The New Employee Contract with Anthony Onesto

Here at Groundswell, we have the pleasure of talking with people who are passionate improving engagement, retention and overall satisfaction of today’s workforce. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of these individuals, Anthony Onesto, author of The New Employee Contract: How to Find, Keep, and Elevate Gen Z Talent. His book dives deep into the ever-evolving employee landscape with the introduction of GenZ workers and the wave automation.

Welcome, Anthony! So glad to be speaking with you today. Your main focus with the book is how to better understand and how to attract and retain employees, specifically for the GenZ audience and population. Why was it important for you to specifically focus on GenZ for your book?

I think there are two elements of the book that I wanted to talk about. One is the macro message about erosion and the unwritten employee contract between employees and employers, “If you give me this, I give you that.” It’s something that’s been established for quite a while and has unfortunately been eroding over time. There are a bunch of different reasons for it. You know, one, the macro economic dependencies on short-term earnings and all these sorts of things that are making decisions that aren’t people related and kind of eroding that contract from the company perspective. Then, having new generations coming into the workforce with this, there’s no like fact that my father worked for one company, his entire life doesn’t exist anymore. I think people look at the employee and say, employees aren’t loyal anymore, but I think it was the companies that started it, right. 

So, it’s a macro view on that contract and how we renew, we need to re-establish that. At a micro level, what I want to do is tell that story, and also provide tactical advice to companies on the next generation of employees that are coming into the workforce. When millennials came into the workforce, we were all surprised that they thought differently and wanted different things than GenX and Boomers. There are commonalities in the various generations. But for the most part, when millennials came into the workforce, we were surprised and somewhat unprepared. 

I wanted to take the macro lens of this employment contract and use it as a way to provide advice for the next generation. GenZ are coming into the workforce. Some of them are here, and over the next five to seven years more of them will come into the workplace. I wanted to explore and understand the question of whether they want something different, like what we saw with millennials. If they do, how do we prepare companies better to welcome them into organizations and around these three different areas: recruiting, employee retention and training?

That makes a lot of sense and it’s super interesting, at least from your purview to see that shift. You explore the concepts of, and the differences between 20th and the 21st-century jobs in your book. Can you give a brief primer on what those actual key differences are and why it really does matter?

Sure, a 20th-century job is typically a manufacturing job or job where you’re required to come into the office at a set time, punch a clock or where your job has specific duties and output. I gave a presentation the other day, and then the image illustration of a 20th-century job is at the turn of the century. Not this one, but the former century. When people used to go bowling for example, there were actual human beings that picked up the bowling pins and replaced them. That was an actual job someone had in the 20th-century. That sort of mechanical, where the output is exactly the same, and they can do the job exactly the same. Today that is all automated.

A 20th-century job was determined by leadership. From the top down they determined the hours that you had to work and the way you had to work in certain ways. There wasn’t a lot of creative freedom in those jobs. Some 20th-century jobs still exist today. Especially that mentality. 

But if we’re thinking about the information age and the stuff that you and I do, we need to really start thinking about these roles in the 21st-century. It’s defined by giving that freedom that job is no longer nine to five that it can be accomplished. It’s output-based. It’s not determined by where you go, the hours you work and all of the elements that we saw in a 20th-century job. It’s about creative freedom and allowing people and we’re seeing an escalation of this. Of course, we saw this accelerate with the COVID pandemic.

The future may be different – where you know people are doing the job and different hours, ways, and all sorts of things. It’s not as prescriptive as it once was.

Yeah, and you even mentioned the idea of automation and I know you explore it in your book. It’s so interesting because the intent was to create and make our lives easier. Yet more people are arguably more miserable and stressed.

Yeah, I mean, I think if you look at the elements, there are two phases of automation. One is incremental automation and the second is full automation. We’ve seen the challenges whether it’s the Tesla autonomous vehicle, which everyone is striving towards. If you’ve watched the movie about Uber, the idea that Travis had, drivers were a friction point in his plan. So, we can remove the drivers, right? So there’s always going to be incremental innovation and automation around these things. The question here is whether the elements of these jobs should exist? So the fact is, if you can automate a role in a warehouse for Amazon, that job can be fully automated by a robot so that person can do something different now. 

What happens to the individual? So like you said, not all automation is great, some of us are miserable. Well, what happens is if things are automated, we become more efficient. We’re looking for other things to do. How do we train folks to think creatively and create programs where you’re not doing that 20th-century task-oriented job, and it’s already here, like e-mail. It’s automation, like most of our jobs are already, you know, automated to a certain degree. It’s looking at the entirety of the situation and being very thoughtful about it versus “let’s just automate this because it’ll make it cheaper to do.”

How do we ensure employees don’t feel like another cog in the wheel? This can really show up if there’s a culture of micromanagement and a sole focus on business metrics.  How can companies do better to address that?

When  you look at it from the lens of GenZ, the idea of micromanaging is something that’s going to be very pushed back. The GenZ generation is going to push back on micromanagement because the majority of them were born with an iPhone in their hands, figuratively speaking. But also just the idea of co-creation. There’s a reason why the majority of GenZ actually has a TikTok account, which is the fastest-growing content medium in the world right now, faster than Netflix and Disney plus, and they have almost a zero content budget. They don’t create any original content. So co-creation, flexibility, all these things are super important for the GenZ environment. 

There’s also rethinking how we foster respect. For example, there’s no reason for anyone to be online for 24 hours, so you can set reasonable expectations and boundaries around communication. The “send later” feature on email and slack is a game-changer. So just because you can send a message at any moment, think about the people that work for you. Are they going to be on and think “oh, he’s on and I need to respond to this right away”? So now I’m using automation to go okay, I’m going to send this tomorrow morning. It’s good for me to do it because I’m most productive, but it may not necessarily be good for the other person. 

It’s those intentional things that are going to be critical. 

That’s really interesting. I am curious from a benefits perspective, what is actually meaningful to this generation beyond benefits like healthcare?

The one thing is benefits are at a higher level mission for organizations. There’s an asterisk there because I think that trends across many different generations are more so like GenX, and then more millennial and more GenZ. So, it’s not very different from the millennial generation, but it’s going to be a critical factor. Company mission for this generation is going to be a game-changer, meaning they will not even consider unless they align on a mission. 

Things like corporate giving where it’s not top-down is interesting. Tools like Groundswell are interesting because you’re incorporating the interests of the employees where normal social responsibility, some executive or some board member is part of some charity and now that company is supporting that charity. Groundswell is exactly what it is. It’s coming from the ground up saying okay, employees in this organization really care about women’s rights, homelessness, etc. And now you’re building your portfolio of charities around what they want. That’s co-creation. GenZ really likes that. 

So I think Groundswell and social responsibility tools are going to have a competitive advantage there. They want flexible job design, like we talked about before, they want that 21st-century job.

For our final question, we want to know what causes you care about.  In the spirit of making the world a better place, what is something you’re passionate about that we can highlight?

Great question. I have a side project – Ella Adventures that produces comic books in partnership with Deloitte Consulting to increase interest in STEM with girls. You can see more on our site and Deloitte’s site too. Women and girls in tech is a true passion project of mine. We are now working on building a pitch for an animated Ella series. Exciting! 

Kathryn Minshew: On Redefining Workplace Culture

At Groundswell, we’re fortunate to know many people who support our mission to reimagine corporate giving. Whenever possible, we love to sit down and talk with these people. It was a pleasure to sit down with Kathryn Minshew, Founder and CEO of The Muse, which is dedicated to defining the future of work. Kathryn believes deeply in diversity and listening to what employees want. She believes employers must consider their employees’ choices, values, and priorities if they are to thrive in the current workplace environment.

Hey Kathryn! Great to chat. Let’s dive right in. What are your thoughts on what’s happening with the Great Resignation?

I believe we are witnessing a sea change in the connection between talent and employers. Many people, I believe, were compelled to reconsider their life choices, values, and priorities as a result of the pandemic. And they are now making changes based on a decision that they want to do things differently. We talk a lot about values-based careers at The Muse. And I believe there is a significant growth in the number of people who think about their work and professions in this manner.

Businesses, I believe, are beginning to see that they must do more to recruit and keep the greatest employees. People want a values-based career. 

I believe we are also witnessing an increase in personalization. We’re seeing an increase in the personalization of the workplace. We no longer all watch the same TV channels or listen to the same radio stations. In fact, many of us receive customized media suggestions or information streams depending on our interests. We’re seeing the death of the one-size-fits-all workplace. Companies now need to respect the individual needs of every employee.

“The death of the one-size-fits-all workplace.” I love that.

Right? People are becoming very clear about the type of workplace they want to work in. 

Companies are beginning to recognize that, rather than catering to everyone in a large, generic fashion, they are most successful at recruiting and retaining individuals when they understand the personalized benefits they can offer. 

How can they be really strong on specific offerings, which might include anything from training and development to learning, generosity, and a dedication to a bigger purpose and mission?

It could be a certain business culture or the way work is completed. It could be prestige, salary, and so on. Many of these aspects will have to be considered by every business. However, it is improbable that any single organization will be able to score a perfect 10 in every single category. As a result, firms must now select where they want to compete. How do they make themselves look the most appealing? And they’re being compelled to be much more receptive to candidates, which I believe is a good thing.

So, to answer your question about whether there is a positive outcome: 

I believe that when employees feel engaged and respected by the organizations for which they work, they are more productive, better retained, and have higher life satisfaction – which makes them better partners, friends, parents, spouses, and so on. 

So I believe we all stand to benefit in the medium to long run. But, in the short run, we’ll see a lot of upheaval. And it’s quite difficult for businesses to know how to respond right now.

Sounds like you believe it’s crucial for leaders at companies, from an analytics perspective, to gain insight into employee opinion about social issues?

I do, certainly. In recent years, Generation Z has been the most socially active generation. 

Unlike past generations, many members of Generation Z look to their organizations to promote or represent the type of world they want to live in, as well as the values that they hold dear. So knowing what their employees care about, what values they hold – this is extremely important for companies.

What do you view as the differing values for each generation – Gen Z, Millennials, and Boomers?

For starters, the variety and diversity of individuals within a given generation is far greater than the hard and fast contrasts across generations. By no means do I believe that all members of a generation are the same. 

However, I believe that earlier career workers have spent more of their lives in a cultural setting where the products they consume are customized to their individual tastes, preferences, and needs, leading them to expect the same from the workplace.

More seasoned workers grew up in a completely different work environment, as well as a very distinct cultural, technological, and immediate environment.

The younger generations have grown up at a time when consumer products have a significant focus on ease of use, and are hyper personalized. Individuals who are accustomed to these products and services are bound to have different expectations in the job market.

Also, I believe that the connection between businesses and politics shifted during the Trump era. A growing number of people of all ages want to work in increasingly diverse surroundings. We’re seeing an increase in this across the board. 

I also believe that wanting to work for a company that respects you is not confined to any demographic. However, some of the most vocal supporters are early-career professionals. And I believe we’ve never been in an environment where the battle for talent has been so fierce. When there is a lot of rivalry for something, that thing gets to dictate a lot of the terms of the relationship. That’s happening right now with talent. And we’re just getting started; in fact, I believe most businesses can expect another large wave of resignations in early 2021. Unfortunately, managing teams for continuity is quite difficult right now. But I think it’s very evident that’s what’s going to happen.

Thomas Gaissmaier: Keeping A Pulse On Employee Sentiment

Here at Groundswell, we’re lucky to know many people who understand and support our mission to reimagine corporate giving. And whenever we get the chance, we love to sit down and talk with these people. Here, we chatted with Thomas Gaissmaier – former Chief People Officer of Match Group and 21st Century Fox. Thomas has worked in human resources for a long time and is a strong believer in providing real benefits to employees. He truly understands the significance of keeping a finger on the pulse of employee sentiment, and understanding what employees care about.

Thanks for chatting with us, Thomas. Please tell us about your history and how you got into the area of human resources.

You’re welcome. So, the Boston Consulting Group is where I began my professional consulting career. In 2009, one of my consumer clients – PepsiCo – acquired two of its distributors and I was asked to lead the integration for BCG. 

Of course, with any merging of companies, there were significant ramifications for business models – but really, it all came down to people, organization, and culture.

In this specific example, the question was about bringing together a marketing-centric and a heavy operations culture. How to integrate three organizations and its teams. How to realize efficiencies and built a better company. We spent a lot of time on thinking through the required change management and organization structure. 

That is what piqued my interest in people and organization. Over the next years, I focused my client work in this area and led BCG’s HR practice in North America – before leaving in early 2017 to become Chief HR Officer at 21st Century Fox and in 2019 at Match Group.

That’s quite the journey! Let’s talk about the HR landscape right now. We’re living through a so-called “Great Resignation.” What is going on, from your point of view? What are the major implications for businesses? Is there any possibility of a positive outcome?

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted the power balance between employees and employers. We had to rethink how, where and when we work. All of which required companies to be a lot more flexible and nimble. There will be no going back. 

Personally, I don’t believe that anybody really knows what the new way of working will be like, exactly. We will have to experiment with different models and reinvent many practices, processes and policies. 

One of the biggest changes in my view is that employees are looking a lot more for purpose and meaning in their work.

If you look back five or ten years, it was sufficient for companies to donate some of their profits to charity. Now, many employees are demanding that social and environmental impact are more integrated in the day-to-day work and business – as we have seen in many recent employee surveys.

For example, when companies talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, it is no longer enough to donate money to some organization if the internal practices don’t provide an inclusive and equitable environment. 

The battle for retention is critical for an HR professional. What benefits do you see from your purview that are truly important to employees? What exactly do they expect from businesses these days?

Though I don’t think anyone decides which company to join based just on the benefits., I believe that benefits can be an important differentiator and signal for the purpose and value a company stands for. You have the fundamental benefits, such as time off or healthcare. But beyond that? Donations are an area where we have seen a lot of employee interest, both dedicating time and donating money.

I’m enthusiastic about Groundswell because I believe it is a great opportunity for businesses and employees. It’s not that the corporation says: “These are the causes that we as a company have selected to promote.” Rather it’s up to the employees to make the decision. 

In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve adopted new ways of thinking about ourselves, the world around us, and our relationships with others. What are some of the things that businesses may do to help employees adjust to the new normal?

Two thoughts occur to me. First is what I would call the fundamentals, things that are necessary to show up for work. For example, providing work necessities like monitors or helping with child care costs. Most companies have put in place some form of stipend or reimbursement program.

Then, there are bigger questions. How to retain the social connections amongst employees? How to avoid zoom-fatigue? How to maintain a boundary between work and life? How to deal with mental health issues like loneliness?

For an organization, what specific types of insights are extremely useful to have at the tips of your fingers in order to keep a pulse on employee sentiment? What does this have to do with the causes that people care about?

In essence, the job of HR is help the business grow by attracting, retaining and developing the right people. A big part is to establish an environment where employees can bring their full self to work. At Match Group, we conduct people surveys at least every quarter to understand where we are doing well and what areas we can further improve.

When I was at BCG, we conducted a global study and found that especially millennials don’t focus on compensation alone, but look for a company that provides professional growth and whose purpose is aligned to what matters to them.

What are some pain points you’ve noticed from a corporate giving standpoint? And how can we use that to help us learn and grow as an industry?

I probably could name three pain points I’ve seen at companies over the years. First, the capacity to register charities that matter to employees and hence the ability to make donations on time.

We have had issues where employees want to donate but it’s taken up to six months to match their donation because of administrative issues with the registration. Not because their wasn’t budget or willingness, but we didn’t have a registered and verified account.

A second issue is the list of charities that qualify for donations and company match. In my view, it’s important to engage employees in the decision making, apply clear criteria for inclusion and exclusion, and communicate those decisions openly and frequently to avoid surprises and dissatisfaction.

The third obstacle is about speed. To illustrate:

After the murder of George Floyd, we – like many companies – wanted to take a stance by matching employee donations two to one. Of course, time was of the essence. But it always takes longer than you think to identify the list of relevant and qualified charities, register those organizations in the system and communicate the program. A way to shorten that process would be extremely valuable for both companies and employees.

Thanks for your time today, Thomas. Before we go, is there anything more you’d like to share?

I want to emphasize this: I think the idea to simplify giving, to truly put it in employee’s hands, and to potentially make it a company benefit, is very compelling. I’m excited about what Groundswell is doing and really hope it takes off and inspires many companies!

Layla Kajer: Bringing Humanity Back To Giving

At Groundswell, we’re grateful to know many people who support our mission to reimagine corporate giving. Whenever possible, we love to sit down and talk with these people. Here, we chatted with Layla Kajer, the Director of Internal Communications & Community at Greenhouse Software. We discussed the current state of the workplace, and how humanizing giving may restore employee engagement and enthusiasm.

*Disclaimer: Groundswell is a customer of Greenhouse

Hi Layla! Tell me a little bit about your background and your journey to the world of HR?

Happy to be here! I’ve always been in the business of behavior change. I’ve worked with companies like Roche, Marriott, Citibank and W.L. Gore to activate employees to drive change in an organization. I’m passionate about understanding what drives employee motivation, empowerment and habit building. 

The key question is always: how can we reach our employees? How can we capture their hearts and minds? Are we providing the appropriate incentives? Are we rewarding appropriate behavior? 

In my role at Greenhouse, I get the pleasure to work with many diverse leaders to drive emotional connection to our purpose and to each other. My main focus is to make sure we’re delivering a consistent, values-aligned experience from the moment a candidate learns about Greenhouse, through their entire tenure. 

Let’s talk about the current moment. In recent months, millions of Americans have been quitting their jobs. What is going on, from your point of view? What are the major implications for businesses? Is there any possibility of a positive outcome?

I believe what we’re seeing is a shift in attitudes regarding employment. When you go back through history, there have been periods of time where there is an obvious (in hindsight) shift in the way people relate to their work. Though some prominent people started talking about The Great Resignation before COVID, the pandemic forced all of us to embrace a new era of work. It prompted us to reevaluate our relationship with work.  

People are in a state of flux and asking new questions about their purpose and the value a job creates for them. Change shakes the cobwebs out of our habits and you can see that happening all over. People are looking at what was routine and expected in an entirely new way. 

Working 80 hours a week or enduring long commutes used to be largely acceptable in many sectors. 

I was one of these people. I was in the thick of it and it put a strain on my personal well-being. My partner and I lived in the Bay Area and had opposite commutes. It meant that I spent at least 90 minutes commuting – each way. My child was in daycare for 10-11 hours a day and most days I was just rushing from place to place – running to catch a ferry or hustling to grab a quick (overpriced) lunch in between meetings. 

But to be honest, it was just so normal. So many people I knew did the same thing so I never stopped to really evaluate whether it was working for me or my family. After moving out of the Bay Area and going fully remote, I could finally see how crazy my schedule was before. I’m just so glad that I got out and have now found a company that embraces a healthy work-life balance. 

As an HR professional, the battle for retention is top of mind in the aftermath of the pandemic. What are the benefits you’re seeing that are truly important to employees? What are they truly looking for from companies these days?

It’s a great question. Ping pong is no longer a cultural driver! Greenhouse conducted research that showed that only 12% of candidates want in-office perks as a benefit while 63% want a flexible schedule.  

This may sound cliché, but I believe humans have always cared about purpose and significance. The video games and free snack culture was nice but ephemeral. Deep down people want to be connected to a company’s mission – to make a real difference and leave a lasting legacy. Whether that’s having a positive impact on the company, a customer or whoever is a stakeholder. This is a cultural phenomena, not a benefit.  It’s about showing up and aligning one’s ideals with the company’s.

To attract talent it’s vital that companies provide all employees with an opportunity to understand how, and why, business decisions are made. One of the ways that we do this at Greenhouse is by hosting bi-weekly company-wide leadership AMA (Ask Me Anything) meetings. Transparency, flexibility and responsibility are core to our management style at Greenhouse. No topic is off limits and all employees – at every level and in every department – are encouraged to ask our executive team questions. Connection to purpose and a clear path for growth will be what sets companies apart from others and help them retain employees. Investing in your employees is always the right answer and, we’ve seen, results in better morale, improved productivity and happier employees who stay at the company.

More than ever, employees want to know the company they work for aligns with their ideals. They are voting with their feet and their careers. 

How crucial is it for leaders at companies to have precise insight into their employees’ sentiments for social causes?

Most, if not all, executives I’ve met are interested in knowing what their employees think. The difference comes down to their motivation for wanting to know. Maybe it’s more of risk management – “I want to know that I can squash something” or to manipulate –  “I can take advantage of something.” Or it could be a genuine interest in understanding what motivates employees to thrive. 

I’ll focus on Greenhouse. Our leaders are extremely concerned about employee sentiment and go to great lengths to get feedback and stay connected. A large portion of this is accomplished through formalized processes. We do this in a number of ways. 

We do the traditional ways of collecting employee feedback with inclusion and engagement surveys. We’re looking at other survey mechanisms that could supplement those. Unique to Greenhouse, we host the AMA events, Intelligent Conversation sessions and we have a very active ERG (Employee Resource Group) community. 

I actually had suggested to the CEO that we move to a monthly AMA cadence instead of twice a month but he declined because he values the feedback and input that comes out of the AMAs so much. He’s investing a significant amount of time each month staying connected to employees.  

How many steps does the process of corporate matching or corporate donating in general take in your experience? Has it been a complete headache?

In my experience, it varies significantly by company. Even at large, well-organized companies who have been doing corporate giving for years, the process to donate or secure corporate matching isn’t well communicated to employees. Other times there isn’t a clear owner for the giving process – does it live in HR? Marketing? Corporate Strategy? It can become a bit of a hot potato. 

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to be vocal about the programs and the interest in supporting organizations. At Greenhouse, our leaders have many times been vocal by posting on slack or creating donation campaigns on their teams. They also create a safe space for their employees to share what causes are important to them. 

What are your thoughts about Groundswell?

For me, I need someone or something to help remove the roadblocks to giving and giving in a smart way. I’m not well versed on how to research which organizations are doing the right thing with the donations and, often, the seemingly small steps of following different processes to write a check can be a blocker for me to give. And I haven’t yet figured out a way to give on a regular basis and make it a part of my habits. I think Groundswell can make a big impact with this. 

Groundswell, in my opinion, acts as a community leader. Making a habit of giving, taking small amounts from each paycheck adds up to something significant. I think Groundwell is going to be a game changer.