…Support the whole person, not just their 9–5 persona. When employers see their workforce as individual humans, employees can feel it and retention and career growth thrive. Axon regularly offers non-role related enrichment and professional development opportunities. We regularly host Affinity Group meetings, staff AMAs, and support employees to attend conferences.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Gabrielle Mellon.
Gabrielle is the Global leader of Talent Acquisition at Axon where she leads a talent acquisition team focused on accelerating Axon’s rapid growth ambitions. Additionally, her focuses are on employment branding initiatives, talent management, and recruitment technology, tools, and processes to drive scale and efficiencies. She leverages 17 years of global HR experience and has a proven record in innovation, program design, and delivery.
She derives personal fulfillment from building people, teams, and strategies to strengthen business objectives and drive long term talent impact.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I’d be happy to share two experiences that stand out. My Godmother is an assistant attorney general in Washington state. Her long-standing nickname is Auntie Pit Bull. She’s known professionally and personally for being direct and candid, which was very different from others in my immediate family. As I completed college, I closely watched her communication style and spent my early twenties developing my own intentional approach to how I communicate and present myself professionally. I am who I am today because of her mentorship and example.
Another formidable experience occurred early in my career. In one of my roles, I was known as a “fixer” and placed on different HR projects every 18–24 months. While challenging, this kept me mentally stimulated and ramped up my career growth. Because of this early experience, I’m comfortable pivoting quickly and don’t shy away from leveraging industry and stakeholder experiences to accomplish my organization’s goals.
These experiences brought me to Axon, a leader in public safety technology, where we collectively work to Protect Life and work on technology that focuses on non-lethal use of force. I’m able to lead the global talent team collaboratively, across our geographies and during a time when many of us are still remote. My previous jobs taught me to always put the team first and my Godmother taught me that it’s imperative to create a safe space for honesty and transparency. I will always be candid with my team and company, sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, while sprinkling in some humor.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
I think we’ll continue to see that the networking for those in the workforce, especially mid-to-late career, is an essential part of finding and successfully getting a new job. Additionally, I believe the emphasis on true work-life balance will only become more popular among employees and valued by employers.
On the flip side, we’re already seeing some big changes for the way we work and hire. The pandemic introduced us to the approach of simultaneous hybrid and remote workforces and I foresee many companies embracing this as the norm. From the hiring perspective, we have gained access to a more diverse talent pool by opening positions to remote workers across geographical locations we may have been previously limited by. That diversity of thought and human interactions only strengthens our company and our technology. From a prediction perspective, if an employer can embrace diversity in geography, skillsets, and career backgrounds, then it opens the doors for an enriched workplace culture and enables leaders to consider talent we would have otherwise missed.
The next biggest difference we’ll see with the workforce is why they choose to work where they do. More workers will shift from finding a job just for the sake of being employed to pursuing a career with meaning — one that aligns more with their passions and values. A cultural shift we have observed is people want roles that add value to their lives, not just a job. At Axon, the value and impact we have on society is one of the appeals to many of our candidates.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
First and foremost, put humans first. Humans are the foundation of every organization and every role is important. Some businesses are so customer focused that they forget to look internally at their own people. This can perpetuate burnout culture and job dissatisfaction. Organizations can put their humans first by enabling their workforce’s success — offer professional development opportunities, provide space for them to pursue ideas and grow in their career interests, and encourage cross-company collaboration. Innovation doesn’t come to life without great ideas and teamwork. I’ll say it again louder for the people in the back — put your humans first.
Next, I advise they get out of the mindset that your company has created the workplace culture, which needs to be maintained. Ultimately, it’s your workforce that enriches and evolves the culture. Ask any employee that is happy at their organization and many will name their coworkers as one of their top favorite things about the workplace. It’s the humans that create the culture, which should be nurture by leadership, not the other way around. Your company mission and vision should be clear enough to attract the talent that would support the culture you envision.
Tying in closely with workplace culture is work-life balance. It’s easy for employers to make lofty work-life balance statements along the lines of “don’t be afraid to take your PTO,” but what employees really need is to see leadership backing these statements with action. At Axon, our department managers and leadership are very conscious about setting boundaries on meetings or while they’re out of office. They’re not afraid to take their PTO and if they need a mental health day, they declare that.
These three themes play more broadly into employee satisfaction and retention. For those working in HR and talent acquisition, these are what set your organization apart from others for potential candidates.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Employers can get hyper-focused on the end goal, considering only the skillsets they need in their workforce to get there. This can be limiting, create higher turnover, and in turn, lower morale. Employees are looking for good cultural fits that perpetuate fluidity and flexibility, so really, employers can’t put their people in a box. They must be willing to meet their people where they’re at now and support where they want to go. This enables employees to bring their best to the office. At Axon, we’ve doubled down on health, parenting and wellbeing resources. We have employees living the Van Life rather than the pandemic-normal work-from-home office, and they’re thriving.
As a parent and a senior-level talent acquisition employee, I anticipate the flexibility gap to be a conversation piece after the pandemic ends. Since COVID, parents have had the flexibility to regularly participate in school drop off and pickup, attend the after-school basketball games, and help with homework before dinner. As a mother of three, with a husband who has a career just as demanding as mine, being able to craft my own work environment and more flexible work hours are incredibly important. I know this is something many HR teams are already considering, so I encourage them to involve their employees in their conversations.
Lastly, COVID inevitably changed all our cultures. When we collectively went remote, companies implemented ways to stay connected through virtual professional development series, virtual happy hours, and online team building activities. Company leaders must be willing to let go of the way work was before COVID. Instead, we need to remain more thoughtfully in tune to employees’ needs, advancement opportunities, and remain open to future innovation to thrive. Does this change the culture? It can, but who says that’s a bad thing? I can tell you that Axon’s culture when I started versus today is different. We’ve enhanced how we empower our people and broke the notion of how teams “should” operate for the better.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
I’ve touched on the fact that remote and hybrid work models will likely stay long after the pandemic. I think it’s also changing how we do our jobs. Traditionally in-person jobs have gone remote. One of the departments to significantly be impacted in how they work is sales. Overnight, they shifted from regular travel and on-site customer meetings. Most of us, regardless of our line of work, have been challenged to leverage collaboration and communications tech more than ever.
Among the other points I’ve covered above, I think we’ll see more emphasis on leveling the playing field for those with disabilities. This is a personal topic for me. I have hearing loss which requires hearing aids. Pre-COVID, it wasn’t uncommon for me to ask people to repeat themselves. When COVID hit, I panicked as people masked up and I lost my ability to lip read. But working from home, I use special noise cancelling headphones for all my meetings. I’m no longer struggling to hear what’s being said in meetings. It’s really equaled the playing field, and I hope that employers will be more conscious of how they can support their employees with disabilities long after the pandemic ends.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
The pandemic illuminated some of our society’s biggest pitfalls. I see three societal movements that will have to improve to support the future of work more inclusively:
- Robust mental health support: Pre-COVID, it was easier for people to say a gym membership was their outlet to let off steam and support their mental health. With the prevalence of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder rising among both males and females by 25.6% and 27.6% respectively, it’s time businesses integrate better mental health access to their benefits. As a society, there’s still a lot of work to be done to normalize mental health days, therapy, and medication.
- Fair parental leave policies: It’s no secret that the U.S. has some of the least supportive maternity and parental leave policies. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide mothers of newborns or newly adopted children with 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually. This leaves little time for parents and families to make a massive life adjustment, nor does it provide adequate time for new mothers to heal or bond with their infants. Coinciding with this is the challenge parents face when their children are sick and cannot attend school or daycare. Traditionally, working mothers are the ones to stay home and once their PTO runs out, they take unpaid leave. COVID and the work-from-home model has eased some of this, but it still isn’t an ideal environment to work while tending to the sick.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) can’t just be confined to statements anymore: Our society must integrate inclusive policies and equity into all facets of life, from education and job access to the justice system. At Axon, we focus on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), as we feel Justice plays a major role in community safety and social good. At the root of JEDI is empathy, and it’s not solely focused on gender, race, or sexual orientation. More companies and individuals must take action to integrate DEI into their businesses and daily lives to make the workplace inclusive and equitable for all.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
While the sudden shift to remote work was jarring, it brought us all together. I’ve noticed new levels of empathy and compassion for one another, both among colleagues and with customers. The pandemic has created a stronger sense of togetherness. This brought back the human element to client services. I think it’s even inspired people to reevaluate what is important to them and their careers. I’ve noticed people are choosing jobs more carefully and intentionally.
The remote work environment has also given those of us in talent acquisition an opportunity to pull from a more diverse talent pool. Really, it’s a win-win for employers and job seekers alike. I’m excited to see how this will impact job satisfaction and job retention.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
I talked a little bit about putting humans first earlier. A strategy I’m most passionate about is creating a holistic review of each human on the team. Though we’ve all read about or experienced staffing shortages, it’s not about hiring to fill positions as fast as you can. Analyze where your organization is today and plan out where you want to be years from now. Roadmap the path to get there. Intentionally use the labor you have and determine who on your current team can fill open roles. This incentives people, helps your staff grow in their careers, and creates more work satisfaction. From there, see where there might be skill gaps and hire to those.
Build out HR analytics to ensure your company can take a deeper dive into the makeup of your organization. By being better informed of what departments are over or underperforming, which have the most overtime, or which take the least PTO, you can adjust the team as needed. Promoting and hiring can encourage employees to pursue professional development opportunities and consider more long-term employment with your organization. Retention really says a lot of the happiness and wellbeing of your workforce.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Leaders should see this as an opportunity to create a human-centric space to retain and grow talent. First, give employees a purpose for showing up every day. While it should be clear through your company mission and values, if it’s not compelling, it’s time to rethink your WHY. Why are we doing this work and for who? How does this impact our customers and the greater good?
Next, prioritize growth from within. If your workforce consistently sees new hires take the roles they could have been promoted to, they can feel defeated and move on to another employer. To grow from within, really invest in professional development. This shows your employees you’re serious about their career paths.
Lastly, encourage pursuits outside of day-to-day. This might look like supporting someone’s philanthropic passions, donating to their half marathon, or covering a conference fee for an event they’d like to attend. Yes, these ideas have a monetary spend associated with them, but considering it costs on average 1.5–2 times more than an employees’ salary to replace them, wouldn’t you rather retain your workforce?
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Give employees agency to follow their ideas. At Axon, we have Bella Giannini, now the Director of Customer Loyalty, overseeing all U.S. customer loyalty business. When she first started with us, she was in the Sales Leadership Development Program (LDP). Like most employees, she was drawn to the company’s mission to Protect Life. When Hurricane Florence hit, she saw an untapped use for Axon’s people and technology: to help first responders and emergency teams see the situation from angles above, within and beyond, creating a central command center in hours instead of days and bringing in vital supplies. She pitched the idea to our leadership team and within a few short weeks, Axon Aid launched in October 2018 under her vision. In its three years, it has become a part of Axon’s mission to Protect Life and bring essential aid to communities facing extraordinary circumstances.
- Support the whole person, not just their 9–5 persona. When employers see their workforce as individual humans, employees can feel it and retention and career growth thrive. Axon regularly offers non-role related enrichment and professional development opportunities. We regularly host Affinity Group meetings, staff AMAs, and support employees to attend conferences.
- Prioritize mental health just as much as physical health. I love that this interview brought up some important mental health conversations, because it’s something I truly think benefits the workforce and businesses. Axon partnered with Ginger before we knew COVID would become a pandemic to provide employees with 24/7 mental health support. It connects them and their immediate family to licensed professionals and offers a resource guide on important mental health topics. For parents, we partnered with Weldon to connect them with child development experts to provide personalized, evidence-based guidance and support. In employee surveys, some of the benefits they appreciate most are these resources.
- Streamline all aspects of people operations to work in-person and online. With remote and hybrid models likely here to stay, make sure everything from hiring and onboarding to employee reviews and promotions can be conducted in person or virtually. Our department managers and leadership team have office hours and schedule one-on-ones with their team members to address ideas, concerns, or questions regularly. Our talent acquisition and people operations teams conduct interviews and onboarding remotely (and we’ll offer in-person once we can do so safely), as well as conduct employee reviews online and in person.
- Rethink in productivity. We’ve learned that the traditional 9–5 workday isn’t necessarily the most productive timeframe for some people. By giving employees the flexibility to get their tasks done on their own time (as long as they’re completed within a reasonable or agreed upon timeframe), does it really matter if someone attends a yoga class or child’s baseball game during the workday? Our team leads encourage walking meetings and Axon President Luke Larson called on employees to get out and move for one hour during the day whenever possible. Collectively, our teams know we perform our best when we feel our best.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
Eleanor Roosevelt — “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appears, discovering that we have the strength to stare it down.”
This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s empowering to think that leaders can show grit and perseverance to face challenges without needing to put the weight of the world on their shoulders. This one sentence embodies a strong mental image for me of the statue of the fearless girl with her hands on her hips and chin held while, staring down a bull. May I embody that energy to inspire my own amazing daughter. Thoughts like this shape my perspective, what I do, how I stand tall, how I lead, how I take a loss, and how I keep going. They’re what make me who I am as a human.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Michelle Obama, hands down. Though Oprah would be a fascinating breakfast date… As hard as it is to choose between the two, I’m going to stick with my lady Michelle. My why is pretty darn simple. I relate to being a working parent and supporting an ambitious spouse while being just as ambitious myself. Sometimes this means we don’t meet the standards others have outlined for us. I have admired her ability to lead through that with grace and poise. She’s an incredible example not only for her children, but for all women around her. I hope to make such an inspiring impact on those around me as I continue in my life’s journey.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.