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Insights Discussion: Pandemics and Civil Unrest Challenge What We Think We Know About Our People [VIDEO & RECAP]

Our world is experiencing an extraordinary time of unrest, uncertainty, and volatility. External events including a global pandemic and social justice reform can consume people’s thoughts and impact their work experiences. Listening to and acting on employees’ current needs during these turbulent times is critical for organizations to have a clear understanding of the employee experience that promotes wellbeing and productivity.

In this session, Mark Gonzales, SVP of Professional Services with Perceptyx, curated a discussion to explore research data that highlighted employees perceptions during this challenging time with Erin Oliver, VP of HR with M&T Bank, and two of the Perceptyx Research and Insights team members: Brett Wells PhD, Director of People Analytics, and Gena Cox PhD, Employee Experience Designer and Lead Researcher. These data and the discussion revealed three key themes.

Listening Matters

Frequently and openly listening to employees’ needs is always critical to understand what truly concerns individuals the most. Data from a panel study presented by Brett Wells showed employees are most concerned about their basic needs such as financial stability, health, well-being, and job security. Gena Cox stressed how important it is to understand the “whole person,” and how this understanding can help organizations take meaningful action to meet those needs most effectively.

Erin Oliver of M&T Bank highlighted the importance of listening during these turbulent times, sharing that M&T Bank’s “key message is to listen” to employees and the community as it relates to social justice perceptions. M&T Bank’s core value of candor has paved the way for strong, powerful, and candid conversations from senior leadership. Only by listening can organizations take “meaningful action on what matters most,” Erin explains.

Not only can listening guide meaningful action, but it can also dispel faulty assumptions or confirm existing beliefs. For example, data presented by Brett Wells revealed employees today are still highly concerned about COVID-19, despite the suggestion that this is no longer a primary concern as communities attempt to regain normalcy. Data related to racism also showed racism in the workplace is more pervasive than one might realized with about 40% of all employees surveyed saying they witnessed racism at work, and nearly 20% saying they had been a victim of racism themselves. For Black employees, concerns about racial discrimination in the workplace was almost as high as concerns about racism in the community.

Action Matters

Although listening is important, it is only the first step. Erin Oliver stressed the importance of action, saying while it is important to “talk a good talk… if you don’t act on those things… what is the point.” Accelerating programs designed to continue building a diverse and inclusive workforce are critical for her organization.

Data shared by Brett Wells revealed the majority of all employees surveyed, regardless of race, want to belong to an organization that values diversity and inclusion, further supporting the need for organizations to take meaningful action. For those that witnessed discrimination in the workplace, the majority indicated they took some type of action to confront this injustice, calling into question the assumption that more people may be afraid to speak up. Gena stressed the importance of education, teaching employees why it is important to take action against discrimination when it occurs.

Managers Matter

Although it is important for all levels of the organization to take action, data continue to reveal the important role of managers. For the youngest workers, perceptions of managers had the biggest impact on whether they planned to stay or leave their organization during this turbulent time. Gena stressed it is managers who provide the primary support needed by new employees as they continue to build their professional networks, especially during an increased time of remote employment.

When it comes to discrimination perceptions, less than half of all employees believed their managers would do the right thing, suggesting action is needed to equip managers with the tools needed to effectively promote a diverse and inclusive work environment. For M&T Bank, talking points developed for managers provide a valuable resource to facilitate difficult and sometimes uncomfortable social justice conversations.

Following last week’s webcast, we received feedback from some attendees that our choice of colors in a few charts was offensive. We value this feedback and are grateful for the awareness of our mistake. We sincerely apologize to anyone we offended in the original webcast and have updated the video to correct the mistake. We are committed to being more sensitive in the future as we continue to explore this important issue.

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