workplace. In an age when many companies claim to be focused on striving for inclusion, how do people’s political stances factor into the equation?

The old recommendation to never discuss politics or religion in ‘polite’ conversation has become untenable amidst a 24-hour news cycle that thrives off of these two supposedly taboo topics. Things have gotten so out of hand that it’s even impacting people’s health and wellbeing. As far back as September of 2019, a survey found that 40% of respondents felt that politics were a source of stress in their lives. Approximately 20% reported losing sleep over it, and roughly the same number noted that politics exacted an emotional toll on them. The numbers are undoubtedly higher now, on the day of the election, and after such extraordinary circumstances in the lead-up. How do you manage all of this as an employer?

Pros and cons of allowing political discussions in the workplace

The overwhelming advice to employees across the board is to simply avoid bringing up politics at work at all. Many workers seem to agree. During the also extremely polarized 2016 election season, 79% of survey respondents noted that coworkers are the people they would be least likely to discuss politics with, beating out even neighbors and complete strangers. The logic behind this is difficult to dispute; many people don’t know their colleagues very well, and yet they have to see and collaborate with them every day. If they get into a particularly heated argument over politics, it can impact both their prospects with that employer, as well as the general work environment due to the increased tension.

On the one hand, you run the risk of employees fighting to the point of not being able to work productively together, and potentially even coming to blows, while on the other hand, completely ignoring the fact that employees are stressed and anxious isn’t a stellar option either. By forbidding employees from expressing themselves or voicing their concerns, they have no choice but to bottle up their anxiety which leads to distraction and disengagement. While in many ways this conundrum requires choosing the lesser of two evils, there are some strategies you can pursue to find some middle ground.

Strategies for enabling healthy dialogue

There are a number of alternatives to stifling and ignoring people’s beliefs without inviting full-on battles into your office. While encouraging political discussions outright is likely inadvisable in efforts to prevent anyone from feeling offended and/or victimized, it’s important to at least acknowledge that a big national event is underway. Pretending it’s not happening isn’t going to lead to any sort of positive outcome. Consider the following steps to help support your employees through this charged time:

  • Make it clear that the company understands that employees are under immense stress right now. As mentioned above, it’s important to lead with empathy during this time. The election is undoubtedly impacting your employees, so to pretend otherwise is simply tone-deaf. Ensure your managers are being mindful of the stress that their direct reports may be under, and acknowledge that they might not be at their best.
  • Don’t ban political speech that otherwise complies with your larger behavioral requirements. Political conversations are going to come up; it’s simply a fact of the current day and age. Banning them and making them punishable simply makes employees feel like they can’t bring their whole selves to work, and sets unreasonable restrictions on employee interactions. Stress that your standard expectations of respect, professionalism, etc. remain in place, but don’t add to employees’ anxieties by threatening termination if they slip and mention something about this huge issue that is undoubtedly on their minds.
  • Take a stand against hate as a company. The political rhetoric in this country has reached a fever pitch, but as a company you can still take a stand against hate and in favor of acceptance without it being political. Make sure your employees know you’ll support them no matter which candidate they choose, and offer them security during this highly unstable year.

As has long been the case, political discussions in the workplace are often better when just avoided, but you can still take steps to ensure your employees feel safe and supported. If you’re looking for ways to keep your employees connected during this decentralized time, consider checking out Workrowd. We’ve got solutions for diversity, equity, and inclusion, professional development, social impact, and more. You can reach us at hello@workrowd.com.

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Intersectional workplaces are the only way forward

In the U.S. today, approximately 40% of the population identifies as something other than non-Hispanic White. With half of people identifying as female, that means that at the very least, 20% of Americans navigate society everyday with multiple intersecting minority identities. The actual number is obviously much higher than that, considering that identity encompasses everything from disability status to family structure and beyond. Given this fact, and as companies continue to make little to no progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion despite billions of dollars in spending, it’s time to reframe our efforts to focus on intersectionality rather than just high-level racial and gender categories.

Originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, at its core, intersectionality is simply the idea that people experience discrimination differently depending on their overlapping identities. While it has become a rather maligned term during our hyper-polarized times, few people actually disagree with the core tenet that a person’s lived experience will vary based on who they are, how they identify, and to which demographic groups they are perceived to belong. If even bitter political rivals can agree that the fundamental concept of intersectionality is valid, why aren’t we prioritizing it to finally move the needle on inclusion in our workplaces?

Why intersectionality is so important to better support employees

The events of 2020 have greatly increased the focus on issues around DEI, employee wellbeing, and employee engagement. Particularly amidst the rapid transition to remote work, many companies are struggling to adapt and deliver in response to new as well as previously unaddressed employee needs. If companies truly want to improve their employee experience though, how can they do so without knowing the composition of their workforce?

While some employees may hesitate to share information about their personal lives and/or how they identify with their employer, if companies don’t ask they will continue to make decisions based on ‘intuition’ rather than data. In order to be strategic, employers need to learn about, respect, and appreciate their team members’ multiple intersecting identities so they know, for instance, how to build a benefits package that actually suits employees’ lifestyles. If the only demographic data you have and are tracking is race and gender with minimal granularity, it will be difficult to truly understand what your employees may be facing, and therefore what you can do to better support them.

How to move your workplace towards intersectionality

The first step in moving your workplace towards greater inclusion grounded in intersectionality is to reframe the way you think about diversity. So much focus has been placed on race (often without much regard for ethnicity) and gender that other important measures of diversity rarely factor in. Your diversity program should seek to truly acknowledge and value your employees as whole people with a variety of different assets and attributes, rather than a member of a monolithic race or gender category.

Consider that diversity can come in the form of cognitive and/or physical disabilities, caregiver status, immigrant background, religion, sexual orientation, and more. With so much to consider, it quickly becomes unreasonable to base your entire program around just two, often visually discernable measures. There is a lot more to your employees, and if you want to optimize your employee experience, you’ll have to start learning about them.

The next step is to reorient your DEI goals. Moving away from tokenism and instead towards intersectionality will enable you to bring more perspectives into your meetings and projects, thereby accelerating innovation and amplifying your competitive advantage. While it is certainly crucial that many companies increase the proportion of BIPOC and womxn employees on their payrolls, it is also essential that these individuals are recognized as more than just token hires once they’ve joined.

If you’re considering ways to increase the focus on intersectionality within your workforce, check out Workrowd. Our platform is a one-stop shop that enables employees to join affinity groups based on their identities and interests, and provides you real-time analytics to see how each group is faring. To learn more, visit us at workrowd.com, or reach out directly to hello@workrowd.com.

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Announcing a brand new effort to advance DEI

Amidst all of the deeply negative news of 2020, one positive has been the renewed energy around combatting systemic racism. While the events that precipitated this mobilization are both tragic and unacceptable, the drive for change could not wait any longer. The need to build more inclusive environments is especially urgent in our workplaces, where demographic-based disparities and discrimination abound.

Currently, 80% of Fortune 500 senior executives are men, and 72% of them are white. Women still earn just $0.82 for every dollar a man earns, with the burden falling disproportionately on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous womxn, who earn $0.62, $0.54, and $0.57 respectively. Moreover, the Economic Policy Institute reports that the Black-White wage gap has actually increased over the past twenty years, highlighting the enormous amount of work we have to do. Ironically, at the same time estimates suggest that companies are spending $8 billion every year on diversity and inclusion efforts. Clearly what we’re doing is not working.

And now for something completely different

Here at Workrowd, we believe that part of what is stymieing progress is that every company seems to be designing and executing on their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in a silo. When we started doing market research for this venture, we were stunned by the lack of data and best practices available to companies looking to start or expand their DEI work. Accordingly, we set out to find (or build) a solution.

In the course of our research, we learned about employee resource groups, or ERGs. Many of you are likely familiar with ERGs, but this idea was actually new to the Workrowd team when we started this journey. We instantly latched on to ERGs as being incredible vehicles to build support and power for underrepresented folx in the workplace, but we ultimately found that these employee-led efforts weren’t nearly living up to their potential.

In many companies, ERG leaders are at extremely high risk of burnout and lack the support they need from the company to enable their groups to thrive. Furthermore, over time, the focus of ERGs can shift to become more social rather than strategic. Given the devastating effects of non-inclusive workplaces, we knew we had to intervene and do our part to expand the set of tools available to ERG members.

A fortuitous partnership

As we started to dig into how we could best equip ERG leaders and members with the resources to supercharge their groups, we reached out to a variety of organizations that were already active in the ERG space. After a pretty disheartening series of strikeouts, we eventually connected with the Association of ERGs and Councils (AEC). Originally launched way back in 2005, the AEC had been taken over in recent years by a new owner who hadn’t had the bandwidth to give it their all. The effort was seriously in need of a refresh, so we set about discussing how we might collaborate to give the AEC a makeover.

After months of discussion and buildup, we finally were able to get down work, targeting a mid-October announcement. Our partner organization had decided to combine their annual conference with the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations’ ERG Leadership Summit Week, which seemed like the perfect time and place to debut our new collaboration. The summit started yesterday, so it is with great excitement that we announce the relaunch of what used to be the Association of ERGs and Councils as a brand new, digital-first experience.

Welcome to the next generation ERG empowerment hub

This new network is the premier community for ERG and diversity council members to connect across the globe. With best-in-class resources, exclusive events, and on-demand analytics, the one-stop platform is building the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion by empowering underrepresented employees with the tools they need to succeed. We’ve got membership options to fit every organization type and budget, including opportunities for individuals to join, so there’s no reason to let your employees get left behind.

We’ll be revealing more in the coming weeks, but for now, if you’d like to learn more please visit erg.workrowd.com. Memberships include the 24/7 networking community along with access to best practice resources and trainings, and dashboards to help you track your progress. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us directly at erg@workrowd.com. We’ll be sharing more soon, so stay tuned!

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3 ways to better support employee caregivers right now

Do you know which of your employees are caregivers? Statistically speaking, the majority of them likely are, although fewer than half of employers track this data. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that 73% of U.S. employees are caring for a child, parent, and/or friend. With the novel coronavirus forcing drastic changes to what caretaking requires, and pushing even more people into the caregiver category as their loved ones struggle to recover from COVID-19, it’s crucial that employers recognize the additional strain this can place on employees.

In the same HBS study referenced above, more than 80% of caregivers surveyed admitted that their caregiving responsibilities affected their productivity. Accordingly, beyond just being the right thing to do, taking steps to better support employee caregivers has a strong business case. While some employees may be hesitant to share details about their caregiving relationships at work, it’s important nonetheless that companies put structures and benefits in place to ensure employees can succeed no matter what they may be dealing with in their personal lives.

Considerations when designing a program to support employee caregivers

As mentioned above, the first items to take into account when determining how to support employee caregivers are privacy and equity. Employees should not feel obligated to disclose their caregiving roles, nor should they have to question whether being a caregiver will potentially be used against them in deciding who will receive challenging assignments, promotions, pay raises, etc. While it can be useful to understand exactly which employees are caring for a child, relative, or friend, it’s more important to ensure that all your workers are aware of your company’s available accommodations as anyone’s caregiving status can change at any moment. Accordingly, focus on education and transparency more so than identifying your employees with caregiving responsibilities directly.

As part of your education efforts, it’s also important to ensure that employees know that your company both supports and respects employee caregivers. Build awareness about the challenges that caregivers face, and how your company helps employees address them. Make sure that your sensitivity training for managers includes content on caregiving so that they can best meet the needs of their team members.

Lastly, don’t forget to factor caregiving into your benefits programs. If you can offer daycare and/or related subsidies, flexible work hours and remote work, and healthcare plans that are inclusive of a variety of family structures to ensure your workers can access coverage for those who need it, it will go a long way towards making your workplace friendly and welcoming to employee caregivers. Don’t forget to ensure that all your employees are aware of the full extent of the benefits you provide!

Recommendations for building inclusion for caregivers in your workplace

While the considerations listed above are crucial to form the basis of your program, these efforts will fall flat if your caregiving employees don’t feel welcomed and included within your workplace. There are a number of approaches you can take to building belonging for these team members, but we’ve listed our favorites below:

  • Connect employees with resources. Beyond offering specific benefits to support caregivers as mentioned above, and especially if that’s not achievable within your budget, simply providing a list of relevant resources can be helpful. Assemble information about the services and supports that are available to different types of caregivers, whether they’re responsible for an elderly relative, have young children, or are the guardian for an adult who is ill and/or disabled. Host these repositories somewhere easily accessible, and remind employees of their existence as needed.
  • Make your events inclusive and accessible. Obviously a lot has changed since the pandemic hit, but if all of your employee events are being held outside of work hours, they’re likely excluding folx whose personal lives include caregiving. Take people’s non-work commitments into account when you’re planning initiatives, opting for lunch and/or workday times rather than nights or weekends. If you do schedule programming during off hours, try to make it family-friendly, so people can bring their children/relatives rather than having to simply skip it.
  • Create a caregiver employee resource group. Caregiving can be extremely isolating and emotionally taxing. By connecting employees with their colleagues who are facing the same struggles, companies can build their employer brand at the same time they’re making something very difficult for their employees a bit easier. Through this group, employees can share recommendations of care providers, exchange supplies (e.g. passing on gently used children’s toys), and commiserate.

How are your employee caregivers doing today? Do you know? If not, the first step is to check in with them, then take steps to address their needs accordingly. If you’re looking for an easy way to aggregate resources for certain groups of workers, connect employees with shared experiences, stand up employee resource groups, and/or easily monitor employee engagement and wellbeing, Workrowd is here for you. Contact us at hello@workrowd.com to see how we can help you better support employee caregivers and make your entire workplace more inclusive.

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The reign of the customer-focused organization is over

There is a frequently quoted phrase that says that, ‘your employees are your greatest asset.’ Unfortunately though, while most companies will agree with this claim on its face, there are relatively few that actually walk the walk when it comes down to it. This ultimately comes at a great and often unforeseen cost. In the U.S. alone, unhappy employees cost their organizations upwards of $550 billion per year.

We write a lot about the cost of disengagement, lack of diversity, and other metrics here on this blog, many of which intersect and interact with employee happiness. Ultimately, creating happy, healthy environments for employees that prioritize both physical and psychological safety, that include opportunities for training and growth, and which offer space for community, can drive business outcomes in ways that many executives overlook.

Great time and care is put towards nailing down buyer personas, learning everything possible about them, and seeking to impress and delight those prototypical customers at every turn. Workers are rarely given the same treatment. At the end of the day though, if your employees are your greatest asset, shouldn’t you know them as well as you know your customers?

The benefits of shifting focus from customers to employees

The quote in the first sentence of this post is often attributed to Richard Branson, who also said “I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” By that logic, if you focus entirely on making your customers happy while neglecting your employees’ needs, your goal of happy customers will always remain out of reach. If your employees are treated poorly, that will translate into the level and quality of service your customers receive. Starting out at the employee level ensures that your workers will be prepared and committed to performing in a way that leads to success with customers.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, researchers note that the benefits of positive cultures far outweigh those of “cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners” workplaces focused purely on client outcomes. They furthermore state that the costs of negative cultures come in many forms including adverse health outcomes, disengagement, lack of loyalty, and more. Conversely, employees at organizations with positive cultures experience wellbeing at levels that boost engagement and productivity. Both the costs and benefits are clear, making it a no-brainer to orient your company goals around employees, rather than customers.

How you can become employee-focused

For many companies, this will not be an easy shift. Some version of ‘the customer is always right’ or ‘our customers come first’ is embedded into the value system of a large swath of organizations. In and of itself, this isn’t a problem, but very few say the same, or even anything, about employees. Accordingly, becoming employee-focused will require a significant reframing of how the company operates in pursuing its core business functions.

While there may have previously been an expectation that employees would work an unhealthy number of hours in order to meet and exceed every customer demand, the focus instead should be on empowering employees with the tools and support they need to fulfill their duties in a reasonable timeframe. This may include pushing back on customers where needed and appropriate. We have included a few concrete ideas of how to begin the transition below:

  1. Inform your employees of your plan, and solicit their input. It’s important to evaluate where your culture stands currently before you can decide how to proceed. Start by asking your employees. Making them feel involved and valued is the first step towards becoming more employee-focused.
  2. Revise your values and systems to prioritize employee wellbeing. As mentioned above, your employees’ happiness and wellbeing must be bumped up to the top of the priority list. This means that many of your policies will likely need an overhaul. Rather than fixating on presenteeism and/or hours worked, develop new performance evaluation criteria based on quality of work completed. Invest in your employees’ development. Give them opportunities to connect and build community with their colleagues rather than pitting them against one another or discouraging socializing as a productivity drain.
  3. Lead with transparency and empathy. While some aspects of culture change can rise up from the grassroots, change of this sort needs to be modeled at the top in order to succeed. Strive to infuse your interactions and communications with empathy, and be open and transparent with employees at every opportunity. When done well, you’ll see a ripple effect throughout your entire organization, as people mimic and repeat the positive behaviors they’ve seen within and among their own teams.

The singular focus on customer happiness is an outdated notion that needs to go the way of the telegram. It’s time for a new era of employee-focused organizations. Workrowd’s platform empowers employees to build workplaces they love, and equips executive and people teams with the data they need to manage and measure employee wellbeing. If you’re ready to become an employee-focused workplace, come check us out at workrowd.com.

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Small employee experience tweaks that make a big impact

As the pandemic drags on, delivering a top-notch employee experience has become both more difficult and more important than ever before. Employee needs have shifted and intensified, and the uncertainty has made it even more challenging to design an effective strategy. While many organizations have looked towards large-scale policy changes and benefits overhauls, there are actually quite a few small changes that can do wonders for your employee experience during this critical time.

It’s important not to let your employee experience decline amidst all the turmoil. According to a Pew research Center survey, more than one-third of Americans have experienced clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both since the pandemic began. Given that workplace stress costs U.S. businesses as much as $300 billion and is responsible for 120,000 deaths each year, this is not a statistic to be taken lightly. Aside from just being the right thing to do for employees, companies have a financial imperative to help support the mental health of their workers throughout the duration of this crisis.

Key areas to focus on to boost your employee experience

Employee needs will obviously vary by organization and individual, so the best thing you can do is to ask your people how you can support them. Broadly speaking though, a large number of employee needs fall into the three buckets outlined below. Solving for these issues is a great place to start when looking to adapt and improve your employee experience today and on through the next phases of the global pandemic.

  • Making employees feel valued. At this difficult time when many employees are compromising other aspects of their life (health, childcare, etc.) to fulfill their work responsibilities, the worst thing an employer can possibly do is to make their workers feel that they don’t matter. Employees who don’t feel valued are unlikely to see any reason to give their all at work, and will be significantly more likely to leave if they have the opportunity.
  • Making employees feel safe. Taking every precaution possible to protect the health of your employees is a crucial component of delivering a positive employee experience at all times, but especially in the current climate. That means letting workers who can work from home do so, taking every safety measure possible for those workers who have to be onsite, and responding promptly to complaints and requests. This plays into the issue of value mentioned above; if safety isn’t shown to be a top priority, employers will have a hard time convincing their employees to come in and give their all while constantly worrying they may get hurt and/or sick.
  • Making employees feel connected. Last but certainly not least, employees need to feel connected, both via effective systems and tools, and to community through bonding with their colleagues. Carve out dedicated time for people to socialize, and make sure everyone has the tools and training they need to stay up-to-speed with their teams. While all three of these areas are crucial to focus on, connection is one of the easiest to overlook. Don’t leave your employees isolated and struggling during a time that’s already so difficult.

3 low-cost ways to put these ideas into action

There are myriad ways to target the three areas listed above, but we’ve included a few of our no or low-cost favorites below to get you started. Remember that the most important thing is to do what’s right for your workforce and to involve employees early and often.

  1. With people working from so many different locations, it can be a great time to get creative with your employee recognition efforts. If you previously did yearly employee awards, it may be worthwhile to increase their frequency to quarterly, or even monthly, to let employees know you notice their hard work and appreciate them. Awards can simply involve a certificate and ‘bragging rights’, or can include a day off or a gift card.
  2. Aside from allowing all employees who have the ability to work remotely to do so, communication is critical. Remind your employees frequently what steps the company is taking to keep them safe, and update them as things change. If you have the budget, consider having masks and/or hand sanitizers made with the company logo for distribution to employees.
  3. While the Zoom fatigue is real at this point, that doesn’t mean it’s time to ease up on the employee events. Double down on helping your employees feel connected to their work and their colleagues. Try hosting a talent show where team members pre-record a performance, then everyone gathers to watch the submissions and vote. Additionally, never underestimate the value of your employee resource groups to keep folx invested.

As the pandemic continues to drag on much longer than any of us hoped, you can’t let your employee experience fall by the wayside. It’s crucial that companies remain vigilant in providing a stellar environment for employees regardless of whether they work onsite or remotely. Hopefully this post gave you some helpful ideas, but if you’re looking for more, check out Workrowd’s platform. We’ve packed it chockfull of best practice resources, streamlined tools, and transparent access for everyone in your organization. Visit us at workrowd.com.