Andrea Herron 00:01
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea heron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces, because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the HR scoop. And today, I am so pleased to be speaking with Susie Dunn, the Chief People Officer and Chief of Staff at Z approved. Welcome.
Susy Dunn 00:50
Thank you, Andrea, I’m so happy to be here.
Andrea Herron 00:52
Yeah, another a local Portland company, it’s great to be able to chat with you. And before we really dive in, because I know there’s so many juicy topics we want to get to. And I think it would be great for the audience just to hear a little bit about you and your career journey and how you came into the role you’re in as approved.
Susy Dunn 01:13
Absolutely. So I’m a native Oregonian and have been working here in the Portland metro area since the mid 90s. I did start my career in different part of the business and HR and really worked my way up into business leadership roles, and then was really inspired by the HR organization at the company I was at. And ultimately that’s the direction I headed in about the early 2000s. And then since then, I’ve had experiences across global like hardware companies. I’ve been in software companies, I’ve been in the energy sector. But I’ve really found my place in this Portland software startups and I’ve been at for the local startups. And I come in and help the companies grow and scale. And so the Chief of Staff aspect is I wear many hats, really the hats the organization needs to help scale and, and I’ve done tours of duty across many different areas of the business and but the people is really at the core. So I really am never going to lose sight of my Chief People Officer role.
Andrea Herron 02:10
That’s awesome. So HR sector you in and in here you are and I think we can all relate to the multiple hats. If there’s an HR person out there that wears only one hat, please let us know. What is your secret? Absolutely. Well, that’s awesome. And you know, with that, you’re going to be able to speak to so many different perspectives and having various industry experience. And the the tech startup is its own unique environment as well. And so I think it’d be really good to chat through. Absolutely. So let’s just dive in. I know one thing we really wanted to get your take on has to do with benefits, but particularly around paid parental leave, and your experience or, you know, opinions with where that is and maybe where it’s going or where it should go.
Susy Dunn 02:58
Yes. And I’ve been so excited to talk through this with you know, some context about my background for the listeners. So I mentioned, I didn’t start my career in HR. I started it in broader business roles. And I worked my way up into leadership having employees across the US EMEA, as well as Asia, Pacific regions, and employees taking leaves. And so this really helped shape in my earlier formative years of my career, you know, the experience of having people go out on parental leave, and really learning the nuances between us versus the different parts of the world. Well, eventually, like I mentioned, I moved into HR. And looking back, I was at this global technology company, that at the time, I didn’t realize how progressive we were, we had 10 to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. And we wonderful employee assistance provider. And we really treated the experience when somebody came forward and said they were going out on leave that it was very much celebrated. And we had really good coverage in our company, that the HR team especially had inspired all the managers to always think about staffing and having coverage when people take leaves, because it’s great career development, right short term training development. So, you know, that was the mental model, I really had. Laughter several years, I eventually left the company, started a new job, and I got pregnant. And my experience was quite different at this other company. I was a little naive thinking, Well, gosh, I was just assuming I would get the 10 to 12 weeks off. No, it was five to eight. And so the reality of okay, I’m not going to get as much time that’s fine. But just the reality of the company I was at, they didn’t have coverage to support me. And I just remember my son’s not 12 I remember saying, I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby, I’m going to need to be going out I gave them of course, six months notice. But you just saw the team’s faces go white like oh no, like Well, congratulations. But what are we going to do? How are we going to get through this? And so that’s really shaped my experience and how I approach leaves because I was really stressed out I was so stressful being pregnant and worrying, I’m going to let my team down that they think I’m going to drop balls. And then, you know, proving I could handle the job when I came back. And so, you know, as I look at leaves now today, it’s just important that you know, kind of where I come from, I started my career seeing this really great model. Then as we saw the great recession, and you know, now knowing as well, I’m in the software startups, we don’t always have the luxury of having coverage. And also in some of these small startups, I’ve been the first strategic HR leader. So I’m the first one coming in and helping them really shape what their programs are. And so fast forward to today, it’s approved, I’m really fortunate, because I’m in this culture that is very supportive, it feels very similar to that earlier part of my career. And we decided we wanted to do what’s right for employees, when we really built out early programs and not just do what’s required. And so we offer 12 weeks paid leave, whether it’s the child bearing the non child bearing the foster the adoptive, that’s really important to us that we do. And we know Oregon is heading in the direction of that, but we wanted to do it in advance of, of legally being required to. And I think what’s really shaped my view is, because there’s so many different programs and all the different states, especially it’s hard, it’s hard to keep track, it’s so important to think of what works for your organization and what works for your employees. Let’s not just wait until the federal and state programs, create policies and create the programs we need. Let’s do it ourselves. Because that’s what employees need. And because I think, you know, we each have to really, regardless if you’re in corporate or retail, whatever, whatever industry, you’re in, really understanding what your employees need to be supportive partners during their leaves. That’s what’s going to attract and retain your top talent.
Andrea Herron 06:47
I agree with you. And it reminds me of a meme that I saw recently. I don’t know if you saw this one. But it’s a picture of someone backpacking, and they say, Oh, I’m, you know, in Europe, and I’m off for the summer to backpack, I’ll get back to you in August. And then below is the US version. It’s like I’m having surgery that I’ll be checking email. So you know, no worries, I’ll get to it. And it’s so sad and so true. In a lot of cases. So I want to reiterate a couple of things, you said that I really liked the perspective. So for one parental leave, does create career development opportunities, I think that’s a wonderful way to reframe it for people that are worried about the extra workload, because it’s rare that you really get to jump in to a different part of the business or a different part of your role, when it’s just regularly being handled. And the other thing it just made me think of which is kind of funny, but is we’re really building a future talent pipeline with all these babies. So you know, let’s get them in here.
Susy Dunn 07:53
That’s exactly right. That’s the way we need to think about it. You know, on the technology side, especially, we’re deeply concerned about the future of talent and talent shortages, especially in the US. And if we aren’t thinking holistically, you know, we’re in the next 1520 years, you know, we may not have the workforce that we need. So I like your thinking on
Andrea Herron 08:15
that. Yeah, I saw a statistic today that said the US birth rate has declined significantly. And it has been on that same declining trajectory for a while. But this was the biggest year drop. Now we were in a pandemic. And maybe there are other factors, but it is still a downward trend. So, you know, the last thing we need to do is punish people or make it difficult or stressful, or financially a burden to have children.
Susy Dunn 08:41
The other element I think we often lose sight of is if we aren’t thinking about the paid leaves, and maybe you can’t afford a full 12 weeks, but at least affording eight to 10 Just start somewhere. But if we’re not doing that we’re at risk to losing these employees long term. And then what’s the cost of backfilling? Right creating programs, we’ve we spend so much time thinking about building out these employee experiences across the lifecycle. And we’ll say bring your whole self to work, like we care about your whole self. But in so many that cases, you know, these events, whether it is going out on parental leave, I’m in a situation I have a young child plus I have aging parents, and so I played both hats, I have to help care from taking my parents to doctor appointments because I’m the primary caregiver. Plus I have, you know, a child. And so really thinking about holistically our employees and what they’re going through in their journey and how do you create programs to support them through it, and really partner that that was where when I was reflecting for today thinking back to that, that technology company I’d worked for early in my career. It felt so supported and like the company partnered with you, if you needed to go out on leave to make sure you were going to be successful. That’s what stayed with me over the years and I think We should all have that lens of how do we set the person up for success. That’s really taking care of the whole self.
Andrea Herron 10:06
That is true. And I think it’s become more and more apparent that everyone is multifaceted and has things going on that we don’t know, you know, you don’t know who has aging parents or a child that requires more support because of a specific disability or taking care of their I mean, you just don’t know. And so providing that flexibility, as we have seen in the past year is going to be critical going forward. And the one other thing I’m meant to mention that I really liked, your phrasing was about the inclusivity of how people become parents, because not everyone has or is able to have a biological child. And so supporting people, no matter how that that tiny human comes into their world, or big human, if it’s an adoption, you know, could be so many other things. So I think that’s another important piece, if people are considering how to do this, even if it’s, we can’t do eight weeks of paid, but can we do four weeks of any kind of anything, you know, you want to keep in mind, it’s not just a physical birth of a human, but there’s so many ways that could happen.
Susy Dunn 11:14
I completely agree. And so again, as we think about what’s the right thing to do for our employees, but it’s also the community. And that’s one of the things I love, the way we’ve approached it, it’s approved, it really is in again, it’s focusing on inclusivity is at our core. And if we’re truly being inclusive, we’re inclusive, our employees and our community. And so again, supporting people through this journey, especially covering all of these different kinds of, of leaves, not just for the childbearing parent, and but then also for the non I mean, it’s doing the right thing for the communities that we serve.
Andrea Herron 11:46
Yeah, I think we will get there are part of the way there at least more there as a country over time. But you know, if your company’s in a position to do more now, I don’t think there’s really much downside to that and having a way to reframe it like career growth and opportunity for someone else. And then how do you reward that person who is taking on more responsibility and not just take on more, but you know, here’s a $5 gift card. Thanks. I mean, you got to get creative and look at the whole picture, but making it more of an opportunity and a good thing to celebrate versus a burden that we just have to muster through until you can get back?
Susy Dunn 12:24
Absolutely, I completely agree. And, and I do, I think that’s, if we could all just take a step back. And really, again, think about what matters to our employees, and what’s going to be the right thing for our businesses will realize, especially now with COVID, we’ve had to be flexible, we’ve all had to move into a completely new way of working. And if we aren’t going to stay flexible, regardless of leaves, I mean, in general, flexible for people to support them, and how they need it. We’re not going to be able to attract and retain talent. There are a lot of companies that are like mine that are willing to be this flexible. And I’m hearing trends more and more from friends and family and other colleagues saying, oh my gosh, my company is about to open back up. I’m going to have to start going into the office, and I feel uncomfortable about that. And maybe that is required, that is fine. But we still have to find ways to stay flexible. I think that’s what people are going to be looking for.
Andrea Herron 13:18
Yeah, that’s it’s like the reverse challenge for the HR folks, right? It’s like in the March 2020 timeframe. It’s like go go go, everyone has to go home. And now it’s like no, no, really, we want you to come back? Or how do we get people to change and it really comes back to change management. And humans don’t like change typically. And so this is just another big change. So having flexible policies and perks and benefits can make a difference in speaking of the progressive benefits, I know the the leave was one and that is really great. And I hope people can take some of that and implement it where it makes sense in their business. Then the other one was the take as you need are kind of unlimited PTO policy. And I would love to hear from your experience, like the pros and cons of having that type of open time off policy. What do you see?
Susy Dunn 14:11
Yeah, well, so currently today, we do have the take as you need policy, and it’s worked really well the company put it in place long before I arrived. The company is now 13 years old and put it in place. I think at about year three or four. And it’s well established. It’s it’s the cultural norm. I also have been in it or I was in a large organization, a global organization. And ultimately, we made the decision to switch from an accrual to take as you need policy. And the culture operated at a pace where people did put in really long demanding hours. And those accrual balances was the feeling of validation of like I feel guilty taking time off but I see my balance here and that’s kind of evidence that I’m deserved, you know, deserved time off. That was really difficult shifting to this concept of oh, you can take what you need. But feeling like but I don’t have evidence like is my managers are they going to realize that I’ve been working so hard because they’re not going to see an accrual balance sitting there. That took a lot of change management. And it took honestly about 18 to 24 months to rebuild trust between the employees and managers. And to ensure managers were resetting how they thought about it was really difficult to go from tracking to not, it’s just a completely different way of lacking control. I’ve seen it work very well, I also was there during the transition where it was complicated, and it ended fine. But man, there was a lot to consider.
Andrea Herron 15:37
Yeah, it’s the notion that, what have I done? Or how much have I produced to deserve that rest or time off, whereas you can really think of it as humans are deserving of rest innately. And if we don’t take that rest and recuperate our bodies and minds, you can’t continue at the ACR. But some places do, unintentionally or hopefully not intentionally, make people feel guilty for taking the time off. And so I was, you know, curious if employees ever feel judged for taking it or, you know, if you’re like everyone else in the past year, but I didn’t go anywhere. So it’s not vacation, so I’m not taking time off.
Susy Dunn 16:17
So that is very real. And in fact, you know, one of the things we have just implemented, it’s been about a month ago, we rolled this out. So we’ve decided we’re staying remote first. And we’ve decided that because working remotely has gone very, very well for us. But one of the concerns we have had is people actually taking time off. So we’ve done a few things, we’ve actually created a few force shutdowns. Like last year, we did a force shutdown around the Fourth of July weekend, because things were starting to open back up about that time. And you feel guilty. Sometimes if if you know everybody has shut down, it’s easier to not feel tempted to check your email, because you’re not going to see much come through, right. So we did a couple of forced shutdowns just to encourage people to really take time off. But one of the other the other nuances where I see things heading is we’ve really moved to this new model of work from almost anywhere, I’m using air quotes, because we’re finding more and more people are taking this opportunity have proven Well, I can work effectively from home. I now that the pandemic I’m getting vaccinated, I would love to travel back to the east coast and spend like a month with my family. And so we started seeing more and more of these requests come in. And from an HR perspective, we thought we’ve got to put guard rails around this, this concept of people taking PTO, but then expanding extending it with working from other locations. So we really had to think about, you know, from a tax perspective, how do we, how do we manage this payroll taxes, but also what’s kind of a loose framework. And so we’re calling it work from almost anywhere, and we’re reminding people first and foremost, take your time off, like full stop, take time off. But if you want to travel it, especially in the US, you want to travel and stay somewhere for an extra week or two and work from there, make sure first of all, you’re using safe Wi Fi. So use good judgment there. But absolutely, if it’s a high performing employee, they’ve been proving they can you know, they’re not sitting in an office, it doesn’t matter to us if they’re here in Portland, or they’re in Arizona, it’s they’re getting their job done. And I think more and more companies are going to have to stay flexible to these scenarios, too. As people really start getting vaccinated and wanting to travel,
Andrea Herron 18:26
right. I mean, we all want a change of scenery. So you know, I’ve seen that popping up too. And there certainly are tax implications if someone’s in a place for a while and time zones, you know, are you available during at least core business hours is a way that we’ve kind of thought about it. We’re all over the US anyway. So you know, time zones can be tricky. But like what are the core business hours that we want everybody to at least be available for a quick chat. So that’s actually something.
Susy Dunn 18:54
And those were things we thought about. And so we really worked on some programming and education for managers, employees of how to be able to navigate through those scenarios. And, and just, rather than being surprised by people saying, Oh, I’m working from Arizona this week, making sure in the front end, they’re sharing with us and we’re able to be able to say yes, we can approve this, because like you said, we have to be really mindful about how long they’re in any one location. And so that’s where working with our tax advisors, they gave us a really good advice. And so we’ve put a policy program in place and so far it’s working well.
Andrea Herron 19:26
Great. I mean, I love the the phrases remote first and work from almost anywhere. So if you haven’t trademarked those people can. That’s right. I’m curious about the forest shut down. I think that’s a really intriguing idea, because then it absolutely takes the pressure off that. Oh, I’m off, but I know they still expect me to respond to email. You know, did you get pushback on that concept from a roadmap and deliverable perspective? Like, oh, we couldn’t possibly do that because we’ll be so far behind or were they like we need it because if not, we’re gonna burn ourselves. down?
Susy Dunn 20:00
Well, we absolutely considered knowing the cycles of our business I did the executive team we looked at and said, Okay, what would be times that it would naturally make sense to do this. And so we are our calendar is aligned to the the calendar year and the fiscal year are aligned, it should say. And so like it made sense for us, as we wrapped up the first half, we got to the end of June, and we were starting July, let’s give everybody we did a five day weekend, let’s give everybody a five day weekend to rest and recharge to come back for the second half. And then the very last week of the year, our business cycles. Now, it’s not been this way at other companies I’ve worked at but our business cycles were such that the majority of all of our main deals close by at least December 15, there could have been some important things coming through the last week of the year. So what we said was we’re making the last week of the year and no meeting week, and only unless you had a critical deal, or there was some, some something and we defined like a couple of items critical to the business would be the only reason to stay connected in. And so we approached it that way. And it worked really well.
Andrea Herron 21:07
I like that and just saying we’re taking a four day weekend, or we’re taking Thursday, Friday, Monday, or making it an extension of the weekend, not even a whole week, you know, really lets people feel like they can disconnect. So that’s more reasonable, I would say for the average business even to do a Friday or, you know, something we’ve done here in the past, we call them summer Fridays. So you can pick a couple of Fridays in the summer that you leave a half day, or you know, you could pick one day or the day before a holiday. I mean, there’s so many ways to go about it where most businesses are winding down or slower on those days anyway. So take advantage of it. Absolutely. And
Susy Dunn 21:47
one thing I like too is there certain company wide programs we can run, but really helping get the programs driven down to the really the team level working by department what works for them. One of our departments they last summer, they did similar to the approach we’ve taken is said we’re going to make Fridays a no meeting day, and make sure at least by one o’clock on Friday, if people can shut down, they feel like they have all their work done. They’re in a good place. They want to shut down. They’re, they’re empowered to do so. You know, so departments could also look at what works for them. And I really always like that approach to
Andrea Herron 22:23
Yeah, I mean, it’s anyone mad about no meeting? You know, I think we do so many meetings. And now when it’s video all the time, I don’t know that everyone appreciates how draining that is to be on. And it’s not the same as being in person because you’re not getting that energetic feedback or, you know, the positive body language and things so but it’s just the one way is actually pretty exhausting. So if you can’t do a no meeting day or no beating Friday for your business, you could do a no video meeting, maybe try that great idea. Yeah, well,
Susy Dunn 22:58
it’s a great idea. Yeah, we often say we make video optional for quite a few meetings, really telling people. If you feel you need to not have video on, we’re not going to judge that. But I still think there is an innate pressure. If you’re looking and you see everybody else on video, you’re still going to feel compelled. So I love that approach. I think I might take that idea.
Andrea Herron 23:17
You should. And there’s so many social dynamics at play and all of this. We’re like one big experiment right now. So try it out. I mean, if it doesn’t work, or if it’s not right, then try something else. Absolutely. So before we let you go, did you have any other kind of tips or insights related to the time off or parental leave or just pieces of wisdom that you’d like to share in case someone can implement into a policy or something for their staff? Well,
Susy Dunn 23:49
the only other maybe piece to add is so I mentioned we’ve moved remote first. And so we’ve spent a lot of time over this past several months really redesigning our space to be conducive to connecting, collaborating. And so we’ve actually redesigned our office with desk people can check out with the conference rooms, we’ve we’ve redesigned those and really making the concept of the conference room isn’t the meeting room Zoom is the meeting room just to remind people as folks do start going back into the office, that just because you don’t see someone doesn’t mean they’re not working. And then we’re also creatively coming up with ways to connect people more before we do start opening the office and getting back out in person more because we’re already sensing that feeling of awkwardness as we start getting back together in person. And so we’ve intentionally come up with some really fun, cross functional ways to engage employees, it is on Zoom, but just to even engage people that may not have connected, we’re doing quite a few intentional things there to try to take the pressure off when we all do start eventually seeing each other in person.
Andrea Herron 24:54
That’s a great tip and reminder that it is going to be awkward. Let’s just acknowledge it. You don’t have to pretend like it’s not. I mean, it’s gonna be awkward. So do something about it now to make it a little less awkward when the time comes. Absolutely. Awesome. Well, I would like to ask you one more question that we ask all of our guests here. And that is to tell us one thing about yourself that we may not know. Well, I knew you were
Susy Dunn 25:21
going to ask me that. And I tried to think of something in case anyone who knows me is listening, that I don’t think I’ve shared a lot. And that is when I grew up. I had my heart set on being in politics, and I wanted to be a state senator, specifically a state senator for Oregon, because I thought I could make a really big impact there. And I even started my degree as Polly psi. And then then I ended up switching degrees. But that’s what I thought I wanted to do. And I grew up and realizing in my career, how much I have to leverage the ability of being politically savvy, I think I’ve found a great career, but I always thought I’d be a politician, which is funny.
Andrea Herron 26:01
All right, you heard it here, folks. You heard it here. First, everybody. No, I mean, you basically did get that job just in a different way.
Susy Dunn 26:10
I did dealing with all the different constituencies, and really trying to make sure you’re serving the communities and, and the people around you. So it is it’s funny, but as I was thinking, like, you know, I didn’t want to be in politics. I never went that direction. I’m glad I didn’t. But I was a goal when I was little.
Andrea Herron 26:25
Right? Well, I think, you know, a lot of people go the traditional business HR path, a lot of people happen into it, like yourself, and then, you know, sometimes having a background in politics or psychology in particular, I think do help you navigate the human dynamics and political dynamics on the job. So you know, there’s
Susy Dunn 26:46
overlap there for sure. That’s a whole nother podcast topic.
Andrea Herron 26:49
All right. All right. Well, maybe we’ll have you back. We’ll just go there. Alright, well, thank you so much for your time, really appreciate it. And I think our audience will, hopefully be able to take a lot of that information and maybe make some really awesome changes for their staff.
Susy Dunn 27:06
And it’s been so great connecting. Thank you for asking, and I’ve really enjoyed today. All
Andrea Herron 27:11
right. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you next time. Thank you for listening to the HR scoop podcast. Please take a moment to rate and subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google, or directly at WebMD health services.com/podcasts