If the HR response to the pandemic was a book, Chapter 1 would have been focused on the effort to transition employees from the office to home: getting them there safely, equipping them with the right tools, figuring out how to manage a remote workforce.
Now, we’re in Chapter 2—and the work has to have more of a long-range focus.
“We have to change [employees’] brains to think about this as a marathon, not a sprint,” said Pat Wadors, chief talent officer of ServiceNow, at a session Tuesday at the virtual HR Technology Conference. Employees need to learn how to turn off Zoom, take work calls on a walk outdoors or even take an exercise break during the workday—without guilt. Ultimately, the work/life integration is the next looming challenge for HR to tackle. “Being really present in the moment is where I want to teach our employees how to do better. This isn’t going away any time soon, so we need to figure out that balance.”
To do that, HR should view all of its responsibilities—benefits planning, performance management, workforce planning, employee communications—through the lens of whole-person care. The work-from-home shift has shattered traditional barriers between work and family life.
“We’ve been invited into [employees’] homes. That intimacy of getting to know another human is a special gift,” Wadors said.
It’s one that has enabled HR leaders to better embrace the essential mandate of their work: caring for people.
“It’s bringing out the core of HR that’s always been there,” said Josh Bersin, an HR Tech keynoter, whose session with Wadors explored how culture and caring will shape the future workforce. “HR professionals tend to bury people issues, depending on the needs of the company at the time. So, this is surfacing many of the core strengths and values that HR has always had from the beginning.”
At ServiceNow, that approach has involved gathering employee sentiment every few weeks to measure how employees are feeling and examining the data across a range of demographics for any patterns. The executive team meets almost daily for an hour. There is a more frequent cadence of all-hands and manager calls, and the company has launched a series of training webinars, social events and wellness initiatives.
ServiceNow also rolled out a perk program offering a menu of choices for both employees and their families: tutoring, mental health apps, yoga courses and other at-home wellness programs.
While employers are taking steps to embed empathy into their programs and policies, managers need to also be better prepared for whole-person care, Wadors said. The challenges of managing newly distributed workers are vast—flexible scheduling, family challenges and a growing mental health crisis, for instance—and much of that work is coming down on the shoulders of managers.
“We need to lean into our managers and give them more tools to be more gracious to their employees,” she says.
While managers are learning the value of flexibility, C-suite executives may be harder to convince.
“The biggest resisters will be at the leadership level,” Wadors said. “They’re used to a certain pattern of working—you’ve got to bust them out of that mindset to think about performance management, productivity differently, adapting to the needs of the employee more deliberately than ever before. One size does not fit all.”
“We need to lean into our managers and give them more tools to be more gracious to their employees.” Pat Wadors
That holds true for the future of the workplace as well. Both Bersin and Wadors envision a largely hybrid workforce, where white-collar workers who are able to will work largely from home and rely on offices for meetings and other team activities.
The agility and adaptability that will allow those models to flourish should be taking root now, she added.
“If we’re wise, we will capture the silver linings in all of this and put it in our DNA,” Wadors said. “We should put the employee in the center of our experience and adapt as needed. If we continue to have that framework, everyone will be better served.”
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