Layla Kajer: Bringing Humanity Back To Giving

  • Meg Vandervort
  • December 14, 2021

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.

  • Meg Vandervort
  • December 14, 2021