Article: ‘If employees don't feel that they belong to a company, they don't stay’: Pegasystems CPO

Employee Engagement

‘If employees don't feel that they belong to a company, they don't stay’: Pegasystems CPO

Promoting belonging in the workplace starts with leaders: they must exhibit behaviour that invites belonging, says Katherine Parente, Chief People Officer at Pegasystems.
‘If employees don't feel that they belong to a company, they don't stay’: Pegasystems CPO

As organisations navigate through the rapidly-changing work landscape and changing requirements of employees post-pandemic, the role of the Chief People Officer (CPO) has become increasingly important.

With priorities ranging from employee wellness to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), the CPO must ensure that their company's workforce remains engaged, productive, and satisfied.

People Matters recently spoke to Katherine Parente, Chief People Officer at Pegasystems, to gain her insights into navigating the post-pandemic world, her top priorities, the company’s stance on remote work, initiatives for employee wellness, the significance of belonging, and the shifting expectations of employees from their employers.

What is your perception of the changing expectations of employees as a result of the pandemic?

Over the past couple of years, work has been constantly evolving due to the dynamic situation caused by the pandemic. Initially, in early 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future and the effectiveness of remote work. As we start to come out of that period and observe how other companies are adapting, I see that employees at Pega are curious and excited to reconnect with others. They are seeking more connections, including mentorship and sponsorship, beyond just interacting with peers and team members.

Recently, what has surprised me is that employees are expecting more support and assistance with their wellbeing. Working remotely for an extended period while juggling home and work has left many feeling burnt out. As a result, employees are looking to leaders and HR for guidance and support in resolving these issues.

As an HR leader, what are your current top three priorities in light of the pandemic situation subsiding?

HR has come full circle in terms of importance to organisations.  

My top priority as an HR leader is employee engagement and just keeping a finger on the pulse of what's important to people and providing transparency and regular communication. People want to know that they're being heard and that their feedback is valued. To maintain this continuous flow of feedback, we ask for input and regularly conduct employee engagement surveys. Based on the top three things that employees are looking for, we set our goals to address those areas and take action.

Although this may seem like a cliché, the second priority that I consider important is to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives and just moving the needle with that.

Every company is at a different stage in terms of DEIB. At Pega, we aim to ensure that our leadership demonstrates behaviours that foster a sense of belonging and prioritise DEIB initiatives. It is also essential to set specific goals and metrics to measure progress. We will measure our success not only by the number of people we have on board but also by employee retention rates and overall employee satisfaction.

Lastly, the idea of cultivating talent is crucial. With the recent "great resignation" and "great reshuffle", people are exploring opportunities they previously didn't have access to, especially with the rise of remote and hybrid work. It's important to listen to what employees are looking for in terms of their career paths and provide them with the necessary tools and resources to build their own paths. This is the third most important priority for us.

What steps has your company taken to promote a sense of belonging among employees, particularly within the context of DEI?

In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the attention given to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Prior to 2020, these terms were commonly referred to as inclusion and diversity or simply, diversity. However, our company has recently renamed this group to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), with the most significant aspect being the belonging piece.

It is important to note that many companies have focused on hiring diverse individuals and creating inclusive environments, but if people do not feel like they truly belong, then they are less likely to stay and thrive within the organisation.

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace goes beyond just hiring diverse individuals and having them in the organisation. Those numbers may still be there, but the actual benefit of having diverse experiences and conversations doesn't happen unless you're creating environments where people can feel that they belong.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are one way we foster a sense of belonging. I have been personally working on getting people to understand the power, benefit, and value of being a part of ERG.

In industries like technology and financial services, there is often a lack of diversity, with white males being the dominant group. I have heard from some white male leaders who question their relevance in attending an ERG for women or Asian colleagues. Through personal experience, I explain to them how attending these groups can lead to powerful experiences of feeling belonging and having conversations with people who are different from themselves. Even if they do not necessarily identify with the group, seeing their curiosity and interest in the stories of others can be a powerful signal of inclusion.

Personally, I see this as similar to how I talk to my children about interacting with others and inviting them to join conversations, regardless of their differences. At the end of the day, it's all about human interaction and wanting to feel like we belong.

What advice would you give to organisations looking to incorporate a sense of belonging into their overall strategy?  

In order to promote belonging in the workplace, it is important for leadership to exhibit behaviours that invite belonging. This includes senior leaders, such as the CEO and chief product officer, showing up and participating in ERG meetings and events. When people see that the most senior people in the company prioritise these events and make an effort to understand the experiences of others, it sends a powerful signal and sets the tone for others to follow.

Though many organisations have implemented employee engagement initiatives, why do we still hear about trends such as quiet quitting, burnout, and fatigue?

Some of the trends such as quiet quitting, burnout, and fatigue are actually a cry for help more than anything.

The term "quiet quitting" is a misnomer because scaling back and doing the job well without going above and beyond has always been a part of the work culture. It is not new. That's the job that you should be also recognised and rewarded for.

However, organisations tend to overemphasise top performers who are always giving 110 per cent and may not recognise those who do their job well without going above and beyond. As a working mother, I find the term "quiet quitting" offensive because there are times when employees cannot prioritise work over other responsibilities. There have been times in my career when I wasn't looking to get promoted or able to volunteer to run an ERG. I really could only do my job, and be a mother, because my kids were very young at the time.  

However, in its worst form, if there was this version of it today, which is if someone is purposely doing the least amount possible to get paid and think they are fooling the system, they will not thrive in any company.  

What is your stance on bringing employees back to the workplace? What is your organisation's policy regarding returning to work?

As a remote worker myself, I made it clear to my CEO that commuting to the headquarters every week is not possible. I believe expecting a return to the pre-pandemic way of working is unrealistic for most employees, except for those who live near their office. Therefore, a hybrid approach is the way forward.

At Pega, we want to make our offices to be a magnet and not mandate and create initiatives that encourage people to come in more regularly. We are working on strategies that strike a balance between remote and in-person work.

Also, providing guidance to employees is crucial as people miss interacting with their peers but may not know how to make it happen. It's important to give people tools and ways to set a regular cadence of interactions for themselves, whether it's once or twice a week or on specific days for certain groups. 

Our focus is on creating a hybrid approach, but we need to keep an open mind and be willing to adjust our methods as we learn.

What message would you like to convey to your fellow HR leaders to emerge stronger in the post-pandemic world?

"Be Bold" is my advice. Often in HR, we wait for all the right answers, gather all the necessary information, and put together a policy before taking any action. However, when it comes to promoting DEIB, or facilitating career advancement, being bold is key.

Try something new, pilot a programme that you're passionate about and see what kind of response you receive. Take action, and make things happen.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, #DEIB, #HybridWorkplace

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