When leaders break the rules

How should HR respond to rule-breaking leaders? We spoke to three leadership experts about mastering the art of a good apology, acting as a moral compass and going beyond slapped wrists.

How should HR respond to rule-breaking leaders? We spoke to three leadership experts about mastering the art of a good apology, acting as a moral compass and going beyond slapped wrists.

The news of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak receiving fines for breaking lockdown rules is yet another reminder that unethical behaviour runs through the highest levels of leadership. Not just political leadership either. The recent P&O mass sackings indicates that in the business world too, those at the helm are making toxic decisions.

It’s no surprise then that Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer shows “distrust is now society’s default emotion”. Less than half of survey respondents said they trusted government leaders and journalists (42% and 46% respectively). While 63% believe business leaders are purposely trying to mislead us.

When looking at this issue through the lens of the people profession, it’s important to consider what actions to take when leaders break the rules, and how to tackle the pervasive lack of trust.

Calling it out
Contributing to the rise of unethical leadership are the blind eyes being turned from those in close proximity to the offending leader.

“In the current global VUCA climate we are repeatedly seeing how politicians and business leaders believe they can make their own rules and ignore accepted best practice,” states Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership. “This is enabled by their advisors because these leaders often surround themselves with people who cannot or will not challenge them, which results in a lack of thinking and accountability, and instead leads to conflict, loss of talent and a lack of diversity.”

As a representative of the people, HR leaders must not act as an enabler by keeping quiet when leaders act questionably.

For culture specialist and CEO of That People Thing Blaire Palmer, HR must get better at calling out bad behaviour and act as the radical voice of the business.

“HR professionals need to be comfortable to generate arguments about what is right. These can be good natured arguments, we don’t have to be the morals police. But we have to be known for our willingness to stand in the shoes of our clients, our employees, our community and our shareholders and ask how decisions and behaviours will look to them. Even when intent is pure, how it will look is as important as how it was meant.”

Adding ‘sorry’ into the leadership lexicon
When leaders make poor choices, or act in a questionable way, they not only need to apologise, but they need to do so with integrity, and that is a skill that leaders must hone.

“There is a big difference between saying ‘I apologise’ and saying ‘I am sorry’ (the latter is better),” explains Palmer.

Leaders must also avoid making excuses. “An apology also can’t come with caveats like ‘I still don’t think I did anything wrong’ or ‘I have bigger things to worry about than this’.“

A good apology requires the ability to listen to different perspectives, the emotional intelligence to understand someone else’s point of view, and the empathy to communicate genuine remorse for poor actions taken.

An insincere apology is arguably worse than no apology at all, so it is vital for leaders to understand these foundations of a good apology and practise the art of it.

Through making values part of the everyday discussions and decision making within businesses, HR can help remind leaders to act with integrity
Beyond slapping wrists
When faced with a leader whose actions equate to more than just a minor digression, a sincere apology may not be adequate.

In these circumstances, Judith Germain, the leading authority on Maverick Leadership, highlights the importance of handling the situation with “integrity, consistency and rigour”.

Germain goes on to explain that when the digression is one that necessitates a disciplinary procedure, HR should take the following steps.

Establish the facts of the alleged digression prior to initiating a formal investigation

Check to see whether the leader has been previously accused of similar behaviour (regardless of whether formal action has taken place in the past)

Be clear of potential options and consequences

Establish the current situation and timescales (is the digression one that necessitates immediate action like a suspension?)

Discuss the situation with the business leader’s manager. Outline what you know, and the potential repercussions.

It’s important to take these steps, no matter the person involved. “When a leader breaks the rules it has an immediate impact on the culture of the organisation, especially if the organisation chooses to ignore criminal behaviour.” highlights Germain.

“If the digression is against the organisation’s declared values, and is ignored, employee attrition and disengagement is likely to increase. The organisation may become distrusted by the employees, reducing productivity and eradicating the psychological contract.”

Holding up a moral compass
Getting to the point of disciplinary action is not ideal. To avoid fire-fighting against whatever havoc a leader has caused, taking preventative steps is important for people leaders. Through making values part of the everyday discussions and decision making within businesses, HR can help remind leaders to act with integrity.

“As HR professionals we have to hold up the moral compass for our leaders,” explains Palmer.

“A deep understanding and continual dialogue about the organisation’s values is so important. For example, what does today’s meeting agenda item on, say, bonuses, mean when looked through the lens of our values? How do we treat unsuccessful job applicants if we are truly aligned to our values? There isn’t one question on the table that doesn’t benefit from considering it in the light of our values and wrestling with the best, values-based options.”

Beyond bad leaders
Of course, we shouldn’t just be trying to keep bad leadership at bay. We should be striving for an organisation where good leadership qualities reign strong.

“Great leaders care, they are empathetic and emotionally engaged and are not in it for themselves. They are courageous and lead by example and build trust and great teams,” states Dennis. “It is the responsibility of all leaders, including those in HR, to model these traits, and to foster and drive for them unrelentingly, most particularly from the C-Suite,” he concludes.


Guide to using PR to attract talent


The Chartered Institute of Public Relations says PR is all about reputation (reputation being the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you).

It tells us that PR ‘is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour’, and that it ‘is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’

In the context of recruitment, those publics include people that you may one day want to join your business.

Nowadays, while you’re busy evaluating applications and CVs during the recruitment process, candidates are busy researching your business:

They want to know about the organisation’s culture and values, and how these align with their own. The 2022 Edelman Global Trust Barometer finds that over half (54%) of Brits choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values. It also tells us that, when considering a job, 56% of people expect the CEO to speak publicly about the controversial social and political issues that they, as prospective employees, also care about.

Purpose is also increasingly important to people. According to PwC’s report Putting Purpose to Work: a study of purpose in the workplace, ’employees see purpose as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company, as well as society.’

Beyond this, and thanks to Covid, they’re also much more interested in wellbeing, work-life balance, flexible working, employee engagement, soft-skills development, as well as fairness, diversity and inclusion.

And where do they turn to as the primary sources of information about your business when conducting this research? Social media and the internet.

This means that it’s important for your social media feeds and website to feature content and messaging that showcase all the things that are likely to resonate with prospective employees.

However, there are limits to how credible and convincing people will find claims made on channels you effectively control – what we call ‘owned’ media. “Sounds great, but you would say that about yourself, wouldn’t you?”

That’s where PR comes in.

According to research by global consulting firm Niesen, 50% of people trust ‘paid’ media (advertising), and 62% trust owned media. But 71% of people trust ‘earned’ media – editorial coverage in newspapers, magazines, trade press and well respected blogs.

It’s largely because there’s an expectation that journalists and their editors will subject your news stories to some degree of scrutiny and fact-checking prior to publishing – independent checks and balances that aren’t applied elsewhere, and that hold your business to a higher standard of account.

If, as a result of your PR efforts, potential new recruits encounter lots of positive media mentions of your business when researching you online, those reports create a sort of ‘halo effect’. Not only are they more believable in themselves, they tend to reinforce the things you say about your business elsewhere.

At this point, I should add a note of caution: it’s important to be authentic in your storytelling. Don’t do good things purely to create opportunities for media coverage – if you’re unable to live-up to the employee expectations you create, then all the time, effort and money spent on brand positioning, recruitment and onboarding will be wasted because they won’t stay.

So, what should you focus on when telling stories in the media to aid your positioning and make you more attractive to new talent?

Firstly, think about it from the perspective of your audience: who are they most likely to be influenced by and how?

There’s an important psychological principle in play here called ‘social proof’. In a nutshell, we look to others like ourselves for validation when making important decisions – especially where there is uncertainty and ambiguity (like when we’re considering taking a new job).

Which means that you want to prioritise stories about your business in which existing employees feature prominently, articulating useful messaging.

For example, if you have a policy of releasing staff for one day a month to volunteer for a cause or charity they support, it’s much better if that story is told using the words of employees that take advantage of that provision than if it’s a senior manager talking about it. This is backed-up by research for the 2019 iteration of the Edelman Global Trust Barometer in which respondents were presented with a range of people and asked which they would find extremely or very credible as sources of information when forming an opinion about a company – 57% of Brits said ‘regular employees’ (but only 39% said CEOs).

Likewise, if your business has taken steps to reduce CO2 emissions, tell that story from the perspective of employees that were involved in making it happen – and why it was important for them to personally be involved.

It’s crucial to get employees talking about how it feels to be part of these things, and about how working for a company with a culture and values like yours positively impacts on them.

Secondly, consider what you want this audience to discover about you: you need to tell stories that highlight how your business satisfies the things that recruitment candidates increasingly find important in the workplace.

Forget beanbags, sleep pods, slides and games rooms – they’re all too faddy. Instead, showcase the workplace wellbeing study you commissioned and the steps you’ve taken to improve it, or the opportunities for progression that your people get.

Focus on stories that show how their priorities will be fulfilled if they join your organisation.

And, thirdly, think about where you want these stories to appear: where are they most likely to get surfaced in organic search engine results pages?

Ideally, you want to prioritise genuine news media that publish online (as well as perhaps in print).

This can be local press, regional media and / or national trade titles.

The reason for this is two-fold: firstly, they’ll command some level of respect for independent and credible reporting (which, as I’ve already pointed out, is an enabler of trust); and, secondly, not only are their websites likely to benefit from high levels of ‘domain authority’ (that your website can then essentially ‘borrow’ from, enhancing its own visibility), if they are built and structured according to the criteria laid down by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! (which they almost certainly will be) they’re pretty much guaranteed to show up prominently in search results to help get you noticed.

If you apply these three lessons, it’ll eventually mean that when prospective employees are researching you online, they’re much more likely to encounter positive news stories, published by trusted sources, articulated by people like themselves, that accentuate all the things that make you an attractive employer.

And, of course, it’s essential that you then share and amplify these stories on your social media feeds and website too, for completeness.

As a final point, and to underscore the value and importance of PR in recruitment, consider this: if your business doesn’t invest the time and effort to tell it’s stories in the media, but other recruiting businesses in your area or sector do, then prospective employees will be reading all about them and not you, giving those other firms a distinct advantage in the recruitment race.


Employees want training

With record resignations and job openings in the US and UK, the Great Resignation (GR) shows no signs of slowing down. According to HR analyst Josh Bersin, companies face a “recruiting and retention crisis” that threatens economies. But if you look at the reasons employees are giving for quitting, from front-line workers to mid-career managers, the data points to a crisis of a different nature. Employees want training.

Employees have told employers why they are leaving. The message is loud and clear. More than money or perks, employees want training and development. A late 2021 Gallup poll found that:

• 57% of employees want to upgrade their skills
• 50% are willing to change jobs to do it
• 71% said learning new skills increases their job satisfaction
• 61% said they will stay at companies that invest in their training and development.

This data follows a LinkedIn survey that found that 94% of employees would stay at a company that invests in their growth.

“Employers who offer valuable training opportunities build their reputations as employers of choice,” says Kelly Aiken, vice president for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, told the Society for Human Resource Managers.
The easiest talent to source is the talent you already have; the answer to sourcing the right skill sets lies in redeployment, reskilling, and upskilling

“Companies are not investing in their talent,” said Nanette Miner, Ed.D., head of The Training Doctor. “That is why companies are finding hiring and retention so hard. They are not investing in professional development, and employees leave.”

Retention crisis or training crisis?
Maybe we do not have a recruiting and retention crisis. Instead, we may have a training crisis. Employers are now treating training and development as a new idea. But investing in your best employees, providing growth opportunities, and promoting from within are best practices businesses should have been doing long before the GR.

McKinsey found just 16% of companies have plans to train and upskill workers. Companies are now paying the price for taking the power of their paychecks for granted. As the job market shifts from employers to employees, companies that skimped on training stand to lose workers.

Even before the GR, the the economic and retention benefits of training were irrefutable. There is little question that hiring new employees is far more costly than promotions.

Josh Bersin has been advocating training and development for years. “The cost of recruiting a mid-career software engineer (who earns $150,000- 200,000 per year) can be $30,000 or more, including recruitment fees, advertising, and recruiting technology,” Bersin said. “This new hire also requires onboarding and has a potential turnover of two to three times higher than an internal recruit. By contrast, the cost to train and reskill an internal employee is $20,000 or less, saving as much as $116,000 per person over three years.”

Five ways to build skills and improve retention
Managers and employees must constantly change to meet the demands of the modern working environment, so learning, training and development is integral to business success. Here are some steps to take towards investing, developing, and retaining employees.

  1. Measure and report employee retention. It sounds obvious, but not all companies pay attention to retention numbers, and of course, you cannot manage what you do not measure. “The importance of [tracking retention] is obvious, but actually doing so takes time, and these tasks are often left for another day,” said the Society for Human Resources Management. Set targets and reward teams for reaching retention goals.
  2. Celebrate advancement – even when people leave. Celebrating promotions and departures can help your employees envision their growth opportunities. When someone gets promoted, explain what they did to earn that step up. When someone leaves for an exciting opportunity, celebrate that too. You will attract growth-minded employees that want to move up in the world. As Harvard Business School professor Sandra Sucher said, “When your company is a badge of honor on someone’s resume, plenty of others will want to fill their place when employees eventually want to leave.”
  3. Invest in a learning system. Giving employees access to learning opportunities is easy with Learning Management Systems like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera. Create a core curriculum to guide employees to develop the baseline competencies for your business but let them take it from there. Create rewards for course completion milestones that align with business needs. “Organizations that want to hold onto employees must increase employee development initiatives,” said eLearning Industry. “A company that neglects to do this will suffer from a high turnover rate and reduced productivity.”
  4. Build cohort-based learning processes. People learn better and faster in groups. Cohort learning creates more accountability and improves cross-training. Take a lesson from universities. According to Carnegie Mellon University, “Positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention, and overall college success.”
  5. Survey employees regularly. Asking employees for feedback can be a powerful retention tool if you act on what they tell you. Try polling your employees every day or week, asking for a 1-5 rating of their satisfaction and engagement. According to HR Daily Advisor, companies that regularly ask for employee feedback have a 15% lower turnover. Frequent feedback helps you identify issues early, so dissatisfaction does not fester and lead to unnecessary departures.

Source the talent you have
“The easiest talent to source is the talent you already have; the answer to sourcing the right skill sets lies in redeployment, reskilling, and upskilling,” McKinsey said. These are three distinct types of training defined by McKinsey as:

• Redeployment. When a person’s current role is going away, or they move to a different position, for which they already have the requisite skills.
• Reskilling. When a person is building a different skill or set of skills to perform in a new or significantly evolving role.
• Upskilling. When a person is building a higher level of competency in a skill or set of skills to better perform in the current role.

The GR can be a moment for training and development professionals to show the value training brings to companies beyond teaching new skills. Training builds employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty.


Women in tech are cracking the industry’s glass ceiling, achieving double-digit gains in leadership roles

Women in tech are gaining ground as the technology industry—or at least its largest players—makes slow but steady progress in shrinking its gender gap, and women in tech leadership are making the fastest advances. Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33% overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than 2 percentage points from 2019 (see figure).1 Although the shares of women in technical and leadership roles have tended to lag the overall proportion of women by 8‒10 percentage points, they are increasing the most rapidly.2

With a growing body of research suggesting that diverse teams perform better and are more innovative, many technology, media, & telecommunications (TMT) industry leaders are recognizing that diverse workforces and executive teams are good for business.3 According to Deloitte’s estimates, women’s share in the overall global tech workforce has increased 6.9% from 2019 to 2022, while their share in technical roles has grown by 11.7%. Notably, the fastest growth—an estimated gain of nearly 20%—has occurred in the proportion of women in leadership. We predict that roughly one in four leadership roles at large global tech firms will be held by women in 2022, representing a rise of more than 4 percentage points since 2019. And in North America, the TMT industry now has one of the highest percentages of women on boards (second only to the consumer industry): 25% of board seats are held by women, up from 17.4% in 2018—helped by board diversity legislation in states with a high proportion of TMT companies, such as California and Washington.4

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Many large tech companies have made public commitments to improving gender diversity, including increasing women in their technical and leadership ranks.5 These companies are also expanding their efforts to ensure greater workforce and leadership diversity by race, age, and other social factors. HP, for example, has pledged to reach 50% gender equality in roles at the director level and above by 2030, and to meet or surpass labor market representation for racial/ethnic minorities.6 Intel aims to double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership roles by 2030.7

It makes sense that tech companies are moving the needle on women in leadership faster than women in other roles: It helps send a signal to prospective employees, it helps shift corporate culture, and it may help tech companies increase retention of women in their overall and technical workforces.

Considerations for tech companies
Many tech companies still have much work ahead to diversify their ranks and embrace a greater range of perspectives. Improving gender and other diversity should inspire the same kind of leadership commitment and strategic focus that underlies other critical organizational initiatives.

Commit to a holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy. Creating an inclusive culture is essential to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. A 2020 study by Lenovo and Intel revealed that a majority of professionals in five countries regard a company’s DEI policies and performance as important considerations in their decisions about jobs to pursue and accept.8 Many large tech companies now release annual diversity reports outlining their strategies and performance. Some have formed a coalition to tackle diversity shortcomings in the tech sector, sharing best practices and lessons learned.9 To improve leadership representation, the members plan to develop guidance for board and executive roles that reflect the customers and communities they serve.10

Embrace goal-setting, transparency, and accountability. It’s critical for tech companies to identify diversity metrics, report results, and track progress. Then organizations can take stock of what is and isn’t working, revise their approach, and improve. Amazon, for example, examines performance ratings and attrition across teams to address any statistically significant demographic differences; the goal is to retain employees at similar rates across demographics.11 A coalition of more than 30 tech company executives, along with academics and DEI experts, has pledged to accelerate DEI progress and collaborated on an Action to Catalyze Tech report; one of the goals is to create industry-wide reporting standards for DEI demographic data.12


The Search For Relevance In A Time Of Change

I just finished a series of meetings with CEOs and top HR leaders and it’s a puzzling time. Companies are growing and seeing tremendous demand, yet they’re finding it harder than ever to attract, hire, and retain people.

One of these companies is a highly respected company: Glassdoor ratings over 4.8, winner of every “best place to work list,” and one of the most well-known brands in financial services. But the CEO looked me in the eye and said “I don’t get it. Why is our turnover going up like this?”

The answer is something profound: the never-ending search for relevance. Now, like never before, people are struggling. Mercer’s new research shows that 81% of employees are “burned out,” and the combination of the pandemic, inflation, and war has taken its toll. Our work, perhaps the most meaningful part of our lives, is losing relevance. We’re too busy thinking about everything else.

And this impacts iconic brands too. Amazon and Starbucks face unions. Netflix is losing subscribers. And CNN just cancelled its streaming service days after its launch. Why? In many cases, these brands have slipped in “relevance.” Yes, they’re great companies with amazing products and services. But when we, as consumers or employees, feel burned out and upset, we ask ourselves “why should I care?”

And that’s the ultimate question. Why should people care about your company? Why should they care about the job you’re offering them? Why should they care about your mission, your purpose, and your brand?

Unfortunately staying relevant is a never-ending journey. Companies that were very relevant in the 1980s (IBM, my alma mater) now seem kind of “irrelevant” to many. Banks may feel irrelevant when compared to Fintech or Crypto companies. Hotels and hospitality chains feel somewhat less relevant when we have Airbnb. And auto companies feel irrelevant if they don’t have electric vehicles.

Every business is struggling to ramp up its “relevance” index right now. And it’s an important and healthy exercise.

For the people side of the business, relevance comes down to some basic things.

First, are you paying people fairly given the inflation we all feel? Companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Cisco, and many others are simply raising wages. They’re doing away with fancy stock options or bonus plans and giving people a healthy raise. Why? In a period of inflation like we see today, raw pay level is a highly relevant factor in people’s lives.

Second, are you giving people a real opportunity to grow? My research shows that people who feel a sense of growth are almost 5-times more likely to say they are “happy at work” and feel “highly productive” in their jobs. That’s an amazing statistic, but it’s true. And this applies to front-line hourly workers too, not just white-collar professionals.

Third, are you doing something important? Healthcare workers, the most stressed of all, tend to come back into healthcare after they take a break. Why? Because they love their patients. They love the “relevance” of what they do. If you’re a consulting company, a tech company, or a manufacturer are you “relevant” in today’s market? I remember when the CHRO of Sainsbury’s in the UK told me “We are feeding the nation. That’s our relevance during the pandemic.” What are you doing that’s relevant to people?

Fourth, are you impacting people’s personal lives? People are stressed about their families, their health, their wellbeing, and their safety. They want to feel that work is a “plus” to their lives, not a drain. Topics like improving family leave, focusing on wellbeing, or accommodating illness or family transitions are huge parts of being “relevant.” I will never forget my old boss at IBM who took me aside one day when I was particularly upset and told me “you’re going to have a great career here. I’m going to give you a special assignment to get you out of the job you don’t like.” I never forgot his kindness, to be honest.

Finally, are you relevant to society? Topics like ESG and DEI are so antiseptic in a way. Yes of course we want to be inclusive and take care of the environment. And yes we want to give money to the right causes and contribute to our community. But is your company relevant to the big things in the world? Tesla, which is not an easy place to work, continues to attract great engineers because they really are transforming the world for the better. What is your company doing to make the world a better place?


Tackling misogyny at work

As Lucy Easthope, in her book When the Dust Settles reminds us, during the first lockdown, the calls to abuse charities and domestic helplines went eerily quiet. But on the day the lockdown was lifted, the calls came at five times their normal volume – it was the first chance some callers had had to escape.

We live in a world which is largely dominated by male design and proclivity, and for many they see no need to change things – all’s well from their point of view. And yet there is also a rising movement coming from men who want to be stronger allies of women. They understand that because they have so many in-built advantages, nothing really will change until their system does, and it’s for them to do this. Their difficulty is they don’t know how to change.

The mindset of sexual violence starts in our upbringing, at schools, with our friends, through our language and in our early behaviour. We need to increase awareness around the links between small acts of sexism and how they develop into misogyny by creating a new culture where men actively want women to feel safe to live their lives without fear.

We need to increase awareness around the links between small acts of sexism and how they develop into misogyny

Many women argue that because they have children they are seen as less likely to be putting their all into their work and so they must work harder to prove themselves. Men tend to be promoted because they have potential whereas women are promoted because of what they have achieved.

A 2020 Sexual Harassment Survey from the Government Equalities Office showed that 63% of those who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous 12 months reported the perpetrator was a man, and 22% reported it was a woman. Yet only 15% formally reported their experience. It is likely that employers are underestimating the amount of harassment taking place.

How can we make our female colleagues feel safer?
Don’t be complicit, intervene. Leaders that let high-fliers off the hook for sexist behaviour are profiting from this abuse. Small acts such as wolf whistles, gendered or sexist language are unacceptable. Men need to be clear that they don’t support things like microaggressions, even if coming from friends or colleagues. If men don’t challenge this behaviour, they condone it. Good men who stand back and do nothing are complicit and are supporting the fact that most women are consistently made to feel afraid of men. Many men tell me that they want to have the tools to speak up and handle the situation well but are unsure what to say. The answer is find out more – there are specific courses for this – and in the meantime do your best, be open to making a mistake and feedback, and most importantly, learning from the mistake. Doing nothing is not the answer.

Encourage men to be allies. Men need to be allies to women, to talk about issues, to really listen to them, and even accept their experience even if they can’t quite understand the impact of what they do. Just because it doesn’t compute for a man, doesn’t make the woman’s experience any less real.
Be a good leader and role-model. Employees naturally follow by example, so ensure your leaders adopt the attitude of a zero-sexist. The root of a lot of male violence stems from the absence of good male role-models; this is a societal issue, but all adult men have a responsibility to own their impact. If you haven’t already, take the Project Implicit bias test, and learn about yourself, and then attend a leadership training that contains this level of introspection.

Have a clear sexual harassment policy and make it known. Every employee must be aware of and understand there is a clear code of conduct and a sexual harassment policy which will be actioned quickly and decisively should there be any infringements. This must be actively lived by the most senior leaders in the organisation. Never assume that low take up of reporting procedures means there is no problem.

Prevention workshops. Provide compulsory training for how to spot sexual harassment, how best to deal with it, and how to support those affected by it. Anything compulsory will elicit resistance, so such sessions must be run professionally and with sensitivity.

Create an environment where everyone is comfortable to speak up. Most women do not report harassment. They fear the consequences that speaking up could have on their job and their wellbeing. Encouraging dialogue and whistleblowing and having general and frequent discussions on sexual harassment will encourage everyone to speak up.


Five actions to create systemic culture change in your organisation

How have corporations responded? Plenty have publicly staked their position by donating to racial justice organizations and creating new DE&I leadership roles within their organizations. But even as people around the globe are seizing this moment to highlight systemic inequity and racial discrimination—and advocate for change—Fortune 500 CEOs in the United States remain a homogeneous group made up of mostly white males over the age of 50, and as you look further down the pipeline of these companies, diversity dwindles.

This is a complex problem, and there is no off-the-shelf quick remedy. Changes won’t happen overnight. And while it may seem easier to simply replicate DE&I best practices, organizations need scalable ways to transform their workplaces and drive real change to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Here are five powerful actions organizations can take to begin to drive meaningful change from the inside.

Utilize an evidence-based approach
While DE&I practices and investments have been around for decades, most companies have not seen significant outcomes. Still, a persistent DE&I issue is frustration at the lack of visible diversity on executive teams, in succession plans and in the leadership pipeline. To get different results, you need a different approach. The single most important thing a company can do right now to get to the root cause of failed DE&I initiatives is to conduct an honest, “outside in” assessment of the current state around DE&I using a holistic, evidence-based approach.

Listen to employee perspectives.Employees, managers and leaders personally familiar with the effects of inequity have stories to tell from their own lived experiences. While the reality is that there are divergent experiences within any group of people, the stories individuals share begin to form an organizational narrative.
Capture both qualitative and quantitative data.There are various kinds of data that provide profound insight into the current state of DE&I within an organization. For instance, an analysis of the talent pipeline can reveal where pools of talent exist within the organization, or a review of exit survey data can help you better understand leading indicators like retention.
Evaluate the organization’s talent systems, processes, and HR policies to ensure fairness and equity. Diversity, equity and inclusion must be embedded into every talent process, enabling HR and people leaders to make unbiased and equitable decisions around who to hire, promote and develop.
Be sure to look beyond representation. By bringing all these data points together and repeatedly asking why, it’s possible to generate far more accurate hypotheses as to what is causing the lack of representation. With that clear understanding and alignment, borne from an irrefutable evidence-based approach, you then have a better opportunity to charter a path for achieving DE&I goals.

Dig for deep insight into employee experience
We can all agree that bias and discrimination still exist in the workplace, yet certain questions embedded in engagement surveys are too broad and thus seem to indicate that there’s no problem. Listening sessions with colleagues may tell a very different story. To get at the real differences that matter in employee experiences, understanding gaps in perception among demographic groups, and between employees and leaders, is critical.

An inclusion experience survey is one way to reconcile this anomaly and gain deeper insights at scale, exposing gaps in how employees experience workplaces. Employees must believe their leaders are empathetic and experience inclusive behaviors in their day-to-day actions to feel valued. Achieving that level of inclusion remains elusive, even for organizations with deep commitments to DE&I.

Drive a mindset shift from the very top down
To set direction, create alignment and solidify commitment to DE&I, it is critical to start at the top. Visible ownership of DE&I by the executive team is the first step to making a real commitment. For diversity and inclusion efforts to become an intrinsic part of the culture of a company, it must be leader-driven at all levels.

At many organizations today, DE&I is viewed as an HR or learning and development initiative. It’s therefore hard to hold leadership accountable to preferred behaviors and culture-setting. Our advice to any company with an authentic desire to improve its DE&I efforts is to start with the leadership team, whose job is to articulate, with clarity, a future direction that makes sense for their business.

This means enlisting the executive team in a process of self-awareness and a deeper understanding of both the individual and the collective perspective and experience. Often, leaders think they are more culturally agile and inclusive than they are, but true inclusion requires envisioning and enacting new ways of leading based on valuing differences and acting as advocates and change agents.

Unequivocally, DE&I is a leadership issue that requires great fortitude. When leaders role-model inclusive behaviors every day, they cast a huge shadow that shapes the culture. It is simply a game changer.

Create a deliberate connection between DE&I and organizational culture, values and strategy
For DE&I to be sustainable, it must be ingrained in the company’s core culture, starting with its values. In the development of value statements, it’s essential to be intentional about the link to DE&I behaviors. This might sound obvious, but in our assessments we often find that DE&I is missing from corporate value statements, or that while a company might consider inclusion to be a value, it’s relegated to being reinforced only in employee and PR materials.

In our work with clients, we hear executives clamor for ways to influence DE&I outside of check-the-box activities. One way to go beyond defining values is to define the associated behaviors expected by leaders to create bold innovation, like seeking different perspectives, challenging the status quo, and building a culture where everyone has a voice and is heard.

These behaviors are also being embedded into the performance management process because they are at the heart of the type of culture the executive team wants to boldly innovate. By measuring performance on these behaviors, leadership is making DE&I a core component of the organization’s culture – one with rewards and consequences.

Embed DE&I into everything through conscious change management
DE&I must be embedded into everything. It must be integrated into every touchpoint of the employee experience, intrinsic in the culture, and a part of how you go to market and how you do business. The DE&I strategy must be communicated and shared with all stakeholders, from the boardroom and C-suite to all leaders and employees within the organization so everyone understands, owns and drives it.

Organizations that want to succeed must be change-ready. The human element of the change equation with DE&I—helping people feel emotionally safe, understood, connected and empowered—is complicated and warrants the development of a comprehensive change management strategy. This component is often missing in DE&I efforts, causing DE&I departments to lament that changes are not going well because people are “resistant.”

It’s time to shift our collective thinking about DE&I and create a sustainable, strategic approach, focused on behavior change, woven deeply through every company’s culture and modeled from the top. Unlocking the power of people and teams requires a shift in mindsets, behaviors and practices toward more equitable, diverse and inclusive teams and organizations to achieve business success.


Sustaining employees’ mental wellbeing

Employee mental wellbeing support is an ongoing effort, not a tick-box exercise. Any initiative introduced must be carefully monitored, managed and measured to be a success.

Spotting signs of bad employee mental health is a challenge for many businesses. Working from home has not made it any easier, especially when it comes to monitoring stress from burnout – something that one in three UK workers believe is an inevitable part of their career.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for HR teams to establish wellbeing initiatives that reach the needs of employees, with new challenges affecting working lives on what seems a monthly basis – a third of workers in the UK are considering changing jobs to combat the rising cost of living.

Poor mental health also costs businesses billions of pounds every year. New research from Deloitte reveals the cost of bad mental health has increased to £56bn in 2020-21, compared to £45bn in 2019.

It’s clear HR teams need to have effective strategies in place to best sustain mental health in their workforce, for not only their employee’s sake but also for overall business success. This starts with monitoring employee wellbeing, introducing effective initiatives, and measuring successful outcomes.

Regular catch-ups encourage employees to freely and openly discuss their true thoughts and opinions.
Monitoring mental health
To best support employees, HR teams need to work with line managers to establish monitoring strategies that track how their teams are coping at work – and at home. Both HR teams and line managers can then work with individuals struggling with mental health on providing the best possible,and appropriate, support.

One of the easiest ways to monitor employees’ wellbeing is for HR teams to encourage line managers to organise regular, recurring check-ins with their teams.

Whether in-person or virtual, regular catch-ups encourage employees to freely and openly discuss their true thoughts and opinions, about both work and personal matters. This promotes a culture of belonging and will make employees feel valued and engaged, ultimately improving their mental health.

Although, businesses must remember that employee privacy and trust should always sit at the heart of any strategy introduced. This means that before encouraging the wider business to act on monitoring processes, HR teams should always outline plans to employees prior so that they’re aware of the steps being taken to help them.

Investing in wellbeing
Once businesses have put in place monitoring strategies, it’s then time to take action and introduce wellbeing initiatives for employees to take full advantage of. Here are some suggestions:

Mindfulness: Offering access to apps like Headspace or Calm gives employees permission and space to think. It reduces emotional exhaustion, increases openness and develops compassion – this also enables businesses to offer useful tools exactly when they’re needed.

Flexible working: Where they can, businesses must also maintain a flexible working culture. Working from home has helped many to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Although the majority of businesses are encouraging staff to return to the office, this must be approached with care and consideration. Staff don’t want to see their newly won freedoms being eroded – this is a sure-fire way to increase stress for employees who value the extra time at home. One way to maintain flexibility is to offer early finishes on Fridays. This will encourage people to log off early and kick-start their weekend.

HR technology: Workplace technology, when implemented and used correctly, sustains good employee mental health. Utilising HR portals to communicate initiatives means employees can easily find relevant information quickly and at any time – something that’s especially important with home working.
It can also be used to streamline efficiencies and reduce workloads. Most employees feel bombarded and anxious with unnecessary and overwhelming admin. HR portals that collate workplace systems – timesheets and leave requests for instance – free up an extortionate amount of time for employees to focus on day-to-day priorities. They can then aim to log off in time, rather than staying late to carry out admin heavy tasks.

Quarterly feedback forms are a great way to measure whether or not an initiative is working.
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Measuring success
Once health and wellbeing initiatives are in place and employees have access to the resources and tools they need, HR teams must make sure they are measuring successes and identifying areas in need of improvement.

Quarterly feedback forms are a great way to measure whether or not an initiative is working. Ask employees if they’re using the tools available, how they’re finding them and if there is room for improvement – if one person is feeling concerned, it’s likely other employees are feeling it too. These forms should always remain anonymous so that employees have an easy and safe environment to share.

Encouraging real-time feedback is also recommended so that line managers and HR teams have the most accurate picture of daily workplace struggles.

Certain HR tools can send pop-up questions directly to employees’ devices, asking how they may be coping with their workload. Employees can then feedback in the context of their current situation, not trying to recall past information.

It’s also always a good idea to add mental health KPIs to business performance goals. This will help gauge wellness culture. For instance, tracking the number of complaints that reflect mental health culture, employee participation in mental health events and employee turnover rates. This will help effectively monitor outcomes and show areas in need of development.

Making a positive change
Mental health is an ongoing effort, not a tick-box exercise. It must be carefully monitored so that all employees are getting the help they deserve, and any initiative introduced, must be measured if strategies are to be a success.


Recruiting Is Harder Than It Looks: 74% Of Companies Underperform

This week we launched our new global Talent Acquisition research (all about sourcing, recruiting, and attracting people) and the results are staggering. While nearly every company is trying to hire (the unemployment rate is below 3.6% and the economy is creating more than 400,000 new jobs each month), recruiting teams are not keeping up.

In fact, our comprehensive research shows that only one in four companies are recruiting in an optimized way today.

Yes, companies are comfortable with the “post and pray” model: buy a job ad, place your positions on Indeed, LinkedIn, or another job board, and promote your company’s pay, benefits, and fantastic work experience. Our research shows, however, that this is no longer enough. In a diverse world of workers, companies have to diversify their sourcing, create a holistic employment brand, prioritize internal mobility, simplify the candidate experience, and use AI and technology strategically.

And guess what else we found. Recruiters, the human part of the process, have become more important than ever. Let’s face it: recruiting is a people-centric process. No software tool can adequately assess an individual’s fit with your job, your team, or your company. So recruiters, one of the most important jobs in HR, are becoming critical to success. That’s why our maturity model labels “Human-Centered Recruiting” the most advanced of all.

This is not to say, as the model points out, that you don’t need process, technology, and tools. Quite the opposite. The proliferation of sourcing intelligence, interview intelligence, assessment, and mobile recruiting tools is massive. But as our research points out, it’s not just important to “arm up” with technology – you have to use the technology to pinpoint your hiring, build creative campaigns to attract people, and train and empower recruiters to do their jobs well.

I remember sitting on a plane watching a software company recruiter using LinkedIn to frantically send InMails to hundreds of candidates for hours. She told me it was one of the most frustrating things she does. Today I hope she’s using a more intelligent and automated process, and spending her valuable time talking with people over the phone (or carefully looking at their video interviews, assessments, or job previews.)

Recruiting, by its very nature, is the most important thing HR organizations do. If you aren’t finding the best, brightest, and most aligned people to join your company, all the other management and business process work will fail. So recruiters, at their core, are doing one of the most strategic jobs in the company.

I interviewed the head of Talent Acquisition at a large oil company years ago and he told me a funny story. They tried to correlate dozens of factors to understand which job candidates became their top petroleum engineers. They looked at college degree, grade point average, prior work experience, salaries, location, and more. Ultimately he told me that none of these factors seemed to matter. After months of analysis, he concluded that the most predictive factor of all, in hiring a great engineer, was the recruiter. As he told me, “great recruiters find great people.”

And this is what the research is all about. We are in a world where every job candidate has options. If you aren’t focused on building a holistic employment brand, making your company an amazing place to work, and using that information to find fantastic job candidates (both inside and outside the company, by the way), no amount of process or technology will work. It’s time to use technology to create a “Creative, Human-Centric Process.”

This research took more than a year to complete, and our Director of Research, Janet Mertens, has detailed some of the findings in this article. Let me point to some resources you can use.

First, the comprehensive research (and tools for use in your HR organization) is available to our Research Members. We encourage you to join to get all the details.

Second, if you’re looking for some high-level information, you can download the executive summary, maturity model, and overview of the findings.

Third, if you’re looking to improve your recruiting capabilities and give your HR team some skills, join our Josh Bersin Academy course Talent Acquisition at a Crossroads. You’ll hear from senior talent acquisition experts at Bayer, L’Oreal, Encompass Health, and others – and we’ll teach you all about “total employment brand” and how to build a seamless candidate experience.

Finally, I invite you to join us at the Irresistible Conference, May 23-25 in Los Angeles. We have an entire track dedicated to talent acquisition, with workshops, research presentations, and case studies from companies like Microsoft, IBM, Lego Group, Walmart, L’Oreal, and many more.

If you think it’s time to transform or fix your talent acquisition tech stack or overall process, we’re here to help. We offer a range of advisory services and our team knows this market well.

Bottom line: in this time of labor shortages, job-hopping, and increase in wage inflation, it’s business-critical to get this process right. Talent Acquisition has become one of the most important priorities in business.

PS. If you don’t believe that recruiting is difficult, consider this new data. The “Fill Rate,” the percentage of jobs filled vs. jobs posted in the United States, is at an all-time low. For every ten new jobs created, only six are getting filled. Companies are falling behind – this research will help you keep up.


Can an employee relocate abroad and still keep their job?

Nine in ten employers believe that their staff need more wellbeing support since the pandemic, a study has found.

The poll of 500 HR decision makers, conducted by Towergate Health and Protection, found 86 per cent believed their staff require more health and wellbeing support.

Of those surveyed, two fifths (40 per cent) were found to be concerned about the mental health of staff since the pandemic, while 53 per cent said their staff would like more of this kind of support.

Employee wellbeing falling down business agenda post pandemic, CIPD report finds

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Nearly half of employees received no wellbeing check-in last year, research reveals

A fifth (22 per cent) said they were worried about the physical health of staff amid ongoing difficulty getting GP appointments and delays in being diagnosed and treated for serious conditions, with 36 per cent reporting that employees wanted more help with this post-pandemic.

The poll also found one in 10 (13 per cent) were concerned about the social health of their staff, for instance increased isolation.

Brett Hill, head of distribution for Towergate Health and Protection said: “Employers need to re-evaluate their health and wellbeing support in the wake of Covid. Working practices have changed and so have attitudes and expectations.

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“It is important for any health and wellbeing programme to recognise the changing needs of employers and to be adaptable as we adjust to life post-pandemic,” he added.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community said employees had become “more discerning and aspirational” when it came to ways of working, and that finding an employer that was supportive of mental health and wellbeing was not “essential”.

She urged employers to train their managers on how to empathise and support their teams, and suggested organisations run regular mental health-check-ins or set up team away days. “Employees aren’t asking anything unrealistic. It’s that mental health and wellbeing are vital to our happiness and jobs can play a huge part of that,” Aston said.

“It’s up to employers to step up and offer jobs that are beneficial and help workers manage stress and their busy lives. But what works for one person won’t be ideal for another, which is why employers need to reassess their policies and make wellbeing into all decision making,” she said.

Larger employers with more than 250 employees were more likely to say they were concerned about the mental health of their staff than SMEs (49 per cent and 37 per cent respectively). Similarly, 74 per cent of large corporations said employees would like more mental health support than previously, compared to less than half (46 per cent) of SMEs.

The research, conducted in January and February, also found that 17 per cent of respondents were concerned for the financial health of employees since the pandemic, with over a third (36 per cent) saying their staff now want more support for this.

Hill acknowledged that the pandemic had created a lot of challenges for businesses and their workforces. But, he said: “Now is a good time for employers to look at solutions available for them to help their staff.”