5 Topics Most HR Managers Aren’t Talking Through Together

5 Topics Most HR Managers Aren’t Talking Through Together

On Thursday, March 31, 2022, Naturally San Diego was pleased to organize a People and Culture Forum with Allie Jennings (Senior Director of People + Culture, Perfect Snacks), Danny Kim (Senior Director of People + Culture, Raindrop Marketing), Zach Smith (Founder, Activate 180), and Lisa Shields (VP of Culture + People Performance, Organifi) to discuss the Cultural Impact of COVID & the Hybrid Work Model.

Sitting in the boardroom at the current Perfect Snacks HQ with Perfect Bars and Spindrifts in hand, a small but mighty group of CEOS, founders, financial advisors, and heads of HRs’ gathered to discuss:

1. How employers’ expectations shifted during COVID

2. What teams are doing to drive culture in a new world where physical proximity prohibits authentic moments

3. What companies are doing in the mental health space realm 

4. Whether workplaces can really allow for both flexibility and personal time 

5. The best trends happening in the workspace that should become standard

Leading the discussion, Allie Jennings who has been with Perfect Snacks for over 8 years and currently leads as the director of People and Culture cheerfully reminded us that it has officially been two years since everything has shifted in the context of COVID-19. This time has been filled with many moments in which it felt as if, “we always seemed to be working, but also always dealing with personal stuff.” And for anyone in the people operation world, teams had to be both reactive and pandemic specialists. These intense two seasons of crisis naturally challenged individuals to reprioritize and this reprioritization, “changed how people looked at their employees. Hello Great Resignation…”

Opening the first question up to Danny Kim, Allie Jennings prompted the discussion by asking, “How would you say employees’ expectations shifted during this time?”

According to Danny Kim (Director of People and Culture at Raindrop Agency), he has noticed that their employees have been saying, “what do I value?” And how can I be more “intentional about growth and vision” so that my employer can help me develop?

Meanwhile, Lisa Shields reminded the room that every organization has its own set of challenges, and although Organifi was already a hybrid workplace before COVID-19, their team has also faced burnout, loneliness, and a lack of connection. Therefore, the expectation to have space to tackle such feelings has been key for Organifi’s organization. One specific policy Lisa’s team has implemented to offset burnout is no meetings on Thursday and between 12-12:30 every single day. In addition to these no meeting periods, Organifi has implemented a wellness day once a month. The key to having employees respect these policies? Training upper management to lead by example.

Zach Smith, co-founder of Activate180 leaned into the evolving employee expectation discussion by referring to this period of time as the “great upgrade” in which people are looking for more. Alluding to the recent MIT Sloan Management Review on the Great Resignation, Smith highlighted how “a toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation” followed by job reorganization, high levels of innovation, failure to recognize employee performance and poor response to COVID-19. In other words, yes, while money matters, employees are starting to value purpose, culture, career goals, and the quality of their lives more.

Moving on to the MIT highlighted discussion point on culture, Allie Jennings then asked the room to consider how, “the lack of physical proximity has prohibited authentic moments to drive culture?” And “what we can do to drive culture in this new work environment?

According to Lisa Shields, at Organifi, retraining leaders to lead in a remote world has been essential. Before attending to the business element of meetings, Organifi has implemented ‘clearing’ which involves asking if anyone has anything to clear so that they can be fully present. For example, “I had a terrible fight with my husband. I’m letting go of that so I can connect.”

In need of another creative idea? Lisa Shield’s People & Culture team at Organifi have organized personal check-ins with every employee so that they could determine who needs some extra love, attention, support, and or, potential flexibility.

For Zach Smith, meeting people where they are at, trying to create comfort and then the conversation is helpful in striving to create culture in a remote Activate180 working environment.

How does Smith get the older generation of workers who may be under the mentality that they are not meant to talk about their personal life to adapt? Meeting them where they are at while also creating a psychologically safe environment that might clear the path for them to open up has been productive.

While you can certainly have boundaries, in order to lead the younger generation effectively, Smith is adamant that workplaces must look at their employees as whole beings.

As for Perfect Snacks? Life milestones are important. According to Allie Jennings, Perfect Snacks strives to acknowledge, celebrate and empower their individuals to thrive both personally and professionally. Perfect Snacks has realized that if they help their people, they help their organization whether that’s celebrating life milestones or helping their employees through turbulent personal events.

Next, the important subject of mental health and what each of the panelists are doing to empower their workforce with the necessary tools was raised.

For Danny Kim’s team at Raindrop, permission to not be ok has been key and the ability to cry even more important. Going back to the value of leading by example, Kim mentioned how Raindrop’s CEO has been vulnerable about his journey with mental health which has thus paved the pathway to a more emotionally open and vulnerable culture. 

In this sense, because there is so much fragility in both life and business right now, Lisa Shields has been an advocate in ensuring that the employees of Organifi have the education tools/ mental health apps to strengthen their mind, body and spirit. And as mentioned above, a recently implemented monthly encouraged mental health day has been a hit among Organifi’s company.

At Activate180, Zach Smith has noticed the negative impact of, “mistaking movement for productivity.” With the world changing, people aren’t shutting off. Therefore, Activate180 has set parameters to encourage work related conversations only between 7-7.

Meanwhile, Perfect Snacks offers employees 40 paid hrs of wellness each year as well as a $300 stipend to be put towards wellness.

One of the spoken reasons for negatively impacted mental health is the complaint that while this period has provided the bonus flexibility to work from home, there has been a cultural struggle within workplaces to always feel like they have to ‘be online.’ Therefore, slightly shifting deeper into the discussion on mental health, Jennings posed the question as to, “how we can allow for both flexibility and personal time?”

Lisa Shields responded by stating that she will never “tell individuals when they can work.” As a mother, Shields has made it clear that there is a blocked amount of time throughout the day that is sacred and saved for her children.

In this sense, empowering individuals to create their own boundaries is Shield’s solution to this evolving cultural problem of always feeling the need to be working.

Meanwhile, Danny Kim is passionate about asynchronous meetings and making sure to distinguish whether a call is a “status update” or a “meeting” because as soon as there are more than “five people it’s not a meeting.”

Encouraging more asynchronous meetings provides the ability to express the tone and message, but perhaps more positively, allows for more flexibility and space on the receiver’s end.

For Zach Smith, the most dangerous words are, “this is the way it’s always been done.” In this sense, adapting, pivoting and adjusting to meet the needs of evolving times is key in helping tackle the issue of false advertised ‘flexibility’ brought on by remote working.

And last but not least, to close the conversation, the dynamic room paused to consider the various, “trends that are happening in the workplace that they would like to become standard?”

Danny Kim and his team at Raindrop (in efforts to offset time spent away from each other in a remote work setting) have been intentional about creating meaningful moments together on a quarterly/yearly basis that have been instrumental in cultivating culture and community which he hopes is here to stay.

Meanwhile, Zach Smith wants caring for the whole person to never go away as the ability to be autonomous is not only useful, but key to work life happiness.

And finally, the caring collaboration between businesses was another happy shift noticed. In this sense, work life integration on a micro and macro level is a dream for the collaborative room full of diverse voices and companies sitting, sharing, laughing and munching on Perfect Snacks, making this gray Thursday afternoon, well, a little more perfect.

And while the discussion on 1. Employee Expectations 2. Cultivating Culture 3. Mental Health 4. The Dichotomy of Balance and 5. Workplace trends are always evolving, if nothing else, it has become clear through this conversation that caring is cool, vulnerability is a virtue and example leadership is key in motivating individuals one step closer to a purpose filled life driven by vision, instead of fear. 

Thank you to Allie Jennings for hosting and moderating the conversation as well as Danny Kim, Lisa Shields, Zach Smith and the other amazing voices sitting in and around the table here to learn, listen and lean into the evolving hybrid work model times!

This blog post was written by Maria Shiiba of Perfect Snacks.