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Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work Leadership: What Matters Now

In 2020, our most popular blog post discussed how leaders could move forward when Covid abruptly forced many of us to work from home. I remember writing that piece, wondering which remote work leadership practices would make the biggest impact during those uncertain, turbulent, anxiety-filled days.

At that time, it was impossible to fathom what was happening, let alone how to respond. There were no experts, benchmarks, or guidebooks to point the way forward. I couldn’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, my message seemed to strike a chord with our community.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. And resourceful leaders persevered, relying on trial and error to navigate through those early quarantine days.

Covid CliffsNotes

Nearly three years later, we’ve all learned more about remote work than anyone could have imagined. In fact, we’ve adapted so well that many people want to keep working remotelyat least partially.

With this in mind, I decided to revisit my “early Covid” advice to see how much of it still holds true. So here’s a fresh look at 4 key points that seem just as relevant today as we continue to define new ways of working:

Remote Work Leadership Lessons From Covid

1. Be Tactful (Always a Wise Choice)

Exceptional times call for exceptional tact. I noted it then and it’s still unequivocally true. Times may not be as exceptional as they were in March 2020, but we now know that what we once considered “normal” will never return. In fact, the sudden and scary pivot to remote work turned out to be much more effective than we thought.

What changed for the worse? Among other things, stress continues to rise, inflation has risen to record levels, the economy has suffered, and employees have been resigning in droves. In this unstable environment, everyone benefits from tactful, considerate guidance.

In 2020, I encouraged leaders to give people a break when minor mishaps occur, like being late to a meeting. It seems people are now better at coping with small annoyances. (How often have you said in online meetings, “You’re on mute…” without reaching a breaking point?)

However, stress is real. It continues to mount, as mental health issues increasingly challenge many members of the workforce. My advice going forward? Remember to pair diplomacy with a healthy dose of empathy.

2. Provide Plenty of Training (But Wait, There’s More)

Training is critical. The more training we provide, the more confident and capable remote and hybrid work teams will be. Strong leaders are strong learners. And they believe in coaching and developing others. Remote work leaders that invested to help their teams learn, adjust, and grow are now operating at an advantage.

We didn’t know how well people would embrace distributed work practices and tools. But leaders with faith in their team’s ability to adapt now have another advantage: optimism and support that spread throughout their organizations. It’s easy now to see the value of doubling down on learning. But in those bleak early days, this kind of commitment was truly visionary.

The lesson here? Whatever challenges you face, make sure your people have the knowledge and skills they need to come up to speed with a minimum of friction. The sooner they can work effectively, the sooner they’ll become engaged.

But this isn’t just about ensuring that people complete a course. Smart remote work leadership combines skill development training with nudges, status checks, resources, roadmaps, measurable goals, social performance support, and open recognition.

That’s the win. Why? Because no one learns well in a vacuum.

3. Seek Frequent Feedback (Never Enough)

No doubt about it, regular input and reality checks are vital. In 2020, I was concerned that distance could widen the gap between a leader’s view of work culture and an employee’s reality. Physical proximity makes it relatively easy to close that gap, but remote work requires intentional communication.

I suggested reaching out formally to ask employees about their experience and learn what kind of resources they need to feel comfortable, supported, and productive.

Did leaders actually send feedback requests and surveys to their remote teams? Perhaps some did. But then, we became obsessed with isolation and disconnection. Soon, employee engagement took a hit and leaders started watching some of their best employees walk out the virtual door as The Great Resignation gained steam.  

What went wrong? Perhaps remote work leadership didn’t act fast enough. More likely, these managers have become just as exhausted as employees — but they’ve been overlooked. The truth is, no one is immune. In fact, recent U.S. and U.K. research found that 98% of HR practitioners and leaders are burnt out! 

4. Stay Connected (More Than Ever)

This leads to a final lesson — remote work leadership means staying connected with managers, employees, and teams. Full disclosure:  The TalentCulture crew has worked remotely since Day One. Our vision is a virtual “super team,” leveraging digital tools and processes to manage business functions and grow a thriving digital community.

I’ve always admired other leaders who take it upon themselves to reach out and be present via multiple channels. And the power of that approach became apparent throughout the worst of the pandemic.

We saw remote work leaders who stayed involved, engaged, and accessible, giving their teams a sense of alignment and empowerment. I’ve taken notes and found that their toolkits include quick video chats, daily messages, virtual town halls, and short/sweet messages.

Leaders who adhere to an open-door policy — even in virtual settings — are even more important now. Why? This behavior fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. If you want to bring your workforce together (and trust me, you do), you’ll focus on this lesson. The more digital touchpoints you develop, the more likely you’ll reach everyone in a way that resonates, and the more “present” you’ll be for them.

Leadership Takes Heart (and Strong Nerves)

A final note:  We’re not yet on the other side of the pandemic, but we’ve learned a lot. And we know the world of work will never be the same.

I’m reminded of how far we’ve come when I recall my 2020 comment:

Peace of mind is as hard to come by as n95 masks.”

Thank goodness we aren’t dealing with a mask shortage anymore! Nevertheless, we still see high levels of stress, anxiety, and disengagement at work. And this is likely to continue for a long time to come.

Here’s where great management qualities count. Empathetic, engaged, resourceful, in-touch remote work leadership makes all the difference. It says your organization truly cares about supporting employees while getting the job done. And that’s essential, because the buck always stops at the corner office — whether it’s at corporate headquarters or at your dining room table.

Keys to a Successful Open Enrollment Season

Open enrollment season is upon us again, and the world of work continues to shift at a head-spinning pace. This fluid environment poses benefits-related challenges that HR leaders can’t afford to ignore. For example, decision-makers are wondering:

  • How to address employees’ evolving needs. It’s essential now to meet individuals where they are and provide clear pathways to benefits that resonate.
  • How to communicate effectively in a “work anywhere” environment. Everyone deserves easy access to clear, relevant benefits information, regardless of whether they’ve returned to the office, they’re working remotely, or their schedule blends both work modes.

Why Benefits Education Counts

To illustrate how important education is for a successful open enrollment season, consider these U.S. health benefits research findings:

  • 72% of employees wish someone would tell them the best health insurance for their particular situation. (Justworks/Harris Poll)
  • Nearly 90% of employers think their benefits are clear and easy to understand. Yet only 65% of employees agree. (via MetLife)
  • 54% of employees don’t know the full scope of their health benefits. Yet nearly 65% say these offerings significantly influence their willingness to stay with an organization. (Justworks/Harris Poll)

This means education is vital—not just to help people choose relevant benefits. The truth is that, without effective benefits education, you’re putting employee retention at risk. But improving open enrollment communication doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Below are a few simple ways to help employees through the decision-making process and ensure better overall results:

5 Ways to Improve Open Enrollment Education

1) Host Multiple Information Sessions

Conducting a single all-hands open enrollment season meeting no longer covers all the bases. Even if 100% of your employees work on-site, you can’t expect full participation. Some people will be out ill or on vacation. Unavoidable business priorities will keep others from attending. It’s smart to plan ahead and assume conflicts will make it impossible for everyone to join a live session.

You can rise to this challenge by producing content in various formats (for example, an in-person meeting, a live webinar, a digital recording, and a series of podcast episodes). You’ll also want to share this content through multiple delivery channels (for example, sending email messages, sharing in Slack groups, and posting on your organization’s intranet platform).

The goal is to make information easily accessible and available whenever people can fit it into their schedules.

2) Plan Open Enrollment “Office Hours”

To augment your core benefits “broadcast” content, consider offering prescheduled office hours with an HR staff member. You can structure and promote this as an opportunity for individuals to drop by in person or online and discuss their specific circumstances with a benefits expert.

Often in public information sessions, employees hesitate to ask questions about what they don’t know. But office hours provide a private safe space for discussion. This frees employees to speak more openly about their specific concerns. At the same time, it helps the HR team provide more relevant information to ensure individuals understand the impact of their open enrollment choices.

You may also find it helpful to extend the value of these sessions by repurposing the content for broader use. In other words, you can select some of the most common questions from “office hours” visits and repost them anonymously as “frequently asked questions” on a wiki or web page.

3) Get Your Vendors Involved

Sometimes, information is best received directly from the source. Hosting virtual live and recorded benefits fairs gives vendors a platform for sharing details about their solutions and services. It also provides more time for providers to discuss specific questions in-depth with employees.

So, instead of conducting a standard 1-hour session where your HR team summarizes available health benefits, you could schedule a series of 30-45-minute sessions showcasing key vendors. (For example, you could feature each of your health insurance companies, along with sessions devoted to specialized vendors, such as onsite dental services, wellness consultants, or fertility benefits providers).

These sessions can focus on basic facts about each solution, as well as ancillary benefits that are underutilized. Then you could close each session by answering individual questions from the audience.

Also, if you’re scheduling topic-focused HR office hours, you may want to ask vendor consultants to join relevant sessions. Or you could invite key vendors to conduct their own 1:1 sessions. Sometimes, employees feel more comfortable talking to external benefits specialists. For these people, dedicated vendor sessions or 1:1 office hours are an ideal solution.

4) Integrate Micro-Learnings into the Process

Micro-learnings are brief educational events and materials targeting topics that tie in with key benefits, such as health and finance. This kind of knowledge sharing encourages more employee interaction and tends to generate deeper interest in relevant benefits.

To illustrate, here are a few micro-learning themes:

  • “Urgent Care vs ER: What’s the Difference?”
  • “The Link Between Mental Health and Overall Health”
  • “How to Balance Work Life with Family Caregiving

Top online learning providers (such as LinkedIn Learning and YouTube channels) already provide excellent educational content about these topics. This means you don’t have to create content from scratch. Instead, you can curate strong programming from several online sources and then easily deliver the content to interested employees.

Packaging and promoting this kind of useful information upfront is invaluable for employees. It saves them time because they don’t have to research these topics on their own. Plus, the convenience of “anytime” access to high-quality educational content about health and benefits enhances workforce well-being.

5) Customize Educational Materials for Various Interests

Every employee is unique. And the beauty of today’s workforce is in its diversity. So everything about open enrollment season should support this reality. In other words, it’s important to appeal to various interests within your workforce.

For instance, recent grads may not appreciate benefits that appeal to new parents and vice versa. Instead of offering a generic “one-size-fits-all” menu, think about how you can categorize benefits so they align with groups that will value them most. Then present these benefits collections on your open enrollment site as packages. (For example, you could specify “Benefits that support LGBTQIA+ employees.”)

Clearly, you’ll find overlap among groups, so you don’t need to recreate an entirely new package for each community. But structuring benefits options in this way helps people more quickly identify the benefits information they’re likely to want.

If you’ve already established dedicated employee resource groups, consider creating packages for each of those ERGs and sending a customized message to each group with a direct link to their accompanying package. This extra measure ensures that individuals can quickly and easily find materials that matter most to them.

Conclusion

As we continue to navigate today’s dynamic business and benefits landscape, this year’s open enrollment season is sure to present challenges. But continually reflecting on your communication process, seeking employee feedback, and making informed adjustments can help you move forward more smoothly.

Remember to distribute information in more than one format. Also, make it as easy to find as possible, in as many places as your budget and resources will allow. And above all, focus on personalizing communication when you can. Although this is a “broadcast” communication challenge, benefits decisions are highly personal for each employee. The more willing you are to meet people where they are, the more successful you’ll be.

How Can Remote Teams Build “Watercooler” Connections?

impact awardThere’s no doubt about it anymore—the workplace has shifted fundamentally. Now, according to Pew Research, almost 60% of employees are working from home at least most of the time. That compares with only 23% before the Covid pandemic struck. And although this shift to remote teams has translated into mostly happier, more productive employees, it has taken a toll on healthy,  connected work cultures.

The same Pew survey says 60% of employees feel less connected with their coworkers while working at home. That’s not great news for a number of reasons, notably, for workplace culture and its impact on team collaboration, retention and recruiting. To put a finer point on it, over the last two years, the workplace watercooler has vanished.

For sure, making a “best friend at work” has become difficult in a remote-first workplace. Forging informal bonds that lead to creating those “best friends at work” is increasingly tough when we’re stuck on Zoom calls all day and lack the human connection that was so familiar to anyone who worked in offices or other central locations prior to 2020.

HR leaders are acutely aware of this situation. They know they need to find creative ways to bring employees together in simple yet meaningful experiences. But that’s very hard to do when nearly everyone seems to be online. We’re seeing the same challenges among our clients. So today, I want to talk about a few ideas for how you could potentially use wellness programming to replace the physical watercooler and start to build a remote-forward culture that will help attract and retain top talent.

3 Ideas to Help Remote Teams Feel Connected

1. Create wellness challenges and friendly competitions

One way to break down the virtual barriers among employees is to get them excited about competing in friendly ways. There are endless possibilities, but here’s one that works for our clients.

You could offer relatively easy-to-host fitness challenges like Spring Madness, where employees form teams and earn points for completing group challenges with activities that support brain health, nutrition, and physical fitness. This can get the blood pumping, while also drawing employees closer so they can create and reinforce those connections many are craving.

How can something this simple enhance employee wellbeing? Consider the feedback we’ve received from Eddie, an employee at one of our client companies. Eddie has come to really value the fitness challenges he participates in. They’ve given him a chance to network with people across his geographically distributed company.

“I’ve made tons of friends at work through these fitness challenges,” Eddie says. In fact, he’s been on fitness challenge teams with his manager and several other coworkers. Many colleagues he’s met through these challenges have provided him with career advice, as well.

“The amount of networking I’ve been able to do has been truly remarkable. It’s amazing how many people you can meet while sharing the goal of creating a healthier lifestyle.”

2. Facilitate virtual wellness coffee talks and meet-ups

I think one of the biggest benefits of the watercooler we all miss most is just the opportunity to chat briefly about little things that aren’t work-related. Taking a few moments to exchange thoughts about what’s going on in the world or in our daily lives helps us feel connected with other people.

That just doesn’t happen anymore. But we’ve found that hosting virtual wellness coffee talks and meet-ups gives employees an opportunity to get together casually and talk about something other than work.

These meet-ups are facilitated by one of our program managers in a way that makes them very conversational and non-threatening. Some topics we’ve focused on include mindfulness, sleep, social wellbeing, and more. This is a lightweight, low-risk, low-resource way to get employees more actively engaged with one another.

3. Encourage employees to join recreation leagues and clubs

Just because people may not be interested in commuting to a central location for a full day of work doesn’t mean they don’t want to get together. A local softball or kickball league organized by your organization could get employees coming together to move, catch up and have some fun as a group.

Also, don’t underestimate the power these kinds of recreation leagues can have on overall team building and work culture. Playing a sport together can have an incredibly powerful effect on your employees’ motivation, as well as their ability to bond as a team and work as a cohesive unit.

These team-building experiences can translate directly into happier, more productive employees pretty quickly. Ultimately, it can improve their sense of wellbeing and overall appreciation of their employee experience—no matter where they may be working from day to day.

Final Thoughts

Don’t these ideas sound relatively simple and doable? None of them require a huge resource lift. And they all have the potential to help you start creating that remote-friendly culture so many companies are trying to build right now.

It’s not just a fun way to take a break and replace classic watercooler conversations. It’s actually a way to develop trust, communication, and human connection that we all find indispensable in our work lives. Who knows? It may also become a differentiator that plays a key role in the future of your organization’s talent attraction and retention strategy.

Why Benefits for Employee Caregivers Are Good Business

We’ve all seen alarming headlines about “The Great Resignation.” Some observers say it shows no signs of letting up. McKinsey recently called it the “quitting trend that just won’t quit.” And data confirms that the “big quit” is real.

In May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. voluntary quit rate was 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels. It’s hard to ignore numbers like that. And chances are you’ve experienced this recently in your own organization, as more top performers leave for various reasons.

What’s behind this surge in turnover? The pandemic forced us all to reevaluate what’s most important in life. Now, many are choosing to be more present for family while also juggling a demanding career. But the choice is especially challenging for those with family members who need special care.

This segment of the workforce is larger than you may think. In fact, according to the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, 1 in 5 American workers also double as an unpaid family caregiver for an aging, ill or disabled loved one. The amount of time they spend on caregiving, in addition to their full-time careers, isn’t trivial. The AARP estimates that these caregivers devote an average of 23.7 hours a week to these tasks.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that employee caregivers are struggling mentally, physically, and financially. Nearly 60% are dealing with clinical depression and anxiety. Experts say they are stretched so thin that the snowball effect of caregiving will cause 1 in 3 to leave the workforce entirely.

New Insights About Employees as Caregivers

A new study entitled Following The Journey of Family Caregivers” commissioned by Homethrive, Home Instead, and Certification in Long-Term Care (CLTC) sheds more light on how employee caregivers are responding to the pressure.

Nearly 70% of survey respondents who identify as employed said it has been important to rely on paid in-home care because it helps them avoid leaving their job, or because it helps them concentrate better at work.

“I wasn’t surprised to hear (working caregivers) turning more to paid care,” says Eileen J. Tell, a Boston-area researcher who administered the survey. “They cited the importance of doing well at their job and the desire to maintain their job.”

It’s no wonder why working caregivers said they need paid assistance. For example:

  • 35% often provide companionship
  • 33% often provide transportation help
  • 26% often help with daily living activities
  • 23% often help arrange care
  • 26% often help make care decisions
  • 31% always help make home safety changes

Respondents also said if they received help coordinating care, it would take a major load off their already piled-high plates. Specifically:

  • 42% want coordination with doctors or care teams
  • 38% want assistance in finding service providers
  • 34% want help finding benefits eligibility
  • 34% want meal delivery coordination
  • 32% want recommendations for devices and equipment
  • 31% want help assessing home safety

Interestingly, the study found that only 6% of working caregivers receive support from an employer-provided benefit program to help find reliable paid in-home care for loved ones.

What about the other 94% without access to employee caregiving benefits? There is good news. An increasing number of forward-thinking employers are offering these unsung heroes benefits packages that include family caregiving options.

Why is this a wise choice? Employers gain in multiple ways. For example…

Business Benefits of Supporting Employee Caregivers

1. Restore Retention

When employees have an option to access the right kind of assistance, when they need it, they’re less likely to leave. They’re also more focused and productive at work. Offering this benefit can position you as an employer who cares about worker wellbeing on all levels—which in turn fosters a sense of company loyalty.

2. Rev-Up Recruitment

You want to attract the best employees possible. Offering a family caregiving benefit is one way to excel at recruiting because your company will appeal to candidates who value an employer with compassion, a concern for families, and a sense of community.

3. Improve Employee Wellbeing

According to Mercer’s 2022 Global Talent Trends study, employee wellbeing programs are among the top five reasons why people remain at a company. Caregiving can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining responsibility. A family caregiving benefit helps take some of this burden off your employees and improves their wellbeing.

4. Increase Productivity

Time is money. And caregiving can take up a lot of time.

One employee might spend hours on the phone setting up doctor appointments for an aging parent, while another might leave work frequently to take a special needs child to therapy.

It all takes time away from the workday, decreases productivity, and increases employee stress. But with a family caregiving benefit, employees and their loved ones will receive higher quality support when it matters most, so your business productivity will flourish.

5. Revolutionize Work-Life Balance

A family caregiving benefit can drastically improve work-life balance. When employees continually put others’ care ahead of self-care, it can translate into mental and physical health issues such as exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. Those issues inflate your company’s healthcare costs.

When a caregiver’s mindset has shifted to a “life-work tilt,” career advancement, salary increases, and professional praise are important. But quality time with loved ones, the opportunity to explore passions outside of work, and overall mental wellbeing are also critical.

Leaning into this “life-work tilt” can have multiple advantages. By proactively acknowledging the needs and responsibilities of family caregivers and offering tangible support, you can set your organization apart. And when your employees find a better balance between work and life, they can focus better, be more productive, and stay loyal to your company.

6. Protect Your Bottom Line

High turnover is expensive. The cost often extends beyond investing in recruitment to replace lost workers. For example, institutional knowledge and team morale also suffer. In addition, productivity can take a hit, which in turn, can reduce innovation and growth. Ultimately, this negative spiral can prevent your company from reaching its full potential. 

A Solution That Helps Employees and Employers

Family caregiving benefits are a win-win.

They’re a win for employers because they help improve workforce wellbeing, retention, and productivityall while protecting your bottom line.

They’re also a win for employees because they help support work-life balance, mental health, and job satisfaction. 

As Eileen Tell explains, “I think it’s key that employers understand how important it is to family caregivers to feel like they don’t have to choose between their jobs and their role as a family caregiver. Employees may look like they’re not paying attention to work, but they really don’t want to compromise their job and they don’t want to skimp on their family responsibilities.”

Wellbeing programs create better connection for employees

impact awardWhile there’s still no clear sense for when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, one thing has come into sharp focus—the implementation of wellbeing programs. The future of work will include both in-person and remote arrangements to accomplish this.  

This new reality has various benefits for employees, including more flexibility, better work-life balance, less time spent commuting, and the freedom to work from anywhere. And a study by Stanford found that working from home increases productivity by 13%. So, there are benefits for employers as well. 

 But employees who don’t see their colleagues every day face a challenge: creating a sense of community and connection. And while it may not seem like a business performance issue at first glance, it actually is. 

Harvard Business Review says: “Employee disconnection is one of the main drivers of voluntary turnover, with lonely employees costing U.S. companies up to $406 billion a year.”  

The opportunity in front of us for wellbeing programs

At HealthFitness, we think there’s a massive opportunity for the corporate fitness industry to rethink how we help employees feel they belong and are cared for.

In fact, through our work with hundreds of companies across many different industries, we’ve seen how wellbeing programs can provide the community and human connection many employees are craving right now.

This means creating experiences where employees will find friendly and familiar faces—both in-person and virtually. This can include group fitness, personal and small group training, health and fitness challenges, health coaching, seminars and classes across a wide variety of fitness and health topics.

The classic in-person approach 

We’re all familiar with the onsite fitness center. While pandemic-era guidelines changed aspects of the experience (e.g., wearing masks, social distancing), they’re still a meaningful way to create connection.

One of our client’s employees, Eddie, said he had a hard time staying active at his job until he joined a new company with an on-site fitness center. There, he began taking fitness classes (which is something he never imagined himself doing). Plus, he also started using the center’s exercise equipment.

But he discovered an unexpected benefit as well.

Eddie noticed how the fitness challenges his company hosted allowed him to connect with coworkers throughout the company. “I’ve made tons of friends at work through the fitness center,” he says.

And the benefits he received went beyond the physical and social.

Eddie said that many of the colleagues he met through fitness challenges provided him with career advice. “The amount of networking I was able to do at the fitness center was remarkable. It’s amazing how many people you can meet while sharing the goal of creating a healthier lifestyle.”

The new virtual approach 

Like Eddie, many employees looked to their local gym or corporate fitness center for a sense of community before COVID-19. Now we know employees will seek this same sense of connection in a virtual format.

That’s certainly been our experience over the last two years.

Like many companies worldwide, we had to pivot fast in the spring of 2020. Our initial goal was to fill clients’ immediate needs and continue offering health and fitness programming in whatever way we could. To make the best of the unprecedented situation.

But then something unexpected happened.

The fitness classes delivered in a virtual format were a big hit with employees. They also allowed us to extend our reach to more employees that may not be located in a building where their employer provided a fitness center. Beyond fitness classes, wellbeing-related offerings like energy and stretch breaks, educational seminars, and even classes for kids opened up more ways to demonstrate that the company cares about their employees. Employees also enjoyed seeing the friendly faces they knew and trusted.

Given this, we think virtual corporate wellbeing experiences are an important way to create connection and community in a hybrid world. There are two primary options.

Live-streamed content

Live-streamed content can be used for live events like fitness classes, stretch breaks, educational seminars, and kid and family classes. They’re broadcast through professional-grade equipment to provide the highest quality streaming, regardless of device, bandwidth, or location.

The shift to working from home has served as the game changer for Sharon, one of our client’s employees, and her health and fitness routine. Sharon takes up to three virtual classes each day. She transfers between group fitness classes, to virtual personal training to mindfulness, nutrition and wellness classes. She regularly meets with her health coach.

As a result, Sharon is more resilient and stronger. “HealthFitness has been one of the most important aspects of my mental and physical wellbeing while working from home.”

Sharon’s weekly virtual personal training sessions with her HealthFitness trainer, Jim, keeps her connected and moving after knee surgery. This allows her to keep getting stronger in her health journey.

Not only does this benefit Sharon physically, there’s also the same sense of connection that Eddie described. When you know other colleagues are also participating in these experiences, you have a point of much-needed connection.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing offers real-time connections with wellness professionals for personal and small group training. It is also useful for nutrition coaching, ergonomic consultations, and movement efficiency assessments.

This approach will broaden based on employers I’ve talked with over the last 18 months. Employers want data-driven integration, segmenting, and targeting capabilities with programs that address subjects. Subjects like stress, resiliency, mindfulness, sleep, safety, and financial wellbeing.

Eventually, because of this data and technology integration, employers will offer this kind of programming wherever it works best for employees. That may be in person, at home, on the production line, on the go—whatever employees need.

This level of targeting has a side benefit. Employees can connect around common wellness priorities or goals, which again creates the sense of community many of us are longing for.

Regardless of format, wellbeing programs must be front and center

In their report Future of Work Trends in 2022, Korn Ferry says that “organizations that are leading the way in wellbeing embed it in all aspects of their people strategy. Research shows that this has a positive impact on retention, absenteeism levels, productivity, and overall satisfaction.” 

With all of these potential impacts, it’s time for corporate wellness programs to adapt to the permanently altered business landscape by: 

  • Recognizing how classic wellness offerings like fitness centers and programs can solve new workplace challenges, like the lack of connection 
  • Introducing virtual wellbeing offerings that employees can access when and where it’s convenient 
  • Offering a broader range of wellbeing programs that help employees connect with like-minded colleagues and create a sense of community 

When companies take these steps, they show employees they belong to an organization that genuinely cares. 

 

 

Ann Wyatt is Chief Client Success Leader at Health Fitness, a Trustmark company. With a holistic approach that extends beyond fitness, HealthFitness is a proven leader in engaging and connecting people both on-site and online, to create a strong community of health. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.  

Voluntary Benefits and Why Employers Should Offer Them

The coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated two recent and parallel trends in employee benefits. One is that more employers want to take a holistic approach to employee health and wellness. The other is that employees are increasingly looking to work for companies that show a culture of caring.

These trends, combined with other impacts of COVID-19 on the global workforce, have brought the value of so-called voluntary benefits to center stage. Employers should take note if they’re not already.

The Current State of Voluntary Benefits

Even before the pandemic, 41 percent of workers said they were likely to look for a new job with better benefits, according to Unum research. That percentage is even higher among the younger generations: 57 percent of millennials and 65 percent of Gen Z workers said they felt the same. Meanwhile, a recent employee benefits survey found that if employees had to choose between a high-paying job and a lower-paying one with quality health benefits, 88 percent would consider the lower-paying job. More telling, a majority (54 percent) of employees would “heavily consider” the tradeoff.

And employees are looking more closely at the benefits they’re being offered. During the last enrollment season, thanks to COVID-19, more than seven in 10 employees (71 percent) reported that they intended to spend more time reviewing their voluntary benefits. More than half (53 percent) planned to make changes to their benefits coverages.

No wonder 94 percent of employers now consider voluntary benefits part of their value proposition. That’s a massive increase from barely 33 percent of employers who felt the same way in 2018. When they were first introduced, voluntary benefits were considered icing on the cake. They were sweeteners to help close a deal with an employer buying basic medical (core) benefits. About a decade ago, the voluntary benefits market grew gradually, and then it exploded with a variety of supplemental benefit add-ons. Consider this: 63 percent of employers are adding child care benefits to their lineup this year.

Statistics to Consider

The subject of voluntary benefits has recently become a critical tool for employers to support employee mental health. It’s a topic that employers were just starting to focus on before the pandemic. This happened, coincidentally, when voluntary benefits were beginning to take off. The pandemic catapulted voluntary benefits into the spotlight. People everywhere were forced to work from home, social-distance, wear masks, and forgo most of their everyday social habits. Consider these telling statistics:

  • In early 2019, SHRM’s annual Employee Benefits Survey found “slow but steady increases” in on-site stress-management programs provided by employers, compared to five years prior. Stress management programs were up to 13 percent and meditation and mindfulness programs were at 11 percent.
  • Earlier this year, research by Randstad found that 41 percent of workers say their employers began offering new health- and wellness-focused benefits during COVID-19. Among those companies, “mental health assistance” was the third most commonly added benefit (13 percent). The number of companies adding benefits to support mental health was, in fact, statistically the same as for new “general health and wellness benefits” (14 percent). (At 20 percent, “flexible work hours” was the most prevalent new benefit.)

The increasing attention by employers to employee mental health is coming none too soon. Roughly two in five U.S. adults reported symptoms of either anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic—up significantly from one in 10 who reported these symptoms in the first half of 2019. The rate is even higher for essential workers (42 percent) versus nonessential workers (30 percent).

Developing an Effective Mental Health Initiative

These numbers shouldn’t alarm just HR and wellness professionals. All business leaders should take note. Why? Two reasons:

  1. The global cost of lost productivity, absences, and turnover caused by poor mental health is already estimated to be about $2.5 trillion annually.
  2. Employer investment in what one study called “effective mental health initiatives” can return an average of just over $4.00 for every $1.00.

So, where do you begin to find and implement an effective mental health initiative?

First, look for a solution that takes a four-part approach. You’ll need a solution that:

1) Takes a whole-person, whole-organization mindset

2. Includes tools and programs for all employees (not only those who are reporting mental health concerns)

3) Empowers employees and delivers practical insights to HR and wellbeing leaders

4) Has a human touch (support from experienced, dedicated service specialists) backed by solid science

To stay competitive in the new world of work, there really is no Plan B.

How to Navigate the Uncharted Waters of Post-Pandemic Work Styles

As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “A smooth sea never produced a skilled sailor,” and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As regulations lift and many employees are immersed in the waters of remote work, many business leaders are sorting through what a flexible workplace will look like in the future.

With an increased appetite for workplace flexibility and a new kind of employer/employee reciprocity on the rise, there may never be a time when 100 percent of an employee base is back in the office. To strike the right balance, organizations will require tailored approaches and deeper discussions. They need to ensure employees are empowered to deliver excellent customer experiences while honoring their trust. By working to accommodate employee post-pandemic work styles, employers won’t just be helping their businesses but also the people who keep them running.

Work Style Over Space

Cultivating a work environment—and culture—that meets specific post-pandemic work styles will greatly serve employers.

Since March of last year, we’ve invited employees into our homes (digitally), and they have invited us into theirs. We’ve met their spouses, children, and dogs and cats alike. We’ve become accustomed to their more relaxed dress code, their mementos, their home décor. The working environment has gotten tremendously casual and intimate.

In light of this, this reorientation will require an even higher level of mutual trust between employer and employee. The employer should set high expectations, giving autonomy to employees, and hold them accountable for performance. They shouldn’t try to manage how, when, and where they work. In exchange, employees can experience a greater acceptance of work/life integration. As some re-enter the office space with an eye toward personal and familial obligations, this will be beneficial. It will also be valuable to others who remain in home offices, continuing to mesh their lives with the work they love.

How to Accommodate Post-Pandemic Work Styles

For any organization, it won’t be possible to duplicate company culture as it once was. Instead, to adapt and advance, culture must evolve, while keeping the organization’s core values intact.

Here are a few things leaders can do to navigate the workplace of the future while keeping employees’ post-pandemic work styles at top of mind.

Ensure Employees Co-Create the New Norm

It’s imperative to understand employees’ needs and hopes for this new world of work. You can achieve this through active listening via focus groups, ongoing employee pulse surveys, employee advisory groups, and honest discussions between managers and direct reports. Maintain the non-negotiables of culture and let go of any leave-behind elements of culture that can disappear. After gathering employee insights, leaders can co-create an envisioned future. One where the employee is involved in the development, understanding, and communication of that future so they can adopt, advocate for, and believe in it.

Hold Tight to Core Values

Regardless of work location, a company’s core values must hold steadfast. From hiring employees to making important business decisions, leaders should remain true to their core values and use them as guideposts.

Focus on the Mission

Mission-driven organizations are more important than ever. They keep people connected and engaged when not seeing each other every day. It’s crucial to instill companywide messages that employees are more than a “workforce.” Rather, they’re a community of like-minded individuals who equally share in the company’s mission.

Operate from a Place of Compassion

Empathy is key.  It’s vital to take employees’ physical and mental wellness into consideration. Many still struggle with mental health issues due to the effects of quarantine. Consider this when interacting with employees and making plans for their work future.

Create Ways to Communicate and Connect

Many employees experience office FOMO (fear of missing out). To combat this, position the office as a social gathering place for collaboration, mentoring, development, community-building, and more. In lieu of the historical face-to-face time, design other ways for employees to communicate and connect. Some examples of this are weekly social meetings, all-hands-on-deck brainstorms, fitness and cooking challenges, or virtual meditation breaks.

The work world will never be the same. Still, with high levels of trust, communication, and vulnerability, companies can work with employees to cultivate and accomodate post-pandemic work styles.

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[#WorkTrends] How to Provide Better Long-term Flexibility for Employees

According to people operations platform Zenefits, and global provider of human capital management solutions, ADP, there are many solutions to choose from when creating a long-term flexibility strategy for employees. Among them: Job sharing, more-permanent remote work, 4-day work weeks, freelancing opportunities, and much more. 

So how do employers and HR teams know which options might work best for their workforce? 

Especially as we look ahead to a post-pandemic world, how do we best provide the best possible flexible work environment for our employees?

Our Guest: Suzanne Brown, Work-Life Balance Expert

On this week’s episode of #WorkTrends, Suzanne Brown a strategic marketing and business consultant, award-winning author, and work-life balance expert — joined us to discuss how employers can learn to value the importance of flexible working conditions. And perhaps more critical to companies today, why flexible work schedules are a must-offer benefit for nearly everyone in the workforce today.

I started our conversation by asking what it means when employees say they want more flexibility. Suzanne’s answer showed us there are two sides to the flexibility coin:

“Employees talk about an informal side maybe you have a sick child, and you want to stay home that day. And they talk about a more formal side, where companies include flexibility in actual company policy. That’s where working from home happens even when you’re not dealing with a pandemic. It is when you have part-time opportunities, a job share, or perhaps a split-shift. Or maybe it is where you can shift your schedule to accommodate life’s other demands — and start earlier and end earlier or start later and end later.” Regardless of the structure, Suzanne said, employers must build flexibility into a company’s culture: 

“Flexibility is more than just taking an afternoon off once in a while. Flexibility is how you treat employees in the long-term.”

Long-Term Flexibility: Co-creating a Culture-Driven Solution

Suzanne went on to say that most companies are now facing post-pandemic realities: “We now realize that we aren’t going back to a formalized structure where everyone is in the office. Companies have to start thinking this through and make critical decisions. They must be able to say:  ‘Okay, this is the strategic, long-term approach we’re taking on flexible work conditions in our workplace.’”

And in what has become a prevailing trend here at TalentCulture, Suzanne says the best way to learn what works best for your company is to ask employees what they need and then actively listen to the answer.

“You need to ask the questions. Maybe the input will be based on anonymous feedback or a conversation employees have with a manager or mentor. Maybe it’s through an ERG, an Employee Resource Group, where senior leadership talks to employees. Regardless of how we ask, we have to ask.” Suzanne then quickly advised, “Then you have to take the next step; you must act. And you can’t just say, ‘That was great, we heard you… but we’re going to do this instead.’” Suzanne added, “That is absolutely not what you want.”

“Because people will stick around now. But as soon as the economy starts to strengthen, and if you haven’t already built flexibility into your culture, you’ll start to lose people quickly.”

I’m sure you’ll agree this conversation with Suzanne was timely. And I know you’ll want to listen to the entire episode. Once you do, I’m confident you’ll be ready to start the right conversations with your employees.

To learn more about Suzanne’s work, connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her website.

 

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2021 Workplace Healthcare Trends: What Employers Must Know [Podcast]

The tsunami of turmoil that started in 2020 has continued wreaking havoc in 2021. Over the past year, the accompanying stress and uncertainty have taken a toll on employees. As a result, those employees now expect their employers to step up and be supportive in ways unfamiliar to them. This demand has forced entire organizations to take a fresh look at 2021 workplace healthcare trends and re-evaluate their current wellness benefits.

How do employers keep up with those trends? What must they know to help employees better deal with physical and mental wellness issues?

Our Guest: Richa Gupta, Veteran HR Executive

Joining me on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends is a well-respected HR executive, Richa Gupta. Richa has had a front-row seat as 2021 workplace healthcare trends have developed, so I have been looking forward to this critical conversation. First, I asked Richa how the pandemic has forced companies to shift their healthcare and wellness priorities this year. Her answer showcased three distinct elements of this worldwide conversation:

  • The different ways employees work today; how and where we get our work done
  • The evolution of leadership; specifically, how we lead our workforce out of the pandemic
  • Health and wellbeing strategies; how employers are helping care for employees

“Employers play a very vital role in employee health in 2021,” Richa said. “Specifically, given their extensive reach into the workforce, midsize and large employers play a critical leadership role in health advocacy.” 

“Employers are a trusted resource for healthcare, so they must realize they are at the core of today’s wellness issues.”

An Insider Look at Understanding 2021 Workplace Healthcare Trends

In large part because of the pandemic, Richa said the most significant workplace trend is that as the pandemic maintains its grip on the workplace and presents ongoing health and wellbeing challenges, many companies are changing their wellness-related priorities. And that starts with personalizing the benefits offered to employees.

“CHROs in particular need to more deeply understand their employee population. So they’re starting to ask questions that we didn’t before. How do we serve them differently? How do we cater to their specific healthcare and well-being needs?”

Richa added: “How we ensure a healthier, productive workforce starts with understanding who you have — and then catering to them by offering benefits in a very personalized way.”

I couldn’t agree more; the reality is one-size-fits-all healthcare plans just don’t work now. Maybe they never have.

I gained valuable insight from Richa during this conversation — and I know you will too. Enjoy the listen, then incorporate Richa’s sage advice into your company’s inevitable transformation.

To learn more about Richa and her work, connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

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2021 HR Best Practices: What Business Needs Most from HR This Year

In January 2021, Tiger Recruitment hosted a webinar for HR professionals looking for guidance on 2021 HR best practices. Tiger’s Managing Director, Rebecca Siciliano, was joined by four expert speakers:

  • Mark Stelzner from IA
  • Robert Hicks from Reward Gateway
  • Marcus Thornley from Play Consulting
  • Saskia Donald, an HR professional with over 20 years experience

Together, they shared some critical insights to help human resources specialists in 2021. Over the course of the hour, the expert panel covered everything from rewards and benefits, to building remote business cultures.

Below, we highlight their 2021 HR best practices…

Take Stock

As a first priority, HR should take stock of each individuals’ circumstances. Whether through surveys or other data collection tools, the aim is to learn what the team is experiencing. Suppose a business expects to someday return to the office. In that case, HR should find out how this might work for individual workers’ changed circumstances. For example, would they prefer to come into the office every day or on an ad-hoc basis?

It’s likely the office won’t play the same role it once did for many businesses. So it’s a good idea for HR to broach this topic with leaders and begin to work out where the office will fit in future business plans.

Go Back to Basics

Start by looking at three key elements: communication, recognition, and rewards. These basic culture elements likely evolved in response to the first lockdown in March 2020, and perhaps we haven’t examined them since.

If this is the case, analyze what is and isn’t working. Use snap polls/surveys of employees and conversations with management, for example. Then develop a solution that better fits the way the business is planning to operate, post-pandemic. If the company is likely to move towards a hybrid-working model, ask:

  • How will communication work between employees working from home and those in the office?

If the business continues working remotely by default, ask:

  • How will employee recognition and rewards change to reflect that?

According to our experts, businesses should also get back to the basics of looking to their workers’ unique skills and expertise to unlock hidden talent. Mark asked the question: “Have we really created a space in this moment to ask everyone about the skills that they have?” Perhaps it’s identifying someone who has fantastic sales skills and can present a seminar on creating leads, for example. Or maybe it is an individual with great project management who can organize a task force to tackle an internal issue. In either case, HR can facilitate these sessions to help management teams better manage the challenges they’re facing.

Be Honest When Dealing with Uncertainty

In 2020, HR was relied upon to know the answers to a number of unprecedented questions, even when they may have been uncertain themselves. In looking at 2021 HR best practices, however, the experts believe HR should own their uncertainty! During the webinar, Robert said that he believes that “leaders [who] embrace [vulnerability] by saying ‘I don’t know, I’ll get back to you,’ [are] so empowering.” This transparency will contribute to a positive learning environment (as HR can work with the team to find the answer together). It will also better alleviate feelings of unease or doubt from employees.

Digital Platforms are Key to Remotely Building Business Cultures

While an effective digital platform is essential to rebuilding a remote business culture, HR needs to ensure it is inclusive, non-hierarchical, and places workers front and center. This is important as employees need to feel invested in the technology to truly harness its potential as a culture tool.

By taking the culture of the business online, an opportunity to rebuild in a much more inclusive way presents itself. For example, taking away the office and using an online platform will mean everyone has an equal opportunity to contact and be visible to managers and their teams.

HR tech is key to solving many challenges moving forward, but, the data needs to be interpreted through a human lens, and issues of accessibility also should be taken into account.

HR Needs to Facilitate Communication While Working Remotely

Internal communication must be consistent, timely, and easily accessible. If HR is unsure whether their current methods are effective, liaise with staff directly for feedback.

While video meeting software has become absolutely integral to business operations as we work remotely, as Marcus put it: “[It] isn’t the only way to communicate.” While video meetings are largely scheduled, they don’t allow much scope or flexibility for those working more ad-hoc hours. Instead, consider adopting methods of unscheduled or asynchronous communication that will work for the business. This will allow employees to continue ‘water cooler’ style conversations with colleagues.

Benefits in a Post-flexible Working Era

Many of us see flexible work as an expectation rather than a benefit, so businesses should look to other options when attracting and retaining talent. According to the experts, the most popular benefits in 2021 will center around wellbeing, learning and development, and remote working. Offering a competitive benefits package is essential to attracting top talent, as candidates may be hesitant to leave their current role if they’re concerned about job security or loyal to their current employer.

The Biggest of 2021 HR Best Practices: Look After Our Wellbeing

In our webinar, Saskia explained: “HR must put on their own life mask before helping others.” This is the perfect encapsulation of the feeling of extreme stress HR professionals have faced over the past 12 months as they’ve helped their teams through perplexing times. As 2021 is likely to be another challenging year, they may need time to rest and recover. If you’re working in HR, check on your team members and give one another space to share anxieties and decompress. If the business doesn’t provide HR these opportunities, they can’t help those around them – and may ultimately suffer from burnout.

The resilience of exceptional HR professionals will play a key role in helping businesses in 2021. From tailoring employee benefits to supporting on with strategic, people-led decisions, one thing’s for sure…

Human resources professionals have never been more crucial to business success.

 

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Workplace COVID-19: An Employee Tested Positive — Now What?

There are more than 107 million recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide. As economies begin progressively reopening after lockdowns, it’s increasingly likely that workplace COVID-19 will hit your business; that one or more of your workers will test positive for the virus or show symptoms that make them suspected cases.

Here’s what to do if that happens…

Keep the Employee Away from Others

You could hear about an employee testing positive for COVID-19 in several ways. Maybe they call you during an off day, say they’re feeling sick with symptoms often associated with the virus, and are getting a test in a few hours. Or maybe someone feels fine when showing up for a shift but develops symptoms during the workday. In either case, you must isolate that person as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

If they are not currently at work, instruct them to stay home according to the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That organization says people with COVID-19 should remain at home for ten days after symptom onset and once they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Moreover, the person should notice a general improvement in symptoms during isolation.

However, the CDC also clarified that some individuals might require isolation for up to 20 days. Such cases typically occur in patients with severe cases or those with compromised immune systems.

When a person develops symptoms at work, send them home immediately. If that individual needs to wait at work, such as until someone they live with arrives to pick them up, it’s ideal to isolate them in a closed room not typically used for communal purposes. The above rules about isolation apply to them, too.

Know What You Can and Cannot Do to Learn About an Employee’s Condition

When an employee becomes a suspected or positive case, your first inclination may be to learn as many details as possible about the circumstances. Similarly, you might consider having them produce a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work.

First, bear in mind that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a long list of frequently asked questions that clarify what you can and cannot do under the law in these situations. For example, you cannot ask an employee if their family members have had COVID-19 or been in close contact with infected people. However, it’s OK to broaden your question to determine whether the employee has been near a possibly infected person.

Moreover, you cannot single out an employee and subject them to a screening test or questionnaire without a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that they have the virus. For example, maybe you’re in the break room and notice an employee coughing frequently.  Or perhaps an employee tells a colleague that they haven’t been able to smell or taste anything all day. In those cases, the employee’s common symptoms meet the criteria for objective evidence.

There are also many variations over return-to-work testing. The EEOC and CDC permit but discourage requiring a negative test before allowing an employee back to work. Though, state and local ordinances may prohibit making an employee get tested before coming back to work.

Understand the Applicable Labor Laws

It’s also necessary to understand the labor laws associated with workplace COVID-19 and remember that some vary by location. For example, Pennsylvanian workers must report their illnesses within 21 days of onset to receive full workers’ compensation coverage.

Federal laws in the United States also changed recently, so employers are no longer legally required to provide family and medical leave to COVID-19 patients. However, companies can voluntarily provide it to workers through March 31, 2021. The associated employer tax credits also remain in effect until that date.

If you hadn’t taken the time to learn about how COVID-19 affects labor laws yet, now is a great time. Research what laws apply to your company at the local, state, and federal levels.

Follow Recommended Cleaning Protocols

COVID-19 required many businesses to adopt stricter cleaning measures. You should follow those all the time, of course – but be diligent after hearing that an employee tested positive for the virus.

Follow procedures recommended by the CDC and determine whether you need to close your business to carry them out. Hopefully, you already have a cleaning plan. If not, again – now is an excellent time to develop a company-wide sanitization plan.

Closing your business may be something you want to avoid, especially if it causes media attention. However, consider that people will be more likely to perceive you as responsible if you take prompt, decisive action rather than putting others at risk.

Determine Whether You Will Inform Workers

You may find it surprising that no federal laws require you to tell other workers about a positive case associated with a colleague. Additionally, only three states require employers to give such notifications.

However, even if there is no legal obligation for you to provide the information, keeping quiet could have unwanted consequences.

Many employees report hearing the news from co-workers and feel their bosses betrayed them by not disclosing the details. Bear in mind, too, that there are different steps to take if you know someone was in close contact with a sick worker. You may not deem it necessary to tell the whole workforce, but informing people who were near an infected individual for an entire workday is the right thing to do. And in the process, as an employer, you are helping stop the spread and are doing everything you can to keep people safe.

Workplace COVID-19: Quick Action Minimizes Complications

It can be unsettling when you hear that a worker has COVID-19. While taking action, show humanity and genuine care to the infected person and any other affected parties. A short phone call to check on the employee during their recovery shows them and the whole workforce that you care as much about the people doing the work as the tasks they perform.

The better prepared you are for workplace COVID-19 infections, the easier it will be to effectively handle those incidents. Besides following the suggestions here, stay abreast of recent developments that may impact your plan and your course of action. The pandemic is an evolving situation, which means public health guidelines may change with relatively short notice.

Stay informed. Remain prepared. And act swiftly.

 

Technology: The Enabling Force Awakening HR as a Strategic Partner in 2016

So if the 2014 word of the year was “Culture”, I am calling the HR word of the year for 2015 “Disruptive” (although technically it was just announced as “-ism”). With the full impact of the ACA set to take place in 2016, changes to OT rules, more companies making the decision to eliminate yearly performance reviews and the latest announcement from KPMG to ditch engagement surveys, I would say 2015 has been quite a “disruptive” year for HR.

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) the #2 trend that will impact the workplace in 2016 is “Trends in Technology are Changing the Way Work is Done.” Members were asked which workplace trends were likely to emerge or grow in their organizations in 2016*. I wanted to take this time to write about three major disruptions I see happening in the workplace that I think will continue into 2016 that have actually been enabled or inspired by the innovative technology that is either already available to HR or is about to be available and that HR should stand up and take notice of.

1) Real-time insights – Employee feedback and analytics

Giving employees a voice

This first trend relates to real-time insights, but not just insights for the sake of insights, but insights that inspire change. These insights are delivered through an organization’s ability to continuously listen to its employees and give them a voice (employee voice). Enabling employees to provide input into decision-making is one of the top drivers of employee engagement. Employee feedback can continuously monitored and compiled and used to provide an orchestrated staff viewpoint on a range of policy areas within the organization. HR can consider the “employee voice,” giving the workforce a quasi-democratic input into the decision- making process. When employees have opportunities to openly communicate ideas and provide feedback across the organization and leaders solicit feedback from and involve employees making decisions employees feel more connected to their organizations.

HR technology vendors are offering organizations an opportunity to gather real-time feedback that managers and organizations can use to gauge the temperature of their employees before there is a problem. Officevibe, a simple to use tool, can be accessed via a mobile device, and be used to gather feedback, measure engagement in real-time and in their next release will actually recommend content to managers based on the three lowest engagement drivers of their team.

Hyphen, a mobile-only app whose tag-line is “Be heard at work”, offers employees an anonymous means to give feedback. While not quite in the same vein as some of these other vendors (there are no pre-defined questions or scores to tabulate), what Hyphen does offer is employees a chance to be heard, to have a voice, something all of us want and need as humans.

Analytics to drive real competitive advantage

As companies step up their efforts to align human capital resources and expenditures with core business objectives, talent analytics is rapidly becoming more prevalent. Additionally, the ability to collect, process and analyze “big data” is becoming a crucial factor in identifying and managing the challenges of the business. Companies that want to gain a competitive edge increasingly need to use analytics to gain data-driven insights into workforce trends and take action to refine HR programs and strategy. Greater use of technology has created a wonderful opportunity to collect and analyze data—an opportunity that can turn data into a powerful business and decision-making tool, but gathering data is only the starting point. The sheer volume of data that organizations can and do amass is overwhelming. However, it has no value to an organization unless it is transformed into meaningful insights.

This is where solutions like Visier and IBM® Kenexa® Talent Insights, are coming to HR’s rescue. Each solution enables insights that would not otherwise be possible without their innovative approach to delivering a cloud-based approach to analytics that is unique in its own ways. IBM utilizes the cognitive prowess of Watson and automatically surfaces patterns and relationships in the data for the user while Visier utilizes machine learning to continuously evolve its predictions and move HR beyond static dashboards and reporting it’s used to and provide it with analytics that are actionable and insightful.

Oh, and by the way, I predict we will see a lot more on “predictive analytics” in 2016 that goes beyond predicting who is most likely to leave. Which I am sure most of us are saying by now, “so what”!

Continuous feedback

The biggest disruption in HR in 2015 has definitely been to Performance. By now, we have all heard about the Accenture’s and the GE’s of the world and their decision to kill the annual performance review. But how many of us know about Sears or the countless others who did so silently and then replaced their system with something more nimble that allowed managers to begin to provide their employees with continuous, real-time feedback on their performance.

This shift away from a rigid, non-agile approach to performance management takes the surprise out of the performance discussion (emphasis on “discussion”) and creates room for an ongoing dialogue between the manager and the employee. The real challenge before now has been having technology to document and facilitate these discussions and shift the employee-manager relationship to more of an employee-coach relationship. I am even going to go out on a limb here and say that technology may have actually been the catalyst that has allowed so many organizations to jump ship and so “Annual Performance Reviews NO More.”

Three innovative HR technology vendors that are helping to solve this problem are BambooHR, TinyPulse and Zugata. In BambooHR’s solution managers are asked to rate employees on their perceived “value” rather than on a traditional meets, exceeds, far exceeds, etc., rating scale and employees and managers have quarterly light-weight assessments. Their approach to assessing performance seems to be closely aligned with research outlined in this HBR article. TinyPulse Perform (in Beta), is a real-time, mobile-first platform that collects weekly data about work performance that allows managers and employees to align on any size objective. The solution also allows managers to send coaching tips and quickly provides both manager and peer feedback to employees about their performance and for managers to assigned shared goals which promotes more team cohesion and accountability. Zugata is another mobile-first application. It utilizes anonymous feedback from peers. Once a week an employee is asked to answer a simple set of questions about an individual they work with. The anonymous feedback from peers helps the employee recognize how they are doing in the moment so they can make adjustments as necessary rather than wait at the end of the year to find out how they performed – no surprises!

The Whole Employee – Health and Wellness (or Well-Being)

I see organizations moving toward a trend of offering programs because they are the right thing to do AND because they are good for the bottom line and not necessarily being faced with an either-or decision. Technology is making this easier for organizations.

At this year’s HR Technology conference we really saw a broader emphasis on a more holistic view of “wellness.” Our understanding of wellness now extends beyond the traditional physical, mental and emotional to include financial well-being as well. With financial stress being listed as the #1 stressor for U.S. adults including programs in organizations that are uniquely tailored to help employees to take action and gain control of their finances is an essential component of overall employee wellness.

O.C. Tanner’s Welbe product measures an organization’s overall wellbeing, while Limeade, is trying to revolutionize the health and wellness industry by drawing attention to the relationship between health and wellness and employee performance. Virgin Pulse focuses on helping build healthy habits that not only include eating, exercise, and sleep but also relationships with family and co-workers and cognitive and financial wellness.

Lastly, managing the “whole person” means acknowledging that everyone is multi-dimensional and has numerous roles to balance in life—all of which affect job performance. So the “whole employee” concept is also about allowing the employee to bring their “whole” self to work it also means that wellness is not just about offering health screenings and assessments to your employees but also making real cultural changes in the workplace that allow employees to truly shut down when they clock out at the end of the day.

*I actually wrote this piece before seeing the survey from SIOP

Note:Any and all references to vendors in this article are unpaid endorsements.

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