Sage-Gavin: Caring is the right thing to do–and good for business

The unprecedented and extraordinary challenges in 2020 have created opportunities for leaders to show up for their people in innovative and progressive ways. Trailblazing leaders take more responsibility for workers’ holistic wellbeing and seek to provide clarity and earn their trust.

And workers now expect more from employers, as in many parts of the world, homes have transformed into workplaces, schools and childcare centers. People are seeking a path forward to help meet their needs and those of their families through a continued period of volatility and unpredictability. Of the many expectations being expressed, compassionate leadership is a priority.

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Accenture’s new research, Care To Do Better, found that by meeting six fundamental human needs through work, companies unlock their people’s full potential and drive growth. The report found 78% of workers feel their employers should be responsible for their whole-person care. Importantly, around half of CXOs interviewed for the research thought the same–up from 35% before the pandemic. The report shows that companies that focus on making their people “net better off” unlock their full potential and grow faster as a result.

Change is Changing for the Better

Businesses are putting in place social innovations to improve their workers’ lives to an extent I’ve not seen in my 30-plus-year career. C-level executives and board members I talk with say they are taking a close look at how their people feel, physically and mentally, and asking what they can do to help improve their employees’ “whole-person care.” They are looking at ways to improve social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion for their people, businesses, boards and communities to survive, thrive and grow. We see evolving examples of these changes and early shifts at a company, community and societal level.

Earlier this summer, tech giant Cisco Systems pledged $100 million to further social justice causes. Last month, it announced a series of pledges and action items to promote equal rights, diversity and pay parity–both within the company’s employee base and beyond. Starting in 2021, Cisco will require preferred suppliers to report workforce diversity statistics to Cisco annually.

I recently talked to Francine (Fran) Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer, about Cisco’s Social Justice Beliefs and Actions initiative. She said this approach helps Cisco’s people feel they belong and ensures they can see themselves in the company’s future. It’s an inspiring approach, and Cisco has seen an uptick in their people’s creativity and productivity.

The HR community has long talked about how we should have a seat on boards and partner closely across the C-suite to drive change. Fran, and her team, turned this on its head and instead asked what the business can learn from workers. This is truly inspiring.

Cisco has genuinely cultivated a “conscious culture,” where workers have as much responsibility for culture and innovation as leadership. Workers are empowered to bring ideas to executives–many of which go on to be adopted. Their people are also given full transparency when issues arise within the company. This partnership level between workers and employers builds trust and reinforces the message that leadership is for everyone.

Empathy in Action

Ellyn Shook (Photo by Dorothy Shi Studio)

Some of the best examples of employee empowerment come from CHROs using one of the most powerful tools at their disposal: Empathy. No one knows the power of empathy better than Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s chief leadership and human resources officer. Ellyn has just been named HRE’s HR Executive of the Year in recognition of her compassionate work and her leadership in responding to the many new priorities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic with unique, breakthrough, collaborative solutions.

For Ellyn, taking care of the mental and physical wellbeing of individuals is paramount. During the pandemic, this has meant listening to people and giving them the means to look after their own wellbeing. For example, Ellyn has launched an e-learning course, “Thriving Mind.” Developed in partnership with Thrive Global, and research from Stanford Medicine, the course focuses on holistic wellbeing and helps workers think through their feelings. While set in motion before the pandemic, the program has proved invaluable in helping people build resilience during this difficult time.

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By empathizing with people and giving them empowering support, Ellyn’s course has had unprecedented engagement, with 130,000 participants in less than two months and is a visible action in support of the wellbeing of Accenture’s workers.

Positive work experiences that unleash people’s full potential, where they all feel valued, supported and empowered, helps businesses emerge better than before from these challenging times. Simply put, it pays to care, and we all need it now more than ever.

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Eva Sage-Gavin
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at [email protected].