Andrea Herron 00:03
When future talent is deciding to apply for a job, what are their most important considerations? Well, if they’re like most of us right after the job description and salary range your employee benefits page is going to be next. The reason is simple. Employees directly relate benefits to their overall perception of well being. And HR leaders are constantly adapting their benefit offerings to meet the needs of their evolving workforces. But let’s be honest, some employee benefits are way more interesting than others. 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. So welcome, everybody. Today we have Gina Romano, that we’ll be talking to, and I’m so excited to have you here. Gina. Welcome.
Gena Romano 01:12
Thank you. Great to be here.
Andrea Herron 01:14
Great. So, you know, first off, I think it would be wonderful to learn a little bit about you and your kind of your past your current role in your organization.
Gena Romano 01:24
Sure. Yeah. So let’s see, I’ve been in HR for about 12 years, started my career in recruiting moved into a more generalist role. After a few years, I worked for a credit card processing company and Nebraska before working for L’Oreal for about six years. And I held a few different HR leadership positions with L’Oreal. You know, the beauty industry is such an interesting space to work in. And the people are so passionate and creative about what they do. And specifically, I think the investment L’Oreal puts on their HR teams and career paths is best in class. And the great thing about L’Oreal is you have so many options to take your career in whatever direction that you want. And so for me, I wanted to move out of Nebraska and get to the west coast. So an opportunity came up with a new brand they had just acquired in Los Angeles, and I jumped on it. So I worked for that brand for about three years, helping these newly acquired employees integrate into the massive L’Oreal infrastructure and building out the HR team. And then in March 2018, centerfield came knocking and I took a leap of faith left the industry and people that I knew so well and I joined the tech space. So Ben was centerfield for about two and a half years, and my time here has really been a whirlwind. You know, we’ve been through so much in a few years, and we’ve acquired multiple companies, we have more companies we’re going to acquire in the upcoming years, we’ve grown our international and domestic presence, we’ve launched new platforms, new technologies, probably most importantly, though, we’ve evolved our culture so that it’s tailored exactly to what the employees want. And I consider myself really lucky to work for a progressive company who puts people and values first and foremost. And I think that’s really important for me, and for any HR team. So when I joined, there was actually no HR team or structure that was in place. So a lot of my time has been spent building out this function and my team. And now we efficiently manage all principles of HR for about 1500 employees internationally. And reflecting on this past year. You know, I don’t think there’s anything that me or my team could have done to prepare for this pandemic. But we’ve absolutely taken it in stride and managed to keep those employees happy and engaged. And I think that’s really all you can ask for this year.
Andrea Herron 03:56
Absolutely. Well, we have so much to discuss, and I am excited to jump in. I mean, Nebraska to La beauty to tech, I’m from Kentucky, so you know, Kentucky to the West Coast, and it’s all different. But at the base of it, it’s all about the people, and the people doing the work regardless of industry. And I think that’s one thing that makes HR so interesting is that no matter what size of company you have, or what industry you’re in, you can always bring it back to the individual. And what that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is to keep them engaged in the work. So well, that is incredibly interesting. As I said, I’ll try not to pepper you with too many questions. There’s so much to know. So, you know, you said something about a lot of international and acquisitions. And I’m curious kind of the we’ll just go with prior to the pandemic, you know, did you have a heavy office culture have you moved to more remote kind of what was that like yesterday how it is now?
Gena Romano 04:59
Great. Question. Prior to the pandemic, we have always had a strong focus on the culture and believe that that’s what keeps employees happy and keeps them with your company in the long run. We’ve won best places to work in LA for five years in a row. And we’re really proud of the culture that we’ve created. And we have a team of individuals who are really good at what they do. And the culture team spends a ton of time listening to the employees and tailoring exactly what they’re asking for and then implementing it. So prior to the pandemic, we actually didn’t have a remote or work from home policy. So the majority of our employees came into the office and were expected to work in the office. So that was probably the biggest change once the pandemic hit was shifting to from 100% of the office to 100% remote. And you know, we had such a strong focus on events when we were in the office. So every month, we had team building events and happy hours and yoga classes, meditations, kickboxing, free lunches, we did as much as we could to keep the employees happy in the office. And when we switched to remote. You know, I think a lot of conversations we had were how in the heck are we going to keep this incredible culture that we’ve built, that really is based on being next to people and now turn that into a virtual environment that people can thrive in, we looked at what did people need to be successful at home. And we think that a home office that they can feel comfortable in was first and foremost, important. So we gave all of our employees a $500 stipend to spend on their home office equipment to make sure they’re comfortable. So if they needed chairs, or extra monitors, or wireless keyboards, whatever it may be, we allowed them to expense that. And then secondly, our culture team just started researching what virtual events you can do. And I think a lot of people at this point, you know, eight months post pandemic, or maybe feeling a little zoom burnout. But I think when you pepper in different events that are engaging and fun, and you tie in gift cards and and prizes, people absolutely are into it. And we’re missing that personal connection, when you’re at home all day, every day. But when you can see your colleagues faces and have a laugh, and you know, enjoy a fun trivia night with them, it really does go a long way. So we’ve been doing tons of virtual events and wellness activities and competitions. You know, we’ve made some videos that are spanning across our different sites and all the states that our employees live in, and it’s been surprisingly manageable for our team to really stay connected.
Andrea Herron 07:46
I mean, that is I think we are all facing in the HR profession right now. You know, not only were we typically pretty office based with our culture revolving around the, you know, in tech, you know, what cool beers in the fridge? And what ping pong table do we have? Yes. And even for those not in tech, you know, what office events do you host to? Now everybody is remote immediately. And by the way, you can’t lose culture and with a pandemic going on myself to stay connected, and turn it on a dime, because we need all these answers yesterday. And it has been such a fascinating time to be part of human resources. And I truly hope highlights the value that this profession brings to organizations and you know, long gone are the benefits people think of just healthcare, but instead they think of the whole package. And I really, really appreciate the work that y’all did there to quickly get people set up in home office because you don’t have the ergonomic assessment and necessarily the standing desk or you know, whatever equipment you might have. So how did you get buy in for that? Because I’m sure some of our listeners are thinking, Wow, $500 for home office per employee, that sounds incredible. Oh, that office, tell us your secret.
Gena Romano 09:05
No secret, you know, I’m so lucky. We have an incredible executive team or a really well oiled machine. So the team is so respectful of each other’s opinions. And we’re really collaborative. And you know, our co founders, Brett and Jason, they have always and will always put people first. And I think it was a non negotiable discussion point. We had to figure out creative ways to get our employees comfortable at home and without being in the office. And without all of these extra expenses that you have in the overhead of being in the office. We made made space for the line item in the budget and made it happen. And I think when you have a seat at the table and you were you’re respected by your colleagues, these types of changes are totally realistic and you just have to show what the value is and our employees are ever grateful that they were able to use some funds to make themselves more comfortable. And when you think about it to the expectation, when we go back into the office is, is gonna be a combination of working from home and in the office part time. So we need them to be productive at home, even after this pandemic has has passed. And you know, I think for me, it was really just looking at what creative ways we can keep employees happy, have a conversation about it. And like I said, luckily, our team is really receptive to ideas.
Andrea Herron 10:32
That’s amazing, and something we all hope for and can strive for with our relationship building with our leadership teams. You know, I really, I like what you’re saying about the hybrid model, because I don’t think it’s realistic that every office will go back to being fully in the office, because people have shown that they can work remotely. Some like it. Some don’t. Some teams operate better than others, of course, in that model, but I don’t see a future where people are as rigid as they were pre pandemic about working from home. So getting people set up to make that work better for everybody seems really smart.
Gena Romano 11:12
Yeah, it really isn’t. You know, we talked about what about the employees with kids who are, you know, they have two and five year olds at home, is there something we can do in terms of providing them with a stipend for a nanny or something, because I think, you know, I don’t have kids, but for our employees that do I feel that pain that must be so difficult, and trying to manage your workload, while managing your family is not an easy task. And so we’re still thinking of creative ways to make this work for the longer and everything that we implement, I think is also with that very forward thinking perspective of how we can use this down the road as well. So we’ll continue to be creative about it. But I totally agree with you. And that when we do return, it’s going to look really different. We need to make sure employees feel comfortable in the office and at home. And that’s really all there is to it.
Andrea Herron 12:04
Yeah, and as someone with two elementary school children, I can say it is very, very hard. And you know, people can’t work like they’re not parenting or parent, like they’re not working. So you know, it’s a new world where employees are looking to their employer to provide this type of support. It’s just another new evolution of what benefits could contain. And something that always I think about in these situations for people who may not have as much resource or dollars, or they’re not able to reallocate as much, you know, people won’t remember their day to day, you know, what were my goals? What did I achieve, but they will absolutely remember the way they were treated, how they were supported, and what the pressure was, as far as you know, getting the work done, but also balancing being a person.
Gena Romano 12:55
Yeah, you’re so right. And the COVID, burnout is real. And, you know, I see it, and I feel it from our employees. And we have an unlimited PTO policy. And one thing we were thinking about was, you know, when you can travel, you’re more inclined to take PTO, and you can go to social events and weddings, you’re, and you’re gonna take PTO for it. And so, with these restrictions, we noticed that nobody was taking time off. And so we implemented summer Fridays, and they’ve now turned into fall Fridays. So, you know, you get a couple Fridays off every month. And in addition to that, we have manager meetings every month, where we’re encouraging our managers, to force your employees to take time we need it, you’re going to come back and you’re going to feel better, you’re going to be energized. So I think having that awareness and really just being tuned into what the employees need is so important.
Andrea Herron 13:48
Yeah, I’ve noticed that too, is as far as people thinking, what vacation days only vacation day, if I leave my house and go do something else. And for our mental health and burnout, and just generally getting away from the daily grind. It is so important that people continue to take time off. And I found sometimes just reframing it as a mental health day or a down day, or just take a break, helps people see it as an option versus a quote, vacation day, because I’m not on vacation, because we all want to go on vacation, and I want to be on the beach in Hawaii too. But I not and I still need to take a day off from time to time.
Gena Romano 14:28
Yeah, and you know, we have such hard working employees and a lot of them may be tempted to take time off because they’re not doing anything. So that’s why it’s important to push the managers and to make sure that the leaders are setting the example. If the leaders take time off and they show it’s okay, take a couple days. You know add on a Monday to your fall Friday and make it an extra long weekend and just sit on the beach or disconnect, do whatever you need to do that is setting the tone. So the rest of the teams feel like okay, I can take a step back, I can breathe, and we’re going to get through this
Andrea Herron 14:59
Absolutely, and I’m assuming here that the employees have responded overall very well to the changes considering how employee friendly they are. But have you gotten any specific theme of feedback? Or, you know, has anyone really gone out of their way? To give you a different point of view?
Gena Romano 15:18
That’s a great question. You know, I think one of the tough things about HR is that you’re never going to make every single employee happy no matter what you do, we pleaser, it’s so frustrating, you know, we do so much all day, every day, I’m talking about ways we can make our employees happy. And then, you know, when we do surveys, and we get feedback, and there’s 10%, that isn’t happy with the communication or isn’t happy with whatever change, it’s tough to swallow that common themes of feedback we’ve received. At this point, I think being remote for quite a while has really been that the zoom, burnout is starting to be felt. And that, you know, they still want as much communication as possible. So when the pandemic hit, we made a concerted effort to over communicate, and let everybody know that their health and safety is number one, and let everybody know that we’re going to communicate, whenever we have an update as to what next steps will be for our business. I think the over communication for the last eight months or so has now started to feel normal to them. But you know, maybe we need to take it back as we get towards the end of the year and a busy quarter for so we’re just constantly looking at what what can we do to make sure that the direction we’re taking is right for the employees. You know, for the most part, we’ve received really positive feedback that we’ve handled the pandemic as they would expect, we’ve done as much as we can. And all things considered, the employees are pretty happy.
Andrea Herron 16:49
Great, great. And that is an excellent point, I just want to circle back to about the communication. And you know, as you and I know, and I’m sure a lot of our listeners, there’s never enough communication. And in the absence of communication, humans make up the story, and it is never in your favor. Okay. So the more you can communicate, even if there’s not a lot to say, just saying that, and you know, giving anything can really help ease people’s fear and an easiness with the uncertainty that is in the world right now. So if you can make your workplace not a place of uncertainty, but suddenly they can count on to be stable and know what’s going on for, you know, production and you know, all of those things, but just also for the employees well being that is going to go a long way.
Gena Romano 17:37
Absolutely. It’s it’s, I’m spot on with you There couldn’t agree more.
Andrea Herron 17:42
I’m out of curiosity, do you have any examples of employees who took that $500 And did anything extra clever or unique with their home office?
Gena Romano 17:51
I don’t know if I want to share what some people use it for. Because everybody it was it was actually surprisingly, really different. Across the board. Some people got a stand up desk module, other people just got an extra monitor, I would say the most creative is somebody got a pair of noise cancelling headphones, because their neighbors were fighting and they did karaoke a lot. And it was really disturbing to his work. And, you know, part of me was like, noise cancelling headphones is that you know, really what you need. But he was so grateful. It absolutely made him more productive. And at the end of the day, you know, whatever each employee needs is up to them. And we trust that they’re gonna use that to their best ability.
Andrea Herron 18:32
That’s a great example of really valuing the individualization and letting employees have choice because you would have never chosen that for that employee. Yeah, it is the thing that they needed to do the work. Absolutely. That’s awesome. I knew there’d be something because yeah, all right. Well, last question, unless you have anything else you wanted to add? No,
Gena Romano 18:57
I don’t think so. Okay, well,
Andrea Herron 18:58
this is one of my personal favorites. And it’s the one I like to ask all our HR guests here at the end, is to tell us something about you that people may not know as you said, we like to please other people and you know, we’re always looking out for the others. So I like to leave space to find out a little something about you. Oh, my
Gena Romano 19:16
goodness. could go a lot of different directions with this question. You know, my birthday is coming up here in November and I invented pasta speeddating. Do you know what pasta speeddating is?
Andrea Herron 19:30
No, but I want to know
Gena Romano 19:32
I’m Italian. I love pasta. Every year on my birthday. We go and I would get one pasta dish but I always wanted to try for pasta dishes then Yoky the ravioli, the fettuccine the lasagna. So a few years ago, me and six friends went to our Italian restaurant, and I ordered everybody’s dish and I picked seven of the best looking pastas. And then everybody had two minutes with the dish in front of them. And then you pass the dish to the left, and then you get two minutes with the new dish in front of you. And you talk about which dish is best. And it, you know, lots of wine, of course, makes for a great night. And it’s now a tradition. However, I will say with COVID, I don’t think that many of my friends are going to be excited about sharing dishes with me. So we’re gonna have to think of a different way that we can make it work this year.
Andrea Herron 20:27
I love everything about that. And I may have to steal this idea. So I will keep the name and I’m sure you’ll find a way to share the pasta and you know, each person can have their own bottle of wine, you know, there’s no judgement.
Gena Romano 20:41
Absolutely. And a birthday, no better reason than to have a bottle of wine to yourself.
Andrea Herron 20:46
Awesome. Well, thank you again, so much for coming on. I really appreciate you sharing all of your thoughts in the wonderful things that you’ll have going on over there.
Gena Romano 20:54
You bet. Thank you for having me. Hope you have a great day.
Andrea Herron 20:59
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