Andrea Herron 00:02
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 Herron, 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. In part two of my conversation with Brad Federman, we talk about the role technology plays in the HR and corporate culture space, discover ways technology is beneficial in connecting people, and some areas where technology is driving people and organizations further apart. So I’d like to shift now to technology and how it fits into the culture building process. Because from rewardable, wellness programs to employee recognition platforms and social networks, the tools are everywhere to develop culture. But how do you think we should be thinking about technology like AI or automation, impacting culture? You know, I would love to get your thoughts on where this is going. Because it’s going somewhere.
Brad Federman 01:23
I have mixed views I really do. I think technology has a lot of potential to create connections between people and drive a strong culture. I also think it has a lot of potential to drive connections with your customers. But what I’m seeing is a lot of people focusing too much on efficiency and productivity, and cutting out connections with people. And I’m seeing that have unexpected consequences. So what do I mean by that? For the first time in history, you talk about wellness for a lot of the people, but people don’t even trust us wellness programs, they’re built to help employees, but the way they’re done, they see them as a vehicle that helps the company or the employee, or they’re a pain to work with. Because in order to get the benefit from the wellness wellness program, you have to track certain things. And so there’s this emphasis on the employee where they’re feeling like there’s more work that’s being put on them, and the only one that’s really benefiting as the company. So I’m not saying that’s always the case, I’m saying the more I’ve seen, and I talked to employees, there are typically frustrations around a lot of those programs that exist, even though they’re built for benefit. Plus, there’s a lot of distrust, you want me to talk about whether I’m smoking or not smoking and this and that. And it because you got all these programs. I don’t know if I shouldn’t be telling you that right? So you’ve got a lot of those kinds of questions happening with employees.
But in terms of removing connections, so many companies look at things like the engagement survey, for instance, as I check the box. So I’ve seen these wonderful, incredible spreadsheets with all these tasks that have to get done. And you get the tasks done. You know, there’s a bulletin board with all this information on it all. Just they do it in an activity based manner. And then when you sit down and you talk to the managers and the employees, and you say, when did you ask them about the feedback they gave you? When did you really get your clarification about what this meant? What they thought might be a good solution? Why they thought this was an issue? No, and you ask a series of questions. And the answer is they don’t have this conversation. And the beauty of doing an engagement survey, for instance, is it gives you direction on what to explore, and the structure for the conversations you should have with your employees. And yet we’re we avoid that. Right. And I mean, I’ll do surveys and the next year, I’ll get it back. And I’ll and question is whether they you know, they participated in a conversation about the results of the survey. And I’m shocked at how low those figures are right? So they’re not happening. And so we use technology as a vehicle to escape those conversations to escape those connections. And that concerns me you see it in business to a lot of the hotel companies are building systems or have built systems where you can now reserve your room, check in, pick your room, go to your room, open up the door, leave checkout without ever talking to someone. Right? There’s two challenges with that. One is you are now losing your distinction between your brand and the other brands out there because everybody now has a room and that’s all you’re really Kenick is a room.
And by the way, you’ve got Airbnb and VRBO and they give you rooms too. So now it’s becoming a cost decision for a person who’s staying somewhere rather than a value decision for someone staying there. That’s that’s one of the challenges a lot of hoteliers are facing. The second problem you face is that When there is a problem, because employees, they’re less staffed. Right? And they are not used to dealing with people, they don’t know how to deal with it. So now I’ll give you a great example. I was at a hotel in New York City, they lay, they rented me a room, I went to my room, everything was fine. That night, I would sleep woke up the next morning, and I had to use the bathroom, right shower, all that good stuff. And there’s no water. So I called downstairs as Oh, yeah, we have construction going on in the mornings. We don’t have water at on the floors for this floor and above. So the first thing goes through my mind is, why didn’t anybody tell me? Why didn’t I if I didn’t get a message, write something. So they didn’t even use technology to let me know. Right? And no one told me when I when I came into hotel. This question is, why would you? Why would you give somebody a room that has no water usage in the mornings? And that’s it, I gotta go to meeting what should I do? And they said, Well, I’ll tell you what, why do you pack up some of your stuff come down to the front desk. So here I am disheveled, right, I’ve got to, I mean, this is a mess. I’ve got to go to the front desk, to get a key to a room on the lower floors that have water. So then it prompts me to think why didn’t I get a room on the lower floor when you might? And so when I try and talk to them about it, the response I got was, I don’t know. That’s just what that’s what happened. Right? You know, they don’t even know how to handle a conversation about a problem. So as a guest, you’re walking away, kind of ticked off and angry and frustrated, because not only do you have a problem, but they can’t even help you resolve it, because they don’t have practice dealing with issues anymore. Now, think about what happened over COVID. You think they were fully staffed?
No, they’re not fully staff net? Do you think they had made time for things like culture building and huddles, most hotels stopped, right. So that part of the reason you have the problem externally, as we talked earlier, inside out, is we don’t have an internal challenge. And by the way, most of the corporate brands cut back on training and spending with their franchises. And this is not just in the hospitality world. This is it’s so many worlds, where we said we’re not going to do the training, we’re not going to do the culture building. We can’t afford to do it right now. And my question is, maybe the question should should be, you can’t afford not to do it. Because it’s impacting people’s experience. And it’s impacting people’s desire to work with you, and, and spend money with you, right, and that’s the health of your business. So I would tell you, I think technology can be a useful tool, but I see it breaking things down, in many cases, more than building them up. And one of the things that really concerns me is, for the first time in history, we have companies being built and set up for one purpose and one purpose only, which is kind of scary, to remove labor from the workforce. See, we used to have technology that would accent your labor would allow you to focus on strategic efforts, it would support you, we are actually building technology to take people out of the workforce. What does that mean? It means that right now, while we’re facing this labor shortage, and employees have this wonderful leverage to try and get more money, right, which they haven’t had in decades, which is getting wiped away from inflation, but people feel like it’s a victory at the moment. Okay. And they’re taking, they’re taking it for all it’s worth, because they feel excuse the expression, they feel screwed by the last few decades, they felt like companies had the upper hand on them, and took it. So we’re not talking about a great relationship here. We’re talking about a combative relationship here.
It may be under the surface, but it’s still combative. So now they’re taking advantage of it. Now companies are investing massively technology in AI. Why? So they can remove labor from the workforce, be in the driver’s seat, again, not have to rely on on labor and whether it’s predictable or not not have to deal with unions cetera. And what does that mean? It means that late wages will go back down eventually might not take it might take a few years, but it’s gonna go back down. Eventually, people are going to have jobs that will pay less, there’ll be less jobs available for them. And there’ll be a few people with some really cool jobs that get paid a lot of money. And so the trend, that cyclical trend, that pendulum that goes back and forth, that we’ve been facing that has been a battle with talent versus organizations continues. It’s not producing a better relationship is not producing stronger culture. It’s actually breaking it down. And so technology can be utilized to strengthen us or to weaken us and because we are so focused on short term profits, efficiency, productivity and shareholders more than all stakeholders. We are we’re going down a path that is leading us to a very precarious place. And so why I think possibly of technology in many ways, but I’m worried about how we’re using it tends to match us more than we manage it.
Andrea Herron 10:06
Yeah, I think a decade or two from now we’re going to be telling the young people, we used to have to talk to people when we wanted to do things, they will be horrified. But in all honesty, you know, it is a double edged sword, because in a lot of ways, just take the hotel example, you know, you can’t replace the entire human interaction and still have a good experience for most people. But then on the other hand, there are benefits to using some AI or tech service, if you want a restaurant recommendation, or is there a good walking path nearby? You know, some of those things that could be more automated, but not to replace, rather to supplement, but that is the razor thin edge that each kind of industry is going to have to figure out? Yes, you know, and suffice it to say things have been changing rapidly, not just with technology, but the entire world at just exponential rates. And I’m curious what you think about how that change, constantly speeding up will impact our ability to maintain a culture of people working inside of a company trying to accomplish something together?
Brad Federman 11:20
I think it’s going to challenge many companies. But I think the companies that do win and the companies that don’t won’t, and here’s why in the next 10 years, they’ve, they basically have predicted it, because of technology, change will rapidly increasing, there’ll be more of it, it’s exponential. And so I want you to think about this, if you were to, if you had gone to sleep, you’re alive and well. 20 years old and gone to sleep it 1900 The year 1900. And you woke up in the year 2000. Okay, and you missed an entire century, how would you feel it’d be shocking, shocking, blown away, right, the reason we are able to cope with change is because it’s happened gradually over time. But we will no longer have the luxury in the next 10 years, they expect you to face what was 100 years worth of change in 10 years, there will be people that will be left behind, they’ll be companies that be left behind, and things are gonna change so fast, it’s gonna be hard to cope with.
So I have used a quote that I that that means a lot to me. And here’s the quote, culture will become the coping mechanism for an ever changing world. In a world with no constants, we’re going to look for a constant. And the constant will be the culture that we have in our organizations, right? I can’t predict what tomorrow will be. But I can predict how we’re going to treat each other, how we’re going to approach our work, how we’re going to take on this business. And that culture will be a sense of comfort for employees and for customers. Now, if you don’t have that, you will lack everything, and it falls apart. So to me, culture becomes even more paramount, more important in the future, rather than less. It’s the glue that will hold your company together,
Andrea Herron 13:15
right? Because at the end of the day, we are humans and we are social creatures. And so the companies that continue focusing on how people connect, even if it’s virtually you know, even if it’s only every once awhile in person, or maybe it’s everyday in person, you know, there’ll be a host a whole spectrum. But you know, at the end of the day, loneliness is a huge factor for mental health, and all sorts of outcomes. So, in order not only to be successful in your business, but just to be a healthy human, we have to stay connected. And amongst change, a lot of our coping mechanisms have shifted because they either weren’t available, or things have just were different. It’s just a different time are there there’s no going back, we have to go forward
Brad Federman 13:58
and you’re seeing the repercussions. But I think we’re still figuring it out. I mean, if you look at the statistics, the prescription drug use for anxiety in those contexts skyrocketed. sleep medications, prescription sleep, as Asians have skyrocketed the use of those alcoholism, and drinking during the day, even during zoom calls. Because you’re at home and your your you know, no one can see what’s in the cup and they can’t smell your breath. That’s gone way up. Drug use has gone way up. You know, ironically, we have this huge push for remote work. All of the numbers say burnout and stress are outrageously higher for people that are working from home than they are for people who are working in the office. So we are craving something that is damaging us.
Now, I’m not saying don’t don’t focus on remote work, don’t don’t let people work remotely please don’t think that’s my message. What I am saying is if we’re going to do it, we have to understand it better and the impact that has long term effect it has on people because As you’ve got extroverted preference folks that are working from home or dying, because they’re lonely, and you’ve got introverted folks who are happy as a clam, but they’re on an island, and they’ve removed themselves from their team and from collaboration. And that’s not good for the company. And then you’ve got people that want to work from home in roles where the work isn’t suited to work at home. And then you’ve got all these other issues we just talked about, we are figuring this out as we go along. And I’m imploring organizations to take a closer look, because many of them are taking action, and they don’t understand the implications of the actions they’re taking.
Andrea Herron 15:44
Yes, and all of you HR people out there, I just want to say that we see you and we know that this has been a really hard two years and keep it up. You’re doing your best
Brad Federman 15:56
job, I’m right there with you, I have nothing but I have nothing but empathy for people out there on the frontlines of HR, I think that they’re not only dealing with all of the things that are happening with companies, COVID, et cetera. But they’re, they’re in the middle of what I think are just conflicting forces. Right now you have a employee population that wants work life balance, and you have companies that can’t find staff. So they’re asking you to work 60 7080 hours a week, not just the HR people, but everybody else. And so they’re getting it from all sides, you’ve got so many contradictory efforts like that going on within HR right now, where the desire and the reality just don’t even match. It is a losing game. And it is so challenging. So people that are sticking it out and making it happen, I got nothing but kudos and respect for you. Amazing.
Andrea Herron 16:49
It really is. And, you know, I have one more curiosity before we wrap up here. And that’s how you see kind of culture inside of an organization being a potentially a bridge to bring people back to each other. Because we are divided, there is a lot of chaos, there’s a lot of really negative forces out in the world that are tearing even families apart. And I’m curious, if you think inside of a company culture, there could be some bridge there back to each other.
Brad Federman 17:21
Absolutely. I mean, think about it this way, we live in a polarized society. And people are segregating themselves in every aspect of their lives, from where they eat, where they socialize, even their online experiences. So we are now beginning to interact with people that are just like us, because it’s just easier, right. And that’s what people are doing. And understand that people are finding ways to seek comfort. And I get that. But the problem is that comfort doesn’t lead to growth, it actually leads to stagnation. And it leads to a narrow mindedness. And so the only only thing that will lead to is decay. And you’re seeing it in our society, you’re seeing Costco employees being berated flight attendants getting beat up, just all kinds of things that are happening that just didn’t happen to the degree that they are now just was, it was just not prevalent. The workplace is one of the last vestiges for diverse thought, and a range of backgrounds.
So you think about that. We’ve separated ourselves everywhere. One of the last places we we can’t do that in is our workplace. So the other thing that’s different about a workplace is when you leave those four walls, figurative or literal, you can you can claim different teams, I’m a Republican, you’re a Democrat, or vice versa. And you could talk about who was it a win and who’s going to lose, and you can get ugly about it all you want, right? I mean, not that you should, but people are. But when you’re in those four walls, you can’t have multiple teams, your one team, you have to deliver together to succeed. So the idea of an organization, a company is to take people with fast, diverse thought or range of backgrounds, and to create a vehicle culture that allows people of this vast backgrounds to work together productively to work through dysfunctional conflict and make it functional conflict and come out the other eye other side with solutions and ideas and understanding, right? That takes a whole skill set takes empathy, it takes emotional intelligence, it takes the ability to have difficult conversations, and all kinds and, and if you can build that in your company and build that culture and company where people are actually doing it, then they can then take that knowledge, understanding its skill set and take it outside your four walls, and that helps preserve civility and our way of life.
It helps you be competitive, but it helps your community as well. Now here’s, here’s why I say take it seriously and why you have that responsibility. A lot of organizations, organizations would say, That’s not our responsibility. Here’s why it needs to be. Because if you don’t take that responsibility, if you don’t get people from vast backgrounds be able to work together and develop shared norms and understanding, and the skill set to pull that off, then what’s outside happening outside that divisive pneus that’s happening outside will seep into your four walls, and it will destroy the company, you create it. So you don’t have a choice. We either help make it better, or we will fall prey to what’s happening outside our walls.
Andrea Herron 20:39
Yeah, I think what we used to call soft skills are just now going to be required skills.
Brad Federman 20:43
I would agree, I think you’re absolutely right.
Andrea Herron 20:46
May we all strive to move from dysfunction to function. All right. Well, before we let you go, I wanted to ask you our final question that we asked all of our guests here on the HR scoop, which is to tell us something about yourself that most people may not know,
Brad Federman 21:03
you know, this could get me in trouble. You know that right? So I was really thinking about this because I was I was trying to do something that would be interesting. So most people would know that I travel a lot for work. One of the things is that I’m a bit adventurous. So during the Iraq, Kuwait war, the second one, I was traveling a lot to the Middle East. And I spent a lot of time Kuwait. In fact, I was at a hotel where a lot of military personnel would stay there on their way in or on their way out of the war zone. Because it was close by and, and I remember I was I was at this beautiful five star resort, it had about five restaurants, it had a spa, it was it was incredible. And I was sitting down to eat on the beach, at this five star restaurant, an incredible meal. I mean, they treated me really nicely, I would say the client was wonderful. So I’m having this wonderful meal. And it’s about dusk, it’s getting darker. And all of a sudden, I start hearing and seeing what I thought was fireworks. And and I realized very quickly, that I wasn’t seeing fireworks, that the war was just a couple miles down the road.
But I felt guilty. Here, I was enjoying myself and people right down the road. were dying. Yeah, and one of things I love about traveling, not necessarily to Warzones. But wherever you go, situations like that make you think about your life, what you value, what you’re what you’re lucky to have the other thing not, they make you realize who you are, question what what your makeup is, and and so I think when you travel, everybody thinks my learn about other cultures. And yes, you do. But I think the fact that you learn about other cultures, which is a juxtaposition against yours, means that you’re learning a lot about yourself. And one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is, we may learn different customs, we may learn different languages, we may learn different ways to express ourselves. But in the end, we’re all the same, we want the same things.
At our core, we have so much in common. And I’m going to take this too, back to culture, because I’m gonna say this, right now. You’re seeing the great resignation, the great reshuffle, whatever you want to call it, people are searching for something. And what we found in our surveys and our polls, our research is that they’re searching for purpose and meaning in their work. They want to work for a company that’s doing something of value. And they want to know their work means something. And and that means they’re leaving to find it somewhere else. Right. And so, culture is your gateway to that, you know, I use this phrase culture is to recruitment and retention, as food is to hunger. And when you look at the way people are leaving jobs, and moving around so much right now, they’re hungry, we have to give them what they need. purpose, meaning and culture. If you want to want to stop that revolving door in your, your building in your organization. That’s where you need to start
Andrea Herron 24:25
secre insight and take away and thank you for sharing your story. It has been a pleasure having you I hope everybody out there can take a few minutes to think about how your work is making an impact not only in your organization, but also more broadly in your industry and community. And then trying to do that for your staff, or train your managers to think like that because I agree that could be a really important exercise as people are scrambling to find what normal is what value they contribute to their daily life. And that could be a real Easy win. I mean, easy you have to do the work, but making that connection could be a really great place to start.
Brad Federman 25:07
Absolutely. Thank you for having me on. I enjoyed the conversation.
Andrea Herron 25:12
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