One of the most daunting and complex challenges of the pandemic has been how to keep workers connected — to their leaders and to each other — at a time when teams are no longer gathering together in person. Without water cooler breaks, causal deskside chats and after work happy hours, how can we create a sense of belonging?
That’s a question Eva Majercsik, chief people officer at Genesys, a global cloud leader in customer experience orchestration that provides technology solutions for organizations in more than 100 countries, has been grappling with for the past two years. We reached Eva at her office in Washington state to ask her what we’ve learned from lockdown, how empathy can impact connections, and the best ways for organizations to listen to their employees. Below are edited excerpts.
In the simplest of terms, what does connection mean in the workplace?
Connection at work is about how we interact with each other, how we work with each other, how we go through challenges. It’s about empathy — truly caring about people, rather than seeing them as a resource. That makes for a much more cohesive and effective team.
How has the situation we’re in now affected those connections?
Because of the pandemic, we’ve had to be much more intentional in establishing personal connections and getting to know people. Sometimes it’s just going into a meeting and spending two seconds asking, “How are you?” Sometimes, just having your colleague or your manager ask how you’re doing — and truly caring — makes a whole lot of difference.
It’s so easy to overlook, because sometimes we’re all about business and some of these are things we took for granted before the pandemic. Maybe one of the positives of the pandemic will be learning to become more intentional in establishing these personal connections.
If you look at the statistics, we’re seeing anxiety, depression, and these mass resignations — people going from one job to the other. Leading with empathy and giving people room to be themselves, to talk, to discuss, to agree to disagree — it’s a very important retention tool.
Businesses have come to realize that people are not only a mechanism by which you get things done. An organization where employees feel their company cares about them as people will go a long way.
You mentioned giving employees room to talk. What’s your method for listening to employees?
We have different mechanisms. We provide a forum by which employees can ask questions, which we then can address publicly in our all-hands meetings. We have a portal where employees can have interactions with senior leaders of the company. We have our annual engagement survey. We have ongoing pulses, asking employees how they’ve felt throughout the COVID journey. When we make decisions as part of our task force, we take all that into account.
You have employees in places like India and the Philippines, where there’s less infrastructure to fight COVID. How did that affect the support you gave to employees?
Last year, we dealt with massive COVID spikes in India and in Manila. In India, we amped up telehealth very quickly, so even employees who had moved out of the location could pick up the phone and talk to a doctor. Sadly, we had some losses, and in those cases, we amped up our survivor benefits to assist the families in the transition. In Manila, not only did we have the pandemic, but there was also a typhoon going on. Navigating through these cases created a whole different complexity and our site leadership really came together to provide assistance to employees and families who had nowhere to go.
Just the fact that we were there, with very strong site leadership, made a lot of difference to the teams on the ground. Just the fact that we got on the phone with employees and asked, “How are you doing?” It’s about caring. Not assuming that what’s going on in Seattle is the same thing that’s going on in Sao Paulo.
What do you think people don’t understand about fostering connections? What are people doing wrong?
We need to respect the fact that not everyone is going to have the same point of view as us. Don’t assume people know where you’re coming from.
I’m the daughter of Hungarian immigrants who left Hungary after a revolution protesting Soviet occupation. I grew up in Peru, went to a British school, and now I’ve lived in the U.S. for 20 years, except for a couple living in Europe. My first language isn’t even Spanish. My parents always spoke to me in Hungarian.
All this really helped me, because the first thing I do is I get my bearings. I always tell people: Take the time to just listen to what surrounds you before making a quick judgment call.
How do we make sure we don’t forget everything we’ve learned from the past two years?
I worry that when we come back, we will forget what we learned. We need to make sure we don’t go back to our old behaviors. Leaders need to lead differently. Employees need to be empowered to navigate their careers.
We have to be very intentional about making sure we’re all on the same playing field. I already told my team: “Until we’re all together, we’re not having an offsite. We’re all going to stay on the same playing field.”
But I also put responsibility on every single one of us. All of us are employees. So, having that sense of empowerment to speak up. If there’s an in-person team and I’m the only one on Zoom and people are chatting, I also have a responsibility to raise my hand and say, “Hey guys, I’m here.”
At NLI, we often talk about giving advice that’s simple and sticky. What’s a simple phrase you’d tell people to carry through the day?
“Be empathetic.” Don’t assume everyone is going through the same thing. You never know what’s going on, so be empathetic. I think that’s going to make a huge difference in people’s lives.
Author: Jay Dixit