Five Reasons Rescinding Job Offers Hurts HR

With a volatile market, exorbitant inflation, and rising costs on necessities from groceries to gas, employers are rethinking their hiring strategy, and some have even rescinded offers. Among them are Twitter, Redfin, and Turnberry.

Many of these organizations are in the tech sector, which is experiencing challenges that are causing them to nix early career jobs, according to CNBC. In addition, startups and pre-IPO businesses are faced with uncertainty, which is leading them to be more cautious with hiring strategy and spending. Any organization with its finances tied to crypto, which is experiencing volatility, are also less reliable.

Whatever the reason, those who are losing job offers in this manner are taking to social media and talking to reporters. It’s a bad look for companies and their Human Resources departments. Indeed, this practice of yanking an offer out from under a job candidate has a number of consequences for HR:

Job Candidates Lose Trust
Job candidates who agree to take a job with an organization likely turned down other offers or at least stopped pursuing them. As a result, they are putting their faith into the employer and taking the company at its word. They are putting their livelihood and the future of their finances – whether they can afford housing, food, healthcare, and all the rest – in the hands of this employer. So, all over social media and in the headlines, job candidates are describing downright betrayals. No HR leader wants to see the name of their organization linked to this kind of story.

Employee Enagement Plummets
While employees may still have their jobs, they do not work in a vacuum. When they hear that people, who had been hired, lose their jobs before their start date, they also lose trust and faith in the organization and its ability to succeed. Certainly, this will influence employee engagement and experience. It could even lead to attrition. This can further complicate matters if the organization is no longer hiring.

Rescinding a job offer days before an employee is expected to start, after someone has signed a contract, makes it seem like the company is incapable of basic budgeting, strategy, and planning. Human Resources has made great strides and has been serving, in many instances, as the hero of the pandemic. In fact, some have argued that HR turned around its reputation for being merely administrative at best and a minion of the C-suite at worst. Those days are over, but the rescinded job offers put all those strides at risk. Frankly, it just makes it seem like HR and the employer cannot do their jobs right.

Legal Ramifications
Businesses have the ability to rescind job offers even after people signed contracts, but it does open them up to the possibility of legal liability. To begin, promissory estoppel allows scorned job candidates to pursue damages:

“Within contract law, promissory estoppel refers to the doctrine that a party may recover on the basis of a promise made when the party’s reliance on that promise was reasonable, and the party attempting to recover detrimentally relied on the promise,” according to Cornell Law.

The National Law Review explains that the legality may differ from one U.S. state to another. That matter is further complicated if the would-be-employee has moved or quit another job for this one, which is often the case. Any HR leader who is considering rescinding offers should speak with an employment lawyer first.

Bad for Employer Brand
Rescinding job offers will only damage a company’s employer brand. In the age of social media, when people share every bit of their lives – especially when they have been burned – this action will get shared again and again. As companies look to the future, they do not want to be considered a bad employer or one that goes back on its word. Period.


The role of uniform in DE&I

Work uniforms can unite a cohort of people, break down barriers to entry, and instil a sense of safety and belonging in the people who wear them. And within the HR space, in particular, there is an awareness that uniform serves as a tool not only to boost employee engagement but to also create a workplace with equal opportunities.

Why we need workwear
Each year, millions of individuals go to work ‘in uniform’, whether that is a branded ensemble or a corporate suit — with research showing that 67% of the population has worn a uniform to work. Work dress codes may vary, but the reason for wearing them remains ubiquitious throughout the workplace. It ensures safety of the work, provides a brand or corporate identity, and boosts employee engagement. But, perhaps one of the most prevalent reasons, particularly in 2022, is that it has the power to mitigate discrimination, pressure and bias in the workplace.

Breaking down barriers to entry
Workwear has the power to create a level playing field for everyone within the workplace — and we can liken this to the way that uniform does in schools. Research by Trutex states that at schools “uniform removes the pressure on children to wear the latest fashions or designer labels, and can reduce perceived inequalities between students from different socio-economic or family backgrounds”. The research shows that 95% of teachers and 70% of children believed that wearing a uniform helps students to ‘fit in’; whilst 35% of students even went as far as saying that “wearing a uniform makes school a happier place to be”.

Uniform provides an opportunity for everyone to work on an equal playing field

And, the same can be said when entering the workplace. Uniform provides an opportunity for everyone to work on an equal playing field, with the notion of socioeconomic status falling into the background as employees become part of a united workforce. What matters is not fast fashion trends or designer items; it’s the attitude, performance and value that an employee brings to the workplace.

In fact, it could be said that, without the economic and social pressures of equipping oneself with a suitable work wardrobe, and instead having this provided for you by the company, social mobility is actually improved by uniform.

Promoting inclusivity
As most of those within the HR sector probably know, social mobility must always be considered with an intersectional approach. This means that it’s important to recognise how one person or group of people might be affected by a number of discriminations. Workwear, when designed well and with inclusivity in mind, can make sure that no category of worker is excluded or discriminated.

For example, when Abellio London designed their uniform, they recognised the rise of gender fluidity. Using technology, they transformed their online ordering portal ‘Detail’, to clearly provide gender-neutral wardrobes. Abellio London’s online order capturing process completely opened up the previous male and female collections to all drivers, regardless of whether they are cisgender, trans or non-binary.

Creating an inclusive wardrobe can go far beyond simply blending the male/female uniform line. Garments can be added to cater to different movement abilities, cultural and religious needs (i.e. a branded or recommended Hijab style), and different shapes and sizes. An inclusive uniform line not only aids but encourages equal opportunities by exclaiming that everyone is welcome regardless of their background.

Uniform enhances equal opportunities
The responsibility of getting uniform for a company may sit within the procurement function of the business, but the input of HR is still immensely valuable to ensure that the workwear wardrobe is centred around breaking down barriers and improving inclusivity. Here are some of the areas that HR should focus on when overseeing uniform creation.

• Representation: Make sure a uniform is created that is built for everybody. That way there will be no barrier to entering based on economic background, size, gender, or disability.
• Design: Ensure the uniform reflects the company. The design is important; however, the design must not give way to any discrimination or ignorance of individual workers’ needs. Nor should it draw attention or discomfort to its wearers. Considered craftsmanship, trials and research are essential to designing and manufacturing a workwear wardrobe that truly fits the needs of a team.

Not only can uniforms boost workplace engagement and create a sense of inclusivity for employees, but they can shape perceptions of a brand without one word being said. Companies must not just say but show their commitment to diversity and inclusion — and nothing is more tangible than the clothes an employee is wearing when serving as the face of a company.


Why businesses need to help employees build friendships

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations faced a difficult challenge they were unequipped to solve: increasing isolation and loneliness among their staff. “Close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, and people with a best friend at work are seven times as likely as others to engage fully in their work,” PwC reported in a 2019 study. “However, in the workplace today, the opportunities for interactions and relationships can be reduced by new models of flexible working.” In a survey conducted at the time, only half of respondents agreed that their employers had successfully developed a robust virtual social platform.

The past few years have made this worse. At many companies, the entire staff quickly became remote, and the days of team lunches, onsite gyms, happy hours, and chats in the hallway disappeared. Suddenly, that company culture ceased to exist. Even as some people returned to the office many weeks or months later, many others did not. As companies institute remote or hybrid working environments on a permanent basis, there are fewer opportunities to build relationships with colleagues in person.

The loss of work friendships is likely one reason so many people are choosing to leave their jobs, as CNBC reported. And among those who stay, success and creativity take a hit. In a recent study, Yasin Rofcanin, a professor of management at the University of Bath in the UK, and a group of colleagues found that friendship between coworkers is the most crucial element for enhancing employee performance.

The isolation takes perhaps the biggest toll on mental and emotional health. Feelings of isolation are deeply intertwined with stress and anxiety. Without other people to lean on, it can be much more difficult for colleagues to find the resiliency they need to face each workday.

In its 2022 Workforce Purpose Index, the peer coaching platform Imperative explored the state of work relationships. Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said they are finding it difficult to make work friends, and more than half (57%) said their managers are not helping. But there’s also good news. The vast majority (87%) of workers said they’re willing to put more time into developing these relationships.

Developing meaningful connections
Amid the current challenges, there are steps organizations can take to facilitate and encourage the formation of work relationships. One of the key methods for empowerment is peer coaching, a process in which two colleagues help each other reflect on experiences, offer support, build skills, and match their work to their sense of purpose.

More PwC insights
A photograph of colleagues in a meeting.
Meet the four forces shaping your workforce strategy
WebMD Health Services began to address the challenge with a group of more than 150 volunteers from across the company. Each took an assessment that helped them discover what gives them a strong sense of purpose—having an impact on their team, for example, or making a broad impact on society. Using algorithms, the Imperative platform then matched people with similar purpose drivers across the organization.

The pairs of workers met every two weeks for hourlong conversations over video, and the Imperative platform provided prompts in the form of questions participants could ask each other, opening up opportunities for the colleagues to engage in deeper conversations. For example, one read, “Reflect on the previous two weeks. What positive experience(s) have you had recently? Why were those meaningful to you?” Another was, “Where do you feel the most pressure right now? What happens to your well-being when you feel that pressure?”

“Having the time to step away from the craziness of back to back meetings and get to know a co-worker and learn what makes them fulfilled at work gave me new perspective and new goals to work towards,” one participant wrote in the feedback. Another wrote, “Happy to make a new work friend for life!”

These meetings have been going on for several months. So far, the results are in keeping with Imperative’s data, which shows that the overwhelming majority of participants (89%) in such programs develop meaningful connections.

WebMD Health Services plans to roll out the program more broadly across the organization.

Participants take action
The relationships that develop through this peer coaching program are not limited to the pairings. As part of each conversation, participants decide on an action that they will take before their next session together—reaching out to a colleague to form or strengthen a new relationship, for example, or strategizing ways to improve collaboration across different teams. The overwhelming majority of the time, the participants follow through, knowing that their peer coach will hold them accountable the next time they speak.

In the past, organizations may have counted on relationships to simply arise among staff members on their own. Those days are gone.

Among the participants at WebMD Health Services, 38% of the actions taken have involved relationships. Of those actions, 24% involved relationships with team members, and 39% focused on relationships outside of the employee’s team. This kind of activity helps bust the silos separating departments, a problem that only grew for businesses during the pandemic. At WebMD Health Services, program participants and the project management unit developed new relationships with information technology and operations units.

Importantly, this program has enabled people of different backgrounds and perspectives to get to know each other, which is essential for building diversity and inclusion.

In the past, organizations may have counted on relationships to simply arise among staff members on their own. Those days are gone. To build the kinds of relationships that strengthen an organization—especially in an era of remote and hybrid work—businesses must be proactive. But executives and managers don’t have to take time out of their schedules to serve as matchmakers and force interactions. By giving employees the tools to develop relationships on their own, businesses can reap tremendous benefits—and build a stronger long-term future.


Degreed Returns To Its Roots: Acquires LearnIn, Founder Returns As CEO

If anyone ever tells you it’s easy to build a startup software company, don’t listen to them. That’s the story of Degreed, one of the darlings of the corporate learning industry, now going through a rebirth as the market continues to change.

Let me tell you the story.

About a decade ago, three companies (Degreed, Pathgather, and EdCast) pioneered the market for Learning Experience Platforms. These systems, which were groundbreaking at the time, allowed corporate training departments to “unlock” the content they stored in their learning management systems and give everyone in the company access to learning. It was a very good idea.

In the early days of the market these companies grew like weeds (Pathgather was acquired by Degreed). Nearly every corporate training manager decided they wanted an LXP, encouraging every learning vendor to jump in. Cornerstone introduced a “free” LXP, Skillsoft launched Percipio, LinkedIn launched LearningHub, and then Microsoft introduced Viva Learning.

This market, that of the LXP space itself, became a fast-growing $500M space, and almost every content and technology vendor wanted in. Even Workday Learning, which now has more than 1000 customers, was designed around the LXP idea, and vendors like Oracle and SAP have built or acquired systems that meet this need.

Degreed, meanwhile, continued to grow. While the company has been the thought leader in the market, the competition started to get fierce. So about two years ago Degreed CEO Chris McCarthy left the company and Degreed brought in a new CEO (Dan Levin). The purpose was to scale: with around 400 large corporate clients Degreed was “too big to fail,” but not big enough to compete with many of the enormous players now in the space.

Competition Gets Fierce

As I learned many years ago at Sybase, the software business is war. If you read Sun Tzu (The Art of War), which is mandatory reading in Silicon Valley, you know that no matter how good you are, someone is always trying to catch you by surprise. So EdCast, Degreed’s single largest competitor, started to do some shrewd things.

First, EdCast built a skills engine that was more advanced and more open than Degreed. This caught the company by surprise, given that Degreed wrote a book on Skills-Based Learning. Then EdCast acquired a content company and started to build LMS features. And sure enough, EdCast started winning deals.

Degreed turned around and acquired a small company Adepto, deciding it was going to get into the talent mobility space. While this sounded like a good idea, it extended the company into many new areas, forcing Degreed to rationalize its strategy. While Degreed’s LXP is a great product, moving into talent mobility and career management was complex. The product roadmap slowed down.

Then the next big step occurred. EdCast, which saw Microsoft and LinkedIn as competitors, sold itself to Cornerstone, a billion-dollar company with 20,000+ customers. Degreed, which started as the market leader, suddenly found itself surrounded by competitive giants.

What’s Next

Well Degreed has made its move.

Today Degreed announced the acquisition of Learn In, a small vendor building a “talent academy” platform modeled after a lot of our research on Capability Academies. And in addition to this, the company is bringing back David Blake (the original Degreed founder) as its CEO.

What is this all about?

Well Learn In, which is still a small company, is building a platform for what we call Academy-based learning. In other words, it’s not enough to develop a “skill” to make your company grow. People need to build what we call Capabilities (this is why we call them Capability Academies), and a true Capability is developed in many ways.

(If you want a real-world example of capabilities, check out our Global HR Capability Project, and you can assess your own capabilities.)

Consider, for example, how a company like Capital One builds cyber security experts in IT. They don’t just take a course in Cyber: they do projects, they may take developmental assignments, and they may even be assessed by their peers. What Learn In is trying to do is build a platform to connect all these moving parts.

As I’ve talked about for several years, the Capability Academy approach is the next big thing in corporate training. While many learning programs are “skills-based,” most big transformations take place when a person can learn, do, and grow. In fact, our new L&D research (coming out this summer) will show you how big this “Grow” problem really is. We don’t just want people to learn new skills: we need them to take on new projects, new roles, and new careers.

Can Degreed pull this off? They’re certainly going to give it a try. Learn In (Degreed) believes it can build what we used to call a “program management platform” that assembles content, manages cohorts, and handles the e-commerce and tuition reimbursement for third-party programs. It’s kind of the nirvana idea that every major training manager wants: it’s just complicated and requires lots of technology and tools.

The initial offering is called its Talent Academy Platform, and it is designed to create curricula, programs, and support tuition reimbursement and administration. (Sound’s a little bit like an LMS, doesn’t it?) These are all valuable features, and I would guess many Degreed customers will want them.

I position these tools as “Program Management Platforms,” and it’s a fairly crowded space. In addition to systems like Cornerstone and Docebo, vendors like Intrepid,, NovoEd, Nomadic, and many others play here. It will be up to Degreed to figure out how to build something creative that stands apart.

More To Come

I applaud Degreed (and Learn In) for leveraging a lot of our research to move in this direction. It’s a clear market need and one with lots of complexity to consider. With David Blake back leading the company, you can be sure there will be more excitement ahead.


Travel disruption: employers’ questions answered

  1. Do we have to pay employees for working hours missed because of transport disruption?
    In principle, an employer would be within its rights to refuse to pay an employee who misses work because of transport disruption.

This is because an employee who is not working during their contractual hours is not fulfilling their contract of employment, and so the employer does not have to pay them.

This is the case even if the employee’s lateness or non-attendance is out of their control, for example because of transport disruption.

However, it is good practice for employers to take a pragmatic approach, even if employment law is on their side in this scenario.

The financial disadvantage of paying staff even though they are not working because of transport disruption may be outweighed by the benefits. Staff morale and a reputation as a good employer are among the benefits of paying staff who miss work because of transport disruption.

  1. We operate under the hybrid working model. What if there is disruption on a day when the employee is normally expected to attend work?
    Travel disruption for employers
    Severe weather and disruptions to public transport policy

How to deal with employment issues caused by severe weather or disruptions to public transport

Tthere may be circumstances in which we ask you to work remotely, or to work from such other place as we may reasonably require, when you would otherwise expect to attend the workplace/office … – example wording for hybrid working policy

Employers should build sufficient flexibility into their hybrid working model to allow the employee and their line manager to agree to work remotely on a particular day on which they would normally be expected to attend work.

Where an employee is simply unable to get to work or would face severe delays and they are set up for remote working, the most sensible solution will often be for the employee to work from home that day.

It may be that the employee agrees as a one-off to attend work on a later day on which they would normally be working remotely.

Employers should always remember that showing a degree of flexibility during periods of transport disruption can benefit staff morale and their reputation as a good employer may benefit in the long run.

  1. Can our employees take periods when they cannot get to work because of transport disruption as annual leave?
    Where an employee is unable to get to work because of disruption to transport, taking the time as paid annual leave may be a good option.

There is nothing to stop an employer from asking if the employee would like to take extra holiday if they are unable to get to work in this scenario. Employers will probably find that many employees would prefer to take paid holiday rather than lose out on pay.

However, there may be circumstances in which this is not possible. For example, this could be the case where the employee has already used up all their annual leave for that year.

As an alternative, the employer could give the employee the time off as additional unpaid leave, or ask them to make up the time later, for example by swapping shifts with someone else.

  1. What if transport issues disrupt an employee’s childcare arrangements, for example if their nursery is closed or their usual childminder is late or unavailable?
    Employees have the statutory right to a reasonable period of unpaid time off for dependants.

Does your organisation need a policy on transport disruption?
A transport disruption policy can make your workforce aware of the rules that will apply if they have difficulty getting to work because of transport disruption caused by a natural disaster, severe weather, strikes, eco protests, terrorist attacks, and fuel supply issues.

The right applies where an employee needs to take time off work because of unexpected disruption to the care arrangements for a dependant.

The right to time off for dependants would clearly apply to an employee where their nursery is closed because of staff shortages or their usual childminder is late or unavailable.

An employee who is taking time off for dependants must inform the employer as soon as is reasonably practicable of the reason for their absence. The employee must also tell the employer for how long they expect to be absent.

The right to time off for dependants is designed to allow the employee to deal with an unexpected event and to make alternative arrangements. It is therefore likely to be reasonable for an employee to take one day’s absence to make these arrangements – the right is not designed to give employees time off to care for their child for an extended period.

  1. Do we still have to pay our staff if transport disruption has resulted in us closing temporarily because of a staff shortage?
    If an employee has been able to work remotely, the employer must pay them their normal wages.

If an employee is unable to work because their employer has made the decision to close the premises, this will in effect be a period of lay-off.

The employer should pay the employee their normal wage, unless there is a contractual provision allowing for unpaid lay-off, or the employee agrees to being laid off without pay.


Do our best performers make lousy leaders?

In the history of leadership, it would be remiss to ignore Alexander the Great. Having conquered the Persian Empire, he and his army had arrived at the edge of the known world, India. In other words, he was a pretty effective leader. If the ancients had used key performance indicators, Alexander’s would have been impressive to say the least. He got results.

So too – though with rather less conflict – do the CEOs and executives of today, which is why they might find it instructive to consider the cause of Alexander’s undoing. For while he was proficient in the hard skills of performance, he lacked those softer skills without which sustainable leadership is impossible. His self-belief could carry his army only so far. But when it came to empathy, or adaptability, his army was less convinced. After ignoring his pleas to go on, they turned round and marched home in what became known as the Hyphasis Mutiny.

This illustrates, albeit dramatically, the age-old rule that top performers don’t always make the best leaders. There are many ways in which this rule plays out in the modern workplace.

The narcissist lacks empathy; the micromanager, trust – both of which are needed for reliably effective leadership

Take narcissism for example. A narcissistic CEO has a grandiose view of their abilities and a craving for flattery. And, unfortunately for their subordinates, they will in fact benefit the company in some ways. According to research from Penn State University, out of 111 CEOs in the computer industry, the most narcissistic made the most and the largest acquisitions. But high performance in this one metric could mean a terrible performance in others. The same Penn State research found that large and frequent acquisitions led to ‘extreme and fluctuating organisational performance’ as companies veer from win to loss.

A vainglorious manager becomes the dreaded micromanager. A study by Accountemps showed that 59% of people have at some point been micromanaged, of whom 68% said it damaged their morale. What’s more, the micromanaged – now anxious of taking risks – may even become micromanagers themselves.

Of course, a micromanager isn’t always a narcissist, and vice versa. But what they have in common is a general disregard for the thoughts, feelings and contributions of their employees. The narcissist lacks empathy; the micromanager, trust – both of which are needed for reliably effective leadership. It’s hard to imagine a high-performing narcissistic CEO submitting, for example, to reverse mentoring: a growing workplace trend. The catch is that it can be hard to spot the difference between confidence and hubris. By then the damage is done.

The reason high performers don’t always make good leaders boils down to this: work isn’t solo. In any number of industries – HR especially, given its purpose – the aim isn’t to press on alone but to carry your team with you. Individual success won’t always translate to collective success. Top performers are promoted because of their herculean capacity for work, not leadership.

In this sense the job of a true leader is quite simple. They must set goals and give to their team the means of fulfilling them. But high performers, whether from hubris or the exhaustion of their own mountainous workload, don’t like to hear this, or else can’t hear it, as their left-behind team searches in vain for guidance.

On the other hand, it’s clear that high levels of performance, provided they can be allied with the soft skills of empathy, collaboration and constructive feedback, are desirable. What’s needed, therefore, is a multi-pronged approach in the way companies measure success. Results are important, but so too is the ability to mentor and motivate. What might this approach look like?

Focus on the right results

High profit margins and new clients are important but count for little if a toxic company culture is driving a high employee turnover. This will only be exacerbated if new starters in particular, deserving of help, are left in the lurch by their high-flying superiors. Moreover, unhappy teams dry up the pool of potential internal promotions, which means hiring external candidates already less invested in the company’s future.

Measure other people’s success, not just your own

No one is infallible; employees have no certain way of knowing if they’re valued or doing a good or a bad job. So tell them. Research by PwC has shown that 60% of employees want feedback on a daily or weekly basis, but only 30% are actually getting it. Whether it’s daily or yearly, a good leader should attend to the growth of their employees with tailored advice. This has never been more crucial. Fully 80% of ‘Gen Y’ employees want on-the-spot reviews instead of the formal yearly ones, according to LinkedIn. If the next generation, ‘Z’, are anything like them, then leaders should listen up – with both ears.

Set clear expectations

It’s been said that an effective communicator aims not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand. Leaders take note. In the early stages of hiring, vague expectations can sour things later on when through no fault of their own an employee misconstrues the nature of their role. Seasoned employees also need clear expectations as their duties grow. This is all especially important when one considers that a CEO’s workload, in size and scope, is likely to dwarf other people’s. A good leader should keep in mind that not everyone can multitask, skip meals, drink oceans of coffee, and rise at 5am.


What goes up must come down. The same goes for work. 36% of workers claim that their organisations have nothing in place to mitigate burnout – a problem moreover that disproportionately affects women, raising questions of gender parity. And the most common cause of burnout, at 75%? Unsupportive managers. Simply put, top performing leaders should concede that lunch and tea breaks, the occasional walk, team socials, and flexible working not only foster a healthy work-life balance but actually increase productivity.

There’s nothing wrong with being a top performer. The workplace needs them. In positions of leadership, however, they could do worse than stick to this multi-pronged approach – lest they succumb to their own Hyphasis Mutiny.


You are underestimating the number of stupid people you work with?

Look, I get it, I’m not the smartest person in most rooms, so this is definitely the pot calling the kettle black!

I ran into Professor Carlo Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Human Stupidity recently, here they are:

  1. Everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals among us.
  2. The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person while deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

I love this! I need to give Carlo a hug for developing this!

Is Stupid a Super Power?

I’ve worked long enough in HR to know stupid people can really screw stuff up! You can have an entire team of people working their butts off to solve a problem or develop a new product and it only takes one stupid person to bring it all down.

HR was kind of built around the concept of we’ll have a few stupid people working for us, let’s have one function in place to try and limit their impact! Its kind of like HR is the Super Friends and Stupid People are the Legion of Doom.

Every single HR policy that has ever been written was because of a stupid person. One stupid person couldn’t figure out something, no one else had an issue with it, but now we have to have a policy because Timmy doesn’t get you can’t stick your arm into the machine that cuts metal bars.

Stupid people are the reason for centuries we couldn’t be treated like adults at companies. “Hey, cool, Jill, you need to go to the doctor? No worries, we know you take care of your work, we’ll see you tomorrow.” Then Timmy steps in and says he needs to go to the doctor as well, but then posts a pic of himself drinking a cocktail by the pool, and then doesn’t come back until three days later, because apparently, his doctor is in Bora Bora.

How do you know who the stupid people are at your work?

First, let’s clarify there’s a difference between flat-out people who lack intelligence stupid. Like they had no choice! Their dumb Mom and dumb Dad got it on in the back of a Chevy one night and now you have stupid babies running around. That’s a different stupid. Because those folks can actually be great employees!

The stupid we are talking about is from #3 above. They know better, or should no better, but they are stupid enough to not only hurt others but hurt themselves. Now that’s stupid!

We need to create an assessment to uncover stupid people in our organizations. Maybe it’s something like a multiple-choice exam:

Scenario: Your co-worker, who is attractive, enters the conference room you are also in. You:

A. Make a pleasant welcome, something like, “Hi, Mary, Great to see you!”

B. Yell out, “Wow, nice rack!”

C. Immediately turn to another co-worker and say, “I’d hit that”

D. Get on Teams and message your “Bro” group about Mary

We all know how to answer this simple example question unless you’re stupid. Stupid people get confused by normal stuff. Normal behavior is like Kryptonite to a stupid person.

Here’s what I know. You should never underestimate the power of stupid and the influence it has on your organization. You have to be on guard and ready at all times because stupid never rests. It’s always lurking. Just waiting to do something…stupid.


Is Work From Home DOA?

The pandemic was supposed to have ushered in a revolution in the workplace that made work from home (WFH) opportunities ubiquitous and normalized. But months after COVID-19 vaccines and a less lethal variant has made the pandemic in the United States more manageable, employers are demanding workers return to the office (RTO), and a series of articles in various media outlets have suggested WFH is all but dead.

This is a strange time for HR leaders, who find themselves in a quagmire, caught between job candidates and employees on one side and company leaders on the other. One of the biggest demonstrations in favor of RTO came from Tesla CEO and Founder Elon Musk, who wrote a scathing letter to employees insisting they return to the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week or leave the company, according to CNBC.

He suggested that those working from home would be “phoning it in.” After the emails, he later wrote on Twitter that those who want to continue to WFH “should pretend to work somewhere else.”

Leaders Want RTO
Musk is not the only big name CEO trying to get people back in the office. Recently, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz admitted that his attempts to get employees back to the office were not working. In March 2022, a Microsoft survey revealed that 50% of employers wanted workers to return to the office five days per week. HR leaders quickly responded to say RTO full-time was a bad idea.

After all, employees have had a taste of the flexibility of WFH, so HR cannot easily take it away. During this period, employers have witnessed firsthand the Great Resignation with record number of Americans quitting their jobs and thus causing a labor shortage in many industries. HR professionals have taken charge of the situation by leading workplace transformation. One of their goals has been to create more flexible work structures that include some or all remote work for jobs that can be done from home.

Employees Want WFH
In fact, much of the research has shown that people are more productive when they work from home. Vox recently reported on a large survey:

“In April, people who worked remotely at least some of the time reported being about 9% more efficient working from home than they were working from the office. That’s up from 5% in the summer of 2020.”

The media outlet reminds readers that this is self-reported data, but it also shares more objective points.

“…Like more calls per minute for call center workers, engineers submitting more changes to code, and Bureau of Labor Statistics data on growing output per hours worked — that has generally shown that people are, in fact, more productive working from home.”

Yet, supervisors and CEOs and other managers insist in conversations that even if people were productive working from home at the start of the pandemic, they are not anymore. (Some of them use surveillance tools to make their point.) Governments, including New York City, are asking companies to encourage RTO to improve the economy by using office space, getting workers to go buy their lunch at nearby restaurants, etc.

While the productivity argument does not have much weight, there is something to be said about collaborating in person to innovate. Michael Arena has shared insight about the Neighborhood Effect on HR Exchange Network, in fact. Many HR professionals are trying hybrid workplaces to offer the best of both worlds and effectively bring about compromise between workers and their bosses.

However, WFH has another big obstacle in front of it. Inflation, high gas prices, and the bear market may give employers leverage over workers again. If that continues, workers may be afraid to insist on WFH, and the need for earnings could force them to give up on flexibility.

Another problem for WFH advocates is a lawsuit that Amazon is confronting. A California judge rejected the company’s request to dismiss a case brought by an employee about work from home expenses. It could mean that thousands of employees in California get a payout for utility type expenses for the time they have worked from their houses, according to Bloomberg. This is the kind of thing that spooks employers and could give them more of an excuse to push for RTO.


The Five Biggest Compensation Strategy Challenges for HR Leaders

With today’s competitive talent market compounded by economic factors like high inflation, people leaders face tremendous pressure to create a competitive compensation strategy.

Most employees want more from work than just a paycheck — they want community, purpose, career growth, and professional development. They also want fairness and equity, both in the way they’re treated and how they’re compensated.

Common compensation strategy challenges
To learn more about the real challenges HR professionals face when building comprehensive, fair, and competitive compensation strategies, we tapped into our HR Superstars community for insight.

Read on for five of the biggest challenges that came up in our community again and again.

Limited access to reliable benchmarks
Trouble finding accurate and helpful compensation benchmark data was mentioned quite a bit by our community members.

To ensure they remain competitive, people leaders want to see what similar companies in their industry pay employees or offer candidates for different positions. Unfortunately, that data can be hard to come by, especially for more niche roles.

Here’s what a few of our community members had to say:

“[The biggest challenge is] getting reliable comparative data to ensure we’re being competitive.” – Scott Johnson

“In our niche market with limited data and specialized job descriptions, it’s hard to find comparable data.” – Karen Blakely

“Figuring out how to benchmark positions that are uncommon or a hybrid of multiple roles [is a challenge].” – Lauren Schlicker

Ensuring compensation fairness & equity
There’s never been more focus on fair decision-making when it comes to compensation. But operationalizing fair pay comes with its own set of challenges, especially when equity hasn’t historically been a priority in the organization.

Fortunately, there are fantastic HR leaders out there today, driving the conversation and pushing for more equitable compensation practices.

Here’s what some of our community members said about this particular challenge:

“Keeping pay equitable across our company while also competing with market rates while also retaining our superstars [is a challenge].” – Sims Key

“Having an equitable comp plan for both tenured employees and new hires as well as consistency using ‘grades’ across the organization and taking the subjectivity out of performance reviews [are challenging].” – Karen Maxwell

“It is challenging to have transparent conversations about comp in general. This is not specific to my organization; we need a better language for communicating on the topics of pay and equity!” – Evelyn Kwong

Tying compensation to performance
Another common challenge is figuring out how to appropriately tie pay to employee performance.

If compensation is to be performance-based, then evaluations must be done fairly and consistently — and companies need the right processes and performance management technology to administer them.

Here’s what we heard in the community:

“Making equitable decisions regarding how compensation relates to performance [is a challenge].” – Marilyn Repinski

“If compensation should be related to performance, [the challenge is] how often to do performance evaluations, and how to have competitive benefits packages for a high-turnover industry.” – Jill Warzonek

Getting leadership alignment and buy-in
Getting company executives aligned on a compensation strategy is a sticking point for many HR leaders. Comp packages must be competitive to retain and attract great people, but many HR teams face pushback from their leaders, often over budget concerns.

But as most HR pros know, today’s employees are more informed than ever and demand fairness and transparency from their leaders. Elise said it best:

“[It’s a challenge when] leadership is unable to justify the comps given and fails to understand that employees are having conversations about their own salaries with one another.” – Elise Walker

Staying competitive among changing market factors
It’s no secret that the last few years have been tumultuous for us all, and economic factors have created uncertainty for companies and employees.

When it comes to designing a fair and competitive compensation strategy, shifting market factors can make it feel like someone keeps moving the goalpost. This is an added stress on struggling HR leaders, who are putting all their energy into supporting their organizations and helping employees maneuver constant change.

“Compensation is a moving target due to current economic conditions of attracting and retaining high-caliber talent.” – Claudia Marques

“Remaining competitive against bigger companies [is a compensation challenge].” – Amber D’Angelo


Finding Meaning in Life

Create a compelling self-narrative based on the five pillars that influence the way we experience meaning.

Working countless hours trying to get his latest start-up up and running, Ted was at rock bottom, questioning the fundamentals of his existence. What was he doing with his life? Did it have any purpose? Was there anything he could look forward to? He felt increasingly isolated. Although his company was growing rapidly, he hadn’t felt connected to his colleagues for quite some time.

Until now, Ted had been too busy with his work to wonder about the meaning of life. But now he felt lost. Since his children had left home, the hustle and bustle seemed pointless. Somehow, life made less and less sense to him; it even seemed tedious. It had been a long time since he had felt happy. His marriage had become superficial and lifeless. For too many years now, he and his wife behaved like two old acquaintances who were boarding together. Ted was in bad physical shape as well, having piled on weight over the past year.

As Ted took stock of his life, he realised that the very foundations of his existence were being shaken. He had been depressed before, but this went beyond. He wondered whether he was in the middle of an existential crisis – whatever that meant. He found himself thinking more and more about death, with the increasing realisation that he wasn’t able to face his own mortality.

Ironically enough, never having been religious, Ted had started to envy religious people. At least their faith brought them some comfort. He felt he had nothing to help him with his despair. Everything had seemed so much simpler in the past. The same questions kept running through his head: If I die right now, what difference have I made to the world? Have I been chasing the wrong things all my life?

Death anxiety and the search for meaning

What is the meaning of life? This question is almost as old as time. The search for life’s meaning is the uniting characteristic of our species and is perhaps the most important part of being human. It is thus unsurprising that throughout the history of humankind, the question of the meaning of life has attracted theologians, philosophers, psychologists, evolutionists and cosmologists alike.

Of course, Ted is far from being alone with his existential angst. Many of us are quite successful in pushing our feelings of unease into the background. Whenever possible, we prefer not to think of death, or at least to pay little conscious attention to its inevitable reality. The tragic quality of our lives is that we are the only species that has to live with the understanding and consciousness of our death.

Deep down, we desperately want our life to make sense. Of course, life can only be meaningful if we give it meaning, leaving it very much up to us to make a contribution worth remembering.

Defining meaning and purpose

Meaning can be redefined as intent, or significance. It refers to the extent to which we experience life as being directed and motivated by valued goals – in other words, that whatever we are doing matters. We can even see meaning as an experiential byproduct of a life lived in the way we think it should be lived. At the same time, we may also discover that meaning has deeper layers that need to be unearthed if we want to find out what’s meaningful to us.

In popular use, meaning and purpose tend to be used interchangeably – and often rightly so, when we refer to the worth or value of something. For example, the meaning or purpose of life could refer to the worth or significance of life: my purpose would be to create something meaningful. This interchangeability is not a given, however. For instance, the comment, “there is no meaning in my life” is not the same as “there is no purpose in my life.” That’s because meaning is the symbolic value of something, while purpose is a goal.

Thus, to mean something is to have value and significance. To have a purpose, however, means to bring value to something, to make something significant. In other words, purpose can guide life decisions, influence behaviour, shape goals, offer a sense of direction, as well as create meaning. It has a future connotation. In contrast, meaning is the end of purpose. It refers to the past, the present, and the future. Of course, without a sense of purpose, it is hard to find meaning. Also, at times, whatever our purpose is, it may have no meaning at all. We may be engaged in pointless, hollow activities.

The five pillars of meaning

There are five pillars that influence the way we experience meaning: belonging, purpose, competence, control and transcendence.

Belonging: As we are hardwired for connection, having the sense that our presence and/or absence means something to other people.

Purpose: A future-oriented construct in the form of a goal, target or objective to be reached.

Competence: A feeling that we are moving forward, progressing, honing our skills and can feel proud of what we’re able to do.

Control: A sense that our life, our decisions and our actions are very much determined by ourselves.

Transcendence: A feeling of unity and communion with something much bigger than ourselves.

To help my clients and students assess how effectively they deal with these five dimensions, I devised the Meaning in Life Questionnaire.


Add up your responses. The range of scores is from 15 (lowest possible) to 105 (highest possible). A high score suggests that you have many psychological resources and strengths. (Key: b=belonging; p=purpose; c=competence; co=control; t=transcendence)

Telling our story

To create a meaningful life, these five pillars need to be woven into a compelling personal narrative. This is an exercise I often introduce in the executive seminar I’ve been running at INSEAD for decades. It facilitates telling the story that explains our role in our life’s journey.

The stories we tell, and the way we tell them, reveal who we are and become an essential part of ourselves. After all, stories give us a sense of direction and a purpose. Our challenge is to create a life that contains a story worth telling.

We should also remember that the story we tell doesn’t come from nowhere. As storytellers, we create our own personal myths that contain heroes and villains, people who have helped us or held us back. We pick the major events that determine the plot. We select the challenges that we have overcome and highlight the suffering we have endured.

When we tell our story we are likely to focus on the most extraordinary (good and bad) events in our life. These are the experiences we need to make sense of, because they tell us what’s really significant. Putting the disparate pieces of our lives into a coherent narrative allows us to understand our life as a whole.

The power of storytelling explains why journal writing and intimate communication with others can have such powerful organising effects on our mind and a positive impact on our physical well-being. Keeping a journal allows us to work through overwhelming emotions and observe our thought patterns, rather than simply reacting to them.

Recording the small details of our daily life can help us to feel more grounded, more connected. The act of writing helps us to prioritise our fears and concerns. Also, it allows us to track patterns and growth over time.

When all is said and done, we all live within networks of stories. Stories create community. Through our stories, we are able to enter our inner world. As such, they help us to discover memories that have been waiting to be told. In that respect, stories are invaluable in bringing up the questions that define the meaning that we give to our lives. And in order to live, we will need these stories.