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A look back to look ahead

One important lesson from 2018? The power of social media to mobilize employees
harassment, engagement, leadership
In the wake of #MeToo, the CHRO’s role in creating and maintaining a culture of respect evolved radically. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Suanne Nielsen

When I look back at 2018, I realize that workplaces have come full circle. We started the year with the #MeToo movement. HR realized quickly that it was an issue that needed to be put on the board’s table.

Treating people with respect and professionalism in the workplace wasn’t just a nice thing to do, but an employee’s right and a business imperative. In the wake of #MeToo, the CHRO’s role in creating and maintaining a culture of respect evolved radically.

Then came Time’s Up, which started with Hollywood scandals, and carried the #MeToo mandate further.

For Canadians, this was followed by cannabis legalization, which I wrote about here.

Today, with most of the year in our rear view, we are confronted with the Google walkout on Nov. 1, which saw 20,000 Google employees from across the world stage a united and series of protest walkouts against the company’s systematic sexual harassment, gender inequality, and racism.

If there’s one lesson from 2018 that I see emerging more and more in 2019, it is the power of social media to mobilize employees that needs to be taken seriously. Social media was the force behind all these movements. It is a powerful tool for our customers and our employees.  And as we are seeing, when employees take their concerns to social media, it has the power to change and convert customers’ views of an organization as well.

The resounding message is that workplaces are changing dramatically. We must create psychologically healthy workplaces, and ensure that harassment, bullying, and jerk bosses aren’t tolerated. Organizations need to take a stand and address all these issues in a holistic way, as of yesterday.

Indeed, Morneau Shepell’s recent report titled Human Resources Trends for 2019 stated that “Improving mental health of employees is one of the top five priorities in the coming year (at 48 per cent) and inched above the physical health/wellness of employees (47 per cent).”

Mental health is critical for employee retention and engagement. According to the report, “More than two-thirds of HR leaders (67 per cent) identified improving employee engagement as a priority, while 59 per cent identified attracting and retaining employees with the right skills as the top priority.”

Cannabis and mental health are intrinsically related, and my concern is many managers are treating both as a performance issue. I’ve long been concerned about this.

In other words, managers need to reframe their narrative around performance, and stop attributing performance to reasons such as “My employee is stressed out, they can’t handle the pressure” or “I don’t get it, why is my employee showing up smelling of marijuana?”

In fact, employees may be using marijuana for the treatment of anything from arthritis to depression. It has implications for HR to ensure that leaders are being trained in managing employees and their performance differently.

It used to be that managers had all the power, and if you got on the wrong side of your manager, you were in trouble. In my view, this balance has tipped a bit.

I’ve said it before, that the word “managers” is becoming passé. Leaders who’ve worked under a traditional command-and-control or in a rules-based environment in their careers are going through a mindset readjustment. And we’re going to see more of that readjustment in 2019.

HR is also challenged with talent shortages. A talented employee votes with their feet. Talent decides how they want to work and whom they want to work with. In 2019, we’re going to see more organizations working to improve their levels of cultural entropy.

Increasingly, with the saliency of social media being reinforced through mass employee walkouts and human rights movements, organizations need to proactively investigate creating internal avenues for employees to voice their opinions and raise issues.

At Foresters, our new chief marketing officer understands the power of employees’ voices. He created a social ambassador program amongst employees, launching it with a contest to get our employees talking about why they would make a great social ambassador for our company.

We are training employees to be brand ambassadors for the organization, both inside and outside, enabling them to tell great stories through social media.

We are also doing this with our customers and distribution partners. With such initiatives, we build our brands from the inside out. It’s an example that didn’t come from HR.

Currently, HR monitors bad stories on Glassdoor and, being largely reactive, we tap employees on their shoulders to post positive stories to increase our ratings, post-facto. These are not sustainable solutions.

It’s ironic that Google set a good example of what happens when you don’t harness the power of employee stories and social media.

In a recent post, I spoke about how Patagonia has changed its employee engagement by studying the moods of teir employees, asking a simple question like: “What’s your mood today?”

I must reiterate: Are you being a “dam” in your workplace and creating systems that are destined to die, or are your values evolving with your employees’ changing needs? Are you using data efficiently to question the program you are about to put into place? Is it creating value or just another system that serves an old narrative that is no longer relevant?

When I talk about creating a psychologically healthy workplace, I mean creating a performance management process that’s free from unconscious biases and stereotypes. How are leaders showing up to create barrier-free workplaces for all genders, minorities, and those with disabilities?

One of the issues HR is facing is that there are two potentially opposing forces at work. They don’t have to be. But they could be if we’re not watchful. It’s what the #MeToo movement has started — equal pay for equal work. How does HR ensure that there’s gender equality at work on the one hand, and that we’re also compensating high-demand roles appropriately to retain talent?

In the tech industry, for example, we see the predominance of males in higher income roles. There, we have real pay gaps between men and women. Yet, if they really want to attract talent, they should be creating policies where women are hired to balance responsibilities and are compensated equally in their child-bearing years.

This could be a real win-win for organizations in the areas of talent shortage, and in the legal and moral requirements of pay equality.

The overriding theme, as we go into 2019, and as I see it, is that of bringing more humanity into our workplaces.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Suanne Nielsen

Suanne Nielsen is president of the Strategic Capability Network and global chief administration officer at Foresters Financial in Toronto. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Suanne and do not necessarily reflect the official position(s) or opinion(s) of SCNetwork members or Foresters. For more information about the SCNetwork, visit www.scnetwork.ca.
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