The Mix Tape: Ep. 1 — A Return To The Office Is Not A Return To Normal

Today, The Mix Tape talks the specifics of bringing employees back to a workplace amidst a global pandemic. Despite the challenges, working in office is possible! It's just complicated.

Transcription

Unison- Maggie and Valerie:

Welcome to The Mix Tape.

Valerie McCandlish:

My name is Valerie.

Maggie Painter:

And I’m Maggie. We are so excited to kick off our first episode. On this season of The Mix Tape, we will host industry leaders within life sciences to discuss an array of topics surrounding talent, culture, leadership, entrepreneurial journeys, and the future of biotech in Ohio.

Valerie McCandlish:

We feel so very fortunate to be able to host these fantastic guests to share their best practices they have learned throughout their career, to hopefully teach you something new and inspire you in your own career. On this episode, our veteran HR expert at Mix, Patty Adams, sits down with Julie Hakim and Julie Hart about returning to the office after the pandemic. Julie Hakim is the head of finance and human resources for Lundbeck North America. She has spent 15 years in the industry, specializing in HR and finance.

Maggie Painter:

And Julie Hart is an employment lawyer, a principal at her own practice with three decades of law practice, specifically with 15 to 20 years of in-house counseling supporting people management. So without further ado, let’s hear from Patty, Julie and Julie with their segment, a return to the office is not a return to normal.

Patty Adams:

Hi, everybody and welcome to the podcast. My name is Patty Adams and I’m the head of human resources consulting for Mix Talent. My role at Mix is to help life science organizations manage all things HR from compensation assessments, total rewards, workforce planning. I help companies prepare for managed business transitions to include scaling organizations, product launches, you name it.

Patty Adams:

I’m very fortunate today to have two of my dear friends and colleagues with me, Julie Hakim and Julie Hart. We have two Julies. We’re in very capable hands to discuss the topic of our podcast, which is a return to the office is not a return to normal, managing through COVID-19. Julie Hakim, starting with you, can you please just give us a brief background about yourself?

Julie Hakim:

Sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Julie Hakim. As Patty mentioned, I am the senior vice president of North America Human and Financial Resources for Lundbeck here in North America. I am specializing in all things finance, HR, and operations for the organizations. I’ve been in biopharma for the last 15 years and started my career primarily in the finance world, but then evolved my capabilities. I’ve had responsibility for finance and HR for the last almost six years now so that’s a little bit about my background.

Patty Adams:

Excellent. Thanks, Julie. Julie Hart, a little bit of background about you, please.

Julie Hart:

Hi, everyone. My name is Julie Hart. I’m an employment lawyer. I am currently principal at Julie Hart Associates, my own practice. I have three plus decades of experience practicing employment law, and the last 15 to 20 as in-house counsel for a number of different organizations. I support management in all things people related, including an occasional investigation. In the last year, primarily just helping organizations navigate through the myriad of issues that COVID has thrown up at us for the first time.

Patty Adams:

Yeah, thank you.

Julie Hart:

Thrown out. Probably you can edit that, Josh. Thrown up is probably not- [crosstalk 00:03:31]

Julie Hakim:

Thrown up is a totally appropriate word. I feel like it works.

Julie Hart:

I didn’t mean it like that.

Julie Hakim:

It’s a good visual.

Patty Adams:

Definitely. All right, here we go. So thank you both. And to get us started today, I wanted to talk just a little bit about what I’m hearing from my clients. I think this kind of took us down the road in some of our conversations preparing for our discussion today about how do we manage the situation of COVID-19 and what my clients ask me is, “What are you hearing? What are other companies doing? How are other organizations dealing with everything from requiring people to come back to work, requiring vaccines, wearing masks, in the workplace?” Julie, why don’t you talk a little bit about what you heard today, in terms of where we’re based in the state of Illinois and what Governor Pritzker just shared with all of us?

Julie Hakim:

Yes. It’s one of those things that has been a consistent theme right across the entire pandemic is that we’re constantly having to be flexible and agile in our overall approach, because there will be new guidance coming at us often and not without its complexity, in terms of how it affects how we work, and who we ask to work, et cetera. So late last week and part of August, Governor Pritzker in Illinois has announced a new indoor mask mandate. That means that we’re all having to reevaluate our workforce policies, and our workplace practices, and to figure out what does that mean for us organizationally?

Julie Hakim:

How do we continue to create and foster a safe work environment for employees, but yet trying to create those opportunities for them to feel safe, and comfortable, and encourage them to come back to the workplace? So it’s definitely one of those things that gets thrown our way, and we just roll with the punches, and we figure it out as we go.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. That’s one reason I’m very happy to have you both here. Julie, obviously you’re leading an organization through this change, as the head of HR and the head of finance. Julie, your experience with clients and helping them think about some of the challenges from a legal perspective, staying within the boundaries. And if you can just quickly comment, I think things are changing so quickly. It’s evolving before there’s even anything on the books to give people guidance on what to do. Can you just talk a little bit about the landscape?

Julie Hart:

Well, sure. To Julie’s point, Governor Pritzker just issued another edict, an indoor mask mandate, but it’s then left to private industry to figure out how to implement it. He can say the words, but it’s not as easy as just saying, “Put a mask on.” So I think what’s been unique about the pandemic is the level of regulation we’ve seen from so many different levels. It’s not just the governors of states, but it is mayors of cities. It is county officials, municipalities at every level of government, including the lowest levels of government.

Julie Hart:

There are regulations or edicts being issued. It has been very challenging for employers in particular, to keep up with it, and to know, and make sure that wherever they are physically located, they are in compliance with more than one set of rules. And it’s not that the rules aren’t necessarily inconsistent, but the levels of regulation, there’s some precedent for it. At the scope of the pandemic, it is unprecedented, I would say.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. And I think you’ve touched on something that I’d love to come back to at some point. That is if you have employees in multiple states and multiple locations, so as we kick this off, it almost sounds like it’s an impossible situation, right? No matter what you do, something’s going to change.

Julie Hart:

But it is not impossible.

Patty Adams:

Right.

Julie Hart:

You can bring employees back to a workplace. So our message is not to tell everybody to stay home. It’s just complicated, I guess.

Patty Adams:

Yes, there are some very positive steps that you can take and doing it the right way can really help build and enhance your culture, as an organization and reinforce why it’s a good place to retract and retain talent. And along those lines, Julie, I’d be interested because I know you’ve been leading an effort in your organization to think about what does it mean to welcome people back to the workplace. So can you talk a little bit about what your company’s approach has been, as you’ve been managing this shifting landscape?

Julie Hakim:

Right, exactly. Happy to talk through that just a little bit further. So all the way back in March of 2020, the approach that we took is that we knew that we were going to really need very broad expertise, in terms of how to approach this in order to be able to provide a safe environment and keep employees engaged throughout. So it wasn’t just going to fall on HR. It wasn’t just going to fall on health, safety personnel. It wasn’t going to fall just to communications. It was going to have to take a very collaborative team approach. And so we did put together that team back in March of 2020.

Julie Hakim:

It’s a team of representing HR, it’s representing communications, it’s representing the sales commercial organization. We’re an organization that has a broad, a large number of employees out in the field across all 50 states. We wanted to make sure that we were capturing their perspectives and their thinking. Then we have the luxury being in life sciences, of having scientific experts on staff who can weed through all of the information from a scientific perspective and share their point of view and really to help cut through the clutter.

Julie Hakim:

I think part of the reason why I think that approach has worked for us is that team has been meeting almost every week since the beginning of the lockdown. And it’s been working sharing different perspectives, challenging one another.

Patty Adams:

So complex but highly collaborative.

Julie Hakim:

Yes.

Patty Adams:

I would imagine that we’ll talk about this in a bit, the level of communication that you have with your teams. Does all of that funnel through this group? Do you guys decide messages, timing?

Julie Hakim:

Yes. So our sub-teams certainly bring information. We share that across and ask for different perspectives, different points of view. I, as someone from HR, isn’t going to be the only one who has a perspective to think on how the employees may experience something and have a different perspective. So we do challenge one another and I think that’s what makes the approach unique and what makes it work is because we’re very much about finding the right balance and what’s best for the organization.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. Julie, thanks for sharing that process that you’ve developed to help manage the shifting sands of COVID for your organization. But from a legal landscape, Julie, I think a lot of people hesitate sometimes to take action because they’re afraid they’re going to run into some regulation. To your point about there are so many different levels of compliance and lots of government involved. Can you just talk a bit about the legal landscape?

Julie Hart:

Sure. I think that for some organizations there probably has been some deer in headlights. There have been some deer in headlights moments. Yeah. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the organization is because this is all new. We are all working, have all been working through this for the first time ever. I’m not 100 years old, but I’ve been around a long time. In terms of my practice, this is new. Everything we’ve done over the last year and a half has been new.

Julie Hart:

But I think it’s also helpful to remember it’s really not all new. For example, accommodation issues are a category of issue that employers have dealt with for decades. The process of how you respond to a request for accommodation isn’t new in COVID, but there’s a new reason for requesting an accommodation. I think if you can bring people back to this isn’t all brand new. Some things you actually are very well versed in and you’re experienced, and then you can do it, because you’ve been doing it is helpful.

Julie Hart:

I think one thing that makes it challenging is this whole issue, as we all know, living in the US has become so politicized that sometimes it’s hard to separate out what’s a legal concern versus what moves or feels like it’s more in a personal, emotional political arena. So I think some non-lawyers want there to be clear lines beyond which you should not go. But I think a lot of issues that may at first glance feel or seem legal to accompany really are more about what their culture is like.

Julie Hart:

And that will dictate what their decisions are. Yes, there are some bright lines, but I think a lot of what organizations are trying to work through are less legal and more cultural.

Patty Adams:

So you’ve got the ability to make the decision, make the decision, just know where those boundaries are from legal.

Julie Hart:

Right. I just think it’s all been so new that a lot of us felt powerless at first. We were being, I think a lot of us felt dictated to the CDC was telling us, and I don’t think in a bad way, “Here are safety issues and here’s our guidance on it. They aren’t laws, but they are guidance.” And they know a lot more about how to keep people safe through a pandemic than a lawyer does, or a head of HR does because that’s their sandbox.

Julie Hakim:

But I think the one piece to add onto that is that a lot of this it is guidance, it’s recommendations, but each, individual organization is uniquely different. Not even just the culture and your people are different, but your interior set up can be very different. You may be working in a laboratory that is where you have more space, and you have more flexibility, in terms of when people come into complete and run their experiments and those types of things. They don’t all have to be there at the exact same time.

Julie Hakim:

So there is distance between them so they can navigate that. You may have an environment in an office, general, typical office setting, where people may be seated very close together. If it was open concept and not offices, that creates a different level of complexity. If you have sales reps who are out in the field, MSLs who are out in the field, they’re not only navigating the state, local municipality requirements, they’re also navigating the requirements for each physician’s offices or KLS offices they may be calling on.

Julie Hakim:

You have to take all of those pieces and then just try to distill it down to make decisions about what’s right for your organization, and for your employees, and to be able to also meet the needs of your customers. I think that’s the other thing too, throughout the pandemic that we’ve been hearing is that customers still want information. They still want to be engaging with their vendors and their suppliers, but it’s figuring out what’s the best and the safe way. The best way to do that going forward has also been key.

Julie Hart:

And I think probably in the healthcare arena, there’s less that’s new or shocking than there is in other industries, because if you’ve had sales reps going into hospitals or physician’s offices, there have been requirements forever about potentially vaccinations that anybody who goes in those settings have to have. But that’s different than going into a manufacturing plant that has never asked what seems like a very personal question.

Julie Hart:

To your point there, in every case, you have to look individually at the employer because there are some jobs that have to be done in a brick and mortar location, and a lot of jobs that don’t. But beyond that, there are organizations, who either do or don’t want the employees who don’t technically have to go to a workplace. They do want them in the workplace, or they don’t care as much, or they’re interested in a hybrid solution.

Patty Adams:

So we’re touching on a lot of cultural, I think, to your point about is it a legal issue? Is it a cultural issue?A lot of cultural tones, overtones here. And I was just reading some information from Sherm that talked about cultural impact, like remote work versus requiring people to come back as you were describing. How is that dependent on the role that they’re filling? They said instead of hybrid or remote work, can we just call it strategic flexibility?

Patty Adams:

I also heard from another client of mine about the daily pivot. They call it the daily pivot. Based on whatever the headline is that day, you’ve got to be able to turn on a dime. So what about some of these cultural implications that you found and this expectation among our employees, that there is almost as soon as the word comes out about a new regulation, there’s an expectation that there’s a policy or some guidance that the company has to address it? Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve managed that, Julie?

Julie Hakim:

Yeah. So we felt that pain often, particularly over I would say from the spring and the summer, and I’m acutely remembering when the CDC issued guidance, all of a sudden saying masks were no longer necessary for those that were vaccinated. Because there was no warning, everyone has been incredibly anxious to remove the mask. Particularly in the workplace setting where it’s a barrier. One, from employees wanting to return to the office, they don’t want to wear the mask. And then two, once you’re there, it even inhibits you in terms of your participation, your active participation in discussions and whatnot.

Julie Hakim:

The second that mandate came out, we were all caught flat-footed. No one had any idea that was coming out. My email was blowing up immediately thereafter. “What does this mean for us? Can I take my mask off now? What should I…” You’re like, “Whoa, I haven’t even read it yet. Can I? I think being for us what was important was to be open and transparent. We just also too received the guidance from CDC. We need to read and understand it, and then we need to figure out, what does that mean for our organization, relative to what decisions we’ve already taken?

Julie Hakim:

Are there any changes that we need to apply? Can this be universally applied across? Is it various depending upon the sites, and locations, and all of those types of things? So just to be able to say to members of the organization, “We’re looking at it, we’re going to come back to you shortly, but let us just take a minute, just a minute or two, just to pause and really make sure that we have a better understanding of what was said, so that then we can apply it to what would work best for our organization.”

Julie Hart:

And I think employees want information. And so even receiving a message, “We got this. We want to be thoughtful about our response, and we will get back to you as soon as we can.” I think that goes a long way toward making people feel calm. But also, hopefully, Julie, it helps your inbox stay manageable and 3,000 people will not email you and say, “What now? Does this mean I can take my mask off?”

Julie Hart:

So I think it’s true of a lot of HR types of issues that people just want information. The more regularly you can communicate and the more transparent you are, I think the more people feel that their leaders know what’s going on and they’re good ants.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. So there’s been a pattern of communication established by the organization. I think people are a little bit more likely to say, “Okay, I get it. We’ll hear something when there’s something to hear, because you’ve made sure that you’ve established an expectation that we’ll tell you as soon as we know.” So being open, being transparent, and what I hear you saying is it’s okay to say, “Give us a minute.”

Julie Hakim:

Right. We’re not sure. We don’t know yet.

Julie Hart:

Right. Flexibility, that has become the watch word of the pandemic because just when we think we know how things are going, the Delta variant throws up its ugly head. So again, organizations that have embraced that and are comfortable being flexible, I think probably have the calmest workforces because everybody wants to know if I’m going to have to come back into the workplace, what’s the deadline?

Julie Hart:

When do I have to come back in? But as we’ve learned, it’s a moving target. It has to be because things are changing literally every week. I think as the information comes in, organizations that are saying, “We’re doing the best we can. We had hoped to do this by X date, but now we have to consider this new information, and we will reconsider what we thought was going to be a date by which we might invite some employees back to the workplace.”

Patty Adams:

So communication, definitely a theme here. And from a best practices perspective, let’s talk about the employee voice in all of this, because we’ve talked a bit about people asking a lot of questions clearly. But how can you check in with people to get a pulse on how they’re doing, understand what questions are on their mind? Any best practices or tips that you can offer from that perspective?

Julie Hakim:

I don’t know if it’s a best practice or a tip, but with the tool that we have used most often is to survey, survey, survey, and it is almost a regular pulse to what’s on your mind. What are the things that you’re concerned with? Are there actions or steps that we should be taking? Are there things that we haven’t thought of? What’s our blind spot? To distill it down in a survey that’s maybe five questions, you don’t want to send 20 to 25, although you could. You’re not going to get many responses if you do that with employees.

Julie Hakim:

But really to try to distill it down to really, what’s the most critical, important pieces of information that you need in order to be able to do that. And I think the other thing you can survey, but that it’s also critically important to be transparent about what are the survey results? What actions are you taking as a result of those results? Because what you want to do is to ensure that there is this ongoing dialogue between employees and the organization, and they feel like their voice is being heard.

Julie Hart:

I think that to some extent, the two of you are more expert in this than I am. But I think to some extent, there’s a tension between the concerns about safety and concerns about the company culture, because what might drive an organization to get people back in the workplace is a concern about culture, because it is more challenging. You guys can speak to this more than I can, to maintain a sense of culture when everybody is on their computer screen zooming.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. I think, Julie, you raised a really important point earlier that people just want to feel safe.

Julie Hakim:

I think the one other nuance with that I’d been much more attuned to over the last several weeks, as the Delta variant has risen in caseload, et cetera, is it’s about creating a safe work environment, but it’s not without risk. You can’t make anywhere be a zero risk place. You can’t have a zero risk workplace, not dissimilar from you can’t have a zero risk trip to the grocery store. You can’t have a zero risk trip to go see grandma and grandpa.

Julie Hakim:

I think it’s also talking about what is it ultimately we’re trying to achieve? It is a safe workplace, but we’re trying to make sure that it’s just as safe, as any of these other activities, and these other things that you may be doing. Not more so, not less, but on par with what you’re doing, because we’ve all had to go about our daily lives. We’ve all had to figure this out so how do we enable that to happen in a safe, but recognizing that it will not be without risk.

Patty Adams:

I think you mentioned risk, and so I’m looking at the lawyer.

Julie Hart:

Thank you. Don’t look at me.

Patty Adams:

And people start to get really anxious when you start talking about that.

Julie Hart:

Right. What I was thinking when you were just saying that Julie, was that you are safety obviously, is of very high concern to a lot of employees and there might be employees, and maybe you’ve already had to deal with this, maybe you each have had to deal with this. What do you do about employees who say, “I don’t want to come back because fill in the blank. I live with somebody whose high risk, or I have children who aren’t vaccinated.”

Julie Hart:

And when a lawyer, if I’m asked that question, the legal answer and the right answer for the organization are not necessarily the same. Because if people won’t come back to work and the organization has decreed that they shall come back to the workplace, technically you can fire that person. That doesn’t mean that’s the right answer or solution. I think you have to always keep the culture of the organization front and center because the legal, and just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Patty Adams:

Yeah, I think that’s a great guiding principle here. Again, it comes down to your company’s culture. Do you follow it to the letter? Some organizations have to because of the nature of their employee demographic. Others have a bit more flexibility.

Julie Hakim:

I think the other thing though, that I would add on to that it is you have to make these decisions in the context of the culture of your organization. I think it’s also, it’s an equal balance of what is in the best interest of the business? We’re all in it so it has to be thoughtfully considered, is making sure that you’re in alignment with your culture, doing everything you can for employees, and culture and safety.

Julie Hakim:

But at the same time, recognizing that it is a business that needs to thrive so that we can continue to bring innovations to new patients. I think it’s just that’s in my mind how I think about it through both lenses, in terms of how to make those decisions.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. It’s challenge because you have experiments that have timelines, the people in the lab. You’ve got if there’s a product launch, that’s critical to get technology to patients in the clinic. FDA has certain timelines that aren’t necessarily flexible, but so the business consideration to in balancing that. I think, Julie, you raised a good point earlier. This isn’t really new.

Patty Adams:

The reason for it is different, but how we’ve had to weigh these decisions in the past, whatever the reason for the decision. Now it’s COVID and I think the challenge is we’ve just never had to deal with a pandemic before in our lifetime at this level. It is not unprecedented. Maybe what I’ll do is ask you both to think about what are your top three? If you want to do four, that’s fine. If you want to do two, that’s all right too. Words of wisdom going forward.

Julie Hakim:

I think the first one that comes to mind is flexibility.

Julie Hart:

That was my first one, too.

Julie Hakim:

That has been the absolute, most critical thing that has had to exist throughout. It’s the muscle that I’ve had to exercise the absolute most over the last 18 months. Is just because you think you’re going to go down one path on a Tuesday, you may very well end up having to go down a different path on a Thursday, and getting really comfortable with having to pivot. Get new information, to take more conversation, reevaluate. Is that still the right decision and then moving forward? So the idea of flexibility is critically important, in order to be able to work with us. This is going to be around for us, I think, for quite some time still.

Julie Hakim:

And so to be able to know, and to recognize that it’s okay, that you are going to have to go back and reassess decisions. One of my principles has always been well, once I take a decision, I just go. That really hasn’t necessarily been the best course of action throughout the pandemic, because you may learn very critical new information that will make you rethink. In many instances, you will have to double back and say, “You know what? That wasn’t the right decision. Now I need to go and do this other thing.” So flexibility has been critically important. That’s the one thing I would put on a list, for sure.

Patty Adams:

Yeah.

Julie Hart:

One thing that I think has been helpful and Patty, you and I have spent some time talking about this. A lot of organizations have developed what I’ll call a COVID playbook. It was new for a lot of organizations. I think given the sometimes overwhelming number of different sources of information to go to, to see what the latest is, I think one thing that helps employers is to give some of those resources just as hyperlinks in a COVID playbook to the employees. They can find the CDCs latest without burdening their employer, their management team, to issue a new communication every time something changes.

Julie Hart:

Because I don’t know how organizations really would on a day-to-day basis, be able to keep up and communicate to their whole employee base, especially if you have operations in every state in the country. That’s one thing. Flexibility was my number one as well. And I think anticipating employee needs as much as you can is also helpful. One thing that I know the least about of the three of us sitting here is competitive advantage in terms of talent, what’s most important to retaining talent?

Julie Hart:

Is it for one person, it may be the feeling of safety, and knowing that I’m going to be allowed to work from home as long as I want to? And for somebody else, the culture of being together in a room collaborating is more important. So that’s not for me necessarily to have to navigate. I think it’s just a complexity for employers to figure out what really is most important and what will work best for their organization.

Patty Adams:

And there are trade-offs. There are trade-offs. There is a level of collaboration that will suffer if you give people the option to continue to have the strategic flexibility that we talked about earlier. That can have wins in other ways. Certainly, even some that you may not be able to measure today. What are your thoughts, Julie?

Julie Hakim:

I think it definitely has ripple effects. I think the one other thing I was going to say that I think is really important is to continue to seek out employee feedback, which can go to this whole point about competitive advantage, and to find out you may think what’s really important to those employees. When in fact, at the end of the day, you will come upon and you will get survey results. You’ll say to yourself, “Wow, wasn’t even in my top three things of what they say is important.”

Julie Hakim:

And such thing as people wanting to know vaccination status of who they’re working with. It would have never even crossed my mind that would be something that could be of importance, but for some people, and in many organizations, I’m sure employees are saying, “Yeah, while I understand that may be medically protected,” HIPAA is a whole another thing to navigate, Julie. Again, if people want to feel safe, that’s in their mind, that is a way in which they can feel safer is if they know who I’m sitting across the table from, are they at any more risk than I am as an example?

Julie Hakim:

So I think by gathering and continuing to get that employee feedback about what’s important, what can we do better, what can we do differently is critically important because it evolves over time. What you thought you knew three months ago, is probably different now. And it will probably evolve another three months after that.

Julie Hart:

And I think you raise the issue of vaccine mandates. Again, that’s another one of those issues legally, yes. You can mandate that everybody, except people who have sincerely held religious beliefs or have a medical condition that prevents them from getting vaccinated. Yes, you can do that, but that isn’t necessarily the right answer for every organization. Again, like I get to foist off the issue to the non-lawyers to say, “What do you want to do? What’s the right answer for your organization?”

Patty Adams:

I think the challenges there are there’s so much that remains to be seen. It’s a TBD, in terms of what legal precedent may come out of some of these early cases, because inevitably there will be cases.

Julie Hart:

Yeah, because somebody will challenge an employer’s ability to mandate a vaccine before coming back to a workplace. Then Delta Airlines came up with a very unique take on how to encourage in air quotes, “vaccination,” which is to make unvaccinated employees pay $200 a month more for their healthcare premiums. There will definitely be legal challenges to that. I think if it’s written the right way, my hunch is that it will be something employers can do.

Julie Hart:

But again, it falls into that category of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Things really are just changing week by week. I think what we’ve all seen is that, as the weeks have progressed since the Delta variant has become so prevalent, is more and more private organizations are mandating vaccines. So I think time will tell whether that reaches to all airline travel, or all restaurant, indoor restaurant dining, and every other thing that we like to do inside. I don’t know what it will evolve into.

Patty Adams:

Julie, not to put you on the spot that I will. Do you have any idea roughly of how many organizations now are mandating? I know there are top 50, there are top 500 that are looking into this. I think when you read the headlines every day, there are more and more major employers that are. I think, again, as we started our discussion today, a lot of other employers, smaller, mid size employers are taking the wait and see. I’ll wait and see what other businesses do.

Julie Hart:

Well, I started to make a list and then I ran out of room on the piece of paper, because there are so many large organizations that are taking the lead. Amtrak, well, that’s important to know if you were going to take a train, get on one of their trains from A to B. Yes, that’s one of those settings where you probably would want to know if the people who work for Amtrak are vaccinated and they will be as of November 1st apparently.

Julie Hart:

But there are a lot of well-known organizations, including Citi Groups, Cisco, Deloitte, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, the New York Times, and the mandates apply not only to employees, but to be effective, they have to apply to vendors and visitors as well. To let some people into your workplace who weren’t vaccinated to me, belies the whole reason for mandating vaccines in the first place. So there are a lot of considerations before an employer decides where they’re going to land on that policy.

Julie Hakim:

Great. I think one other words of wisdom, I think is what you were asking for that I would say is we have the fortunate for luxury at the lockdown in 2020, that decision about when to do that was made for us basically. I think as employers are looking to figure out when to return to the workplace and try to get back to a new normal, I think there isn’t going to be anyone who makes that decision for you. Each organization is going to be uniquely different. I think it will require courage to take these decisions.

Julie Hakim:

They’re not easy. You are not going to make everyone happy. I know everyone knows that, but I think that it’s a critical element to understand at a certain point in time, we just have to take decisions and we have to start moving forward and not feeling so paralyzed by, “Well, what if I make the wrong decision? What if it’s not the right one?” Then you pivot, and you take another decision, and you continue to take steps to move forward. And I think that’s so critically important for an organization.

Julie Hakim:

For employees also to know is what decision are we taking? Why are we taking it? Take a step, don’t hold back, be courageous and lead through that, so that then you can move forward. Talk about, be open and transparent about there is no playbook for this. We’re going to get some of it right. Most of it will probably be wrong and we’re going to work through it together to figure out what’s the best way to move forward. I think that is that idea of leading with empathy throughout the pandemic.

Julie Hakim:

I just think that’s what everyone wants. They want to feel heard, they want to feel understood, as you start to take steps forward.

Patty Adams:

Courageously, well-informed, and then being as open and transparent with that communication as you can be.

Julie Hakim:

Right. It’s clear, at least in the US, that the government is not going to tell us what to do. They’re not going to take the lead, which leaves it to private industry, who will either see it as a burden or an opportunity to leave. To your point, Julie, somebody has to start moving forward.

Patty Adams:

Yeah. Thank you both for your thoughts, and your guidance, your expertise on a very, very complex topic. Part of our Mix Tape that we are putting together, I have a couple of questions for you non-COVID related. And to help us build our Mix Tape, we’d like to know, we’re asking everyone who joins us on our podcast, what’s your favorite song and what is your favorite interview question? I have a couple of really great experts here and I’m happy to start.

Julie Hakim:

I think that’s an excellent idea. You should lead by example.

Patty Adams:

Be courageous, transparent. [crosstalk 00:42:15] So my favorite song is Give a Little Bit by Supertramp. There’ve been a lot of remixes. It’s got to be the Supertramp version. My favorite interview question, and I usually ask this right towards the end of the discussion is what would make you walk away from this opportunity? It really helps underscore and summarize the discussion that we’ve had up to that point. If it puts someone back on their heels a bit, I think that’s okay. I want them to think and get their reaction. Those are my responses.

Julie Hakim:

I like it. So my favorite song is probably, I think the name of it, the title of it is Unwritten. I have to go back and I cannot think of the singer because I’m ill-prepared for this question. I believe Unwritten. I can sing the song in my head. I will not say it here by the way. And my favorite interview question is something similar to yours, Patty. Again, towards the end of the conversation, but what I will ask potential employees is what questions haven’t you yet asked today that you still want to have an answer to?

Patty Adams:

Yeah, that’s good.

Julie Hart:

Again, to try to really tease out, is there some underlying concern, is there something that just nagging at them that they’ve been a little bit uncertain to ask? But hopefully then that will invite them to be bold and put out there what their question or their concern may be. And again, it’s sometimes puts people back on their heels just for a little bit, but I’m the other on the flip side of it, some people feel very empowered them by that, because they’re like, “Wow, they really want to know. They really want to hear what am I concerned about before I take this step?”

Julie Hart:

And so you can get one or two responses, but oftentimes, it’s more that people feel much more empowered and emboldened to really share their final perspective or their final concern, which is great. Then if it’s someone that you’re really interested in, you can try to address that before they walk out the door.

Patty Adams:

Excellent. Thank you.

Julie Hart:

Well, I do feel put on the spot, but I have a lot easier time answering the favorite song part of it than the favorite interview question, because I haven’t done nearly as much interviewing as either of you have over the course of my career. My favorite song, I feel a little embarrassed about this because I was probably 12 or 13 when the song out, but it’s still American Pie by Don McLean.

Patty Adams:

Classic, yeah.

Julie Hart:

I still sing it at the top of my lungs when it comes on in the car, all of the words. I got the words from WLS, you could write to them and they would send you. And as you know, it’s a very long song. There are pages worth of words. That is still my favorite song. And actually your question, Julie, what question haven’t you got an answer to, I have asked that and I do like that. I think another one, and I can’t say that I’ve asked this in every interview would be, if you had a favorite prior job, what was it about that job that made it your favorite?

Julie Hart:

That’s the best I can do under pressure with no advance warning that you would ask us that.

Patty Adams:

Well, it’s like an interview. You never know what’s coming so we’ll just put you right in the same spot as the candidate. And by the way, not that we weren’t listening, but we found the answer for the artist that did Unwritten, Natasha Bedingfield. I have it on my playlist as well.

Julie Hart:

Well, there you go.

Patty Adams:

All right. So on that note, thank you both again for being here and for your sage advice, as we navigate the complexities of COVID and think about what it means, what does the normal mean. Thanks for joining us, everybody.

Valerie McCandlish:

Thanks so much to Julie Hart and Julie Hakim for joining Patty to discuss returning to the office. I don’t know about you, Maggie, but I really loved hearing about how important employee APAC is and how imperative it is to use as companies continue to evolve because we all just have to give a little bit.

Maggie Painter:

The future, it’s unwritten, right? So each week we will be asking our guests to share their favorite song, to add to our own Mix Tape. We will have a Mix Tape playlist for everyone to check out so be sure to subscribe to this podcast and follow us on LinkedIn @mixtalent and on Instagram @mix.talent. Thanks for being in the mix. We’ll see you next week.

 

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