Supporting Workplace Wellbeing

People Spotlight:  Nadia Eran, People Manager, Talkspace

There has been a lot of conversation around the topic of whether the workplace is responsible for supporting and ensuring the wellbeing of individuals, and while that topic is still up for debate, we spoke with a Human Resources professional who has a unique perspective that provides food for thought.

Meet Nadia Eran, People Manager at Talkspace, a start-up Telehealth company that provides mental health support in the form of on-demand therapy. Nadia received her degree at Teacher’s College in Organizational Psychology and began her career in clinical research and oncology where she spent four years streamlining workflows for the hospital (amongst other things). Soon after, she began working at Retensa, a company focusing on improving employee engagement and retention for its clients. While in this role, Nadia realized that she was missing the dimension of time; she was unable to measure the change and impact that strategies had on employee populations and workplace culture down the line.

Nadia wanted to be in the weeds implementing changes and experiencing the outcomes. She wanted to truly understand a company as a system, learning how pulling one string here might impact one or all parts of an organization. It was this realization that brought Nadia to Talkspace where she began as a team of one in her department. There were barely started projects and few systems in place with no People Operations or Talent Management support. It was a blank canvas where the only constant was [and still is] change.

Nadia’s role has been in managing the employees of Talkspace and she has had to make decisions on everything from L&D and D&I to wellness offerings, believing that the best place to mold individuals is where they work. Why?  “Because one third of our lives are spent at work,” Nadia says “and employers have a unique opportunity to help shape individuals.

If we [an employer] can foster change agents in the workplace, it can translate to other parts of their lives”. The qualities nurtured in the workplace through Talent Management, Performance Management, and L&D can inspire our people to become more in tune with their work, themselves, their families and with their communities. A workplace that focuses on building strong, resilient and healthy leaders can in turn impact the places in which these individuals live, work and play. We had the pleasure of speaking with Nadia to discuss both her unique perspective on the workplace as a space for individual betterment, and about stepping into the start-up space.

Supporting Wellbeing for Everyone:

  1. If we can turn people into engaged, happy and inspired individuals and groups and develop them into the best version of themselves through meaningful work and opportunities for growth, we can foster an individual who can help the people around them succeed and who can mobilize their teams [or entire company] to do amazing things. Building skills, community structures, confidence, and leadership can impact more than just work translate to more than just work. Imagine what those people will look like in their outside lives. It can inspire them to become better mothers, fathers, caretakers, friends and community members, and can influence them to show up to their commitments ready to give 110% effort.
  2. If people expect equity, fairness and support at work, then maybe they will begin to expect it in their homes, in their communities and from their government. As an employer, we can create new-norms for people.
  3. The ultimate intent of People Operations or HR is to be a 2-way partnership. Nadia’s job is to make sure all levels of the organization have what they need to feel confident to ask a great question that can spur a new product, or to make a mistake that helps cultivate a space for learning and experimentation.
  4. How people feel when they first begin with a company impacts whether they remain in the company. Paying particular attention to your companies onboarding and performance management process is one piece of the puzzle. Onboarding helps new hires acclimate to the culture and ramp up their understanding of how the role is important to mission of the company. Performance management helps employees set aligned goals to the roadmap, keeping everyone on track and accountable to their deliverables.

Additional Tips from Nadia When Starting a New Role:

  1. Establish Your “Why”. An important aspect of the start-up world is to remember that the pace is faster than in other types of business, making it important to keep yourself accountable. For those in the start-up space, Nadia suggests establishing the ‘why’ of your role to keep yourself motivated and laser focused through the ambiguous, day-to-day challenges of competing priorities and gray layered ambiguity inherent in all start-ups.
  2. Slow down to speed up. If you are moving a million miles a minute you don’t realize the mistakes, or the impact those mistakes can have. It becomes harder to connect dots when you’re always moving so quickly. Take time to get to know the people on your team, take the time to listen to a webinar or go to a training. The start-up space is like an ocean. You feel the motion of the current and you want to keep up with the waves but if you don’t have the right systems in place, big mistakes can happen.
  3. Make connections with other start up leaders to gain perspective. It’s so easy to be in your own head or system and a third party or network of people you can trust to bounce ideas off of comes in handy.
  4. Use yourself as a barometer. When you walk into a system (team, company or culture), whatever it is that you’re feeling or comes up for you when you walk through the door may be what is actually happening. Pay attention to those signals. Others [clients, candidates, etc.] are most likely feeling it too. But once you’re in that system, after a while you become used to it and you stop asking questions, it just becomes the norm. Recognize the power that your new-ness holds and utilize this valuable time to disrupt, investigate, to collect data trends and patterns. Put those observations into your roadmap as areas to address. Everyone has this power when you start a new role to pause, take notes and ask questions. Do people feel included or not? Does leadership meet employees’ expectations?” You have an advantage of coming in with fresh eyes.

Nadia believes that if you build strategies and systems that make work more inspiring and productive by creating an experience, that this is key to moving, developing, and transforming your workforce. Ultimately this positively impacts companies, communities and families.

Mitigating Employee Burnout

Employee burnout is becoming an increasing issue for employers because it can cost companies substantial amounts of money in PTO, health claims, and productivity. Burn out is when an employee is physically, mentally, and emotionally drained within the work place. Being able to understand what burnout is, the signs, its causes, and how to prevent or mitigate the effects of burnout is important for employers in order to maintain a positive work culture.

A recent Gallup study of almost 7,500 full-time employees found that about two thirds of workers experienced burnout syndrome in some capacity. Employees who are burned out are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. They are also 2.6 times more likely to be seeking new jobs and more likely to express frustration that managing life outside of work, ie. family responsibilities, is challenging.

Exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency are three signs of burnout. When these three things occur together in one individual, severe burnout occurs.  There are several factors that can contribute to employee burnout including work-related factors, personal-life factors and personality factors but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus only on a few major work-related factors.

Work Overload. Too much work for one person and not enough time in the work day or work week to complete it. This can cause “mental quicksand” which is when poor performance causes individuals to feel overwhelmed leading to further poor performance and maybe even damage to confidence. High-performing employees can quickly shift from positive, half-glass-full employees to hopeless as they become bogged down by an unmanageable workload.

Role Ambiguity. A vague job description and lack of clarity on what is actually expected on a day-to-day basis can cause burn out. According to Gallups’ recent State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When expectations are a constantly moving target, employees can become exhausted and frustrated trying to figure out what leadership wants from them.

Lack of Resources. No training or lack of role-specific training and/or inadequate resources to perform a job correctly can cause confusion, exhaustion and burnout
Lack of Social Support. Ignoring employees, not saying hello or asking them how they are can make employees feel isolated or ostracized.

Lack of Feedback.
If you’re not giving feedback to employees, both positive and constructive, they will never know if they are doing their job well or where they can improve. A negligent manager leaves employees feeling uninformed and confused.

Lack of work-life balance.  Employees being so overworked that they are taking work home and answering emails or calls when they are technically off the clock can cause burnout. Too large of a workload or managerial expectations that employees be accessible 24/7 can take time away from family commitments, making employees feel like they never get a break.

Little Participation in Decision Making. Not including employees in any level of decision making, even as small as to where the morning meetings bagels and coffee will be from can make employees feel like they don’t have control over anything. It can leave them feeling helpless and micromanaged.

What You Can Do To Mitigate Burnout:

1. Ensure employees have reasonable workloads and realistic deadlines. When a workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can’t accomplish.

2. Provide appropriate resources. This includes making sure employees have access to the tools, resources, and technologies needed to do their jobs well.

3. Draw boundaries and lead by example. As a manager, director or leader, employees are often following suit when it comes to responding to calls or emails outside of the traditional work hours. Employees, especially new, motivated employees looking to make a good impression and prove their competency may tend to do this. Make it known to employees that responding to emails after work hours, unless in emergency situations, is not expected even if you do it.

4. Provide Feedback. Let employees know how they are doing on a regular basis. Acknowledge them when you are present in the office and support them when they come to you with questions or concerns.

5. Discuss responsibilities and performance goals. Connect with employees to clearly outline job expectations and goals. Allow room for autonomy and trust employees to work on tasks for as often as they’d like and as long as they’d like, with opportunities to work on passion projects on the side of main duties.

Employee burnout is detectable, repairable and can be avoided or mitigated by appropriate leadership actions.  Burnout  is influenced by social, organizational and individual personality factors and the relationship of the individual with their work can be disrupted by any one, or a combination of such factors.

HR’s Growing Role in the Boardroom

With so much conversation in the boardroom emanating from the big social themes of diversity, inclusion, compensation alongside the pressures of talent acquisition, corporate governance needs the expertise of senior human resource officers in a way that the audit committee needed financial expertise under the spectre of Sarbannes – Oxley. And yet, despite the need for its expertise, human resources is widely absent from the boardroom.  Good governance is important and  bad governance can kill a good company.

A Board of Directors main purpose is to ensure the integrity of leadership, monitor financial and ethical compliance, manage risk and to develop strategies that will propel the business and its mission forward. It functions to check-in on the health and profitability of a company, to gain insight on what is happening between the layers of the organization and its people, to discuss pressing matters and to make decisions that impact all.  It is clear, with these all being people management tasks, that HR needs to be present in the boardroom to add meaningful insight to the conversation and yet we’ve seen plenty of boards, especially those of start-ups, pull in whoever is around to sit on a board of directors. The CEO’s friends and family members or investor representatives- people who may have less interest in governance and less relevant expertise- have found themselves in these seats.

With diversity and inclusion being viewed as a business strategy, why isn’t that same diversity and inclusion being practiced in the boardroom? Less women, less individuals of color and less representation from different but vital roles in a company are present, yet studies show that corporations with diverse boards see the value that a diverse perspective and problem-solving skills brought by a more well-rounded board can offer.  BlackRock, the most successful asset management company, believes that diversity and inclusion in the boardroom has contributed to its success in creating long-term value for its shareholders.

In their Letter to Investors, they discuss board diversity and share that they have nominated individuals of different genders, ethnic backgrounds and levels of management.  “BlackRock’s commitment to diversity enhances Board involvement in our Company’s multi-faceted longterm strategy and inspires deeper engagement with management, employees and clients around the world.”  New companies in the process of setting up boards, and seasoned companies who are nominating new members would be well-off to consider a diverse board  that breaks the caucasian male stereotype.  Boards are not only looking for who their executives know, but also how they know them and what they know about them.

Below are recommendations for the appropriate skill-sets for Board of Director candidates, provided by Jennifer Naylor, Founder of MottsPoint and an expert in board governance:
  1. Those involved in strategic planning
  2. Those with governance experience
  3. Those with expertise in key customers, strategic imperatives and/or enterprise risk profile
  4. Courageous individuals who are going to challenge group perspectives and push the group out of its comfort zone to move the needle. The boardroom is not the place to celebrate every success and report out on what has already been done, but it is a place to spend time looking forward and plan for the future
  5. Those with a strong networks and access to resources and relationships that can be beneficial to the success of the company
  6. Those who have experience with the industry of the respective company the board is being formed for, and who have overcome challenges in a similar space and can help navigate through potential challenges.
  7. An HR professional who can provide insight into the day to day and employee relationships and dynamics, and who can help manage the board.

Board members have reported feeling that they do not talk enough about strategy during board meetings, and rather spend a bulk of time reporting on measures, but these meetings are incredibly important opportunities to have people who are up to date on the ins and outs of business and who are on the ground with employees during the day-to- day.

Does your company have an interesting talent story? What’s the overall strategic plan, and is your talent pool ready? Is talent acquisition part of the company’s risk profile? How is the Board doing on succession planning, leadership pipeline, and compensation? What about board and leadership assessments? These are all reasons why HR should have a seat at the table. The board either should consider inviting an HR person to the table, or dig deeper and scratch below the surface to ensure they know really what is going on, or they may risk poor governance simply by not having the right mix of people in the room.

Closing the Conversation Gap: Spotlight – Bravely

Spotlight – Bravely

A decade ago, it was reported that 70% percent of employees were avoiding a conversation with their managers, colleagues, direct reports, or HR teams. At Bravely, they call this the Conversation Gap––and they decided to partner with a research firm to look into whether it had widened or narrowed in the years since.

What they found? Despite the increased emphasis on workplace culture and the billions of dollars that have poured into HR departments and initiatives, the number of employees avoiding tough conversation hasn’t budged. And what’s more, the fear of speaking up doesn’t discriminate: regardless of title, tenure, company size, identity, or industry, people are avoiding conversations about, well, everything.

More specifically:

  • Conversations are failing at a higher rate at large companies
  • Managers struggle to speak up at the same rate as their direct reports, causing ripple effects downstream
  • LGBTQ+ employees fear retribution more than others

Meet Toby Hervey and Sarah Sheehan, co-founders of Bravely, a platform that connects employees with professional coaches for confidential conversations in the moments they need them most.  At Bravely, they say, they’re on a mission to democratize coaching.

The idea was born out of a phone call that Toby received from a friend who was struggling with her manager and threatening to quit. After trying (unsuccessfully) to give his friend unbiased advice, he decided to connect her with Sarah––a former colleague and friend whose career experience started in Human Resources.

Sarah’s objective guidance helped Toby’s friend shift her perspective, approach her manager, and work through her issues. And for Toby and Sarah, the experience struck a chord.

Having spent years building a platform for on-demand urgent care, Toby couldn’t help but think that employees would benefit from a similar approach in moments of need at work. And Sarah, who had moved from HR into a sales role at a fast-growing tech company, knew first-hand that when people were distracted by workplace conflict, it was impossible to do good work (and bad for the bottom line).

Beyond that, though, they asked themselves what it might look like to provide people with expert guidance in the moments they needed it most. They started Bravely to solve the problem of democratizing employee coaching and expanding access to professional resources and support that had traditionally been reserved for executives and “high potential” employees?

Today, Bravely supports employees at companies across all industries like Zillow Group, Evernote, and a fast-casual food chain––giving them an outlet to discuss everything from coworker conflict to performance-related stress, and the tools they need to go forward with confidence. Additionally, they provide HR teams with aggregated and de-identified insights that they can use to develop programs and policies within their organizations.

Are you interested in learning more about Bravely’s research and how the Conversation Gap impacts employees? They’ve shared a link to their expanded research which you can download here.

For more information about Bravely or to get in touch with Toby and Sarah, please contact them here.

Whistleblowing in the Workplace

We’ve been conditioned since we were children to think that “tattling” or “snitching” would get us into trouble, made fun of and bullied by authorities or peers. It’s what has caused children to keep secrets to themselves that an adult really needed to have knowledge about so that they could put the behavior to an end. This fear has been carried with many of us into adulthood and into the professional space where these days, when an employee witnesses an activity, behavior or is aware of information that is unlawful, unethical or against workplace policies, they choose not to bring it to the attention of a manager, HR or legal counsel for fear of retaliation from their employer. With employment being of such importance to our livelihoods there is a real fear that exists for employees of all natures that if they speak up or speak out against an employer that they will suffer adverse employment action.

The good news is that there has been a shift in the culture surrounding whistleblowing and it has has improved whistleblower protections from employer retaliation with laws such as the Whistleblower Act, the Dodd-Frank Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the False Claims Act. This culture shift also includes the creation of incentives to encourage whistleblowers to come forth with any evidence of wrongful activity or behavior so as to maintain safe, healthy and just environments both in the workplace and beyond. Now more than ever, it is important for employers to foster a working environment that encourages employees to speak up and speak out against any wrongful activity and to build a trusting relationship that enables employees to bring this information forward without fear of being ostracized or losing their jobs.

Below we share ten best practices for employers to consider when fostering a culture of trust between them and their employees as it relates to internal reporting programs, contributed by Renee Phillips, Chair of Whistleblower Task Force at Orrick.

  1. Ensure that your company’s Code of Conduct is published and widely disseminated and available to all employees
  2. Ensure that there are several channels available for employees to report concerns. This includes a process to report to managers, HR staff, a compliance department, a telephone hotline and/or via a website. Also be sure to provide a way for employees to report anonymously. 
  3. Do not attempt to identify an anonymous whistleblower for any reason
  4. Provide managers with training on how to properly deal with an employee coming forward as a whistleblower. Easy ways to handle a conversation with an employee is to a) thank them for bringing the issue to light, b) tell the employee that you take their statement very seriously and that it will be investigated by the company’s robust compliance program, and c) tell the employee that by law the company cannot retaliate against them and that if the employee does feel retaliated against, to contact HR immediately.
  5. Provide training to employees at every level in the organization on on the different types of whistleblowing that are covered by law, and what types of adverse actions are illegal. Prohibited adverse employment actions include but are not limited to employment termination, demotions, pay cuts, negative employee reviews, reassignments and ostracism.
  6. Preserve the attorney-client privilege by documenting the purpose of the investigation and clearly structuring the investigation as one seeking legal advice
  7. Inform the board/audit committee where allegations may be serious
  8. Assign an HR representative to the whistleblower for the duration of an investigation so that the rep can follow up with them to provide status updates on the investigation, ensure that the employee doesn’t feel retaliated against, review management decisions to ensure that they are not retaliative in nature, and to communicate case conclusions. This can act as a way to help bolster employee belief in organizational justice.
  9. Employers should have a single system to track all items that are brought forward and continually monitor and audit the system to assess the program’s performance.
  10. Employers should perform periodic compliance questionnaires, asking questions such as “within the last 6 months, have you observed potential violations of a, b or c laws”. If this type of questionnaire is used, any responses that identify or point towards an issue must be handled seriously and promptly.

Fear of adverse employment actions and reprisal is the number one reason employees avoid escalating compliance-related concerns. Exercising the above best practices into your company’s whistleblower or internal reporting program can improve employer-employee trust in which voluntary, good faith reports are encouraged.  Employees who trust the internal reporting complaint-resolution process are more likely to bring their concerns forward, which is beneficial to the company as it can function as an early warning of any potential systemic issues.