Recognizing Employees for Their Lives Beyond Work

BY Lisa Jaffe | November 17, 2022

Before the pandemic, a work team might have sat around a table in a conference room and discussed the weather, or the latest sports scores, before delving into work. You might have known that your colleagues had kids or were married, but chances are you would not have known the kids’ names or how the couple met.

Since large numbers of people began working remotely, though, we have learned far more about our colleagues and employees, from the reactions their dogs have to squirrels, to what their tired 2-year-old sounds like, and just how much someone’s partner likes mid-century modern. With so many people working from their homes, we got to know our colleagues as whole people, which comes with a whole host of benefits.

Will some of those benefits stick around in the post-pandemic era? During a recent From Day One webinar on “Recognizing Employees for Both Their Work and Life,” sponsored by the employee-recognition platform Achievers, a panel of HR leaders talked about the lessons learned for making the workplace more open and welcoming. Each of the five speakers highlighted a different method. Among the highlights of the conversation, moderated by Shana Lebowitz Gaynor, author and correspondent for Insider:

Engagement Through Volunteering

For Zebra Technologies, a mobile-computing company, volunteering is a passion, said Melissa Luff Loizides, VP of HR. The company has 120 offices in 54 countries and is always seeking ways to build ties between employees. “Volunteering has been a great opportunity to do that,” said Loizides. “We give employees 32 hours a year to volunteer someplace that is a personal or corporate passion for them.”

Although it is leadership-led, volunteering has grassroots strength. Zebra just completed its third annual Zebra Gives campaign and saw “exponential growth” in employee contributions. “I think that really speaks to the whole self of our employees,” said Loizides. A large group of U.S.-based employees completed the Great Cycle Challenge to raise funds for childhood cancer research and care. Together they brought in more than $100,000. “That’s hundreds of Zebras donating their time and getting others to join in the contributions.”

Personal Connections in a Hybrid World

Allison Lyons, VP of HR for Frontier Communications, a digital infrastructure company, is no stranger to remote working arrangements. She led dispersed, remote teams before the pandemic. Over the last ten years, she learned that when you can’t be physically present with employees on a daily basis, it becomes imperative to have regularly scheduled check-ins to gain insight into their personal journeys and struggles.

Speaking on recognition, top row from left: Mario Ellis of WellSpan Health and Allison Lyons of Frontier Communications. Middle row: Fahd Alvi of Oerlikon, Melissa Luff Loizides of Zebra Technologies, and moderator Shana Lebowitz Gaynor. Bottom row: Denise Malloy of Johnson Controls (Image by From Day One)

Lyons mentioned one former employee who wanted to be with her grandmother in the hospital at the end of her life. At a time when remote work wasn’t yet commonplace, Lyons allowed her employee work from her grandmother’s bedside for several months.

“She was able to be there, but also still participate as an employee and not feel stretched. At that time it felt different for someone to be able to do that.” Frontier carried that philosophy forward into the pandemic, and now it’s not such a strange occurrence for employees to have the flexibility to work from wherever they need to be.

Having a progressive attitude about the whole lives of workers has helped companies compete in the recent war for talent, said Denise Malloy, VP and global head of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for Johnson Controls. But at world-class companies with best-in-class employment policies, the rate of attrition has not changed all that much.

“Culture is the way to win the war,” she said. “If you solidify your culture, if you take care of your people, if you provide opportunities, you will do a much better job of winning the war for talent than if you simply try to establish the brand and get people in the door. That can be easy. But can you keep them there?” The upshot: “Never allow work to trump our humanity,” Malloy said.

In Benefits and Rewards, Everyone’s Needs Are Different

Oerlikon, an engineering and technology innovation firm, initially looked to compensation as a method of improving retention, said Fahd Alvi, head of rewards and organizational effectiveness. Oerlikon took a living-wage approach and found gaps, especially among hourly workers. Once that was sorted, Alvi said they addressed other benefits.

For example, Alvi sent out a benefits survey in the heart of the pandemic. “It was an eye opener. Everyone’s priority is different, and everybody’s needs are different.” They had medical, dental, and vision (coverage), but there was a gap in behavioral health. Oerlikon investigated the active-lifestyle model that it promoted among employees and found they didn’t fund that stated goal. As a result, the company added free gym memberships for employees. Other additions included childcare and eldercare benefits. In all, a dozen new benefits, most of them company-paid, were added as a result of the feedback gained through that benefits survey.

Retention has improved, and employees feel that they are heard and that they have access to benefits their competitors do not offer. “They saw we were investing in them beyond just pay,” Alvi said.

WellSpan Health, a Pennsylvania-based integrated health system, developed a peer-to-peer recognition program for its employees to encourage affinity within the company. Mario Ellis, VP of total rewards at the company, said they created badges tied to company values that anyone can award to anyone else. The badge is delivered to both the person and their manager. There is also an internal page where those commendations are shared within the company. “That helps build engagement,” he said. Thousands have been awarded. During August, every day has different events tied to the badges that bring people together whether they work from home, on-site, or in a hybrid model.

Will the Changes Be Enduring?

Lyons said the pandemic has helped drive home for many people how employees lead whole other lives. “You see each other in a different way,” she said. “The prevailing wisdom has generally been that when you work remote, you’re less connected. But it’s not uncommon for people to ask about my husband and my two kids and ask questions in ways that they wouldn’t have ever asked if we were just in a conference room talking about the weather and moving on.”

The big events of your life, if supported at work, can stay with you for your whole career. Lyons recalled earlier in her career, when she worked for Mayo Clinic, her mother was dying. Because of her employer’s flexibility, she was able to bring her mother to her chemo appointments and work from the hospital. “There’s very little that’s positive about that experience. But one of the blessings is that it changed who I was, as a person made me a better human, a better parent, better manager. I very much understand when my when my team goes through things. These are short periods of an employee’s long life. Take care of your grandmother, work remotely, it’s fine. When we give people that grace, they work harder. And that’s a retention strategy.”

Lyons tries to ensure her team doesn’t have to ask for certain basic kinds of support. For example, she doesn’t schedule meetings first thing in the morning, when people might be getting their kids off to school, or right at the end of the day, when they may have other family responsibilities. “At the end of the day, if people don’t feel cared about, it doesn’t matter–you can give me the best pay and benefits, but if you tell me I can’t make my kid’s event, I’m out.”

Ellis agreed that when you have a team member who needs support, you should find a way to provide it, and you should provide methods for individuals’ humanity and personality to shine through. “At the end of meetings, I ask what’s going on in their lives. We go around the room and talk about what we’re going to do for the weekend or what’s going on with our child or what’s going on in a family. It brings a sense of humanity to the team.” People may not leave because of compensation or benefits, he said, but will consider it if they don’t have a good relationship internally with their peers or their manager.

Loizides has a child with special needs at home, and during the lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic, her son would ask her every day what she wanted to drink, often while she was on Zoom meetings. Loizides said she could have turned off her camera, but she didn’t. She would ask her son playfully for some bubbly, and he would bring her seltzer water. It was a moment of humor and humanity. “We came together and celebrated our children and our spouses and our crazy dogs and cats and all other sorts of things that were going on. As we’e moving back into the office environment, now we can appreciate that we’re all showing up to work in different ways.”

Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her son and a very needy rescue dog named Ellie Bee. She enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and trying to get better at ceramics.


Tech-Powered Ways to Recognize Your Team

When Magdalena Bugallo, director of total rewards experience at VCA, opened an ecard on Boss Appreciation Day this year, she was moved to tears.“There were words of appreciation from my team, and for me that was amazing because I built this team from scratch. We had been getting to know each other for the past year. And it filled my heart and made me cry,” Bugallo told journalist Lydia Dishman, moderator of the recent From Day One webinar titled “How Tech Can Boost Engagement and Recognition.”In this new hybrid and remote work era, using tech to recognize others can be as simple as that. This is good news because employees who think their company will recognize them are 2.7 times more likely to have high engagement at work, according to Zippia.But business leaders also need to know which technologies and practices are motivational and informative versus fatiguing or counterproductive.Recognizing Team Members in the MomentOrganizations are already using communication tools to effectively recognize employees immediately, instead of waiting for their performance review or a big corporate event.Supriya Bahri, vice president of global total rewards at Roblox, says whenever one of her direct reports has a work anniversary, she writes one or two short paragraphs on the team’s Slack channel to acknowledge the event. Those individuals have begun to do the same for their direct reports.“If it’s the first anniversary, it’s a three or four-line story about how we met and how we’re so excited looking at how far we’ve come,” Bahri said. “And if it's the year three anniversary, it’s reflecting back on the year and thanking them for it.”Microsoft Teams has a function that VCA uses to celebrate employees in a team chat or via a private message, says Bugallo.“It has visuals like a unicorn that means, ‘You’re amazing,’” she said. It also allows managers to recognize employees when they display values such as leadership or courage, Bugallo added.Recognition For AllEveryone is different regarding how they like to be recognized, and respecting that difference is critical, says Katrina Hall, director of human resources at VSP Vision.For example, Hall had a team member she wanted to recognize for the extraordinary way she faced adversity. Hall planned to praise her on a company-wide platform, but the employee told her she disliked recognition on the platform and found it disingenuous. She told Hall, “the people who really appreciate me will tell me directly. I don’t want the fanfare.’”On the other hand, “I have other people on my team that need that larger recognition,” Hall said. “You have to lean into your team and ask, ‘How do you want to be recognized? What’s important to you?’ In knowing that, then you hit the mark every time.”Everyone’s Voice MattersOne essential way to recognize employees is to make them feel like their opinions matter, which can be challenging to accomplish in a hybrid workforce, says Bahri.During Covid, everyone worked remotely, so “we were all a box on the screen. It was leveled,” she said.Now some employees are physically present in a room while others are still boxes on the screen. Bahri says some in the latter group weren’t actively participating in meetings, so she told the team leaders to “watch out for the quieter people, and as we are asking for input from the room, if we haven’t heard from employee A and employee B, let’s ask them, ‘Hey, we haven’t heard from you. How do you feel about it?’”Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth & engagement at Fast Company moderated the webinar (photo by From Day One)Barhi also recommended companies take advantage of Zoom’s breakout room feature to allow remote workers to meet in smaller teams “because some people are more comfortable discussing an idea among three people versus 15.”Employee engagement and recognition can be challenging for large corporations with team members across the globe.“We’d like to have a little bit of fun. Who doesn’t?” said Seema Bhansali, vice president of employee experience and inclusion at Henry Schein.That’s why the Henry Schein Games began. Employees were randomly split into two teams: Team Henry and Team Esther, Esther referring to Esther Schein, co-founder of the company. Each team was given the opportunity to engage through competition and surveys on topics such as how they volunteer. The company set up a specific website for the games where employees can check the leaderboard, post pictures, and engage with each other. A few Henry Schein sites even held field days for in-person competition.“It was amazing to see the transformation from some of the most serious people in our organization, just getting into the fun and chatting on teams with one another,” Bhansali said.The company also has various clubs where employees worldwide can bond through shared hobbies such as gardening or gaming.“It’s an appreciation for the team to say, ‘Hey, jobs well done,’” Bhansali said. “You also need to unwind. It’s a focus on wellness and connection in a time when we are a little bit disconnected because of the way that we work.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Achievers, who supported this webinar.Mary Pieper is a freelance reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | December 04, 2023

Using AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent, While Avoiding the Pitfalls

The influence of AI on our world is profound and ongoing, though its effects may be more understated than the sensational headlines suggest. Instead of the Matrix abound, AI is enhancing the work of human hands by simplifying or eliminating rote tasks, and making it easier for companies and workers to focus on more important tasks.“AI is a job transformer, right? What it is basically doing is automating things, like high volume, repetitive tasks. And it is giving us more time to think and do something that we’re good at like problem solving,” said Ankur Saxena, SVP & head of strategic operations and talent at Mphasis.One of those areas of work where AI is improving processes, and will continue to streamline on both the client and user end, is in hiring and talent acquisition. But there are many pitfalls, namely in how AI carries human biases. During a recent From Day One webinar, Matt Charney, talent acquisition leader at, spoke with professionals in-the-know about AI and how it affects talent acquisition.The Genetics of Bias in AI“There was one very famous article about Amazon creating an AI hiring bot, and it failed miserably because it was trained on data. The data was from all the people who are working in the firm. Being about 70-80% males, they unintentionally created a sexist AI hiring tool. It kept on selecting only people who are males,” said Saxena.The matching of resumes to job descriptions has been a practice for over 20 years, with a historical feedback loop embedded in the machine learning and AI processes, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Filtered.To overcome bias Saxena says organizations need to look at the data AI is getting trained on, because the people training the AI carry their own inherent biases. Next you have to monitor the output so you can understand the results you’re getting. He likens this to going to the gym and maintaining an exact regimen but never seeing any increases and positive changes in your abilities. You have to change your workout to see different results.The full panel of speakers from top right: Dan Finnigan of Filtered, Ankur Saxena of Mphasis, Alec White of Computershare, Madeline Laurano of Aptitude Research, and moderator Matt Charney of (photo by From Day One)Madeline Laurano co-founder of Aptitude Research turned the discussion to ethical AI and how it should be defined by transparency and specific use. “Ethical AI is pretty much defined by transparency. And are these providers going to be transparent with their algorithm? Or are they going to be transparent with the methodology that they’re using? Are they constantly re-evaluating it?”Focusing on ethics, Charney directed the panel to think about two questions. First, will AI reduce bias going forward, or is automation bias simply replacing hiring bias? And within an organization, who is responsible for making ethical decisions behind AI-driven processes?“I firmly believe that AI and recruiting is by definition biased, and maybe significantly so,” Finnigan said. He says that earlier in his career with Hot Jobs, product people found candidates using unseeable fonts to game the algorithm, and basically create a marketing document for themselves. On the company side, hiring managers would do the same, adding in things to make the job more appealing.“And so it is biased by definition. It's just like the way we read news on social media; it's an echo chamber. So I would argue it's a bias accelerator so that we don't have to take the time to really try to figure out what's in the resume, or for the candidate to really figure out what's in the job description.” Finnigan says that the power of generative AI should be one that double checks bias and includes a process that is better at matching verified job skills, instead of just looking for patterns in applicants it's been trained to favor.AI Is Still in its InfancyUnfortunately, there aren’t a lot of companies out there that use AI very well for the hiring process, according to Laurano. She referenced Amazon's crash and burn with AI recruiting as a cautionary tale that’s still scary to a lot of talent acquisition leaders.Charney turned to Alec White global head of talent acquisition at Computershare, which is in the early stages of that journey. White is working on the applicant tracking system. “We started with some fundamental things like digital interviewing, and self scheduling of interviews. And that, from the very beginning, felt natural. It’s the feedback loop that we’ve talked about.” White says that based on their metrics, their process doesn't “feel off putting to candidates, but like they are interacting with something human.”“They could interview with us at midnight, with a digital interview, and then the system would tell them, ‘Hey, this is what is next’ and respond to questions and send them information that was customized to their role,” White continued. He says by personalizing the application process it doesn’t feel like a black hole with an automated email at the end saying not you.Defining the Perfect AI Recruitment Tool“I completely see it as an enhancer. I see AI as providing tremendous value to TA professionals, whether that’s being a campus recruiter all the way to a TA leader. “There’s lots of value in a lot of these use cases where AI can come in and improve the recruiter experience,” said Laurano.She referenced research her firm did in early 2021 that looked at the recruiter experience. There were 14,000 job openings for recruiters that January, and the research found that they were wasting their time on tasks like managing job boards, manually advertising jobs, scheduling interviews, and more,  instead of connecting candidates with jobs. “AI can provide tremendous value in a lot of these use cases for recruiters. And I think recruiters that better understand and get excited about AI, they can get excited about generative AI."“If you view a human as an algorithm, and you view AI as an algorithm, what do you trust as having less bias? We bring these biases into our organization, and it’s hard to unlearn those. But with AI, you can unlearn things, you can retrain it, and you can reduce bias in a way that you really can’t do with humans," Laurano added.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Filtered, for sponsoring this webinar.Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | November 15, 2023

How Innovative Companies Put Advanced HR Technology to Work

What are the most important HR technologies right now? Skills management, learning experience platforms, and internal talent marketplaces, according to a 2023 Gartner survey. Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth and engagement at Fast Company cited these findings in a recent From Day One webinar. HR leaders will have to persuade key stakeholders to adopt the new technology, justify investing in HR tech, and figure out a roadmap for rapid tech transformation, which isn’t easy.“Yet, while nearly half of the HR leaders surveyed said that driving better business outcomes was their top priority, implementing these tech tools needed to bolster the strategic focus hasn’t quite caught up,” Dishman said.Managing Talent“The pandemic was definitely a mode where we saw a dramatic push to get employees in all the countries we operate in,” said Jason Radisson, CEO and co-founder of Movo. “From a tech space, we’ve seen the pendulum swing from talent acquisition technologies to workforce management technologies.” Now he says there’s more focus on using technology to manage the workforce. Like mobile apps, for example, being used to not only gather data on their frontline workers but allow for frictionless interactions.“If you're asking what the future looks like, it’s a mobile application. If we could talk to somebody on Saturday and have them working Monday morning, that’s an ideal world. Or talk to them on Sunday and have them download the app, do the hiring paperwork and get to work. That’s really what we were going for.”Simon Taylor, head of organizational effectiveness at Gap, Inc., honed in on what drives decisions in the management space. “What are the core questions we need to answer? And then what’s the data that’s going to enable us to be able to answer those questions?” Taylor said one of those major sets of questions is around understanding the pain points because that’s where there’s opportunity to come up with solutions.“There’s always a need to continuously focus on what those questions are, revisit them and then modify them over time to ensure that you’re answering different questions as the business model evolves and the market evolves,” said Eyad El Hindi, vice president of HR technology & operations at Catalent Pharma Solutions.Reflecting on lessons learned about frontline workers during the pandemic, Dishman pointed out that “a happy worker makes a happy customer.” Workers who feel supported by their company have better morale, and better worker morale means better customer service. Better customer service can lead to bigger positive feedback loops in terms of revenue.Dishman moderated the panel about “How Innovative Companies Put HR Technology to Work” with panelists Simon Taylor of Gap, Eyad El Hindi of Catalent Pharma Solutions, and Jason Radisson of Movo (photo by From Day One)A big part of that morale boost is how well companies integrate technology to enhance the work life of the employee. “From a skill standpoint, it's really thinking through, what are the skills that we need for these individuals to be able to be successful to provide a positive customer experience to feel comfortable and confident on the floor and engaging with customers and serving them?” Taylor said.El Hindi touched on the fact that as companies adopt AI technology, they will need a “more dynamic workforce” to manage the use of those technologies. “I think the key thing is acquiring talent with that skill. But then how you sustain that overtime is another dimension, right?” El Hindi said.Looking at hiring, Dishman pointed out that the AI technologies the panelists talked about were supposed to eliminate bias in the hiring process, which they don’t always do. “Are there good use cases for incorporating AI tech tools, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers?” Dishman asked.“You hit the nail on the head in terms of the journey on the TA side with bias and the promise of removing bias” said Taylor. He emphasized that even though many companies are beholden to the technology they use, their using that technology, experimenting with it, and exploring its limits is also an important part of the journey. How you have meaningful insights in hiring quality candidates based on a job profile using AI is really the question companies are trying to answer, says Taylor.“I think what is underpinning that in some respects is the volume of work that happens on the TA side with our field organization, and how can we use that to compliment, not to replace our recruiting team. To be able to help make sure that we’re really putting the net out as wide as we can to be able to attract the right diverse candidates” Taylor added.Stepping Into the Unknown“The most important thing for us to make sure we’re getting right when it comes to change management and driving adoption with these kinds of things, is getting that sponsorship secured upfront. And when I say sponsorship, I mean the leaders that provide that legitimacy and role modeling, and getting them on board first,” Taylor said.El Hindi added that when deploying new technologies you have to have a clear understanding of what’s in it for them. Ensuring that the people who will use the technology “understand the corporate benefit to why it’s being adopted, both from a productivity cost perspective” is key, he said.“You understand that I have an individual personal benefit to what's been deployed. It’ll help me run my organization better. It’ll help me get greater insights into the workforce that I oversee, empower me to do more with technology,” El Hindi said.This isn’t surprising to Radisson who says the heritage of HR is conservative “because it’s focused on compliance,” which usually makes it late to advancements in technology.“So if we all agree on what the future should look like, and then you take that gap with the senior team or with your operating team, you really have to pick it apart and look at that gap and decide what the actions, use cases, and implementation of technology is going to be in order to fill that gap. And then you get people working concretely on things,” said Radisson.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Movo, for sponsoring this webinar. Matt Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | November 14, 2023