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From thought leaders in HR, sales and company culture, to cutting edge creatives working in events, advertising and branding, we work with all sorts of talented individuals pushing the boundaries of how business gets done.
Our Expert Insights series aims to bring our audience tips, tricks and wisdom from top professionals across the globe.
Today we sat down with HR analyst, blogger, and all-around guru Ben Eubanks.
Ben worked as a front-lines professional in the world of HR for many years before becoming a leading voice and thought leader for the industry. He now works as a consultant, author and speaker who helps companies and business leaders implement new strategies in HR, recruitment, developing corporate culture and more.
Ben is the host of We’re Only Human, a podcast for HR professionals which has been airing since 2016. He also serves as the Chief Research officer for Lighthouse Research & Advisory, and founded the HR Summer School, an educational event for HR professionals that garnered millions of views in 2021.
We wanted to ask Ben some questions about how HR fits into a remote and hybrid work environment, as well as pick up some tips from an expert on what HR professionals at the beginning of their career should focus on!
What advice would you give to HR professionals navigating the shift towards remote and hybrid office work?
One of the biggest things is really understanding and focusing on prioritizing the human and personal piece of that.
We just did a study of 2000 workers and we found that for those people who quit a job, they said the number one reason was because of burnout. For people who have not quit yet, they’re saying, “I’d love some more pay, benefits…” — things like that. It’s interesting to see how someone who’s already made the decision versus someone who’s about to are a little bit different.
What it comes down to is really personalizing your approach to the person. For people who have quit jobs, in a lot of cases, it’s because their company said, “Hey— this is the requirement, this is the policy.”
If that doesn’t fit you as an individual then you’re gonna say, “I’m gonna find someone that does care about me, someone that does focus on what I need and how I can get work done, best.”
The biggest piece of advice I have for employers around that is to ask your people what flexibility means to them. We make assumptions about what that means, and I think that’s a fallacy. Instead of leaning over shoulders and micromanaging and telling people how to do everything, we can just tell people what to do— then step back and let them work within that flexibility. There’s some low hanging fruit on the flexibility front that could really help people that we haven’t considered in a lot of companies.
What are some ways that HR professionals can keep employee morale and company culture alive when everyone is working remotely?
Last year, the focus was on doing happy things like virtual happy hours and things like that.
I’ll be honest— I have four small kids at home. If my employer offered that to me, or required me to be there or asked me to be there, I would not be interested in that at all. I love the people I work with, but I’d much rather spend that time with my family, especially now that we’re requiring some people to come back to work. Be aware of what employees’ personal situations are, and be respectful of boundaries they might have.
Setting that aside for a second, because I think it’s important to talk about first, there’s lots of fun things that you can do!
There’s a HR team that I talked to recently that took pictures of the workspaces for each person, and then scrambled those up. One person was in charge of putting those out there and saying, “Okay, whose desk is this? Who works here?” Each person got to guess who worked at each of those remote work spaces based on what the desk looked like, or how clean it was, or what was sitting there. That was a fun way to not just play a game, but there was an end goal of, “I can picture where Mary works! I can picture where Steve works!”
Getting a little more familiarity with people just makes us feel closer together even though we’re not physically closer together.
What’s a tip for promoting employee health and wellness in the remote or hybrid office?
I talked to a company recently that’s actually done a unique thing:
They gave their people a wellness stipend. You could use it on things like swag, or things like that. You could use it for a race entry fee for doing a 5K. You need to go to the spa and get a massage? That’s fine. Use it for whatever you need. You use it, and as long as it’s health and wellness related, we’ll reimburse you for it.
And so employees have a certain amount of money they can use for those kinds of things without the company paying for your gym membership. Some people are never going to go to a gym because they have home workout equipment, or they don’t have a schedule that allows that, or whatever else.
The stipend piece is really flexible and allows someone to use it within their own kind of spectrum.
What are some skills you would advise rookie HR pros to learn if they want to be successful at navigating this tumultuous time in corporate culture?
The biggest one is— get to know the business. Get to know how the business works, how they operate, what they’re doing.
I talked to a young lady a couple years ago (we’re still friends now) and she told me this funny story.
She’d just applied for a job and was meeting with a CEO of this company that produces rubber products. And the CEO said, “Why do you think our capital costs are rising every year?”
And the young lady said, “Well it’s not like rubber goes on trees!”
If you’re familiar with the process, rubber actually does come from a tree!
We laughed about how she didn’t get that then, but you’d better believe that the second she started there, and from that moment on, she started understanding how their business works, and to really get at the things the business needs from her on the talent side.
So spend some time with the leadership team; know what makes them tick, but also get to know what takes them off. One simple exercise that I’ve used with leaders over the years is to consider this— If I asked your child’s favorite meal or your spouse’s favorite TV show, we would know those answers probably off the top of our head quickly.
But if I said, “What is your CEO most worried about? What about your head of operations? What does she fear most, what are the things that keep her awake at night?” And if we don’t know those answers, we need to find them.
It’s easy to feel guarded, or like, “I can’t ask a question because they’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing.” You’re asking questions about something very personal— “What bothers you, what concerns you, what keeps you up at night?” But the intent there is to understand the things they’re talking about.
Those things tie into the work that we do from an HR perspective and it gives us the chance to solve their problem. Not solve our problem, to solve their problem, and to create a better relationship, better opportunity, better partnership. The next time they have a challenge on that front, you won’t find out about it after it’s too late. They’ll call you and say, “I need your input on this. I need your advice.”
So the biggest and most important skill for an HR leader is to get to know the business.
Thanks to Ben for sitting down with us today! We hope you enjoyed hearing his expert advice on developing HR strategies that can succeed in the remote work environment. Are you an industry leader that would like to be featured on our blog? Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.