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Carved in Stone?

By Lisa Aggarwal

Every day, I’m amazed by the innovation I have seen since the Covid-19 pandemic began. In order to survive, virtually every company has been asked to evolve and change the trajectory of its business. Every person has made changes to their routine and how they operate on a daily basis. 

For those companies whose fiscal calendar begins on January 1, the traditional annual merit cycle is upon them. The good news: organizations who are managing to thrive despite a worldwide pandemic (i.e., not the restaurant and hospitality industries) are still planning on giving their employees raises. 

Yet, the annual merit increase isn’t as “traditional” as you might think. Some of you might remember the days when you received a raise on the anniversary of your hire date. One of my colleagues recounts when moving to a yearly increase was unheard of, needing at least a year of change management for employees to understand why it would be any other way—or why it even happened this way in the first place. 

As CHRC has been researching how companies are coping with this year’s cycle, the overwhelming answer is: it depends. According to a recent study by the Economic Research Institute, annual salary budgets remain around 3.0%, but many companies are only implementing actual increases around 2.2%. Some of that gap may be avoided by thinking strategically. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you need to work on an annual review cycle, or should salary reviews only be done if revenue targets are met? Can that be quarterly, or can you wait until business recovers? 
  • Should you focus on promotions or retaining your high performers who, according to many reports, are still able to find new jobs with relative ease?
  • Are your compensation programs and structures aligned with the external marketplace? Have any of your roles been affected by increases in your state or city minimum wage as of January 1? With remote working, do you now compete nationally for talent?
  • What programs is your company implementing to address burnout and the around the clock work from home cycle? A recent study by AON indicated that the #1 concern when it comes to retaining female employees is not only childcare…it’s wellbeing. That concern doesn’t stop at the gender line. Do you need to think beyond Total Rewards to Total Wellbeing?

The more creative you are with how your financial resources are invested, the better you will be able to redeploy your assets. Are your merit increase cycles ready for a little innovation, or are they carved in stone?

The Clue in the Puzzle

Over the holidays, I hung out with one of my most inspirational friends from my adolescence. We spent many hours together reliving her many escapades (and the ways in which she inspired me to ride along on her adventures), even though I will never be as brave as she is. We even giggled about her hairdos and fashions. Don’t worry, we were socially distant the whole time—Nancy Drew was safely ensconced in the covers of her mysteries that made up this year’s holiday puzzle.  

Unlike last year’s ridiculous puzzle undertaking, this year’s was not frustrating—it was fun. While no one else in my family helped, many other things did help with this puzzle. Intimately knowing the artwork of many of these covers, the ability to discern the difference between fashion across the decades, and then of course, an eye for fonts.   

At some point in the endeavor, I was struck by a thought that differed from last year’s insight.  It was at the point when you have done enough of the hard work that you notice a piece, recognize the color scheme or font, and remark, “Oh, I know where this belongs.” I started thinking about the types of Aha! moments that only come from long hours and deep thinking—a shortcut won’t get you there. It is only from studying something and understanding its nature, from having the patience to get to that point, that you can make a break-through. My mind immediately went to the scientists who developed the Covid vaccines in record time. They have spent careers doing the equivalent of 20,000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Their knowledge base far exceeded color schemes and fonts, but at the core of the development, patience.

So, I spent the rest of my time with Nancy pondering patience. What in our lives today (pre-Covid) fosters patience? In an age when many kids grow up with knowledge, entertainment, and transportation, amongst other things, at the tip of their fingers, how do we impart the value and lessons of patience to them?

We should all be extremely grateful to all the scientists who developed the Covid-19 vaccines in record time. Their patience and deep thinking was the key to solving the world’s biggest challenge.

Waiting for Early Dismissal

I don’t know about you, but the last time I had this feeling about a year ending was probably 4th or 5th grade. In grade school, some of your personal heroes were the room mothers. They showed up at key dates: Halloween, the last day before winter vacation, and Valentine’s Day. I associate room mothers with sprinkles, you know the kind you find on cupcakes or amazing sugar cookies.

But the most important day that they refereed was that last day of school before winter break. Because the only thing that stood between a bunch of kids getting out of school for two whole weeks was that sugar infused party, complete with sprinkles.  

Now this is when we take pity on any grade school teacher. Those poor teachers spent the entire morning trying to calm a class full of children that acted as though they had already ingested a container full of sprinkles before they even got to school. We wriggled in our seats, barely able to contain our excitement …. if it had snowed outside, the distraction reached new heights. So, in an effort to keep us in our seats those poor teachers, who we might add were completely exhausted from trying to teach an entire semester, thought that they would outwit us, by giving us games and puzzles instead of work to keep us occupied until those room mothers showed up.

We’d sit there with our pencils in our fingers and start on the worksheets.  We quickly figured out the teacher had tricked us into doing some math before we could color in a winter scene, or do a word search to review our spelling words from first semester.  

In tribute to all those teachers from our childhood, and all of those teachers who have been coping as best they can in the fall semester of 2020, here’s a word search in hopes that this just might distract you for just a couple minutes as you wait with fingers crossed, hoping that the principal will get on the intercom and let us out with early dismissal from this year.

December Lights

December is a tough time of year.

I do not like the days getting shorter. 

In typical Decembers, I do not like the craziness of holiday shopping, the hectic nature of too many invitations jammed into the early part of the month, and the frantic feeling BEFORE December 25th. But what I do enjoy about December? Candles and lights. The more candles and the more lights, the better.

Several years ago two wonderful authors entered my December. One wrote a moving children’s book and the other discussed how she, as part of an interfaith family, embraces December. The children’s book that I discovered, and delighted reading as a library volunteer, is called The Christmas Menorahs How a Town Fought Hate. It’s a true story from 1993, when Billings, Montana took a terrible hate incident and used it as both a teachable moment, and a moment of united defiance against hate. I then heard Chicago author, Barbara Mahany, discuss how she treasures the December darkness as deeply spiritual, as a way to go inside, to shut out the early December hecticness, to embrace the two candle-centric holidays that her family celebrates. In turn, I now cherish our Advent wreath that burns brighter as the days grow dimmer.

In this December of 2020, when most of the world is facing a darker December than most, when we could all benefit from lighting as many candles in the darkness until the vaccine lightens the darkness for us, perhaps you can find this special holiday book, and read it to a young person in your life? Or perhaps, in need of hope and light, you can just read it yourself to reaffirm that light is indeed stronger than darkness. 

Winning Communication

Photo by Christina Morillo, from Pexels

Back in February of 2018, our blog highlighted some best in class recruiting practices. We noted that companies like Microsoft had adapted their screening and selection processes to capture the needed talent of those candidates on the autism spectrum. In so doing, they were actually employing a more robust way of screening all candidates and predicting success within a role and a company culture.

As we all continue to navigate remote working, especially in a certain Midwestern city that has had really low level clouds for several days, what if you heard that there was a place to work where you started your morning with two questions:

  • How “interactive” do you feel today?
  • What’s your energy level today?

What if you also heard that this same company listed everyone’s preferred communication and feedback preferences? Versus, you know, waiting two days for a call back and then learning someone NEVER checks their voicemail?

A recent article focused the spotlight on Ultranauts, a tech company that has engineered itself not only for remote working, but for the diverse needs of its employees—many of whom are on the autism spectrum. This company’s practices are valuable for all of us right now. Not only because they allow the workforce to absorb information in the ways that they
prefer—but because it practices the key components of good employee communications:

1. Tell them what you are going to tell them
2. Tell them
3. Tell them what you told them

AND with technology to take notes, so that no one gets stuck being the scribe!

While Ultranauts developed this culture to accommodate the sensory-overload that many on the autism spectrum experience on a daily basis, in this current environment, these practices offer a great deal to all of us who are on so many different sorts of overloads and prioritizes employee-first communications, so that all succeed—no matter what. 

525,600 Minutes … how will you measure this year? AND the ones that follow?

Our last blog shared insights on what activities will drive the workplace of the future. That concept of a workplace poses a huge challenge for many managers out there.

A recent podcast by GBH’s Innovation Lab addressed what organizations must build as they are dismantling cube space: management skills, competency assessments, and performance reviews to match the new workplace. Leaders having trouble coping with remote working will benefit from this program’s insights offered by experts, Professor Nicholas Bloom of Stanford and Liz Fosslein, head of content at Humu. Each organization will need to study and then tailor a return to work hybrid model that fits their organization.

Quite often when we start work on a compensation project, one of the first questions we ask is the state of the performance management program. Too often we get guilty looks followed by hemming and hawing. As Covid-19 began to shut down the world, CHRC probably had a better understanding than most as to why the majority of managers in the US would be very uncomfortable with a remote workplace. The reason many leaders fall back on MBWA (management by walking around) is either because their organization does not have a robust performance management system and/or they have never been trained to manage in the first place. 

At the end of the day, remote work is here to stay, and even when it is safe enough to return to large office buildings, hybrid remote and in-office work policies must be developed thoughtfully, in conjunction with robust performance management systems, versus being allowed to regress back to the routines of the MBWA practitioners. For those who thrive working remotely, if the majority of their coworkers return to the office, it could be detrimental to their career and could have a disparate impact on certain groups of employees who gravitate towards working from home. Professor Bloom is emphatic that organizations be prescriptive about “days the senior management are at home,” to ensure that people can be in the office to truly collaborate and innovate, not merely to posture and curry favor with the boss, and “to prevent a promotional advantage and stress everyone out.”

Office of the Future? One size does NOT fit all

This past year has turned our idea of the workplace inside out, upside down, and cattywampus. While many look at this year as productivity lost or teamwork put on pause, there’s also much to be gained from rethinking the idea of the workplace. Are people really most productive while sitting in their cubicle all day—sans distractions? Distractions happen wherever you are. Distractions used to be colleagues talking about fantasy football picks, latest cat photos, or extended group lunches. Now distractions are crying babies, Instacart deliveries, or unstable Zoom connections. There is no evidence that productivity suffers if not in the office. 

Workplace should mean just that, the place in which you do your work. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a cubicle, your kid’s room that has the best Wi-Fi, a Starbucks patio, or on a conference call in line for a COVID-19 test.  The pandemic has forced most of us to figure out where we get our BEST work done. 

As this fantastic article mentions, organizations must shift from “who” should be in an office to “what” should happen in a shared space. Client phone calls, creative brainstorming, cold calling, brief writing, Excel spreadsheeting—as we reimagine what the workplace is, let’s focus more on the quality of work and less on where the work is being done. Technology has allowed us to rewrite the entire premise of the office. As we move into a new year—and a continuously morphing workplace—management skills, competency assessments, and performance reviews must evolve to match.

Business up top, pajamas on the bottom!

By Lisa Aggarwal

I really thought that I was prepared.  

As a Catholic school student, I endured endless detention threats regarding dress code violations. As an HR professional, I have mediated endless dress code disputes. I’ve coached clients on how to appear more professional via their attire. Corporate offices were previously “business casual,” now they are “CASUAL casual.” It seems that so much of our culture is linked to our external appearance. We are even taught to dress for the role we seek. I thought I had nailed how to dress for success. 

But this is a new day. Just as Chicago has issued a new stay-at-home advisory for the next 30 days in response to rising Covid-19 cases, I get hit with these two articles. On the same day, within five minutes. 

We know that video conferences and remote work have opened a gateway to a more casual corporate uniform–but are sweatsuits the new power suit? Sometimes I will throw a blazer on to give the impression I mean business (all while wearing my yoga pants)…but now I need one with shoulder pads? Maybe I should just keep a “Zoom shirt” in my office (by office, I mean kitchen) for video conferences and call it a day. Hopefully I don’t end up like one of my countless friends who accidentally have stood up during an online meeting only to expose their pajama bottoms. 

Today, it seems that most of us are just seeking comfort, in any form. Perhaps this will cause a subliminal shift to pay less attention to external appearance and more to an employee’s value and contribution. Or one can only hope!

How has your business handled dress codes, or lack thereof? 

Lest We Forget

Every last one of us is experiencing COVID-19 Fatigue, and we’ve only been at this eight months.

A year ago I was in Australia for Remembrance Day.  When I realized I would be there on the 11th of November, I knew where I had to be at 11 am. At the Cenotaph in Sydney, an older female veteran caught my attention, medals and all.

I first became aware of the outsized sacrifice of Australian and New Zealanders (ANZACs) in WWI, when I heard a folk song called “The Band played Waltzing Matilda.”

What the soldiers had to deal with when they came home in 1919? A pandemic. A year ago, I nodded in historic empathy, “Imagine, after nearly four years of war, all that sacrifice, for a small nation of 4.5 million when war broke out.” Nearly 62,000 soldiers died, to then come home and have an additional 15,000 people die from a pandemic? 

It is November 11th again. We want to complain about pandemic exhaustion, but what we label exhaustion will never begin to compare to those that survived WWI only to battle through the 1918-1919 pandemic. We may go to war for the last roll of toilet paper, or battle with our loved ones to stay in or wear masks, but in the face of true sacrifice, it truly dims. 

Nightmare at the Office: Budget Time

By Margaret Jungels

Halloween’s upon us, but it’s not just ghosts, ghouls, and goblins that are keeping us up at night. Even without Covid-19, these recent months of wildfires, social unrest, politics, hurricanes, and murder hornets are enough to push even the most zen among us over the edge.  

To top it off, amidst all this uncertainty, it’s time to start planning next year’s budgets! How do you predict anything about next year while still in a year full of “unprecedented times”? What costume or cape can you put on to possibly help with this task? 

Good advice for our kids, is good advice for all of us right now:  focus on what you can control and things that matter.

As your leadership team contemplates 2021, the things that you can control, and the things that really matter, reflect on how you have been able to survive 2020—your employees and their ability to adapt, innovate, and pivot weekly, if not daily. So, when thinking about how to budget for salary increases in the coming year, what should you do? What can you do?  

  • You can put together a process. Document the process. If you have a process from a previous year, review it, update it, and share it with everyone who touches it—people managers, finance, HR, and payroll. Make sure that people know what is expected of them, remind them in advance of due dates, and update the plan as you go. (This you can control)
  • There’s a lot to think about when determining how to allocate your salary budget. How have labor markets changed in the past year? Do some departments or roles compete for talent differently than others? Has Covid-19 created hot or hard to fill jobs? But beyond all this, the issue of pay equity is here to stay. Allocate your salary budget in a way that advances pay equity.  Let an analysis of current pay equity direct your budget allocation and drive changes to the way you pay, develop, and promote. Even with a relatively small budget, you can make sure that pay changes are advancing pay equity.  (This matters) 

And even though the world seems topsy-turvy, there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed. According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2020 North American Compensation Planning Pulse Survey, 84% of companies plan to deliver their pay increases on schedule. And while some companies (approximately 35%) plan to lower salary increases next year, the survey predicts a 2.6% average salary increase for non-executives—not so far off previous years. According to PayScale Market Trends the Technology and Transportation sectors remain strong and lead annual increase trends, but most other sectors are still doing relatively well. In some cases, even in Entertainment and Hospitality who have seen many layoffs, market rates of those who remain employed have been driven up.  

Finally, two things we can promise you—we’re here to help you navigate these tricky times, and, we’ll save you some fun-sized Kit Kats for when we can meet in person again!