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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm, and with me is my dear friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting.
Our topic today is challenging times and challenging issues – how employers navigate today’s evolving workplace. Employers and HR professionals certainly faced lots of changes in 2020, and I keep wondering if those changes are here to stay and if we will return to, quote, “normal,” – what normal was and what normal is and what normal will be going forward – or what the future of work might really look like. In a SHRM article dated December 12 of 2020, Theresa Agovino discussed what she thinks the workplace will look like in 2025. There’s no real surprises here, but she did note six key areas. All of them are topics we dealt with in 2020; some are directly related to the pandemic and some not. So Susan, let’s take a look at those top six. The first one is that more employees will work from home. Once again, no big surprise on that, but I did think one statistic they shared on that, that 36% of companies say they’re willing to hire workers who are 100% remote and live anywhere in the U.S. So although I don’t think we’re surprised to hear, you know, more of our employees will work remote, I think it’s bigger than that, of really hiring people totally with…outside of our regions and local offices that may never come into the office again.
That’s huge. Yes, I agree. Huge shift. And number two, companies will invest more in safety and hygiene. Sign me up. I’m really delighted about that. I think that that’s really been eye opening about how important good hygiene is to keep people well. And so employers doing more reminding, having more cleaning supplies available, and making sure that you have all the tools that you need to keep it a safe and hygienic workplace is a trend that’s going to stay.
Number three, companies will strive to reach more diversity, equity, and inclusion. I think we’ve been on the path…certainly, 2020 kind of kick started that even more for us to think more about that going forward. But we have a long way to go with that. You know, our current statistics of women serving on boards or, you know, the traditional corporate executive is still a white man. So we’ve got some work to do.
Yes. Number four, workers will demand better treatment for themselves and their communities. I think that 2020 was such a year of people recognizing that they needed to stand up for themselves and have their voices heard. So it’s gonna be a trend that we should continue to follow and watch.
Agree. And number five, organizations will re-examine how they impact the environment. So, once again, I think that’s been a trend, maybe, that has started in the last couple of years. But we have a long way to go with that and thinking about, What are our products? What are our services? What are the travel that we invest? and How does that impact the environment around us?
And then number six, finally, technology’s rapid transformation will continue forcing companies to rethink how to integrate machines with their people.
Certainly, we’ve been on a path with that one for a while, too.
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So we’ve invited a guest today to share her thoughts on some of the challenges we faced in 2020 and what those impacts might be in 2021 and beyond. Domenique Camacho Moran is a partner and head of the labor and employment group at Farrell Fritz PC in New York. She advises employers from startups to large corporations on all aspects of the employment relationship. Domenique has represented management in jury trials, arbitrations, administrative hearings, and more. She helps business owners comply with laws and regulations that govern the employment relationships. Domenique, thank you so much for joining us today. And I’d love to hear what your perspective is on how can employers prioritize the competing employment challenges they face on a daily basis?
So it’s kind of funny – you start at the beginning, which is we have to identify the challenges. And in 2021, we have a lot of choices. I would say that for most human resource professionals, they are battling with a couple of big ones. The pandemic-related issues that haven’t gone away, because we’re dealing with the operational issues. Are we reopened? Can we reopen? Did we close? We’re also dealing with the issue of how do we get employees engaged and keep them engaged in this remote hybrid workplace. We’re starting to see some fatigue with that. We’re also looking at policy changes. And so there are…in lots of jurisdictions across the United States, there are laws that have been enacted in the last 12 months that went into effect on January 1. We have to adopt and modify our policies so that we’re in compliance. Compliance seems to have fallen low on the list of priorities, because we were managing a crisis. And so first, we identify the challenges, and then we have to prioritize them. Right? So good, old fashioned rules. What must be done right now? What should be done soon? And then what can we wait on? The topic that seems to be getting the most attention at the moment is, Should we have a mandatory vaccine policy? That’s a great question. We should talk about it. But at the end of the day, right now, we don’t have enough vaccines to have a mandatory policy, so that one doesn’t have to fall at the top of the list on a day to day basis.
How has the pandemic changed your advice to employers in connection with performance management?
So, we are seeing a whole new and different world with respect to how people do their jobs. And so regular feedback was always important. Remote work makes it easier to give people good feedback. We get to call them, we can send them an email, we can Zoom with them. It is the feedback that’s not always so positive that’s easy to avoid in this remote workplace. And what I saw in 2020 is, it wasn’t so easy to talk about the things we needed people to do a little bit better. The other thing is, like, we came through the end of the year, and everybody thought they were going to get a deep breath, and instead we went into a surge across the country, and so performance appraisals weren’t really done at the end of the year the way they ordinarily are. That might not be such a bad thing, because those performance appraisals, those forms probably don’t address all the things that we did in 2020 and all the ways in which their jobs changed. So one of the big changes, for me, with employers is we need to go back and look at those forms. We need to make sure that those forms accurately reflect the things we want to evaluate for our employees. Of course, the challenge with that is we’re about to change the criteria after the fact, and so we want to be careful about that, too. Right? We want to go back and look at those forms and say, Okay, what do we think we need to evaluate for last year, but maybe more importantly, let’s use this process of performance evaluations to reset expectations. Let’s think about the opportunity to say, Okay, have job responsibilities changed? Maybe yes, maybe no, but let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how work hours may have changed. Are we allowing people to just flex their time? Maybe we’re not. Maybe part of the issue is we have people who are flexing, they just didn’t tell us that, so we think they’re not working, and it turns out, well, they’re working, they’re just working at 4am instead of at 4pm. So talking about that is important. Dress codes. I know that for a while, we all thought it was really funny when everybody jumped on Zoom, and it was a big joke, oh, I’m wearing a really nice shirt, but I’m in my pajama pants. Okay, that might have been funny for five minutes. It’s really not appropriate to do on a business call. And we continue to hear and see some of that on a daily basis. In my world, I’ve done some court appearances, some mediations, and I’m amazed at how the cat walks across the screen. And I’m like, No, that’s just not a good scenario when you’re trying to be professional. So having the opportunity to reset performance expectations really important, something that…the performance appraisal process should always be fluid, but this year, it gives us a particularly good opportunity to do some resetting.
I love thinking about it as an opportunity to reset, because I suspect most of us – my own company included – but certainly many of our clients, it’s time to rethink about that process and what questions we’re asking and how we’re conducting those. I also think the dress code is an interesting one. I was talking to a client just last week who said they’ve gradually started coming back to work, and where it was just sort of the norm in the past that they could wear blue jeans on Fridays, that now people are just coming to work in blue jeans every day, and how it wasn’t a policy per se before, and that isn’t a policy now, it just has evolved. And so I think that’s going to be really interesting, to see how maybe the casualness that we’ve had at home continues or not – you know, some people say they’re ready to put real pants on again.
Just try them on in advance.
Yeah, no kidding.
Because we’ve all been way too close to the refrigerator in the last 12 months.
Right, right. Well, Domenique, what do you think are some of the most important lessons that we’ve learned over the past year?
I think there are two for me that stand out. The first one is emergency plans are essential. In way too many of our businesses, way too many clients, they were functioning every day, they had a perfect system, their businesses were thriving. They had not done the work to create the emergency plan, and when there was a mandated shutdown, there were all sorts of questions that were really challenging. Do we have the technology hardware to put everybody home? Do we have the software? How do we get everybody access? And then how do we make sure we’re protecting our data? There were the emergency plans that dealt with communication. Do I have a way to reach everybody, so that I can be in communication? Essential businesses had the challenge of we need to de-densify immediately, we need to roll in safety protocols immediately. And so emergency plans are really important. And I think one of the lessons we learned is, we shouldn’t get caught unaware again. And while we may not have been able to predict this crisis, we could have been better prepared with what to do in a crisis. What happens if our building is inaccessible? What happens if all of a sudden a third of our workforce is unavailable? How do we do that? Do we have backups? Are people cross trained? Those are all really important, and as we come out of the pandemic, it’s…it’s something I think every business needs to think about. And from an HR perspective, really important to go back and look at, What do we need to adopt if we don’t have a good emergency plan? And, of course, also the evaluation. We had an emergency plan. Did it work? Were we as prepared as we thought we would be? So that’s important. I think the second thing that I think people have known but didn’t really take seriously was crisis management skills. It is a skill set to manage in a crisis, and so we can identify and develop those skills. I don’t know that that was a priority before. In my view, it is a critical component of your senior leadership teams across every business going forward. They need to understand what a crisis looks like, and we want to give them the right skills so that they can manage that. The last thing I will say that I sometimes think gets lost in the conversation, is we talk a lot about employee morale. In this case, fear matters. Fear was a real part of the 2020 – as we go into 2021 – workplace experience. It was for essential businesses who had to manage employees who all of a sudden were told, “Yes, we understand there’s a health crisis. We understand everybody’s staying home, but we need you to come to our workplace because we’re making masks, and we need you to make those masks, and we understand you’re afraid,” but you can’t just say “tough.” That’s not an appropriate response. And even as other businesses reopened and you started to bring people back to the workplace, there are lots of people that continue to be afraid to be at work. And it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree, whether they are…there is truly a risk or it is a minimum risk, you can’t ignore that. And so that was a component that coming out of 2020. It’s something you have to manage, and that has fallen in large part on HR professionals to manage.
Yeah. Good point.
Very insightful. Yes. So, I love your lessons learned and things that we should be thinking about. What do you think is coming up ahead that most of us HR professionals and business leaders haven’t yet thought about? What are the next challenges you think that are coming?
So, I’m not sure that we haven’t thought about them, but I don’t think we’re yet adequately prepared for them. And so I think the vaccine question is a big one. And I’m listening to a lot of dialogue and a lot of people on all sides of this argument. I saw some large employers this week have decided they’re going to offer incentives to employees who go get vaccinated. I think that’s a great approach. I think encouraging employees to get vaccinated is the right middle ground. It is a middle ground, though. You could go down the road of we’re going to mandate this vaccine, you could go down the road of we’re going to say nothing about it. Neither of those, in my view, seem to be in the best interest of most businesses, in large part because – go back to my concept of employee fear matters – I think that’s true with the vaccine, too. There are employees that are just afraid to be vaccinated. I don’t know that we want to fire those employees, and I’m not sure we can tell them “just don’t come to work.” That may not be effective. So I think the vaccine policy is a big one. I also think we are going to see a new view of the world from a social and political perspective. Right? We saw 2020 was a very tense time on the issues of diversity and inclusion, racial equity. We are seeing the political acrimony that brought forth a crisis in January. But what we also saw is that that has started to bleed into the workplace. And so I think we have to expect that as people return to a physical location, those issues are going to come up again, and we need to be ahead of them. Things like, do we allow people to put slogans on their masks? If we’re bringing people back to the workplace, and they’re going to have a mask-wearing policy, do we allow people to put slogans? And if so, which ones do we decide are okay, and which ones do we decide are not? Consistency in that policy is really key to a good workplace, in my view. So thinking through ahead of time, What do we want to do? I heard a lot of questions at the beginning of January. Can I fire an employee because they participated in the Capitol riots? Well, time out. There are a lot of questions. That’s not so easy. Well, of course, we could just fire them. It’s not so easy. Is there a state law that protects that activity? Was it workplace activity? Does it bleed into the workplace, even if it wasn’t? Those issues are rarely as easy as a yes or no. They’re often sort of layered with context and nuance, and so HR has to be…get ready. This is a new and different world when people come back, and a world that has had their sensitivity heightened, particularly in the areas of racial equity and political discourse.
Yeah. Who would have imagined that we would have been talking about policies or procedures around dealing with people involved in the Capitol riot and what slogans you could have on a mask? Right? Like…
Hard to imagine. And hard to imagine, even now, as we look forward, masks are probably here for at least the next 12 months. It’s not going to go away quickly. And so I think some of that casualness you talked about in the workplace and dress codes, that’s also true with all of these other things – mask wearing, how far people distance, whether people understand that we’re not trying to be difficult when we say, “you can go to a cafeteria, but you need to sit eight feet apart.” And there’s sort of the resistance to that, that we have to manage.
Yeah. I wonder…I was at the dentist this week, and my hygienist said they will never not wear face shields again, like, no matter if everybody’s vaccinated. So I do wonder that, if we’ll see mask wearing in at least certain parts of our lives. Like, will we always wear a mask when we go to the doctor’s office, maybe?
Or in the winter.
I’d like everybody who prepares food in a restaurant to wear a mask, now that we understand, you know, spray, and we understand all that much better than we ever did before.
Well, and we know people aren’t getting as sick, right? One of the things I said early on in the pandemic was, it…you used to get all these kudos – I’m so important. I’m so committed to my job. I’m coming to work sick. Now we send people home. You may not be here.
Don’t do that! Yeah.
Go home! But that’s one thing that I hope survives. I hope that we all understand that everybody can figure out the work, but it’s really important that you not bring your germs to the workplace and spread them around and make everybody sick. And for way too many years, we’ve seen sick people in the office, and we all have seen it happen. Everybody comes down with the flu on a hallway, five people get the stomach virus, kids in schools who were sick every other day. All of a sudden, we’re not seeing so much of that. And so those are good things and hopefully practices that we will see going forward.
Yeah, I agree. Well, Domenique, it has been such a pleasure to have you on the show. If any of our listeners are reaching out to you with other employment law issues or challenges, how can they reach you?
So my email address is D Moran at Farrell Fritz dot com, and I am happy to answer any questions. We also, at www.farrellfritz.com, we have a website, and we often post when we’re going to do a town hall so that people can talk about and ask questions on all the issues that are facing them in 2021.
Nice, very nice. And we will have a link to your website and email in our show notes, but I just want to clarify, I think it’s F-A-R-R-E-L-L, F as in Frank, R-I-T-Z dot com.
All right. Well, thanks for joining us today.
Susan, our listener question today is, “My organization is getting ready to do some layoffs. It’s the first time for me and I feel sick about it. I’m preparing materials to give the departing employees that will include limited resources on how to create a resume, interviewing tips, etc. I want to include information on how to apply for unemployment and how the process works in the states where our employees live and work, but my boss told me not to, and when I challenged her, she said it isn’t our role. Well, don’t we have an obligation to make it easy on these impacted people as much as we can?”
First of all, I really applaud you for your caring, because I think that’s really important for all the people who are about ready to lose their jobs, they’ve got somebody like you in their corner that’s going to try to make this exit as positive as possible. But I am with your boss on not spelling out how unemployment works, because first of all, it differs in every single state, and it sounds like, what you said, that there are employees perhaps in multiple states, and things change. Local laws change, and you could be giving information that is outdated. Maybe everything you could find on the web is not as current as it could be. It could change after you publish what…what the rules are. I think it’s important that you absolutely let people know they’re eligible to apply, but you have no say on whether they’re going to be awarded the money or not. Odds are, if it’s a true layoff, and by no fault of their own, in most states, they’re going to get the money. But you…you don’t have a role in deciding it. So instead of giving out too much information that could be wrong information, my advice would be encourage people to apply. If you have separation agreements, you can certainly say we will not contest unemployment, and that’s fine, because that’s certainly within your control. But whether they’re going to get it or not, is not. So good luck to you. You have a tough period coming up.
Yeah. Good advice, Susan. I totally agree. In our in the news section today, HRdive.com had an article on its website saying that the U.S. Department of Justice filed its first criminal charge alleging a group of employers agreed not to poach each other’s employees. Interesting, right? The agency announced this on January 7, and they alleged that Surgical Care Affiliates LLC and a related entity agreed with competitors not to solicit each other’s senior level employees. “The charges demonstrate the Antitrust Division’s continued commitment to criminally prosecute collusion in America’s labor markets,” said the Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, in a statement, “Along with our law enforcement partners, the division will ensure that companies who illegally deprive employees of competitive opportunities are not immune from our antitrust laws.” Like, wow, something that maybe we’ve sort of deemed as a gentleman’s agreement, right, or, you know, executives sitting around the table and making those decisions, there’s going to be some more enforcement around that.
Yeah, I think it really is a something for all our listeners to think about. I know so often, in some communities, the business leaders all sit on the same not for profit boards or they become friends, or they have these informal relationships, and they see it as bad form to recruit from each other’s companies. If there’s anything that is formal around that, that you have this kind of agreement that you’re not going to be taking each other’s employees, there could be risk. So I think this is a very timely article and good for us to be aware of.
Yeah, I think so too. And of course, we…it could be limiting the careers or opportunities for our own employees. They just don’t want to be trading employees back and forth, I think, they want to encourage people to get people elsewhere, but…
It might be taking away from individuals’ rights. So thank you for bringing this up.
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