Thomas Gaissmaier: Keeping A Pulse On Employee Sentiment

  • Meg Vandervort
  • December 20, 2021

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!

  • Meg Vandervort
  • December 20, 2021