We all play a wide range of roles in our personal and professional lives, which may include parent, child, spouse, partner, friend, manager, and leader. When the pandemic hit, we still inhabited those roles, but often with new dimensions and new urgency: teachers for our children, counselors for our friends, and cheerleaders for our local businesses.
As leaders, we took on new roles, too. As Workday’s chief people officer, for example, the health and well-being of our Workmates has always been an important part of my job, but the focus on these areas increased dramatically, and I had to view them through a completely new lens.
2020 challenged us to stretch our responsibilities like never before, but as I reflect on the year, not everything in human resources was a 180-degree shift. I’m proud that as a company, we were focused on many of the right things before the pandemic: employee experience, belonging and diversity (B&D), and agility. What changed was the intensity and urgency of our efforts in these areas.
Employee Experience Gets More Personal
Even before COVID-19, the holistic well-being of the workforce—emotional and mental health, physical health, financial health, and family life—was quickly rising to the top of every organization’s priority list. We’ve always been laser-focused on our Workmates and their experiences at Workday, but meeting people where they are has never been more important.
While we’re all being impacted by the pandemic, I heard a fellow CHRO accurately point out that “we’re all in the same storm, but we’re in very different boats.” People might be living alone and missing in-person connections; they might be juggling the responsibilities of caring for young children at home while working full-time; they might be a member of our Black community, trying to process the social injustice we witnessed this past year.
These are just a few examples, and the reality is many people faced—and continue to face—several of these circumstances at once, making it more critical for us to consider the unique needs of each Workmate and take into account the whole person. To accommodate a range of situations, we provided new benefits, from financial support to caregiver support to a menu of flexible schedule options. Our ongoing goal is to put employees first and help people find or maintain their resilience.
And for leaders, showing compassion and empathy is no longer an occasional experience reserved for someone on the team who’s going through a tough time—it’s a daily necessity. We’ve been catapulted to more personal places in each other’s lives, as kids pop into Zoom calls, dogs bark during presentations, and we try to balance all the demands placed on us. Before COVID-19, we were reluctant to delve into the personal lives of our workforce, but now we welcome each other (virtually) into our homes. As the boundaries between the personal and professional have blurred, we as leaders have prioritized embracing grace and empathy, and our employees have welcomed a more personal approach.
A Renewed Focus on Belonging and Diversity
An overdue outcome of 2020 is that our B&D efforts have grown even more ambitious. Following the death of George Floyd, we recognized that we needed to see more progress, more quickly.
So as an organization, we put our commitments and actions at the forefront. They’re all rooted in VIBETM (Value Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity), which is Workday’s unique approach to B&D. Under the leadership of Carin Taylor, our chief diversity officer, and with the full engagement of our executive team, we took steps to understand why some of our B&D outcomes were not matching our good intentions. We created a dedicated team to turn our ideas into concrete programs and practices, and we developed company commitments backed by an increased investment of $45 million over the next three years in B&D.