People enablement is not an administrative function. It's a very integral partner for the success of any organisation.
Progressive organisations recognise the importance of shaping their people strategies around enablement and empowerment. For a deep dive into what that involves, People Matters spoke with Shweta Chandrashekar, Global People Operations Lead at location platform company HERE Technologies – a title that she carries interchangeably with that of Global People Enablement Lead – about why the focus on enabling people is so important today and what it actually means in practice, in today's workplace environment.
What is people enablement really about, in today's workplace environment?
Simply speaking, it is about putting people first – about trying to understand employees' requirements and needs, and making them the crux and the centre of decisions. But it's also about understanding the business needs and trying to support the business outcomes and strategy, and seeing how HR can play a role to make that alignment between the business and the employee – which is also important in keeping our employees in the organisation.
I also want to highlight that people enablement is not an administrative function. It's a very integral partner for the success of any organisation. In terms of my role, people enablement focuses primarily on enabling our employees and the talent that we have in our organisation, and doing this throughout the employee life cycle, from onboarding to offboarding. It is about managing the entire employee life cycle. And as the people enablement team, our approach has been to focus on employee services as well as creating good employee experiences at different stages of the employee life cycle.
Seen from a wider lens, people enablement is about empowering your employees. That means it's about transparency, and it's also about how we can leverage the resources that we have to help our employees in their own career growth as well as the success of the organisation. It's about listening to your employees, because we are the first point of contact during onboarding – they will reach out to us, and we will listen to them and understand what are their concerns and try to create a win-win situation by addressing their urgent issues and needs.
Finally, people enablement can mean helping our employees to develop their skills and competencies. Our L&D team is doing a great job in partnering with the employees to create that value and enabling them to develop this.
Do you get the sense that today's workforce is looking for certain types of support and empowerment, more so than others?
This varies depending on the stage where the employee is in terms of their life cycle, as well as their demographics. But I find there are some common fundamental expectations these days:
1. The well-being of employees. That's been the most important factor that's come to the forefront, and as organisations we need to be sensitive enough to understand what we can do to support our employees' well-being. Prior to the pandemic the focus was more on physical well-being, but now there are a lot more requests and requirements for support in terms of mental well-being.
2. Flexibility. I think that working from home and remote working has become a very normal expectation for employees to have in today's world. However, I think it's also important to understand how these things balance out – the physical presence and the remote effectiveness – and that's where a lot of progressive organisations are adopting the hybrid model today. I would also say that flexibility should not just be limited to the place where you work. Having full flexibility in terms of managing your own work schedule is just as important. And that's where productivity should not just be based on the time that the person is spending at work, but it should be based on the outcome.
3. Inclusion at the workplace. This is not just a numbers game. It's something that is very essential, and it's crucial to us that all our employees really feel that they truly belong. Having employee resource groups to encourage dialogues around the needs of underrepresented groups – women, LGBTQ, and others – or campaigns to raise awareness of allyship, has really helped us create a culture of inclusion. Also, in today's context, I think inclusion needs to be seen from a wider lens, because normally when we talk about inclusion, we focus on these groups, but in the current working environment, we have to consider the needs of other categories of employees as well – new hires for example, will face additional challenges when they come into a hybrid setup, and we need to do extra to make sure that they feel interconnected and included in the organisation.
4. Giving back to society. I think there's a trend where people want to contribute and give back to the society in which they live, and so we have to create a culture where employees feel that they are able to connect with the purpose of the organisation and build upon that to give back to society. We need to help them create and uphold that bigger picture of life. So we need to listen to our employees and find ways to provide the support they need to do that. For example, we introduced a voluntary leave policy last year for our employees who want to give back to society.
Is this increased mindfulness of employee needs and wants a new trend created by the last two years? Or is it something that's been going on since before the pandemic?
My view is that overall companies have become more mindful of their employee needs because of the pandemic. We cannot deny the fact that the impact of the pandemic has been huge on employees, businesses as well as the whole of society. If you just think of how overnight, your home became your workplace – that alone was not an easy change for anyone or even any organisation to deal with. Also, the constant view into what's happening into people's personal lives has brought more focus around being mindful and having greater sensitivity around employees' needs.
But I also think we cannot really attribute all of it to the pandemic, because many organisations, especially the progressive ones, have been doing a lot even before the pandemic happened. In these organisations, like ours, the awareness of employee needs and the emphasis on employee centricity has actually become more focused and it's also been accelerated. Hybrid work, for instance, might otherwise have taken us four years to reach this stage, but now we are here within a span of two years. And now we're also going through another important stage where we are asking employees to come back to work, and at this point companies really need to listen to employees and help them navigate this change. Because many employees are still trying to balance their expectations and their work requirements in this new scenario.
Do you think this employee centricity will be sustained going forward? Or will we end up reverting to the pre-pandemic situation?
To be honest, I don't think we can go back to the pre pandemic stage, because so many things have changed. Employee expectations have changed drastically in the last two years. Previously, when people were working from the office, the concept of work-life balance was very simple and clearly divided – 50-50 work and personal life. But now, employees have become used to the idea that work is only one part of their life. They have multiple other things going on. They need time to attend to their physical health, they need time for their family, they need time for their own personal development. They need time to pursue their hobbies. And work is only one part of it. So that 50-50 ratio has changed, and it's going to be difficult for organisations who still operate in that mindset.
Progressive organisations will be the ones that really put effort into creating the right balance, listening to their employees, and catering to their needs while managing the business priorities.
What are some easy things organisations can do to create and maintain that balance?
To me, the easiest and the most important thing is having clear and effective communication, being transparent with your employees and having enough communication touch points. I think that becomes essential when you're trying to balance people expectations with business priorities. It's also an avenue for leaders to connect with the employees and share important points such as what are some of the business challenges, what they're doing and why they're doing it, how the organisation is doing. This is truly important, because once we have transparency and employees understand why we're doing what we're doing, they will become aligned with the mission and the vision of the company.
The other side of this is to be always mindful not to over-promise, because once you make false promises, expectations are not met, and people's motivation will take a hit. So be transparently true and stick to the facts.
Lastly, it's very, very important that you listen to your employees. Let them ask questions, or create that safe space where they could be free to chime in with their ideas or share when things are not going right. Having that psychological safe space also helps in driving innovation, which ultimately helps the organisation succeed in business goals. And when your employees feel that they are being heard, and they're being valued, that's where managers, employees, leaders can all move in the same direction, towards advancing the business.