Employers have several factors to consider when deciding how to approach the return-to-office conversation. But as one HR department’s experience shows, employee feedback is perhaps the most crucial.
Global Payments, the Atlanta-based financial technology firm, faced a post-pandemic scenario typical of many large employers that shifted to remote work. In 2020, the company was “pretty much fully remote,” according to Andréa Carter, senior executive VP and CHRO. A gradual reopening of offices followed as Global Payments allowed workers time to assimilate back into the workplace.
By 2022, the company implemented a formal RTO policy that required employees to return to the office at least four days per week. A subsequent review of the company’s talent acquisition data raised some concerns about its stance, however.
Flexibility became a pain point for employees, said Carter, who explained that her team produces a monthly attrition report for the company’s leadership. These reports outline why current employees leave Global Payments and why candidates fall out of the hiring process.
Attrition data showed that flexibility ranked seventh in the top 10 list of reasons employees had left the company. That result aligns with other research establishing a link between RTO policies and retention issues. Carter said Global Payments used its findings — combined with the results of separate employee pulse surveys — to make a change to its RTO approach.
Instead of a mandatory four days per week in office, the company allowed employees who could work a hybrid schedule to work between two and four days per week in-office as well as one to three days per week remotely.
A few months after the change, flexibility fell out of the top 10 causes of attrition at Global Payments, and “we saw attrition overall decrease in the organization,” Carter said.
Avoiding a ‘black hole’
The results of Global Payments’ policy change are just one part of the story. Carter explained that the company’s leadership did not implement the updated hybrid work policy without first showing the survey findings to employees.
“It wasn’t just the leadership team going into a black hole and coming up with it,” Carter said. “We engaged our team members to look at the data to help come up with a proposal that we thought would be mutually beneficial for our team members and our organization.”
Specifically, Carter said she had the company’s HR vice presidents reach out to employee resource groups including its “diversity action team,” present the flexibility statistics and engage with ERG representatives to gauge how employees felt about the subject.
“That was important because we wanted stakeholder buy-in [and] our team members were critical stakeholders in this process,” she added.
Asked why employees appeared to respond to the change, Carter said Global Payments’ workforce values flexibility for several reasons. Some may be part of the “sandwich generation” of employees that is simultaneously responsible for caring for younger as well as older relatives. Others may have appreciated flexibility in order to address mental health and well-being concerns that emerged since the pandemic.
Interestingly, Carter said that she has not seen much of a difference in terms of employees coming into the office since the policy change. The company does not formally track attendance, she noted, “but you can gauge.” Aside from the camaraderie that comes with seeing co-workers and company-hosted team appreciation activities, Carter said the real value of flexibility may simply be that it is there if employees need it.
“When you think about what the pandemic did to people from that perspective, just knowing that they have the flexibility to react or respond to something that’s going on in their personal lives makes it a lot easier for [them] to come into the office,” she said.
Maintaining a robust data function
Data is central to this story, and it’s been central to Carter’s approach as CHRO. She said the creation of a dedicated people analytics team was one of her first goals upon assuming her current role.
“I think oftentimes people look at the CHRO job as we’re emotional because we are for employees and team members,” Carter said. “What we’ve got to do as CHROs is use data to inform and influence decisions.”
“You can’t go to your CEO and say ‘we have to do this because it’s the right thing to do,’” Carter said; while that may be true, CHROs must be able to say “it’s the right thing to do because” and then use data to back it up.
The company’s attrition and attraction data reporting is run through Workday. Pulse surveys require a bit more in the way of coordination, Carter explained, because the company wants to avoid survey fatigue. Another priority for 2024 concerns the results of the company’s recent global engagement survey, which it is currently analyzing.
“We had a very high participation rate in the survey, and so we are excited to peel the layers of that onion back to further hear from our team members about what it is from a human capital perspective that we need to focus on to continue to make this a better place to work and to move our culture forward,” Carter said.