The new rules of succession planning`

Choosing the right CEO is among the top priorities for board directors. It may also be their most important responsibility. But the approach that most companies and their boards have used to find 21st-century leadership is a relic of the 20th century. Often, the board is simply presented with a short list of candidates assembled by others. “When it comes to CEO succession,” the chief human resources officer (CHRO) of a telecommunications giant told us in 2020, “we seem stuck with the best practices of the 1990s.”

This needs to change. The rolling waves of crises and challenges in the last two years—the pandemic, a strained global supply chain, inflation, talent shortages, geopolitical turbulence, as well as the rise of stakeholder capitalism—have created a new set of difficulties for corporate leaders. They have also scrambled succession plans in many companies, as some rising stars seemed to lose their footing when met with new leadership demands, while others raised their profiles by leading with agility and calm through all the churn. Consequently, the pressure to identify the right leader has never been more intense, which is why rethinking the succession process should be top of mind in boardrooms everywhere.

The problem with identifying top candidates often lies in how a short list is generated. Traditionally, the focus is on who the leader is without significant weight put on what skills he or she needs to deliver on the company’s strategy. If succession discussions are to be transformed into more of an upstream process for the board—and members are to have a clear understanding of what the company needs before discussing the best candidates—then the process must account for three distinct and entirely predictable challenges.

Because they are predictable, these challenges can be anticipated and overcome. First, start with the what and not the who. Doing so will lay out a more realistic and substantive framework. Second, from this vantage point, try to explicitly minimize the noise in the boardroom. Ensure that the directors are using shared, contextual definitions of core jargon, such as strategy, agility, transformation, and execution. Third, root the follow-on analyses of the candidates in that shared understanding, and base any assessments on a factual evaluation of their track records and demonstrated potential in order to minimize the bias of the decision-makers themselves.

An aerial photograph of office workers collaborating in a conference room.
Organizational culture: It’s time to take action
Many companies sidestep this hard work when developing their short list of candidates and rely instead on familiar paths: the CEO may have preferred candidates, or a search firm or industrial psychologist may have been asked to draft an ideal role profile or a set of competencies to prescreen internal and external candidates. This overemphasis on profiling the who of the next CEO triggers two failure points. It leans right into “great leader” biases (the notion that the right person will single-handedly solve all the company’s problems). And it bypasses the operational and cultural blind spots embedded within the company’s strategy. In a fast-changing business climate, this oversight leads to decisions that boards and investors quickly end up second-guessing.

We suggest an alternative approach, developed through our years of experience as leadership consultants. It’s a three-step framework that helps make the process more rigorous and drives outcomes that are more thoughtful and strategy-focused, and sometimes surprising.

“This pandemic brought out levels of fear and paralysis in people who operated seamlessly in a live, connected environment, but who were just incapacitated when they were remote,” Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences, told us in an interview. “It was hard to determine who those people were going to be, because you never saw that in a normal work setting. But there were some people who surprised me in a positive way. They had quiet confidence that they hadn’t had any opportunity or reason to show before.”

Here, in greater detail, are the steps required to build a more effective succession process at the board level.

  1. Start with strategy and execution, not individual characteristics. Certain foundational questions need to be answered in order to start the succession planning process: What problems does our strategy call for us to solve? How does our succession planning explicitly map to that strategy, while also bridging the gap between our legacy ways of working and how we must evolve for the future? How does it map from our legacy culture to the culture we want to have? None of these questions start with the who of the next CEO; all focus intently on creating a shared understanding of the future terrain and the density of the fog that management will have to navigate through.

Take the example of a global professional-services firm facing an emergency succession challenge. The company’s plans involved fast-tracking a process that was already in place, which had begun with hiring a search firm to assess the company’s top 20 leaders. (As with all the examples we will share in this article, the client company asked not to be named.)

The results of those 360-degree assessments created a challenge for the CHRO: too much information. She was faced with an eight-inch stack of the final reports. “Honestly, there’s nothing new here,” she told us, “and the language is so abstract. I can’t put this in front of the board.”

We suggested she focus on the set of problems that the next CEO and his or her team would have to solve. Did the candidates have the capabilities to deliver on the company’s strategy? That led to an awkward silence. The HR leader realized that the assessment process had done a thorough job of answering different questions, probably the wrong ones: what does a competent CEO look like on paper, and who among our top 20 leaders stacks up best against that benchmark?

Delivering a strategy may seem like a table-stakes question for directors, but drilling down a layer to understand what obstacles need to be overcome to make the strategy a reality can present considerable challenges. What’s more, the obstacles differ from company to company. Many official strategy documents, when applied to succession, suffer a kind of altitude problem: they are either too lofty and vague, simply describing what the company does, or they are too deeply in the weeds, outlining a list of short-term priorities or initiatives. Robust succession demands a different level of clarity on the what and the how of the strategy—which is something the board should be involved in outlining before it creates a succession short list.

“When you peel the onion on whatever the company’s articulating in terms of how they’re going to win in the marketplace, it’s about the ‘right to win,’” said Don Knauss, the former CEO of Clorox who serves as a director at McKesson, Target, and the Kellogg Company. “It’s amazing how many times companies go down a rabbit hole where they really don’t have a relevant point of difference or a real competitive advantage—either in their cost structure or in their capabilities—to win in the marketplace.”

But it is that level of detail, not the hallmark competencies of CEOs in general, that will help boards choose the leaders who can make things happen.

  1. Build a shared framework for assessing and discussing candidates. In their latest book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist; Olivier Sibony; and Cass R. Sunstein unpack the phenomenon of “noise” in decision-making. Noise, in this sense, is generated by a lack of clarity and alignment on the key criteria that decision-makers use to guide their choices. In the context of succession, noise is created when directors have different, unstated, and often unconscious interpretations of the strategy; its operational and cultural implications; or the qualities, skills, and experience that matter most to them. Words like agility, resilience, strategy, vision, and followership, left undefined in the organization’s specific business context, inevitably lead to boardroom discussions in which the metaphorical noise in the system is loud.

That is why the second step is to reduce the noise through the explicit definition of the most important hurdles facing the company. In one organization we worked with, the board had to pick a successor to the founder, who had built a culture that was crucial to its success. Directors referenced the word vision over and over without pausing to clarify what it meant. When we pointed this out, after careful deliberations, they agreed that vision in this context constituted the core competitive advantage of the company: its ability to anticipate what clients needed two to three years out, often before the clients recognized those needs themselves. That specificity led to more constructive conversations about how vision might be identified in the skills and track records of future top leaders.

Many official strategy documents, when applied to succession, suffer a kind of altitude problem: they are too lofty and vague, simply describing what the company does.

Another example played out in a global infrastructure company that generated the lion’s share of its revenue within North America but had identified big growth opportunities outside that core market. Through conversations with management and many of the directors, it became apparent that although there was great clarity about each region’s strategy, there was not a shared understanding of the broader enterprise strategy—nor even agreement that one existed. Opinions differed on whether the core North America market or the growth opportunities in other markets deserved a greater focus. Once the CEO and directors agreed on the balance that the company should strike between today’s revenues (North America–dependent) and tomorrow’s growth (emerging markets still several years from meaningful contributions), succession discussions shifted from theoretical to practical evaluations of the executives best suited to lead the company’s strategy over the next two to three or five to six years.

Another benefit of this approach is that it reduces the importance of finding the superhuman leader who can do it all. In the context of this global infrastructure company, the conversation shifted from finding a do-it-all CEO to choosing a top team that, as a coordinated C-suite, could work together to drive growth both inside and outside North America.

  1. Structure the process to mitigate bias. Bias is different from noise. Noise is a lack of shared understanding on the decision criteria, whereas bias comes into play when directors rely on personal preferences for evaluating candidates against those criteria. For all the work that has been done to reduce unconscious and implicit bias through training programs, there is little evidence that it has led to sweeping changes in organizational behavior. For example, with the professional-services firm mentioned above that faced an emergency succession, one director privately offered the CHRO his summary of the three leading contenders: “I see the strategic candidate, the safe pair of hands, and the woman candidate.”

Such blunt language can be challenged in the moment, but the more subtle challenge lies in first structuring discussions in ways that surface the biases that inform how board members see various business risks and then finding the best ways to address those biases. This requires an analytical approach to both weighing candidates on the core questions of their suitability to drive the strategy and streamlining the process to highlight outlying opinions against a backdrop of objective facts and subject matter expertise. The emphasis should be on objective facts. Without this discipline, the risk increases that the CEO or board will name a successor based on a subjective filter of comfort and familiarity.

The emphasis should be on objective facts. Without this discipline, the risk increases that the CEO or board will name a successor based on a subjective filter of comfort and familiarity.

That was the challenge the board faced at a family-led organization that was navigating a difficult succession process. The retiring father wanted to conduct a fair and objective passing of the baton to one of his two children. He had a strong bias toward the elder sibling because that’s what had happened in his own case, when he took over from his father. But as CEO, he was also worried that his vote carried outsized weight with the board.

The CEO and CHRO used a framework to help the board see the two leading candidates in a more analytical and factual light. The younger sibling’s experience at the company highlighted his innovative mindset, his ability to pivot operationally as needed, and the loyal following he had built among his teams in the smaller parts of the business he had led. The older sibling had a greater breadth of experience across all lines of the organization, and he used that wide-angle lens to constantly assess and adapt to challenges to the short- and long-term business performance. Armed with this view, the board asked itself which skill set was more important in driving the company’s success over the next several years. Ultimately, they chose the elder sibling, but their choice was informed by a fuller discussion of the rationale and risks inherent in their decision.

Framing the issue
The goal, of course, is not to remove bias from the process altogether—that’s not realistic—but rather to reduce its unintended impact so that directors are clear and honest about the deliberate trade-offs they are making. And that requires a more systemic approach to improving decision-making.

One of the most effective tools for reducing bias is to have directors rate candidates independently and confidentially on agreed-upon criteria and then reveal their scores at the same time. Through this process, differences of opinion quickly emerge, and those moments can be used as a springboard for a discussion aimed at closing the gaps among the various perceptions of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

In the case of the professional-services firm, the CHRO and interim CEO called a special session of the board, locked all the directors in a room, and said they would not get a candidate short list until they had agreed on a few foundational questions about the future of the company. Two sessions, seven hours, and many salads and a few wine bottles later, the board had settled on three core topics: the technological shifts and trends that would shape the firm’s future work with clients, the new geographic markets most critical to growth, and the structural and cultural changes the company would likely have to undertake to successfully drive the strategy.

Several of the directors had deep experience in one of those core areas, so the board took a divide-and-conquer approach. The CHRO developed a short list of thematic questions and then paired board members to form groups with complementary expertise. Each pair explored these questions with the leading CEO candidates. This added a consistency and uniformity to the interviews. The CHRO and board also agreed on a more general set of questions that directors would respond to immediately following their one-on-one interviews with candidates.


How to write an inspiring vision statement and Four great examples

What makes employees stay? It’s a question worth thinking about. Headlines continue to signal that the Great Resignation is in full swing, and companies are struggling to retain employees and recruit new ones, particularly for roles that were already hard to fill. Some have defaulted to boosting pay or improving benefits. That might draw in some new talent or make some existing employees change their minds about leaving, but for many organizations, it’s not financially sustainable.

There’s never been a better time to leverage the power of culture and a compelling vision statement. Vision statements inspire potential and existing employees, encouraging them to be a part of your exciting future. Let’s take a look at what vision statements are, why they’re essential, and a few examples that your organization can use as inspiration.

What is a vision statement?
A vision statement clearly and succinctly describes where your company wants to see itself in the future. They should be inspirational, serving as a guidepost for how organizations make decisions 一 especially in challenging times. If you can get them right, vision statements can be a huge factor in driving employee and company output. Employees find more meaning in their work when they see how it contributes to a lofty goal. With each small achievement, they feel a greater sense of accomplishment, motivating them to be more creative and productive.

Because the goals of every company are different, vision statements are unique to each organization, incorporating their specific values and aligning with their mission statements.

The difference between vision and mission statements
While they’re easily confused, vision and mission statements are two separate concepts that serve different functions. Mission statements outline a company’s purpose and ways of working. Vision statements instead represent what an organization wants to eventually achieve or become. That’s why mission statements are based on the present: they remind employees and customers why the company exists and the values they need to uphold. Vision statements have a more aspirational focus: they’re rooted in the future, focusing on what employees work towards and what customers can expect.

Crafting the right vision statement for your organization
Vision statements can be tough to get right. There’s limited space to express your organization’s important message 一 one that’s meant to move team members across the company. Follow these best practices to help your vision statement better encapsulate what your company stands for and where it intends to go.

  1. Determine what your organization is
    Your organization should first hone in on its qualities and values. What makes your company special? Is it the communities it serves? Maybe your flagship product is what really stands out. Or perhaps you’re known for attracting and developing a certain level of talent. Think about how these attributes relate to your larger goal, and use that as a foundation to tee up the rest of your vision statement.
  2. Define where your organization wants to go
    A deep understanding of the impact you want your organization to have on the world should be the basis of your vision statement. To help wrap your mind around this, list your company’s most audacious and important goals. Solicit help from leaders in various parts of your organization to make drafting your vision statement a collaborative, inclusive effort. Once your list is ready, envision what would happen if your organization would achieve the goals described. How would your industry change? How would your customers change? That birds-eye view will help your organization solidify its overall direction.
  3. Stay specific and be creative
    When writing your vision statement, it can be tempting to use competitors’ statements as inspiration, but it’s best to avoid this as much as possible. Your vision statement needs to play up your organization’s unique outlook, offerings, and desired outcomes, not those of other companies. Keep your vision statement simple and free of jargon, focusing instead on passion and impact. Use your vision statement as a creative outlet, marrying what already makes your company exceptional with the extraordinary things it will do in the future, leaning into your organization’s own powerful brand.
  4. Update and communicate
    Your business today may be far different from your business ten years from now, and that’s alright, provided that your vision statement evolves with your company. As your organization matures, make sure your vision is still in line with your culture and goals. After all, leaders and employees live out your vision and values every day. If you expect their behavior to change, your vision has to change, too.

If and when you make adjustments, you should communicate them to all team members and recognize the employees who exemplify your vision. Reinforcing and rewarding this behavior will prompt others to follow suit.

Examples of great vision statements
Now that you have a sense of how vision statements come together, it’s time to dive into some examples. Here are five noteworthy vision statements and why each is effective.

  1. Southwest Airlines
    Vision statement: “To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

If you’ve ever flown on Southwest, you know about the flight and gate attendants’ good cheer. Southwest has made a name for themselves because of their beloved, accommodating staff, but also because of their competitive prices. Their vision highlights both of these impressive qualities, casting them as mechanisms for becoming the most popular and successful airline in existence.

  1. Starbucks
    Vision statement: “To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.”

Coffee is part of Starbucks’ DNA, and their vision makes it clear that coffee will continue to catalyze the company’s growth 一 but not at the expense of its values. Starbucks’ vision statement does an excellent job of showcasing what makes the company special while committing their employees to certain standards as they continue to expand into new countries, product lines, and more.

  1. Ben and Jerry’s
    Vision statement: “Making the best ice cream, in the nicest possible way.”

Ben and Jerry’s isn’t just celebrated for its delicious ice cream. It’s also recognized for its dedication to corporate social responsibility. As such, they needed a vision statement that would promote both the quality of their product and ethical production behind the scenes. Their vision statement does just that, beautifully combining these two distinct features into a short, sweet, and memorable statement.

  1. Disney
    Vision statement: “To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.”

Disney’s vision statement is clear, compelling, and ambitious. Attempting to lead one industry is more than enough for most organizations, but Disney’s goals go beyond this. Everyone knows that Disney wants to make life more enjoyable with its movies, products, parks, hotels, and more, but they likely don’t know the full scope of Disney’s vision. This statement ties together Disney’s aims and makes it easy for potential and current employees to stay on the same page.

Take another step towards realizing your company vision
Vision statements are a powerful way to encourage employees to excel, even in tough times. Centering your employees around a clear, meaningful objective helps them feel like they are making a difference. But publishing a stellar vision statement isn’t going to improve company performance on its own. Leaders need to make a conscious effort to recognize folks striving to accomplish the company’s vision in their everyday work. Rewarding employees who help fulfill your vision puts you on the path to a great organizational culture.

Achievers Recognize, a key part of the Achievers Employee Experience Platform, can get you closer to realizing your vision. With Achievers Recognize, you can propel engagement forward through positive reinforcement, ensuring that employees continue bringing their best selves to work. It makes it easy to show appreciation for actions that align with your organization’s vision and values.


How healthy boundaries build trust in the workplace

Upon joining a new team, Eric quickly established himself as one of its most technically skilled members. Eager to prove himself, he dove in headfirst, volunteering for assignments with tight deadlines and demanding deliverables. Between the late nights and marathon weekend sessions, it wasn’t long before most of Eric’s personal time was consumed with work. His friends joked that he slept with his laptop under his pillow, just in case—that is, they said, if he slept at all.

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by Liz Sweigart
Eric was convinced that sacrificing his personal time would get him recognized by his bosses. Instead, he started missing deadlines and found that he was no longer getting staffed on the prestigious client projects—ones with a lot of face time with senior executives, ones that would help his advancement. He became confused and resentful. During a one-on-one meeting with the team leader, Eric voiced his frustration and asked why it felt like she and the other leaders weren’t seeing his dedication. Rather than directly addressing how Eric’s all-work-and-no-play approach was hurting both his own performance and the company’s, she simply noted his missed deadlines. When another leader suggested he take time off, Eric thought he was joking. Left to his own devices, Eric had allowed work to take over his life; he had burned out, which caused him to underperform.

What went wrong? Neither Eric nor his bosses saw that the issues resulted from a lack of boundary setting by both the individuals involved and the organization. Although it is a critical piece of interpersonal know-how, the skill of boundary setting is rarely taught either in school or at work. It’s one area that too many companies and employees fail to understand, and that failure comes with a cost: the well-being of individuals and the productivity for the enterprise.

Although it is a critical piece of interpersonal know-how, boundary setting is a skill rarely taught either in school or at work. Too many companies and employees fail to understand it, which comes with a cost.

Unrealistic work schedules and poorly written job descriptions can exacerbate these issues. Trust breaks down over time. Studies link burnout to boundary violations, such as work consistently intruding on personal time. In addition to lost productivity and poor performance, it is also contributing to the record number of employees leaving their jobs in what has become known as the “great resignation.” By contrast, when employees believe their voices are heard and their boundaries respected, they become more engaged with their organization.

Boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical limits people maintain with respect to others and their environment, and psychologists consider them healthy if they ensure an individual’s continued well-being and stability. They serve many valuable functions. They help protect us, clarify our own responsibilities and those of others, and preserve our physical and emotional energy. They help us stay focused on ourselves, honor our values and standards, and identify our personal limits.

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Physical workplace boundaries may include delineating an individual’s personal space in a shared office or limiting body contact to handshakes rather than hugs. Mental boundaries reflect individuals’ important beliefs, values, and opinions. At work, that may mean not participating in activities that conflict with a person’s religious convictions, like betting pools, or personal choices, such as not drinking alcohol at office events. Emotional boundaries relate to people’s feelings being acknowledged and respected and may manifest as individuals not discussing their personal lives with coworkers.

It’s therefore important for individuals and organizations to understand the role that boundaries play in protecting us from harmful outcomes, like burnout. There are three steps to better boundary management: identify, set, and maintain.

Identifying boundaries
Individuals need to be able to recognize the need for one or more mental, emotional, or physical limits or boundaries in a particular situation. This requires both self-awareness (understanding why we do what we do) and situational awareness (understanding the dynamics of others in the environment around us).

Developing greater self- and situational awareness is one of the first and most important steps managers and employees can take to encourage healthy boundary setting at work. Reflective practices such as journaling, spending time alone (especially in nature), and meditation can help individuals recognize feelings that may signal the need for a boundary. Pay special attention to feelings of discomfort, resentment, or guilt with a particular person or work situation. When determining whether a boundary is needed, think of these feelings as being on a continuum, not black or white.

A simple tool for raising self-awareness around these feelings is the Boundaries Signal Scale, which measures the intensity of negative emotion (such as discomfort, resentment, or guilt) an individual feels in response to a situation on a scale of 1 (lowest intensity) to 10. Scores of 4 or higher may indicate a need for an individual to set or reinforce a boundary. For example, when an overeager colleague interrupted Susan in a meeting, she rated the experience a 2 because it was a one-time occurrence and the colleague meaningfully apologized. In another instance, Susan worked through the weekend to deliver a report that her boss demanded by Monday but did not review until the following Friday. He then asked for her to address his changes by the following Monday morning, which meant it would require her to work over a second weekend in a row. For Susan, this interaction rated a 10, indicating to her that she needed to set a firm boundary with her boss.

The boundaries signal scale shows that an intensity of 1-3 is a low level of discomfort and 7-10 is high.

Setting boundaries
People must communicate their boundaries clearly and consistently to others, a skill known in psychology as assertive communication. Open and assertive communication styles are essential to healthy boundary setting. Managers and employees should clarify expectations upfront and continuously reevaluate them over the course of the working relationship. Often, people assume their needs and preferred ways of working are understood, so they don’t state them. This can result in misunderstandings.

Teams should collectively consider and challenge assumptions and suppositions. Taking this step intentionally can help foster better communication and transparency in the group, which builds trust. Identifying and observing role models who are skilled at boundary setting can also help. Notice the language they use, their tone, and the body posture they take to assertively communicate their boundaries and expectations.

The most effective boundaries are those set and maintained collaboratively with open, upfront communication about intentions and needs. In Susan’s case, she and her boss never had a conversation clarifying expectations. If, however, they had candidly and transparently discussed overtime hours and lead time for deliverables earlier in their working relationship, a healthy boundary would already have been in place. Employers and employees should work together to define mutually appropriate boundaries for performance expectations during the onboarding process and when an individual is promoted or changes roles.

Setting and communicating boundaries fosters a sense of interpersonal safety and trust. In a stressful moment, emotions can cloud judgment and make it difficult to effectively set boundaries. Using a simple eight-step process offers clarity

A table lists 8 steps for setting boundaries, including Name Your Limits, Seek Support, and Start Small.

Maintaining boundaries
Maintaining boundaries involves the continued practice of confirming the appropriateness of the set limits, adjusting them if need be, and communicating them assertively, especially when they may be challenged. It is important to communicate clearly and in a matter-of-fact tone the consequences if the boundaries are tested or ignored, and then to follow through if it happens. Emotionally charged communications are frequently ineffective in producing sustainable change.

Consequences should be meaningful for the other person and result in a behavior change. For instance, if a coworker continuously calls after work hours to address ongoing work issues, a low-impact consequence would be to keep answering the phone while saying these intrusions are inconvenient. A medium-impact response would be to decline to take the calls and set a meeting to clarify mutual expectations for communications outside of regular working hours. A heavy consequence would be to lodge a complaint with human resources. The most effective consequences match the level of the boundary-violating behavior.

For example, if Susan and her boss had previously set expectations for her to not work over the weekend that were repeatedly disregarded, it would be appropriate for Susan to renegotiate a Monday deadline for a last-minute, nonessential project requested late in the week.

Overcoming obstacles
In the workplace, individuals may struggle to set healthy boundaries for a variety of reasons, including:

a previous negative experience when attempting to set a boundary
fear of conflict or negative repercussions, which often leads to avoidance behavior
a lack of confidence in their ability to respectfully communicate a boundary, either because they don’t know what language to use to set one or because they fear it will come out aggressively due to built-up frustration
not realizing a situation warrants a boundary
self-doubt about whether they have a right to set a boundary.
This struggle with boundary setting—when an employee feels unable to clearly share their true thoughts, feelings, needs, and expectations—often results in an unintentional style of passive-aggressive interpersonal communication. Over time, if the uncomfortable or unwanted situation or behavior continues, resentment builds, and when employees reach their limit, they end up expressing their frustration in an aggressive way. In these instances, coworkers and managers, who had the impression that everything was going well, are taken by surprise, feel confused, and may feel blindsided by their colleague’s behavior. This breakdown in communication ultimately erodes trust as managers and employees feel increasingly uneasy and uncertain about each other’s true thoughts and motivations. In Eric’s case, he lost faith in his managers and abruptly resigned to take a job at a competing firm. Susan and her boss struggled to work together because Susan felt taken advantage of, and her boss constantly questioned her commitment to her job. Eventually, Susan left to start her own company.

Clear expectations
This is where employers need to step in. They need to explicitly state what is expected and what is not expected of employees. It is also important that employers pay attention to and empathetically inquire into a significant change in an employee’s performance, as happened with Eric. Employers can provide opportunities for managers and executive leaders to learn how to develop their own healthy boundaries, model boundary setting, and coach others in doing the same.

Perceived power imbalances between employers and employees may make setting healthy boundaries difficult, particularly for entry-level professionals. This is where it is imperative for employers to remember that employees who set and maintain healthy workplace boundaries have been shown to be less prone to burnout. As such, it is in employers’ best interest to support healthy workplace boundaries among all employees.

It takes energy and courage in the face of internal resistance to change ways of working. Individuals successfully build their boundary-setting skills by starting slowly and acknowledging that early attempts may be imperfect. Coaching can be valuable for both managers and employees. By taking steps to identify, set, and maintain healthy boundaries at work, employees and managers can build trust, improve resilience, and contribute to a higher-performing environment for everyone.


Reimagining Talent in M&A

Executives see talent retention as the second-biggest contributor to deal success. And with record numbers of employees actively job searching, the challenge is getting even more critical as many industries face a talent shortage.
The best companies take critical steps in both the diligence and integration stages to ensure that talent stays put. For example, they invest to understand a target’s centers of influence and perform extensive diligence pre-close to assess attrition risks and employee engagement.
Executives who successfully retain key talent through integration say that establishing a strong and compelling vision for the future is the most important element contributing to that success.

Even in the best of times, mergers and acquisitions cause employees to worry about uncertainty and change, often leading them to consider other options. But these are not the best of times. Virtually no company has been unaffected by the Great Resignation as record numbers of employees explore new opportunities.

A March 2021 Gallup poll found that 48% of the US working population was actively job searching or watching for opportunities. It was a survey that included workers in every job category, from hourly consumer-facing roles to highly paid professionals. According to the US Department of Labor, more than 4.5 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily in November, the most in the two decades in which the government has been keeping track.

Some companies are doing a better job than others of proactively addressing people issues throughout the diligence and integration processes.

These are stats that haunt any proposed talent-focused deal: People were already thinking of leaving, and a pending acquisition or merger can make that decision even easier. Our survey of executives found that talent retention is the second-biggest contributor to deal success (see Figure 1). When talent is a major factor in a potential deal, acquirers need to proactively address people issues throughout the diligence and integration processes. Some companies are doing a better job of this than others.

Reimagine your people due diligence
While most executives acknowledge that people issues are critical in an integration, they often examine only a few areas during the diligence process. They tend to focus primarily on the executive leadership team; they also typically explore a limited set of solutions, such as compensation packages for senior leaders. Acquirers that are surfacing as winners, however, take a robust and creative approach to people diligence when exploring a target. This approach gives them visibility into the team and culture that has propelled the target’s success and can inform decisions about whether to pursue the deal and how to shape an eventual integration.

It starts by understanding a target company’s centers of influence. That means quickly identifying key players across three categories:

Who is mission critical today? Who drives the day-to-day success as a result of their expertise, and who is critical in the near-term to ensuring continued performance and supporting the integration?
Who is mission critical tomorrow? Who can deliver the capability spikes needed to achieve full potential?
Who are the true people influencers? Who do people listen to, and who will likely take others with them if they leave?
Acquirers need to ask pointed questions to build an initial list of critical talent, outlining their roles and responsibilities and specifics on how they are critical to the success of the company. Leaders should quickly craft a strawman of the combined company’s future operating model, working to answer two basic questions:

How different is it from the way they work today?
What level of change and disruption do they anticipate for the key players?
Acquirers need to ask pointed questions to build an initial list of critical talent, outlining their roles and responsibilities and specifics on how they are critical to the success of the company.

It’s important to keep a close eye on impacted populations that are both critical to future success and that are likely to undergo a significant change. Invest heavily in these individuals. As soon as possible, cultivate direct relationships with them to understand their aspirations, motivations, and career goals. Financial incentives keep people in the short term, but nonfinancial considerations around purpose, growth and development, and cultural connectivity keep them for the long term. Actively build a point of view on their likelihood to stay and potential drivers for retention, and build it into your plans from day one. It’s essential to ensure that acquisitions are aligned with longer-term talent strategies—including building the new capabilities that can drive growth; unlock new adjacencies; and support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Get creative about how to read the landscape
Too many executives underinvest in people diligence simply because they don’t believe they can access meaningful information until after close. Yet the best talent acquirers find ways to be proactive pre-close to determine the potential risks and accelerate the integration journey from day one. These are the steps that matter.

Get the conversation started. Don’t shy away from engaging key talent. Ask to speak with a broader group of people, not just the executive team. In addition to those conversations, reach out to alumni—they may be willing to speak more openly than current employees. Remember that different sources are biased in different ways, so you need a balance of perspectives. These conversations can give you significant insights into talent, existing strengths and weaknesses, perceptions of your company, level of attrition risk, and hidden assets within the organization.

Leverage publicly available data. Digital tools can help bring visibility into a target’s historical attrition rates or engagement metrics during diligence. Together, they can paint an accurate picture of the employee dynamics within the company. Glassdoor offers preliminary insights into employee sentiment, allowing you to anticipate attrition risk, change fatigue, or burnout in the target company. LinkedIn provides visibility into the organization, helping you understand the current operating model and depth of capabilities. Fishbowl includes open conversations from employees, providing insight into how the community interacts.

Use people insights to guide the integration
The people diligence should inform whether you do the deal. If that diligence raises too many red flags, don’t hesitate to walk away. But if the people and culture issues seem manageable, the diligence should dictate how you approach integration. As soon as you mobilize for integration, translate people diligence learnings into implications for the integration. Two best practices ensure that you are engaging on people issues right from the start.

Cocreate a clear, compelling vision for the combined company. Executives who successfully retain key talent through the integration say that establishing a strong and compelling vision for the future is the No. 1 most important element (see Figure 2). Immediately after closing a deal, bring leaders and influencers together to craft that vision for the future organization. This narrative should include a case for change, a view of the future state, measures of success, and guiding principles—the guardrails for making key decisions. The simple act of imagining and defining a shared future so soon after close helps to align leaders, build excitement, and foster energy for the change ahead.

The top two factors for talent retention, compelling vision and clearly defined roles, are nonfinancial

In the merger that created UKG, leaders from Kronos and Ultimate Software came together to shape the story of their future, clarifying their shared purpose and highlighting the opportunity to make even more impact as a combined entity. This process aligned leaders around a shared aspiration to truly put people at the center of their business. The process also alleviated concerns around cultural differences and distinctive ways of working.

Build energy from the middle. Tons of great talent sits below the executive level. Reach out to those key leaders and critical influencers, and directly engage them in the process, enlisting them as integration ambassadors. This team can provide feedback on the integration journey, identify and help solve emerging issues, and build cultural understanding and connectivity across legacy organizations. This group can help protect the blind spots of the executive team and integration leaders. They see, hear, and experience the integration (and the business) differently, and they can pinpoint risks, opportunity areas, and emerging challenges.

Such a team played a key role in accelerating the cultural integration of Caliber and Abra, supporting the rollout of store conversion and other key changes. By inviting these individuals into the process, the leadership team empowered key influencers to proactively support and shape the change journey while building advocacy within the organization.

Understand the organizations’ capacity for change. The ability to navigate change through an integration is a key determinant of value in most deals. Many leaders pay limited attention, however, to change readiness—that is, an organization’s capacity to effectively navigate change. Bain’s Change Power Index® tool helps companies anticipate the change archetype of both their own company and that of the target. It serves as a starting point for planning for remedies and solutions. Clearly understanding each organization’s ability to change can help determine how to structure an integration in a way to support your talent strategy and accelerate value capture while mitigating risk.

The popularity of using M&A to obtain and retain scarce talent has introduced a new term into the business lexicon: the “acqui-hire.” As the talent gap threatens growth and profits across industries, more companies will devote more energy to performing creative people diligence and enabling people insights to guide integration. How to predict the winners in the raging war for skills? They’re the companies with an unwavering focus on talent before, during, and after the deal—deal after deal.


How to Build a Talent Acquisition Strategy for Small Businesses

Organizational leaders scoffing at the market’s recent hiring difficulties and writing them off as “pandemic-related” may be in for a surprise in the coming year – Hiring is going to continue to be tough, and 2021 was only a preview of what’s to come. This is expected to be an especially challenging year for smaller businesses for another reason – while COVID may have sparked the “Great Resignation” and created an all-out war for talent, the economy has seen a sudden recovery in consumer demand. This recent recovery in demand has left small businesses failing to fill massive amounts of new orders without sufficient staffing resources to cover them.

It’s a dynamic that has small businesses scrambling to adopt new talent acquisition strategies capable of attracting the best talent in a minimal amount of time. With 60 unemployed workers available for every 100 unfilled positions the time for HR professionals to broaden their understanding of these modern hiring strategies is now. There are fantastic resources online that can help you understand talent acquisition in a more practical sense, but there are no substitutions to the strategies we cover below.

Objectives of Talent Acquisition
For a small business to be successful in attracting the perfect candidate in a job market that is tilted so heavily in the favor of the candidate, they need to stop looking at the process as simple recruiting and begin to think in terms of high-level strategy.

Recruitment is a harried process of filling an open position ASAP to keep the wheels of an organization turning. Sometimes referred to as “reactive recruitment”, it commonly resembles a fast-paced, cursory analysis of resumes and a single round of interviewing to quickly fill a role with minimal consideration over the long-term effects of hiring the wrong person. Recruitment still has its role in the modern job market, but it shouldn’t be relied upon to produce favorable results for every position.

Talent acquisition is not the process of simply replacing an employee – it is a deliberate effort to craft a workforce by clearly defining the requirements of a vacant role, and then marketing to passive and active job-seekers alike on social media platforms and then engaging with those candidates. These efforts are all undertaken to persuade the best of them to join an organization on a long-term basis.

Benefits of Building a Modern Talent Acquisition Strategy
In 2022, the overall success of an organization is based almost entirely on the talent of its workforce. Small businesses that prioritize the implementation of the strategies listed below position themselves to become leaders within their industries, not to mention how these strategies contribute to building a pipeline of talented candidates that can be drawn upon overtime to fill key positions. Modern talent acquisition strategies also have a direct connection to reduced organizational expenses and higher profits.

Finally, it’s worth noting that 7 out of 10 recruitment professionals believe that investing in new HR technologies is the key to unlocking enhanced recruitment results over the next five years. When these HR technologies are married to the strategies discussed below, small businesses are poised for the very best success in the modern job market.

Build Your Brand First – Differentiate from the Competition
Branding needs to be an essential component of any organization’s talent acquisition strategy in 2022. Look to the marketing profession if you need to, but organizations need to find a way to get in front of their desired candidates. Building an online brand that proactively engages with the public can yield enormous dividends when trying to attract talented candidates. Remember, potential employees will want to know about your recruitment processes and what your culture is like, including what kind of incentives your organization might offer.

Building your brand means so much more than simply posting information. To build your brand successfully, organizations need to ask themselves “are we engaging with the people who are responding to our posts?”

Building your brand successfully means building dynamic relationships with the people who are responding to your posts. A recent study shows that 4 out of 5 candidates won’t accept an offer from a company with a bad online reputation. To avoid this, small businesses need to be sure they are talking to their online audience and be sure they are sharing requested information. Over 70% of the world’s HR leaders believe that the perception of their organization’s brand has a significant impact on hiring.

Assemble Talent Acquisition Team
The size of a talent acquisition team depends largely on the size of an organization. For some, recruiting and hiring might be the sole responsibility of a single person, but that team or person needs to be finely tuned in to the needs of their organization. If a business offers technical services then perhaps the talent acquisition responsibilities should be handled by a specialized technical recruiter.

For some small businesses, their talent acquisition strategy begins by hiring an HR generalist. As the organization expands, the HR generalist can embark on hiring specialists such as a recruitment coordinator or hire a recruitment agency. However, there should be one person responsible for an organization’s talent acquisition strategy that can communicate that vision and hold other parties accountable for adhering to an organization’s strategic priorities.

Evaluate Application & Hiring Procedures
Once a team is in place, the first task is to administer a detailed analysis of hiring processes already in place to identify redundancies and inefficiencies. When evaluating these processes, the best strategy is to determine the amount of time that is required for each step. Ask what steps can be automated? A rule of thumb could be that any task that needs to be done five or more times a day is a process that should be automated.

Recent innovations in HR technologies offer automation and artificial intelligence solutions that are remarkably effective in improving the quality of hiring. Therefore, small businesses need to build an awareness of the technical options they have when refining their talent acquisition strategies. Also, society is often “on the go” and a small business can lose more than half of the best Gen Z and millennial candidates if your application process appears outdated.

Building a successful talent acquisition strategy means modernizing your application and hiring procedures for a post-pandemic world that has gone digital. Remember, the workforce is wildly different than it was just a few years ago. Many potential candidates, especially the younger crowd, prefer to communicate via text instead of email. Small businesses that modernize their hiring processes to fit these needs will be able to cast a wider net of talents.

Audit Personnel and Talent Requirements
The talent acquisition team or person that is responsible for locating and hiring talent should have a clear understanding of what skills their staff currently has, and what skills are still needed. When small businesses neglect to upskill their current employees or to properly screen new candidates for the right skill set, it hurts productivity.

Small businesses that skip this part of the talent acquisition equation or want to avoid spending money to upskill their existing workforce are simply and willfully holding their companies back from achieving greater success by incubating an environment of unsatisfied, under-skilled workers.

When auditing your workforce, remember that new skills can accelerate innovative thinking. Making an accurate determination of a workforce’s skill set can be useful in establishing a roster of trainings and seminars to offer employees.

Investing in your workforce is also a wonderful way to boost employee retention rates.

Define a Suitable Candidate
Define what you want before you start spending money to find it. Hiring a new employee without a clear roadmap of what they are expected to achieve and when is not a prudent strategy. Without a clear job description, new employees won’t have the information to know how their performance will be judged. In most cases, the hire fails, and the cycle begins again. At nearly $15,000 per bad hire, this is a crucial part of a talent acquisition strategy.

A small business has a much greater chance of retaining and growing their new hire into a key contributor if they clearly define the details of their role.

Freelance or Direct Hire
The pandemic has made marvelous contributions towards the acceleration of “the gig economy” and, for some small businesses, building an understanding of how this new breed of worker potentially fits into their business model can yield remarkable results. The gig economy has never had so much to offer and every small business should consider it as a component of their talent acquisition strategy.

Even with technologies that allow recruiters to scour the internet for candidate data and then pair it with extensive interviewing we still find it challenging to accurately assess how well a new employee will fit with an existing team. Freelancing continues to be an increasingly more resourceful avenue for getting certain things done. A survey conducted last fall revealed that more than 70% of hiring managers plan to either continue or increase their utilization of the gig economy in 2022.

A small business has a role to play to make this strategy successful, however. Efforts should be taken to make freelancers feel like their officially “part of the team” and not treated, by anyone on staff, as if they are just part-time vendors. Having a positive work or team culture in place when the freelancer arrives will ensure this.

Finding New Employees
An oversimplified, yet valid, question to be asking when building a talent acquisition strategy is where do you recruit new employees from? Answering this question will have much to do with the type of skills that a small business requires. A recruitment plan for a social media specialist may be glaringly different from a recruitment plan for, say, a physical therapist.

There are abundant resources online to help organizations refine their search for a particular employee skill set, but the distinction in 2022 is that recruiters will have a much more active role to play. Recruiters that simply post their open positions on the major job boards and then feel as though they can simply wait for resumes to come in may have some success in getting interest, but the best candidates want to be engaged with (which we touch on later).

Not unlike everything else, Google is usually the first stop for people when they’re searching for a job so your talent acquisition strategy should consider what can be done to optimize job postings to increase the likelihood of landing at the top of search results.

Never has technology been as supportive as it is now in helping small businesses to find new employees. The innovations in Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) systems have been remarkable in terms of their ability to help recruiters cast a much wider net. The best HR technologies even allow you to build a pipeline of candidates that you draw upon for future roles.

Create an EVP
Does your small business have one? If it doesn’t, part of your talent acquisition strategy in 2022 should be to build and promote one. An employee value proposition (EVP) is essentially a promotion to a global community of active and passive job-seekers telling them what your small business offers that makes it such a wonderful and desirable place to work.

Much like a mission statement, EVPs are refined over time and their development should be on a recurring agenda that company leadership will participate in. The best EVPs answer questions like what kind of incentives your company offers and they promote the characteristics of a small business that employees value.

EVPs are not to be discounted as “fluff” – they genuinely work! In fact, research has shown that organizations with an EVP strategy have decreased employee turnover by almost 70%. What’s more, EVPs play a role in building an inclusive work environment that serves to attract diversified talent. Reports show that diversified companies are more profitable and innovative than their non-diversified competitors.

Candidate Engagement
Candidate engagement has rapidly become perhaps the most effective talent acquisition strategy for attracting talent in the modern job market. In the past, the hiring process was simply about a company assessing swaths of resumes to find the best people to call in for an interview.

Now, recruiters are actively engaging with candidates throughout each step of the recruiting and hiring process. This is known as candidate engagement. The reason it should be part of your talent acquisition strategy is that modern candidates view their recruitment experience as a criterion in deciding whether an organization is a right choice for employment. Before organizations started making candidate engagement a priority, a chief complaint of job applicants was not hearing back from recruiters, and not knowing what to expect next in the hiring process.

Recent innovations in HR technology are now giving recruiters the tools they need to create a more engaging and positive experience for all candidates.

Boost the Benefits Package
The pandemic caused a lot of people to re-examine their lives and their relationships with family. In a post-pandemic world, people value their health and their relationships more than ever and organizations are constructing benefit packages that include perks to ensure employees can maintain a healthy, productive lifestyle. For example, the search for remote work has grown exponentially since March of 2020 and more companies are offering this condition to attract the best candidates.

Small businesses will need to up their game when it comes to the benefits package and not rely exclusively on a new employee’s simple appreciation that they have a job. The market is beyond that now.

Sign-on bonuses, health club memberships, more paid leave, even daycare options are now put on the table to attract the best candidates. In fact, the number of postings for jobs that offered a hiring bonus doubled between the Spring of 2020 and the Fall of 2021.

Succession Planning & Employee Retention
Can you believe that as many as one-third of all the workers in America quit through the end of last year?

And they aren’t leaving because of money. Workers want flexibility, purpose and to be shown that they are valued. One recent report that surveyed 2,000 employees revealed that 1 out of 5 employees have never received any kind of reward or recognition from their employer. Considering how important employees are to their organization, that’s an astonishing amount of neglect.

Employee retention can be achieved by simply rewarding workers with days off, more remote work opportunities, gift cards, and offer skills enhancement.

Succession planning is a process of ensuring talent continuity within a company and takes anywhere from 12 to 36 months for planning. The application of succession planning strategies isn’t nearly as complicated as the term sounds, and every small business should adopt some form of succession planning, especially for those in key leadership positions.

Adopt HR Technologies
Perhaps the most important strategy of all. Small businesses today are facing intense pressure from global competition, and the most tech-savvy among them will lead their respective industries. The fact is that any small business today that isn’t prioritizing investments in HR technologies as a component of its talent acquisition strategy is setting itself up for failure. HR technologies are rapidly becoming a necessary strategic investment for any company that wants to be competitive in the post-pandemic market.

By adopting HR technologies like cloud-based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), organizations of all sizes can collect and analyze key candidate metrics faster and more accurately which facilitates good decision making, not to mention how significantly these technologies can accelerate the recruitment and hiring process.

In a recent report from a human capital management firm, it was reported that over 65% of companies increased their investment in talent acquisition technologies in 2021, and more than 70% intend to increase their investment in such technologies in 2022.

Manatal – Industry Leading HR Technologies
Manatal is an industry-leading technology company and guiding force in the world of innovative HR technologies. With a comprehensive understanding of the technicalities of every HR process, Manatal has successfully developed what is recognized as the most resourceful and productive recruitment software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform on the market today. Manatal’s platform includes a wide array of tools for sourcing and managing candidates throughout the entire recruitment process and it is used by industry leaders throughout the world.

Small businesses can take advantage of our 14-day free trial (no credit card required) via our website, or book a demo call with one of our consultants to help you understand how your business can leverage our platform to accelerate the results of the strategies discussed above.


How to Measure Employee Productivity in the Remote Work Era

Human Resources leaders are facing a dilemma when it comes to measuring employee productivity in remote and hybrid workplaces. In the past, managers would keep an eye on employees in the office and recognize if someone consistently slacked off or misused time. Now, many senior leaders are trying to corral a global team that works across time zones and geographies. They simply cannot always have their eyes on employees.

HR Exchange Network’s annual State of HR survey revealed that 23% of respondents said productivity monitoring was the biggest challenge of remote work. It tied employee engagement for the top spot on the list. Still, in a similarly recent Gartner survey, only 13% of respondents said productivity was a concern. About 29% reported not taking any measures to track productivity remotely.

Manager-Employee Meetings
One way to track employee productivity is to frequently check in with workers. More than 60% of respondents to the Gartner survey said they were meeting with employees more frequently. The idea of collaboration seems to be at the heart of this approach. In fact, a whopping 50% of respondents to the State of HR survey said that facilitating collaboration was the top priority for improving workplace culture.

Having these frequent meetings provides a chance to communicate expectations, answer questions, and build a rapport. At the recent HR Exchange Network’s Recruiting and Talent Acquisition online event, Diane Albano, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at Globalization Partners, stressed the importance of relationships among co-workers. She pointed out that 1 in 6 people have cried with a colleague in the past year.

“A people-first approach is the way forward,” says Albano.

Remote Surveillance Software
Many employers are turning to remote surveillance software. Companies like Time Doctor, Teramind, VeriClock, innerActiv, ActivTrack, and Hubstaff allow managers to track productivity of remote employees. This type of software can provide users with data like how long it takes workers to read and reply to messages, whether they are attending meetings, or how many times they click their mouse. Some of this software also secretly films staff at their screen or assesses the apps and websites they are accessing.

In 2020, when the pandemic began and companies asked employees to work from home for the first time, many scrambled to invest in this productivity monitoring software, according to Bloomberg. As long as employers are honest about the monitoring they are doing, they have the right to keep an eye on employees during working hours.

Still, employees cringed at the thought of allowing monitoring software into their homes as opposed to having it on a work computer in the office. There is the potential for personal data to be captured. Some of the artificial intelligence (AI) software reportedly judges workers on an algorithm, which some say is unfair.

The bottom line is that not everyone is comfortable with this kind of monitoring. Your employees don’t always realize that they are being watched in these ways either. If you decide to invest in productivity monitoring software, also known as remote surveillance, you should check with the legal team to make sure there are no violations of privacy laws. In addition, you should be transparent with employees about how they are being monitored.

Also, explain what the consequences are if managers are unhappy with what they see. Set clear guidelines about the rules. For example, tell individual employees how many hours they should be at the computer working, what deadlines must be met, and whether a video camera will be taking pictures of them as they work.

A Matter of Trust
The media has referred to some of these tactics as “Big Brother” or “spying” on workers. There’s a dichotomy between the two incessant conversations that are going on simultaneously. HR leaders are at once concerned about productivity monitoring and employee engagement. The two don’t always go hand in hand.

There’s a desire to let employees have more flexibility in their schedule. Indeed, 30% of respondents of the latest State of HR survey said flexible work culture was their top priority. Employee engagement and experience came in second with 14% of the votes. If you’re in favor of flexibility, then you cannot be monitoring workers to see exactly what they are doing between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some are asking, “How can you improve the workplace culture and say you are promoting the employee experience while also spying on workers?”

There is good news in all this. Only 2% of respondents in State of HR said that loss of trust was a consequence of the pandemic. In addition, Catalyst found that remote working can increase innovation by 63% and work engagement by 75%.

Considering these numbers and the questions around privacy law, your safest bet might be to judge workers on the positive business outcomes they are producing rather than logged work hours or clicks on a keyboard. This approach speaks to the future of work, where HR, senior executives, and employees form a partnership to carry a company to the highest heights. That kind of culture is built on trust, which is a must to create a psychologically safe workplace.


Pros and Cons of the Gig Economy

Since the start of the pandemic, the gig economy has become more ubiquitous. Human Resources leaders need to understand the new kind of worker attracted to the world of gigs, and learn how to make that kind of non-traditional worker fit into their teams.

Some mistakenly believe that the gig economy, also known as the shared economy, only refers to on-demand jobs like driving for Uber or Lyft or making Amazon deliveries. However, it is also applicable to white-collar jobs. It’s becoming a solution for employees, who need more flexibility, and employers, who need talent during a historic labor shortage. The HR Exchange Network’s State of HR Report revealed that HR leaders hold flexible work culture as a top priority, second only to employee engagement and experience. Buying into gig work might be a way to address both those priorities.

What Is the Gig Economy?
“The gig economy is a free market system in which temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies bring on independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees, and in many cases, for short-term engagements,” according to Embroker.

A look at the numbers demonstrates how important it is for HR leaders to pay attention and get up to speed on how this new kind of work arrangement could influence their business. By 2023, the global gig economy is expected to be a $455 billion industry, according to Harvard Business Review. Two million new workers joined the U.S. freelance workforce in 2020. In fact, one in three working Americans rely on freelancing for all or part of their income. Gallup estimates roughly 57 million Americans are gig workers, according to Forbes.

“The rapidly accelerating growth of the gig economy represents one of the most significant and all-encompassing challenges faced by Human Resources professionals,” according to SHRM. “The fundamental question is whether Human Resources can demonstrate the agility to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for work completed by full-time employees to a new era when more of the work is being completed by a talent portfolio increasingly represented by contingent workers (also referred to as gigsters, free agents, temporary help, agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, independent contractors, or freelancers).

Specific Skills or Talents
Sometimes, you need an expert in an area for one or two projects and not on a regular basis. Being able to hire contract workers as you need them means you can look for exactly what you need at that moment. You don’t necessarily have to worry about well-rounded skills like you might with a full-time hire.

Freelancers and on-demand hires offer flexibility. Even if you’re renewing a contract with one of them on a regular basis, you only have to pay them for the work they actually do. You can turn to them when the work demands more help or when their particular service will enhance outcomes.

Different Kind of Relationships
There’s more of a hierarchy when you are working with full-time employees. Managers and supervisors oversee their work and usually provide some sort of performance measurements to track their progress. With freelancers, you are their client. They are still working for you, but it changes the dynamic of the relationship.

This becomes most complicated with contingent workers, who work consistently for a company but without job security or traditional benefits. They do this for a number of reasons, including having more freedom over their schedules, being able to work for others, and being their own boss. As a result, the contract dictates their work more than the manager does. However, the manager or company could end up being a dissatisfied customer, and contingent workers can be let go at any time and you don’t have to prove they deserved to be fired.

Lack of Routine
If you’re working with a blended team – full-time employees and freelancers or contingent workers – you might have a hard time creating a solid schedule or routine for the group. Potentially you could still get the job done, but full-time employees might feel inconvenienced or maybe even a bit resentful. They have to be in one place for a certain amount of time, whereas their freelance counterparts are free to work on their own clock.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to the gig economy. But HR leaders can’t afford to ignore the fact that there is a societal shift toward this kind of workplace, where people have more freedom over their schedules, the kind of work they do, and even the relationship they have with employers. There’s still so much we have to figure out when it comes to the gig economy.

“Online gig work has grown increasingly common in recent years – and yet there’s still limited understanding of how to effectively support these non-traditional workers,” according to Harvard Business Review. “While gig workers can benefit from greater flexibility and autonomy than traditional employees, they also face unique challenges: less job security, fewer resources for career development, and often, a strong sense of alienation and difficulty finding meaning in their work.”

In fact, many reports have suggested that HR leaders in the future will provide access to resources regarding benefits like medical insurance instead of paying for it as they would for a full-time employee. Companies may begin to support co-working spaces to prevent isolation of their contingent or freelance workers. The point is that change is afoot, and HR leaders are paving the way for this new work paradigm.


The Fabric of Belonging: How to Weave an Inclusive Culture

Building inclusive teams improves performance and is the right thing to do. It also pays off in recruitment, retention, and better teamwork.
People describe what being included looks and feels like in remarkably similar ways.
Helping everyone feel included is deceptively difficult, but organizations can navigate the complexities by marrying systemic change with more inclusive behaviors.
Across all groups, a common thread is the desire to grow and succeed. But organizations can pinpoint additional specific steps that will improve inclusion by looking at their population through the lenses of demographics, geography, and seniority.
There’s no quick fix, but getting started—testing and learning, prioritizing the actions and populations that most need support, and demonstrating commitment—produces immediate value.
We all know what it feels like to belong somewhere—to be included—and naturally, we want all team members in our organizations to feel that way. We all know intuitively that this is the right way to run an organization; we also know from neuroscience that when people feel excluded, it sets off biological alarms in the brain resembling those associated with physical pain—not something conducive to employee well-being and performance.

Besides being the right thing to do and stimulating better individual and team performance, building inclusive teams pays off handsomely for companies by helping them attract and retain the most diverse and talented employees. Despite the clear benefits, however, most companies struggle to foster feelings of inclusion for the majority of their people.

It is hardly surprising that organizations find it difficult to determine which specific changes they must make to promote greater inclusion for their diverse employee bases. So we at Bain & Company surveyed 10,000 individuals—across diverse industries and demographic backgrounds, in seven countries, at all levels of seniority and organizational size—to learn what actually makes employees feel the most included. One of our first and most stark takeaways is that most employees, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation (including straight white men), don’t feel fully included.

When asked what inclusion feels like, employees across all demographics say it is being treated with dignity, able to bring their authentic selves to work, able to contribute, and feeling connected to others—which is our definition of inclusion.

We define inclusion as the feeling of belonging in your organization and team, feeling treated with dignity as an individual, and feeling encouraged to fully participate and bring your uniqueness to work every day.

Bain & Company
How an organization helps all its people feel included in these ways, however, gets complicated. Rigorous analysis of our data has also shown us that the specific paths to that universal sense of inclusion are unique to an individual’s identity—an identity that is informed, of course, by a variety of factors including not just race or ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, but also geographic location and level in the organization.

Even so, there are ways to navigate these complexities and identify concrete actions that can help an organization foster higher and more widespread inclusion—unlocking the full set of benefits that diversity can bring. Our research has found that the enablers of inclusion are highly textured and varied across every population, but that this heterogeneity can be addressed by combining systemic change with more inclusive behaviors.

This raises an obvious question: Which specific enablers and combinations of enablers matter, and to whom, and how can companies identify and take the actions that will actually bring about change? In this report, we share what our research tells us about the answers, turning first to the larger question lying behind all these other ones: What is the value at stake in creating more inclusive organizations?

Why inclusion matters
Many companies today pursue diversity by itself as a priceless asset. But our research shows that they cannot realize and sustain the full value of that diversity—enabling diverse talent to thrive, fully contribute, progress, and want to stay—without a truly inclusive culture. Organizations understand that having a diverse workforce pays off—or should pay off—by stimulating innovation and challenges to the status quo from different points of view. But the only way to realize these and other benefits of diversity is to continuously progress toward a more inclusive environment for all team members.

Inclusive organizations have an easier time attracting talent across demographics: Approximately 65% of people across identity groups view an inclusive environment as “very important” when considering new roles. But recruiting a diverse group of employees is only the beginning. A truly inclusive environment is critical for retention and provides a variety of other tangible, measurable benefits. Our research finds, for example, that employees experiencing low inclusion are up to six times more likely to actively pursue new jobs compared with those in similar demographics experiencing high inclusion. It also shows that those who feel “fully included” are much more likely to promote their place of employment to others (+71% vs. –83%, using Bain’s employee Net Promoter Score℠ methodology of calculating the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors) than those who feel “not at all included”

To truly maximize retention, performance, innovation, and comfort in challenging conventional thinking, organizations should aim for both diversity and inclusion. But while diversifying a workforce can take time, there are tangible benefits to working on inclusion immediately, even if an organization isn’t currently as diverse as it could be.

Fostering inclusion is deceptively difficult
Although everyone wants to build inclusive organizations, few (if any) companies have “cracked the code” for consistently fostering inclusion for employees. There are several reasons for the difficulty of creating truly inclusive companies:

You can’t easily predict who feels excluded. According to our research, fewer than 30% of employees feel fully included—a finding that holds across industries, geographies, and demographic groups, including members of racial, gender, or sexual orientation majorities. No single demographic variable pertaining to race, gender, or sexual orientation cleanly “predicts” lower levels of inclusion in companies, and underrepresented groups do not report feeling significantly less included than majority groups (e.g., straight white males in the US, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe) (see Figure 4). The reasons why people may feel excluded can vary based on context and identity, but the end result is that everyone can and does feel excluded at points.

“I definitely have felt excluded, especially when my manager was not straightforward about what I needed to do to be promoted. They were stringing me along, and there’s no dignity in being treated like that.”

Black man, entry level, healthcare system
“I’m a white male, and at times I’ve felt excluded when I brought ideas to my coworkers who didn’t take them seriously or criticized them.”

White man, manager, agribusiness
Figure 4
No single demographic variable can cleanly predict who feels included

Like all of us, senior leaders responsible for making change often have “blind spots” and can be unaware of challenges around inclusion in their workplaces. This is natural given that people experience behaviors and systems in their organizations in different ways.

Today’s senior leaders have succeeded and risen in existing cultures and systems, and often come from the very majority groups that design and sustain them. While they do often recognize that people from other groups have experiences different from their own, they can struggle with how to respond.

“I think all the roles are available officially, but I don’t think we get chosen equally for the roles. If you were liked, you were in, but most of the time, people of color don’t get selected.”

Black woman, junior manager, retail chain
“I know that diversity is good, and I absolutely want everyone to feel they have a seat at the table . . . but what does a straight, white, married man understand about diversity, equity, and inclusion?”

Straight white man, director, IT
Leaders who are members of majority groups may also gravitate to narrow, behavior-focused solutions such as “acting nicer” or giving employees more opportunities to socialize, or they may rely heavily on team members belonging to underrepresented groups to tell them what they should do—which both increases the burden on those groups and assumes they bring the requisite knowledge of how to advance inclusion.

We all want more inclusive environments, but have different views about how to get there. Employees in every demographic rate inclusion as a critical factor in selecting an employer, but interviews reveal that people have their own deep-seated beliefs about what inclusion means—beliefs that can clash in ways that bring about deep discomfort. For example, for many employees—particularly those from majority groups—adjusting systems to create a more inclusive environment can cut against fundamental, deeply held ideas about fairness, equality, and meritocracy. Many efforts to improve inclusion require an appreciation of the idea of equity as opposed to equality—i.e., addressing the unique needs of particular populations rather than “treating everyone the same.”

“If you want me to feel included, foster an environment where people judge me for the quality of my work and acknowledge and respect my uniqueness.”

Black woman, individual contributor, technology
“Other companies try these programs to make things more inclusive for one group but not another, and it ends up making the whole place less inclusive. You should just treat everybody the same.”

Straight white man, manager, professional services
Every demographic population has a unique “texture” when it comes to enablers of inclusion. Even though the feeling of inclusion is fundamentally the same across groups, our research shows that the lived experience of inclusion is driven for various groups by a diverse variety of factors. In our research, we tried to determine which of a wide range of organizational enablers of inclusion—which we broadly classify as “behavioral” and “systemic”—were most effective in making people feel included (see Figure 5). To do this, we ran thousands of regressions across populations to understand what really increases feelings and experiences of inclusion across many distinct populations

Every employee’s sense and experience of inclusion benefited from both behavioral and systemic enablers, but the mix of effective enablers—what we might call the texture of inclusion—varied across groups with respect to identity, geography, and level within their companies (see Figure 6).

People do not always know what enablers will most increase their own experiences and feelings of inclusion. We found that for many populations, the perceived impact and actual benefit of particular enablers can be mismatched. In reality, people have not always seen or directly experienced “what good looks like,” and may not be fully aware of which enablers will actually increase their feelings of inclusion, even for themselves. When we looked, for example, at the responses of Black women, we found that coaching and professional development did more to increase their sense of inclusion than other enablers that they ranked higher in perceived value (see Figure 7). The larger point across all populations: Leaders should listen first for problem identification, not solution design.

“What makes me fully included? . . . It’s kind of alarming, but I don’t know, and I need to think about it for a moment.”

Cutting through the complexity
Because every demographic group has its own unique texture with respect to what enables members to experience inclusion, and because people do not always understand what precise actions will make them feel included, it can be complicated to sort out what makes inclusion real for a particular group. One piece of good news, however, is that there is a common denominator that boosts inclusion for virtually everyone: opportunities for professional development and growth (see Figure 8).

This still leaves a great deal of complexity for organizations to navigate. Because no single demographic variable cleanly predicts lower levels of inclusion in companies, targeting broad categories of people with reference to single factors is much too blunt a strategy for increasing feelings of inclusion. But there is a method for cutting through the complexity: looking at employees through an intersectional lens that incorporates geography, demographics, and seniority. Properly applied, this intersectional approach can show an organization where, and with what groups, it can take specific actions that will actually advance the goal of greater inclusion for all (see interactive below for a few examples of how this can work).

In identifying such actions, is it essential to note that employees’ feelings of inclusion are grounded in everyday experiences, which consist of their encounters with both the mindsets and behaviors of others and a company’s systems, structures, and processes—what we have classified as behavioral and systemic enablers, respectively. Our analysis, moreover, reveals a bedrock “hierarchy of needs” according to which almost everyone requires underlying systemic support to feel fully included, with people’s focus shifting to behaviors once systems more fully support them. It has also given us insights into some ways that geography, demographics, and seniority tend to influence the kinds of enablers that most increase inclusion for particular populations:

Geography. Some Western European countries (France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, in our research sample) have more comprehensive workforce regulations—encouraging or mandating the creation of organizational systems that serve broad populations in more inclusive ways—compared with countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia. This baseline of supportive systems tends to make behavioral enablers a more important factor in increasing employees’ sense of inclusion in Western Europe.
Demographics. Many organizational systems were designed with the majority population in mind, and therefore have unconscious biases embedded in them. Underrepresented populations often find that such systems do not serve them adequately, and therefore tend to benefit more from systemic enablers.
Seniority. For junior employees, supervisors often are “the system,” and the latter’s behaviors tend to be the most important factors in these junior employees’ sense of inclusion. This tends to make behavioral enablers more effective for increasing experiences and feelings of inclusion among this group. More senior employees, by contrast, are often more focused on career progression and how the architecture of the organization helps or hinders their success—thus making their sense of inclusion more dependent on systemic enablers.

Weaving the fabric: Making inclusion a reality
Our findings tell us that creating genuinely more inclusive organizations, while challenging, is something companies can actually do. Moreover, organizations that want all their people to feel included need not—and indeed cannot—rely on some combination of lofty aspirations, sincere intentions, and the right messaging. Real, sustainable change comes from doing. Making a more inclusive organization is about employees—and leaders—throughout the organization adopting new mindsets, changing behaviors, and learning to operate in and adapt to new and different systems. Agile methods of testing and learning, along with repeated practice, are key to making this happen.

“DEI mission statements can be lip service; without real action, it won’t help me feel included at work.”

Black man, entry level, healthcare system
People are looking to see if their organization understands and cares about their unique needs for inclusion and is prepared to make a real commitment to addressing them. Meaningful analysis, authentic listening, visible action, and feedback are all key to demonstrating deep commitment. In practice, this means starting out by understanding the organization’s current state, establishing its ambitions and goals, and developing an inclusion game plan that prioritizes target populations for specific initiatives and sets up a leadership team with clear roles and responsibilities for execution.

Our research—and particularly our findings on the centrality of success and growth opportunities for all groups—suggests a few basic priorities organizations should then act on right away. While these steps are challenging in themselves, our data suggests that organizations can employ them effectively even while taking stock of the current state of inclusion and formulating longer-term goals.

Signal commitment. Clear goals, by themselves, increase feelings of inclusion for many groups. The first step is often showing people that inclusion is truly important to leadership—for example, by articulating concrete diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ambitions and goals and communicating them clearly across the organization.
Promote growth. Because access to growth opportunities and career advancement are consistently strong enablers of inclusion across all populations, immediate actions might include: installing stronger rituals around professional development and coaching, training leaders on growth mindsets and team development, and introducing effective sponsorship and mentorship programs that help people navigate the organization.
Facilitate connection. People feel more included when they have support—both from peers who share their identities (and challenges) and from allies. Early steps here might include expanding employee affinity group offerings, developing programming to help underrepresented employee groups find one another and bond, and promoting networks of allies (see Figure 9).

After an organization has attended to these cross-cutting initial priorities, the journey quickly requires more rigor and focus. We believe that a practical—and effective—approach to becoming more inclusive will be based on a few key principles:

Focus on intersectionality. Creating inclusion for people requires accounting for the many identities people have both at and away from work, and the interplay among them.
Use data and narratives to formulate answers that will inspire change. Data can provide a “single source of truth” to align leadership on the right path forward, while real-life stories of lived experiences can touch hearts in an organization and motivate collective change.
Identify the behavioral and systemic changes needed. Employee experiences are affected by their relationships not just with colleagues but with the company itself.
Prioritize and customize your roadmap. Every company will have unique “bright spots” and “blind spots”; focusing first on groups in the organization that have the most to gain, and building momentum through actions that will actually increase inclusion most for those groups, are ways to start setting priorities and addressing an organization’s particular needs.
Focus on doing, not just explaining, to bring about sustainable change. People learn and retain their ability to change through real-life practice and coaching (rather than reading about best practices).
We have called inclusion a fabric because it is something woven of diverse strands that retain their individual integrity even while being part of a whole. It is also a fabric in the sense of an underlying structure, a framework in which people in the organization, and the organization itself, can do their best work when the structure is sound. It is about how people feel, but also about the design and the workmanship that creates a texture in which they can belong and feel supported—by being respected, able to be themselves, able to contribute, and able to be connected.

Weaving the fabric of belonging, then, is work for both the heart and the head. Done successfully, it makes both people and organizations better by making inclusion not just something we talk about but something we live—thus bringing us all closer to realizing our potential as both diverse individuals and members of teams.


A Global Look at the Connections Between Happiness, Income, and Meaning

“Humans think happiness is this one thing: You’re either happy or you’re not,” Jennifer Aaker says. Of course, it’s not so simple: New research conducted by Aaker and her colleagues not only challenges the assumption that happiness is binary but also finds that the relationship between happiness and our sense of meaning can change depending on our financial situation.

“This is particularly interesting because research has shown when people get wealthier, they experience greater happiness,” explains Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business who has extensively studied happiness, meaning, and money. “But this research suggests that the nature of happiness also shifts based on income.”

In a forthcoming study in the journal Emotion, Aaker and her coauthors find that meaning is a stronger predictor of happiness for people with low incomes than those with greater financial resources. In other words, people with more money may be happier, but people with less money view happiness as tied to a sense of meaning — the belief that their life has purpose, value, and direction. And, remarkably, that connection is consistent across much of the world.

The paper, cowritten by Rhia Catapanoopen in new window of the University of Toronto, Jordi Quoidbachopen in new window of Esade Business School, and Cassie Mogilneropen in new window of UCLA, is one of the first to explore how income and wealth affect the relationship between meaning and happiness on a global scale. (Catapano and Mogilner studied with Aaker while receiving their doctorates at Stanford GSB.)

The researchers began by looking at the United States, where they first discovered the correlation between meaning and happiness as income decreases. At first, they wondered if this was particular to Americans or “a fluke,” Aaker says. Yet as the team expanded its study to analyze large-scale datasets spanning more than 500,000 people from 123 countries on six continents, the same patterns emerged.

“The results were almost universally consistent across the United States and much of the world,” Aaker says. “Among low-income people, having a sense of meaning in one’s life is more closely associated with overall happiness.”

The visual representation of the findings — a world map with the countries where the results hold true are shaded — is “striking,” she says: “It’s an interesting pattern to see so robustly across different cultures.”

Wealth and Mental Health
Aaker cautions that these findings should not be used to minimize or dismiss the real disadvantages that low-income people and communities face. Instead, the paper provides additional context for future research and policymaking. “In addition to improving basic conditions for lower-income people, policies should not neglect the importance of meaning” in life, she says.

As income inequality grows and poverty rises worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Aaker and her coauthors say their research could influence mental health interventions in low-income communities and countries. According to studies cited in their paper, low-income people are twice as likely to suffer from depression as people with higher incomes, and reduced household incomes are associated with an increased risk for incident mood disorders.

People who succeed in finding meaning experience both meaning and happiness, but those who can’t find meaning aren’t happy.
Jennifer Aaker
“Whereas mental health treatments in low- and middle-income countries most commonly encourage people to identify their thoughts and feelings, engage in problem-solving and eliciting support, our findings suggest that one additional avenue for such interventions might be rooted in meaning,” they write.

There are important implications for wealthy people as well, Aaker says, pointing to her researchopen in new window showing that having a sense of meaningfulness is associated with longer-lasting well-being than happiness alone. And lacking a sense of meaning is not irreparable: People seeking more meaning in their lives can proactively choose to look beyond themselves and give more to others.

The Meaning of Meaning
Because the studies in the new paper are correlational, the authors cannot say whether meaning causes happiness or vice versa. However, they hypothesize that each plays a role in driving the other. “People who succeed in finding meaning experience both meaning and happiness, but those who can’t find meaning aren’t happy, consistent with other research,” Aaker says.

The researchers propose a few possibilities for why meaning has a stronger correlation with happiness for people with less income. “It’s possible that financial constraints pose such practical and emotional strain that people are compelled to try to make sense of their situation,” Aaker says. She notes other research that has found that “having negative or challenging experiences and then being able to make sense of them is one route to experiencing life as meaningful.”

In the paper, Aaker and her colleagues hypothesize that affluent people have greater access to “external sources of happiness” and so may not rely on an “internally constructed sense of meaning.” As Aaker puts it, “For wealthier individuals, getting them to benefit from the meaning they already have in their lives, but aren’t turning into happiness, may be more effective.”

Aaker and her coauthors also point out that experiences that have been shown to contribute to a sense of meaning — including strong relationships and religion — often don’t cost a thing.


Policies alone aren’t enough when it comes to paid leave

The ground is shifting on paid family leave in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 23% of private industry workers now have such leave, a figure that has almost doubled since 2017. Paid family leave allows compensated time off to care for a family member. Figures for leave to care specifically for a newborn are higher. The Society for Human Resource Management found in late 2020 that 55% of employers were offering paid maternity leave and 45% had paid paternity leave. And these paid leave programs have been expanded or enhanced during the pandemic, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Still, the United States is the “only wealthy country in the world without any guaranteed paid parental leave at the national level,” the Washington Post notes. Some states have created their own paid family leave programs, and it remains unclear whether a bill that would establish national paid family leave will make it through the Senate. For now, hopes rest largely on businesses.

Much of my work revolves around helping companies understand and establish such policies in ways that are proven to attract and retain employees and increase profits. One of my most important messages is that having paid leave as a benefit is only the first step. In practice, paid leave only pays off, for employees and organizations, when the culture supports it.

It remains unclear whether a bill that would establish national paid family leave will make it through the Senate. For now, hopes rest largely on businesses.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of paternity leave. Often, men don’t take the full paternity leave they’re allowed, due to stigmas and fear of repercussions. As one man told me for my book All In, paternity leave at his company was “a PR benefit, not a real benefit.” The book is filled with stories of men who were fired, demoted, or denied job opportunities for taking paternity leave. Women don’t escape stigmas associated with taking leave, either.

But studies have repeatedly confirmed what should be obvious by now: when people feel safe taking time off, they’re more likely to want to work for the company that’s making them feel that way, whether it’s their current employer or a prospective employer. The upshot: attracting and retaining talent can depend heavily on a supportive leave culture. Here are key actions for creating one:

Because of the United States’ lack of a national paid family leave insurance system, paid leave has become a complex framework of corporate policies and state plans that can be very difficult to decipher. Employees are often unclear on exactly what their employers do and do not offer.

It’s important for organizations to spell out their policies in clear, simple language. Educate HR teams and managers, who can in turn educate their staff. Invite and answer any and all questions.

Make leave the default
When employees share that they have a child on the way or a family member in need of care, don’t ask them whether they’re going to take the leave that is allowed. Instead, ask them when they’re going to take it. Or simply say, “Let me know which weeks you’d like to use for your leave.” Make the assumption that they should and will take it.

Parental leave is one of the rare types of family leave that can often be planned in advance. In a supportive culture, employees will feel comfortable telling their manager and team that they have a baby on the way, or that they are looking to adopt and might get a call at any minute. Make a plan for what will happen when the baby arrives, without creating an opportunity for the employee to turn down the leave they’re entitled to.

Set an example
To know that it’s safe to take leave, workers need to see higher-ups do it. This is why Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to take paternity leave after the births of his children was so significant. (I was interviewed more than once about this, and each time I explained that I wished Zuckerberg had taken the full leave Facebook offered.)

As Jennifer Owens, former editorial director of Working Mother Media, put it, “There’s nothing more powerful in telegraphing workplace culture” than leaders “taking public advantage of a policy, and encouraging others to do the same.”

Conduct surveys
To find out how supportive your work culture is, you need to collect data and feedback. Run anonymous surveys. Find out how many employees were eligible for which kinds of leave each year and how much of that leave they used

Be sure these surveys are both quantitative and qualitative. Allow opportunities for people to share the reasons they did not take the leave offered and to report any problems, pressures, or stigmas they were subjected to.

Outside of the surveys, make sure that employees also have a safe way to report any such problems. When something is reported, address it.

Making paid leave a real, freely utilized benefit helps prevent employees from quitting—a problem businesses are already grappling with as the “great resignation” keeps growing. Replacing an employee can cost up to 200% of the position’s annual salary. By comparison, allowing employees to safely take several weeks of paid family leave is just a drop in the bucket. It’s a win-win. And it’s time.