Increasing Employee Activism and Higher Expectations of Employer.
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 Janine Yancey.
Janine Yancey, a passionate advocate for healthy workplace culture. is the founder and CEO of Emtrain. A former employment lawyer, Janine envisioned how technology could democratize access to legal information by advising employees about harassment, bias and other issues while making trending employee concerns visible to employers. By bringing in machine learning and predictive analytics, Emtrain allows organizations to go from reactive to proactive in stopping harassment, bias and ethics issues. Over the last decade, Janine has grown Emtrain to a 40-person culture tech company with 800 clients that span Fortune 50 to technology startups.
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?
When I was in 7th grade my dad abandoned our family, and we became very poor almost instantly. We stayed in the same house, but it was a constant struggle. I painted T-shirts after school, which my mom sold on a street corner. In high school I started waiting tables to help pay our bills. I was paying our mortgage in 11th grade.
Living in the same upper middle class neighborhood while also struggling to make ends meet helped me understand and traverse different worlds pretty easily. I went to college at UC Berkeley and again I experienced many different types of people, particularly as I lived in both a student run Coop and then a sorority while a Cal student. I attended law school at U.C. Hastings College of the Law and again, experienced a very diverse student population. I developed the ability to blend. Unlike most people who grew up in one kind of experience and dynamic, I grew up with two polar opposite experiences. So at a young age I became very adroit at navigating different life experiences and connecting with people from very diverse backgrounds.
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?
Trying to predict what the workplace and workforce will be like 10–15 years from now seems almost impossible. Especially considering how much all of that has changed in literally the last 10–15 months. I think some of the biggest changes we’ll see in the future have already begun, particularly when it comes to how different generations view work. Gen Xers are increasingly retiring, and since they are a small generation, they will have less influence on workplace culture. Gen Xers are the “grin and bear it” generation. They’re all about hard work and delayed gratification. That influence will be in decline. Instead, Gen Y and particularly Gen Z are about instant gratification, with short attention spans since they grew up in an era of sound bites and unlimited options, including where to work. Employers will have to evolve to cater to employees with high expectations and unlimited options. Businesses will have to understand that we’re in a new era where how we conduct ourselves has consequences on the value of the business, either seen through increased difficulty in recruiting, regrettable employee attrition, harassment claims and regulatory action and/or activist investors who vote out Boards of Directors.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
We have entered the era of conscious capitalism, which requires a corresponding conscious culture. When companies do not have a conscious culture, they will lose the war for talent AND open themselves up to the Great Resignation. People aren’t leaving because they’re lazy and don’t want to work. They’re leaving work because their employers have taken the wrong approach to developing a culture that is inclusive and that encourages pro-social behaviors that not only help employees but also add to the bottom line. Companies pay a lot of lip service to their diversity and inclusion efforts. But far too few of them make the direct connection between inclusion and diversity programs, which are often handled by one department, and anti-harassment programs, which are handled by another.
At my company, Emtrain, we practice what we preach- we use our own microlessons and trainings to engage and develop our employees. We review the data and feedback from our trainings to help us address potential culture issues and weave ethics, respect, and inclusion into our everyday workplace culture.
- We use our Workplace Culture Spectrum to give a shared language to addressing behavior and encourage healthy dialogue among our own teams.
- We do a monthly Engagement Survey to regularly check the pulse of our team.
- We regularly tap into our expert network to help us address the larger issues, especially those we have been facing in 2021 i.e. managing through the stress of Covid-19, being an ally for Black Lives Matter, and respectfully addressing politics in the workplace, and engaging a remote workforce.
- We began a pilot 4-day workweek program in August 2021. We believe well-balanced employees deliver their best for their families and our clients. Early data has shown that our employees are happier, more engaged, more focused and feel more valued than ever before. We’re continuing to test this experience.
- We have an unlimited PTO policy that allows us to support employees by giving them the time off they need to de-stress, recharge, spend time with loved ones, or follow a personal passion. We understand that not everyone has the same experience, environment, or background. This gives employees the chance to take care of their personal needs without questions, for example caring for children or loved ones at home.
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?
The biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect will occur simply because employers aren’t asking the right questions. You can’t fix what you don’t measure. The best way to find out what employees are expecting is to regularly pulse them for their perspective on the culture of the workplace. This can help create benchmarks that can be compared against other companies in their industry. And it can help identify potential tricky culture issues before they bubble up into resignations, HR complaints, or flat out public relations disasters.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
The shift to working from home and hybrid work was fast, dramatic, and will likely continue in some form or another in the future. And while this tectonic shift made some things easier (no commute, more flexible hours, etc.) it also presents major challenges when it comes to culture. People leaders will have to be much more deliberate about communicating with workers and ensuring a sense of belonging with people who never or rarely get together face to face.
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?
Inclusion, inclusion, inclusion. This was true before the pandemic and it’s true today. People who do not have a sense of belonging, people who do not feel as though they can be their authentic selves, people who do not feel respected will find somewhere else to work. The good news is that inclusion is not just a lofty goal, it is a skill that can be taught.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I’m optimistic that our younger generations will force companies to adopt a more conscious culture. Employees are increasingly connecting the business mission with their personal brand and they have very high expectations in terms of corporate values. This, coupled with increased regulatory, legislative, and other public pressures to address diversity and inclusion will mean businesses will have to adapt.
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?
One strategy that is gaining steam is offering the option of a four day work week. Companies are realizing that employees are placing a premium on appropriate work-life balance, and a four day work week can be one way to help improve that balance. At my company, Emtrain, we moved to a four day work week in late 2021. We have already seen positive results. In a recent employee survey 82% of our employees say they were experiencing more health and well-being. Nearly three fourths said they are experiencing less unproductive stress during the work day as a result of the four day work week. And yet, productivity has not suffered. More than 90% of our employees says they are able to meet their high-priority work milestones during the four day work week.
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?
Business leaders need to hear that we don’t know how our workplace will evolve this year and it’s important to be resilient. That means focusing on the core social behaviors that build trust, accountability, respect and inclusion throughout the culture to tighten the social fabric while we go through this turbulence. It’s also important that business leaders reconsider how they handle their initiatives that address bias, inclusion, and harassment, all of which are factors in employees’ decisions to stay or go. Far too often those initiatives are addressed in a siloed approach. companies typically tackle these issues as separate domains: human resources teams select anti-harassment training and learning & development teams deploy it, legal teams manage discrimination and harassment complaints, and diversity leaders are tasked with inclusion while HR is in charge of employee relations. This siloed approach is flawed.
The sooner that organizations acknowledge that these processes operate as a part of an interconnected ecosystem, the sooner their company cultures will evolve to one that allows both their employees and businesses to thrive.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
1. FMLA leaves and reasonable accommodations for Covid and mental health.
We’re now living with the consequences of a global pandemic impacting millions of people’s physical and mental health. Increasing numbers of employees will need time off to take care of their family members and/or their own health condition (either physical or mental). In addition to time off, employees will also need reasonable accommodations, such as a more flexible work schedule. We have two generations of employees who are not that familiar with the ADA and FMLA — both of which were enacted about 30 years ago. It’s time to get all people leaders familiar with these two legal protections; particularly, how to engage in the interactive process to identify whether any reasonable accommodations are feasible. Lastly, business leaders should be brainstorming with their Chief HR/People Officers to determine staffing and team coverage issues as we experience more employees concurrently out on leave than we’ve ever experienced before.
2. Management actions under the microscope.
In 2021, employees everywhere heard about how a CEO conducted a 900 person layoff; how executives disregarded teenager mental health at Facebook; how a CEO tolerated harassment and discrimination at Blizzard Activision; how a Kentucky employer threatened termination if employees left work even has a tornado was headed straight for them, and countless others. There is no hiding or cloaking management actions. We have countless digital ways to record management actions and countless social media platforms to publish them for the world to see. This has been coming for a long time and 2021 was a watershed year. Many employees across different companies spilled the beans and let the world see what was going on internally and that practice is now standard. Expect to see it all the time. If your management action needs a lot of explanation for third parties, then go back to the drawing board. Ideally, management actions should be obvious on their face and appear logical and fair to any third party.
3. Pressure for more annual workforce disclosures.
In 2021, California started requiring all public companies with principal offices in California to have at least one woman and one person of color on their board of directors, certified by an annual disclosure to the Secretary of State. In August 2021, the SEC and Nasdaq required public companies to have at least two diverse board members or to explain their failure in meeting the requirement. The Board Diversity Rule also requires public companies to publish annual statistics on their board diversity to increase transparency and give investors more information. I think we’ve reached a tipping point. When California and the Federal government start insisting on workforce disclosures to provide more transparency and accountability, more states will follow and require more disclosures. There’s already momentum in several state legislatures to push for annual disclosures of harassment and discrimination claims data. In addition, employees, investors, and other stakeholders are organizing and pushing for it. Bottom line: Expect more workforce disclosure requirements in 2022 and for the market to increasingly expect these disclosures.
4. Increasing Employee Activism and Higher Expectations of Employer.
It’s increasingly common for employees to publicly voice their opinions about the mission and social values of the business and management actions. Employees are increasingly mobilizing and protesting when the management actions are not reflecting the stated values. We’ve experienced enough employee walk-outs and protests in the past two years…expect it to become a regular dynamic in the market. Businesses should increasingly expect employee activism (in one form or another) and to have employees publicly object when management actions do not reflect the stated values of the business.
5. Pro-Social Behaviors May Be the #1 Workforce Skill in 2022.
2022 is all about how we treat people. Whether it’s engaging in a reasonable accommodation discussion, having our management actions viewed under a microscope, making annual workforce disclosures and/or responding to activist employees who have high expectations, how people treat each other is a top skill. Businesses have tried to address behavior through policies where employees memorize rules or laws. It hasn’t been effective. Positive behavior requires practice and skill development. Our ability to show empathy, to see another perspective, to value our differences, to show allyship, to engage in systematic decision-making is what Emtrain calls pro-social behaviors and they are vital workplace skills. Our society in 2022 is in flux and our ability to navigate the turbulence is vital. That’s why pro-social workplace skills may be the most important workplace skills to have in 2022.
What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“Our strengths are our weaknesses and our weaknesses are our strengths.”
We tend to lead with our strengths and that becomes problematic when you rely on some skills for every situation. That’s when your strengths turn into weaknesses. For example, my strength is that I will put my head down and work hard to address a problem. I can out-work most people. But that then becomes a weakness because that’s the method I apply to most problems, even when that’s not an appropriate way to solve every problem. On the flip side, we intentionally build up skills in our weak areas, and whenever we lean in and do something intentionally — we build a strong muscle there. For me, stopping and pausing and taking a step back is an area of weakness. But because I had to manually develop that in an intentional way it becomes a stronger muscle than someone who is naturally wired to do that. You may actually have a higher success rate than those who are naturally inclined.
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?
It won’t happen now but Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She toiled for years to advance equality for everyone — not just the majority — -and she did so without much limelight or fanfare for most of those years. She was the real deal.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.