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Episode 3: The Employee Experience is a Relationship. How To Land At The Right Company (transcript)

Michael:                             I was really excited. I had gone to school for this field, and gotten a job in that field, which everybody assured me was totally impossible.

Sonia Kang:                       Meet Michael. He’s talking about his very first job right out of school.

Michael:                             So I felt really good about that. Every day was something new, was developing a skill set.

Sonia Kang:                       Sounds pretty good, right? But then something changed.

Michael:                             Over time, those positives slowly start to dissipate, [00:00:30] and you’re kind of only left with negative thoughts and feelings.

Sonia Kang:                       But here’s the thing, nothing had really happened.

Michael:                             There was never this blow-up or fight, or something traumatic that happened, it was just a kind of passage of time. I was at the wrong company.

Sonia Kang:                       The wrong company. For lots of people like Michael, this discovery happens too late, after they’ve gotten the job. But what if before [00:01:00] you chose the wrong one, there was a way to help identify the right company, the right boss, the right role, especially early in your career?

Sonia Kang:                       Welcome to For The Love of Work, an original podcast made possible by Rogers. My name is Sonia Kang. I’m a Professor of Organizational Behavior, and I study the psychology of people at work, and this, this is a show that explores what to do when you get stuck at work. [00:01:30] It happens to most people at some point in their careers. You find yourself in a situation that’s just not working, while others find themselves at progressive companies that focus on something called the employee experience, a holistic approach to working that puts your needs first. So this is where we’re going to look for solutions. Whether you’re already working somewhere or just starting a job search, we’re going to help you figure out how to make the decision about where, and for whom you should work.

Jacob Morgan:                 [00:02:00] There are lots of situations where sometimes you just need a job and you need money. I’ve been in those situations. I totally get it.

Sonia Kang:                       Jacob Morgan researches how employees and the companies that hire them, can do a better job.

Jacob Morgan:                 But finding the right job for you means being a part of… I mean, it’s kind of like being in a relationship with somebody, right?

Sonia Kang:                       His latest book is called The Future Leader. In part, it explores the relationship between leaders and their employees.

Jacob Morgan:                 [00:02:30] I mean, we all know what being in a relationship with the right person and with the wrong person means, and that same analogy applies to organizations.

Sonia Kang:                       Just like the relationships we choose to get into, where we decide to work is super important. In fact, choosing the right company early in our careers can make a huge difference. Work is where we spend most of our time, where we make social connections, grow our skillset, and hopefully, where we can find some meaning in our lives.

Jacob Morgan:                 What do you care about? What do you [00:03:00] Want? What is your ideal scenario? What kind of a leader do you want to be working with? What kind of a team do you want to be a part of? You need to have a little bit of self-awareness there.

Sonia Kang:                       So that’s a lot of questions, but taking time to answer them is worth it. Your early work experiences can set the course for your entire career, so the sooner you can get on a path that works for you, the better. But all of this self-awareness and knowing yourself can get tricky.

Katy Milkman:                  Unfortunately, we’re not very well-prepared to make big decisions [00:03:30] about things like where we’ll work, and that’s because there’s very little formal training we get about this incredibly important topic of how to make better decisions.

Sonia Kang:                       If you want formal training, talk to Katy Milkman. She studies and teaches decision-making about work, school, money, everything at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Sonia Kang:                       I mean, think about how prepared you are right now, or how prepared you were, especially at the beginning of your career, to make an informed choice about where to work. Did you know the right [00:04:00] questions to ask? What your career path could look like, or what to do when your decision is derailed by a wild card, like a bad boss? Even if we’ve thought through some of this stuff, we can still get stuck, if we internalize this idea that we have to do our time in the bad place, in order to get to the good place.

Sonia Kang:                       We’re going to get into some of the critical factors you should be considering in a bit, but first, let’s look at ourselves. One of the things Katy and I study are the cognitive biases that we all have. [00:04:30] They often unconsciously guide us to the wrong decision, even when we think we’re making the right one.

Katy Milkman:                  Overconfidence can lead us to overestimate our ability and how we compare to others, and as we’re thinking about a job where we’re going to be able to flourish, being overconfident in various skills and how we’ll be able to grow, could actually hurt us and lead us to take the wrong position, because we’ll be overconfident about our ability to compensate.

Sonia Kang:                       And that’s exactly what Michael did. He’s the guy we heard from earlier.

Michael:                             I didn’t [00:05:00] love the projects, but I felt like I was learning something. And so, I felt like I could take something away from it. It was one of those things where you’re cutting your teeth.

Sonia Kang:                       He chose a company where he could learn some stuff and grow his resume. That was the trade-off, and it makes sense. Build experience first, worry about the other stuff later.

Michael:                             So the work started to get a little bit stale. There was also just a kind of commuter culture where everybody was in at nine and out at five, and at 5:01, the office was completely vacant. There wasn’t a real strong sense [00:05:30] of camaraderie or friendship amongst the staff.

Sonia Kang:                       In sacrificing camaraderie, Michael had been influenced by another bias.

Katy Milkman:                  People tend to under-appreciate how important their daily experiences and how intrinsically motivating those daily experiences are going to be, to how well they perform towards big goals.

Sonia Kang:                       Even if a company makes sense for your career goals, it might not be the best fit if there’s no chemistry. And so, a year into working at what was supposed to be the right [00:06:00] job, at least for this beginning part of his career, Michael realized he was at the wrong company, and the biggest problem with getting stuck there?

Michael:                             I was at the wrong company for at least a year and a half.

Sonia Kang:                       He stayed stuck.

Katy Milkman:                  Human beings tend to stick to the path of least resistance. We really dislike change and effort when we can avoid it, and so that’s one reason that we often stick to a routine, or an employer, or even a marriage [00:06:30] that isn’t working that well for us, longer than we should. There’s also something called escalation of commitment, where once we’ve invested in something, we really, really don’t like the idea of sort of throwing that away, ignoring the sunk cost, which we can’t recover, which would be the right thing to do.

Sonia Kang:                       The sunk cost bias is a big factor that can keep you stuck. “I paid so much for this education, I spent so much time landing this job,” and that can work against you, if, for example, you come across new or growing industries. [00:07:00] They offer great career opportunities, but you have to be willing to pivot. For other people, the sunk cost bias has them stuck on the investment they’ve made in their personal relationships with coworkers or managers, and not wanting to disappoint them. So just like with other decisions we make, work and career decisions can get sidetracked by our biases.

Katy Milkman:                  You want to make decisions based on a cold, cool, analytical state of mind. You want to get outside opinions, ideally from experts. [00:07:30] You want to sleep on it, and you literally make a spreadsheet with the costs and the benefits, and try to weight those different costs and benefits by how much they matter to you.

Sonia Kang:                       Katy’s idea to make a decision spreadsheet with costs and benefits is related to a concept I teach in a negotiations course. It’s about creating scoring systems for decisions, where you identify and weight different aspects. This should help you understand which choice points are most important.

Sonia Kang:                       Let’s say you’re comparing a few [00:08:00] apartments. A lot of people would just make a call based on how they generally feel. This is tough to do, and we often fall victim to various decision making biases. A better way is to break down the decision into different factors. For example, neighborhood, distance to subway, time to work, distance to grocery store, square footage, price. Make a list of everything that’s important to you, and then assign each of those factors of value out of a hundred, [00:08:30] to indicate how important the factors are, relative to each other. Then give each option, apartment A, apartment B, apartment C, a score on each factor, multiply by the value you gave it, and add it all up to see which one wins. You could do the same thing with comparing different jobs or different companies, to help find the one that’s truly right for you.

Katy Milkman:                  But I do want to say, don’t ignore your emotions, your instincts entirely, those [00:09:00] actually belong in your spreadsheet. So if there’s something that is leading you to feel like this is not the right job for you, whatever that is, put that in there. It’s just that you don’t want to rely too much on that quick thinking.

Sonia Kang:                       Okay, don’t ignore your feelings, but don’t let them make the decision for you. The point is, by better understanding our biases and making decisions more analytically, for example, but using a decision spreadsheet, we’ll be in a better position to land at the right company, the one that plays to our strengths and passions, [00:09:30] which is key. But in order to do that, we need more work-related data to enter into that spreadsheet. For this, let’s explore the employee experience.

Jacob Morgan:                 Do you want to be part of an organization that treats you fairly, that lets your voice be heard, where they’re going to coach and train you, and where you have workplace flexibility, where the organization genuinely cares about you, and you feel that?

Sonia Kang:                       At the beginning of the show, Jacob Morgan [00:10:00] compared work to being in a relationship. He wrote about this relationship in a book called The Employee Experience Advantage. In it, he writes that companies need to be much more considerate of each employee’s experience.

Jacob Morgan:                 By focusing on three environments that the organization can control, which are culture, technology, and physical space. Culture is about how employees feel working for the organization.

Sonia Kang:                       Organizational culture is made up of many, many things that we’ll explore throughout this series.

Jacob Morgan:                 Technology is about the tools and resources employees have access to to do their jobs, [00:10:30] and physical space is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the spaces in which employees work. Any company can basically control and shape those three things.

Sonia Kang:                       The employee experience grew out of something called the customer experience. The customer experience is about removing any friction or obstacles for the customer. Progressive companies are now applying that same philosophy to employees, because at its most basic level, if a company’s employees are unhappy, their customers will become unhappy too. [00:11:00] And then, the other reason that employers care so much about the employee experience, is that in some sectors, there is intense competition for talent.

Jacob Morgan:                 So you can’t just pay people more money anymore. They care about growth and development, the impact that the organization has on the world, and the environment, and communities. So a lot of employees are starting to ask different questions, and what that means, is that if you want to create this environment where people genuinely want to be there, then you have to focus on the experience of your [00:11:30] people.

Sonia Kang:                       Culture, technology, and the spaces where you work. Just as progressive companies are designing customized experiences for their customers, they should be designing positive experiences for you, the employee. And to be clear, we’re not just talking about ping pong tables or free lunch, the modern employee experience is much more than that. These are some of the things you should look for.

Pete Bacevice:                  When we meet new people, it doesn’t usually take too long for the conversation to drift into the topic of what we do for work. A workplace [00:12:00] is an extension of that image of ourselves and our professional identity.

Sonia Kang:                       Pete Bacevice is right. Professional identity is a major component of our overall identities. Pete thinks about how to develop and protect that sense of identity from a physical design perspective.

Pete Bacevice:                  How the office looks can say a lot about who we are as an organization, so it can also say a lot about us as individuals.

Sonia Kang:                       Pete is a social scientist and researcher at HLW, an architecture and design firm, [00:12:30] and he’s saying that the very design of the office we work in, if we work in an office, can affect the way we feel about ourselves.

Pete Bacevice:                  It can also affect how we act. So psychologists and designers, we often use the term affordances to describe the connection between design and how they influence our actions.

Sonia Kang:                       When Pete says affordance, he’s talking about the way our environments encourage us to act. Have you ever messed up and tried to push open a door that you’re supposed to pull? That’s not your [00:13:00] fault, that’s bad design affordance. In the same way, workplace design, good and bad, can impact our behavior, and that’s where things get very interesting.

Pete Bacevice:                  The presence, for example, of a cafe or a pantry in a central location within an office, it’s an invitation to use it. Its placement near meeting areas can suggest that it’s a place where meetings might also happen. The presence of whiteboards or other writeable surfaces throughout an office could [00:13:30] also be encouraging people to work around them, share ideas and learn from each other. I would focus on this idea of hospitality, it reinforces a culture of prosocial behavior. So you want people to act in a positive way towards each other.

Sonia Kang:                       There are many ways that design can be used like this to nudge behavior in one direction or another. In this case, Pete is describing a design that encourages more interaction and therefore, more collaboration. [00:14:00] As companies start to emphasize teamwork, it makes sense they would use workplace design to engineer affordances and nudge behavior like this. It promotes the kind of productivity, collaboration, and spontaneous innovation that they want, which would be impossible in a cubicle situation.

Sonia Kang:                       But what’s in it for you? I mean, beyond a nice cafe and I’m guessing some pretty choice snacks? Well, Pete’s talking about creating a homelike environment at work. You can do many different things at home, because of the way that the space [00:14:30] is set up and how comfortable you feel. What would that look like at work?

Mandira Midha:               You will see in our offices, every single one of our offices that we have, a mix of different kinds of spaces, and they’re really designed to accommodate the different types of personalities and working styles.

Sonia Kang:                       Mandira Midha is the Design Lead on the Culture team at a company called Shopify.

Mandira Midha:               Humans are super complex, and having a variety allows employees to choose what works for them based [00:15:00] on their personal preference, or what kind of projects they’re working on.

Sonia Kang:                       Think about your workday. How many different tasks do you do, or how do you feel in the morning compared to the afternoon?

Mandira Midha:               For me, specifically, like many tasks in a day that require different things, and each of the different working spaces allows me to get them done more quickly. So if I need to solve a problem with my team, I’ll go to my pod with my team and work on that problem together in that room, but when I need to maybe do a performance review for one of my reports, I’ll go into a phone booth, [00:15:30] close the door and have a private working space that I can get that done in. And then when I’m feeling a little bit more social and I’m doing maybe more admin work, I’ll go work in a living room that’s an open space, so that people can come and see me, and I can have casual conversations. We want to create an environment so that people can grow and do their best work, and we’re not allowing people to do their best work if we confine them to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Sonia Kang:                       [00:16:00] Mandira is describing a differentiated, personalized office that takes into account various working styles or preferences, and task-specific needs. Employee-focused companies spent a lot of time studying how their employees want to work, and money designing these spaces. But then something totally unexpected happened, right after we spoke to Mandira. People completely stopped going to the office.

Arjun Kaicker:                   COVID-19 is going [00:16:30] to dramatically change the way we design buildings, both temporarily and permanently.

Sonia Kang:                       Arjun Kaicker co-heads the Analytics and Insights team at Zaha Hadid Architects.

Arjun Kaicker:                   Whether that’s through social distancing, whether that’s by putting screens up, whether that’s using touchless, contactless technology, that means people don’t have to come into physical contact with communal surfaces, like door knobs or [00:17:00] elevator buttons so much

Sonia Kang:                       The extent of these changes over time, will depend on things like whether there’s a vaccine. But as people head back to the office, companies must design and plan, not just for personalization, but also much more now, for health and safety.

Sonia Kang:                       So in the short term, Arjun sees a possible move away from open concept, shared desks back to cubicles, but with a modern design.

Arjun Kaicker:                   I don’t [00:17:30] think it will be the fabric screens of the old cubicles. There’s more likely to be plexiglass screens. There’s even types of glass where, at the switch of a button, the glass can go from being completely transparent to being opaque, where people can have them completely transparent much of the day, but when they want more privacy, they can press a button, and these can become more translucent or opaque.

Sonia Kang:                       But [00:18:00] the future workplace will still have to solve for collaboration, socializing, and personalization, even if we’re in cubicles again. Designers will look to some of the personalization that employees got used to, while working from home.

Arjun Kaicker:                   So we are going to move towards more space for people, more individualization, more adaptable to different types of work. One thing is of course, sit-stand desks, which do that. Another thing is people having more control over [00:18:30] the temperature, over the lighting, having much better technology so they can do much better video conferencing from their desk, but video conferencing that doesn’t distract people around them. So really, having a much better control of acoustics.

Sonia Kang:                       At the same time, it’s important to recognize that for some people, working from home was actually neither enjoyable, nor even doable. In some cases, it highlighted socioeconomic disparity, [00:19:00] and favored privilege. Companies will need to be sensitive to this if they go digital first with their workplaces, and the longer we work from home, the question will be, how supported are you in doing that?

Arjun Kaicker:                   Have they got a good chair to sit on? Have they got a good table to sit at? Do they have the right lighting? Even providing individualized consultations with staff, just to give them ideas of things they could do that they might not have thought of already in the house.

Sonia Kang:                       Consultations, [00:19:30] home office subsidies, and even someone to purchase all of this stuff, instead of each employee taking time to buy it themselves. Also, things like providing decent wifi, and wifi extenders. These are things to ask about when a company is structured for remote work. But if it’s an office situation, next time you visit one, assess what the design says about the company. Is the employee experience a priority for them? Are they customizing the space to take care of their employees? And then, [00:20:00] think about your decision spreadsheet. Is this data important to you?

Sonia Kang:                       Okay, we’ve talked about one of the big areas of the employee experience that will help you determine if you’re at the right company or not: the environment and physical setup. Now, let’s look at technology. What are the right tools for the job?

Joe Berger:                        The more ahead of the curve companies are talking about it during the interview process, they’re taking that same mindset that they applied to [00:20:30] the customer side, and now they’re really focusing it on their own employee.

Sonia Kang:                       Joe Berger is a Senior Director at World Wide Technology.

Joe Berger:                        And on the flip side, what we’re even seeing is that the candidates are starting to ask about, what are the tools you’re going to give me to do my job?

Sonia Kang:                       He helps companies understand how employees want to use technology, and his key point is that employees want the digital tools they use at work, to resemble the ones they use at home.

Joe Berger:                        I mean, you’ve got a whole generation about to enter the workforce, that grew up with [00:21:00] Alexa in their bedroom.

Sonia Kang:                       Just think about what your personal devices allow you to do.

Joe Berger:                        As we talk about the employee experience, and this is where we talk about the sort of any, any, any, any device, anytime, anywhere, my work has to be able to follow me kind of along the path, to be able to enable me to get that job done.

Sonia Kang:                       This became a major need when so many of us started working from home. Something that used to be a nice to have, suddenly became essential, and it’s especially important, if you’re interacting [00:21:30] with customers. Let’s say you work in a call center and your customers are talking to you across a few devices, but you can’t do the same.

Joe Berger:                        It’s enabling them to have that kind of real time data to address it, without having to tell the customer, “Repeat who you are, give me your information again.” Nothing drives a consumer more mad than having to do the same thing over and over again without resolution.

Sonia Kang:                       And I know it makes a lot of you mad too, because there’s a direct correlation between customer satisfaction [00:22:00] and employee satisfaction. And then, there’s the changing nature of work and the technology required to accommodate it.

Joe Berger:                        I’d say over the past five to 10 years, we’ve gone to more of this model of team of teams where you’re going to be a part of different teams with different timelines, but I’ve got smaller work groups that have to be very agile in the way we work. That’s where you’ve seen the rise of things like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Webex Teams. There’s a number of these vendors out there doing this.

Sonia Kang:                       Joe is talking about the increasingly collaborative nature of work. [00:22:30] We’re working with more and more teams, so our communication across and between those teams needs to be seamless. This requires digital platforms that are referred to as open.

Joe Berger:                        Now I can communicate very quickly in real time with multiple teams, different departments, very fast. I can see in real time what changes have been made to my spreadsheet, and I can see who made them, and we can work in real time with each other. I’m not missing a [00:23:00] step just because I was out on vacation last week, I can catch up very quickly to all of this.

Sonia Kang:                       As you consider the role technology should play in the right company, let’s check with Michael, the guy stuck at the wrong company. What did his job look like?

Michael:                             The old firm had a really suburban industrial park vibe. Beige everything, beige carpet, beige walls, beige cubicles, beige desks.

Sonia Kang:                       Ironically, [00:23:30] Michael was working at a design company, but that wasn’t the worst part.

Michael:                             There was kind of a lack of vision or a sense of purpose or mission within the firm. For example, there just was very little investment in things like social events, or personal development or education. I think it’s hard in that environment to create the culture, and to foster a culture of support, and recognition [00:24:00] and comradery.

Sonia Kang:                       Michael came to understand that culture mattered more to him than the chance to build experience, and culture is the third thing we’re going to look at. It might be the most important part of the employee experience.

Jacob Morgan:                 I like to think of corporate culture as the side effects of working for your organization, sort of like you were taking a drug.

Sonia Kang:                       This is Jacob Morgan again, the guy who studies the employee experience.

Jacob Morgan:                 And the side effects can be good or the side effects can be bad, but the point is, you need to think [00:24:30] of it, of what happens to you when you are part of that company. Do you feel a sense of growth and empowerment? Are you learning new things, or are you stressed out and anxious? What do you get as a result of working there?

Sonia Kang:                       Understanding workplace culture will be the main focus of this series, because nothing can make you feel stuck at work like when your company’s values don’t fit with your own, or you don’t feel like you can speak your mind, and if you’re not given the chance to develop your skills. So we’ll be talking a lot more about [00:25:00] that stuff in future shows, but for now, back to Michael. He spun his wheels at the wrong company for close to two years. He was stuck.

Michael:                             I realized that I was in a bad spot. One of the things I did to cope with that, was to really focus on other things that were going on in my life. That period is a really poor one for career development, but in terms of personal development, it was actually, I think a fairly rich one. I had some good relationships. I discovered sports in a way that I had never [00:25:30] before, I had become much more active and healthy. I found a balance, in a weird way.

Sonia Kang:                       And it was by finding that personal balance, that he started to slowly become unstuck.

Michael:                             I did a thing where I said, “Okay, I’m just going to spend this one evening a week or a couple hours a week focusing on the job hunt.” It was one of those things where it was a combination of personal and professional relationships, and just being able to walk into a room and understand [00:26:00] what the firm was about. Having had a small past relationship with some of the people there, and being able to kind of talk confidently about their work, what I wanted to do, and how I fit into that.

Sonia Kang:                       By collecting and analyzing the data, Michael, finally ended up at the right company. He got a bit lucky too.

Michael:                             I’m really fortunate to have ended up where I did, because I think that some of the things that I had wanted in a position, [00:26:30] in hindsight, were probably things that I would not have excelled at,

Sonia Kang:                       Among other things, he found a place that played to his strengths.

Michael:                             So the space is very bright and airy, there are plants everywhere, everything is custom designed. I think everybody takes a lot of pride in it.

Sonia Kang:                       With the right tools.

Michael:                             Where I’m at now is a place that has a really strong focus on keeping up with the latest technology, ensuring that they are producing the best [00:27:00] work with the best tools.

Sonia Kang:                       And the right culture.

Michael:                             There’s an opportunity for people at all levels and in all positions to make really meaningful contributions to the work. There’s always a range of things going on that don’t relate specifically to day-to-day work, but are more around skill development, social events, knowledge building. It’s clear that they are taking an active interest, not just in their kind of financial bottom [00:27:30] line, but in the health and well-being, and careers of the people there.

Sonia Kang:                       As more companies commit to nurturing the employee experience, one that meets your needs around things like culture, tech, and physical space, the data you need to make the right decision about the right company for you, should become easier to collect.

Jacob Morgan:                 Just think, you’re not always going to find your future spouse on the first date, on the very first date that you go to, right? I mean, it takes time, it’s work.

Sonia Kang:                       Jacob Morgan brings [00:28:00] it back to the idea of a relationship.

Jacob Morgan:                 Not just going to the interviews and showing up, but asking, can you talk to some of the other employees who are there? Are you able to just show up one day and just kind of co-work out of the space, just to hang out for a little bit, see what people are saying about the organization?

Sonia Kang:                       How companies act in crisis situations can say a lot. For example..when Covid-19 hit..how companies treated employees, good or bad, was well documented on social media…And, as we heard in the last episode, do some research on a company’s track record around diversity, and inclusion. Does their diversity statement actually translate into a visibly inclusive organization? And do they take action, not just bold stances on systemic racism?

Jacob Morgan:                 Don’t assume that you just have to go with what you’re told during the interview process, because I can tell you that the organizations who are proud of their culture, the organizations who believe that they have these great environments, will have no problem saying, “Sure, [00:29:00] walk around, talk to whoever you want.”

Sonia Kang:                       In the end, the company that works for you is the right company. Consider which elements of the employee experience are important to you. Does the company offer the right tools and the right space in which to do your work? Does the culture align with your values? Will the role play to your strengths and passions? Is this a growth industry with exciting opportunities for career development? [00:29:30] Put all of this into your decision spreadsheet and crunch the data for yourself, but wherever you land, even at the most right company, there will be other things to deal with, especially when it comes to the culture bucket of the employee experience.

Sonia Kang:                       So in future episodes, we’ll be looking at how to navigate your professional relationships and how to advance in your career. That’s coming up on For The Love of Work, an original podcast made possible by Rogers. In the meantime, you can also find us at [00:30:00] “for the love of work.ca”. I’m Sonia Kang, thanks for listening.