Gartner 2022 ReimagineHR Conference Highlights New Role for CHROs

Author: Laci Loew, XpertHR Senior Analyst, HR Strategy and Insights

November 14, 2022

In all organizations today, employees have new expectations centered around a human-centric culture, and senior HR leaders have new accountability in creating and sustaining a people-first approach.

While a variety of strategic HR topics were discussed at the recent Gartner ReimagineHR Conference in Orlando last month, one theme was clear above all others: HR leaders have a key role in creating a more human organization.

With the relationship between employer and worker now tilted toward the employee:

  • What does this shift mean for employee attraction and retention?
  • Where should leaders invest to improve the employee experience?
  • How can organizations improve upon today's fragmented world of work?

Here are three critical calls-to-action for CHROs to build a human-centered organization with a caring and connected culture highlighted at the Gartner 2022 Reimagine HR Conference.

Enable Proactive Rest

Like in an athlete's world, to perform their best, employees need regular periods of recovery. This is not about alleged vacation time during which employees will recharge. Rather, it is about employees staying charged - building in periods of daily rest and recovery - before minds and bodies feel tired and fragmented.

Kim Shells (Director Advisory, Gartner) and Brent Castle (VP Advisory, Gartner) cited a Gartner survey that when employees feel fragmented, 57% are less likely to be high performers, 83% are less likely to be on a highly collaborative team, and 68% are less likely to stay at the organization.

Yet, as talent exits and work piles up, leaders are expecting workers to do more. In fact, on average, "Employees are working an average of nine overtime and unpaid hours per week," said Shells and Castle. What's more, even though there is "no correlation between time working and performance, 77% of HR leaders surveyed believe that high-performing employees work more hours than average-performing employees."

So, HR leaders should rethink outdated (and flat out wrong) assumptions and change their perspective about work that is unnecessarily limiting. Doing so will foster a caring culture and fuel business outcomes. Here are key tactics that can be implemented to ensure a culture of proactive rest:

  • Consider a shortened work week. The world's largest 4-day work week pilot is being spearheaded in the UK by the "4 Day Week UK Campaign" in partnership with researchers from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College with the goal being to improve the lives of all employees and improve their overall well-being.
  • Schedule a mandatory company vacation/shutdown. Just a couple of months ago, LinkedIn announced a week-long all company vacation/shutdown with the intent of abating employee burnout. With everyone taking time away from work to keep charged, "We wanted to make sure we could give them (all employees) something really valuable, and what we think is most valuable right now is time for all of us to collectively walk away (from work)," said Teuila Hanson, LinkedIn's Chief People Officer. Kathryn Minshew, CEO and Founder The Muse, took the same approach by instituting a company-wide summer break to keep employees charged.
  • Institute no-meeting days, or, in the case of SalesForce, no-meeting weeks. With remote and hybrid models here to stay, employees everywhere are describing the stress and time-drain of countless Zoom or Teams meetings. Virtual meeting fatigue is a real thing impacting employees' well-being. By implementing "async week" (as SalesForce calls it), in select or all parts of the business, employees feel more productive and that fuels positive feelings.

Shells, Castle and other conference speakers made strong statements about proactive rest being an HR call-to-action. In organizations void of proactive rest, HR reports that one in five employees feel burned out, and in organizations where proactive rest is a workplace rule, employees generate a 26% increase in performance.

Invest in Building Employees' Skills

A survey from getAbstract revealed the following findings:

Today's workers crave support to learn, grow, and future-proof their careers. They understand that the very nature of work is changing, and if they are to remain relevant, they will need to acquire new skills, or grow existing skills, to be responsible for critical work of the future. One organization, AAA has responded by providing each employee with 40 hours of paid skill enrichment time -- a development program it had never previously offered.

Today's forward-leaning CHROs are taking actions to empower employees by:

  • Formalizing a system of internal mobility. Top-performing CHROs and business leaders see the internal talent marketplace as the perfect individualized growth and development solution. According to Leah Johnson, a Vice President of Advisory at Gartner's HR practice, investing in internal talent mobility enables organizations to compete more effectively by being ahead of skill development needs and future of work trends.
  • Holding employees accountable for skill-building and career growth responsibility. Skill-building is a joint responsibility - with the organization and the employee each having ownership. And that ownership is not an equal split. Although senior leaders, and particularly HR leaders, should be driving a culture of internal growth and development and enabling an internal talent marketplace, employees own the lion's share of responsibility for moving their careers forward.
  • Fostering a culture of continuous learning. A culture of continuous learning is one that supports a growth mindset, encourages the acquisition of more knowledge, and welcomes shared learning that focuses on the goals of an organization and each employee's career ambitions.

In 2018, Harvard Business Review said that just 10% of organizations had created learning cultures. Two years later, that number increased in LinkedIn's 2020 Workplace Learning Report in which 42% of L&D leaders surveyed labeled "building a culture of learning" as their priority.

And, in a recent Workforce of the Future report by PWC, it was reported that "If we want to stay relevant in the digital age, we have to make a shift to continuous learning in the workplace." Along similar lines, Senior Director of Research at Gartner, De'Onn Griffin said, "Continuous learning needs to be a digital-era imperative and is the future of work" in today's people-first environment.

Employees' desires to build their skills, and CHROs' desires to institutionalize a culture of continuous learning, starts with the CEO and other senior business leaders enunciating their support for and backing up the plan with resources and commitment. When they do, employees are productive and flourish while businesses are agile, resilient and competitive.

Foster Psychological Safety

As CHROs pivot to include proactive rest and reset learning strategies to focus on continuous skill-building and internal talent mobility, it is challenging to also maintain a human-centric culture that keeps employees feeling like they are invited and safe to share their voice. As shared by conference speakers, that's why psychological safety is critical to an exceptional employee experience and is the lever CHROs are pulling to build and sustain human-centric, people-first cultures.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson who first introduced the notion, psychological safety occurs when employees feel comfortable voicing their thoughts, ideas and opinions, and to what extent they perceive the cultural environment to be safe for risk taking without fear of failure, disrespect, retribution, marginalization, or negative consequences of any type to their self-image or career.

At the conference, Gartner defined it similarly and warned that the concept does not mean rapid fire execution; it implies thoughtful and deliberate actions and interactions between and among employees and leaders. Speakers stressed that a psychologically safe environment fortified with leaders and managers who demonstrate authentic care about people is key in a people-centric strategy.

They also offered guidance about how to get started with fostering a psychologically safe culture:

  • Promote the importance of every employee's voice. Conference discussions included reference to multiple pieces of evidence.  Gallup's data reveals that only three out of 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions count at work. Conversely, in organizations where six out of 10 workers feel their voice matters, there's a:
    • 27% reduction in turnover;
    • 40% decrease in safety incidents; and a
    • 12% increase in productivity.

Achievers' data corroborates indicating that 90% of workers are more likely to stay at a company that listens to their input and acts on it.

84% of HR leaders say that employees' expectations for more human treatment at work are a permanent change, yet only 9% of an organization's leaders feel that their HR leaders can meet their employees' expectations today. Human treatment presumes a psychologically safe workplace.

Elisabeth Joyce, Gartner

  • Demonstrate supportive leadership behaviors. Leaders who demonstrate caring, compassionate, and encouraging behaviors showing regard for employees as individuals first and as workers second are effective at achieving psychological safety. According to a LinkedIn Global Trends Report, 92% of organizations say these leader soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills.

Gartner's Elisabeth Joyce, in her Evolving Leadership Skills presentation, shared two key statistics about the relationship between leadership behaviors and a psychologically safe environment in noting, "84% of HR leaders say that employees' expectations for more human treatment at work are a permanent change, yet only 9% of an organization's leaders feel that their HR leaders can meet their employees' expectations today. Human treatment presumes a psychologically safe workplace."

  • Ditch micro-managing in favor of building a culture of trust. Psychological safety has no place for authoritative, command-and-control leaders who have an inherent tendency to micro-manage. This leadership style stymies idea-sharing and thwarts employees' feelings of psychological safety.

    Top performers look for companies where openness and honesty are valued and encouraged. Managers and leaders can nurture such an environment by implementing systems and strategies that encourage sharing among employees. By doing so, leadership nurtures a sense of camaraderie, connection, and belonging as well as improves mental, psychical, social, and emotional well-being.

Summing It Up

The data is compelling. According to Gartner's Shells and Castle, when proactive rest is made available, there is a 26% increase in employee performance; when employees are given the opportunity to engage in perpetual learning and growth, they are two times more likely to stay with their organization; and when psychological safety defines the corporate culture, employees willingly share ideas, feel connected to each other, collaboration jumps by 23%.

As shared at the Gartner ReimagineHR Conference, a staggering 82% of employees say it is important that their organizations see them as people, not workers. Add to that this fact from the World Health Organization: there is an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity as well as missed revenue goals being two times more likely in organizations that reduce them employees to workers.

The implication is clear: A human-centric, caring culture is the top priority for today's CHROs. According to Gartner's Carolina Valencia, VP, "When HR leaders can generate these emotions in employees, both organizations and the human beings that comprise them win."

If you are the leader of people at your organization, and haven't yet started, now is the time to take the evidence seriously and act on building and sustaining a human-centered organization.