Welcome to People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Kim Rohrer, the principal people partner at Oyster HR. They’re a global employment platform and earlier this year they published a study looking at why employees are disillusioned. Why go after that? Well, for one thing both work and life have changed a lot recently and that’s caused employees to ask more questions about the meaning and purpose of their work. We’re going to get into that and other aspects of work changes on this edition of People Tech.
Hi, Kim. Nice to meet you. Earlier this year Oyster published what it called an employee disillusionment report, and can you tell me about that?
Yeah. We’re at a time right now in this industry, but also just globally, where employees are dealing from sort of compounded traumas. They’re recovering from any number of global crises, and they’re starting to expect more from an employer. So over the last several years employees have really started to understand what they need and what they want out of their work and life, and frankly it’s like not putting up with as much as they might have in the past.
We started seeing these trends with our customers, with our communities. Last year 40% of the workforce quit their jobs and it’s predicted that it’ll be a similar number this year, and we wanted to understand why. We wanted to understand what are the particular challenges that people are facing, why are people feeling more disillusioned with their work and their work environment. We learned a lot in this study and we put out a report about it.
What were the big takeaways?
A lot of it comes down to mental health, and burnout, and work/life flexibility. Obviously, depending on where you are in the world and what kind of climate it is, there’s unsettled feelings around political unrest, environmental issues, racial injustice. You name it, there’s a problem somewhere in the world, and employees are realizing that the way that they show up for work is impacting the way they’re able to show up in their lives, and when their lives are breaking in various ways it makes it harder to show up at work.
We all learned lessons around that in the pandemic, but the way we were working before the pandemic wasn’t really working for a lot of people. We’ve learned a lot in the last few years about what was broken about the way we worked, so the way we were working before wasn’t really working for caregivers, wasn’t working for people of color, wasn’t working for underrepresented populations in a lot of different demographic areas, and the pandemic just has stripped away any pretense or any ability we have to cover that up and just show up at work anyway, so living through the pandemic and the results on our personal lives and the impact that the pandemic had on our ability to become kind of fake it at work.
Employees are much bolder and much more open about what they need and where the workplace is falling short of what they need to be able to be successful in their lives.
I’m just curious, what gave you the idea of doing a disillusion report in the first place? It’s not the kind of thing people usually do.
Yeah. It wasn’t my idea. I can’t take credit for it. But as our team was thinking about what kind of report to do we were going in a different direction at first. We were doing sort of a state of the union type of report, kind of like employee expectations report. We had done an employee expectations report the previous year, to do sort of a revised or updated iteration on that.
But the research was just so clear that disillusionment was the common theme that we decided to make that the focus of the report, and we would go deeper on this topic of disillusion and the struggles and the heartbreaks and the challenges that people are experiencing at work, because that was overwhelmingly the types of experiences that people were sharing with us, so we wanted to air that and really go deep into that and explain the reasons why, and offer companies some tips and solutions to help the companies break out of it.
I notice mental health was employees’ top concern.
That was 32 points higher than their next concern, which was relationships with friends. Can you talk about that? What does that tell us?
Yeah. We’ve seen in the last couple of years a normalization of mental health, people talking more openly about mental health. Even you see these things where the conversation will tend to go one way and then the companies spring up to support the new way. So over the last five years or so there’s been an increase in mental health tech.
You have therapy. You have medication apps. You have all these things that are being sold to companies to support employee mental health. I think people were afraid to utilize those programs before or they were not incentivized to, and in the last couple of years it’s kind of turned out to be one of the main major things that a company can do to support their employees, is to provide tangible mental health support and to normalize the need for mental health support.
We as a global population have suffered so much collective trauma over the last few years, and many populations have experienced compounding trauma for years and years and years, and decades and generations, and it’s just that because globally we all kind of went through the same trauma at the same time of the pandemic that I think people are more open to talking about the impact of mental health on their ability to show up at work.
We’ve made it safer to talk about because it’s such a common thing now. It’s not… It was de-stigmatized a little bit because of how common it is, and being able to create company cultures where it is okay to say, “I’m not my best self today,” or, “My battery is empty,” or like, “I’m having a metal health crisis and I need to take time off.”
Being able to have an environment where that is safe is so meaningful to people who have been not only struggling with their mental health, but also struggling to pretend that they’re not.
I don’t want to sound cynical, but when we’re talking about issues like mental health and you do a report like yours, where you really document what’s going on, how seriously do you think employers take this?
I mean I can’t speak for all employers. I know we take it very seriously. One of the companies that we use is called Kona. They’re a mental health support company that integrates with your staff to do a daily check-ins with folks, to see how they’re doing. We take it really seriously. We want to know how people are doing. We want to support them when they’re not doing well. We offer free therapy sessions through an app called Plum.
I know a lot of companies that are taking it really seriously. With that said, there’s a vast diversity of experience in companies, and I certainly wouldn’t say that all companies are taking it seriously. I know many, many who are, and I think if you’re in a position of power or privilege to be able to ask these kinds of questions and challenge the norms of your company, I think it’s really important to ask those questions in interviews, to ask about the mental health support that the company is offering, and to really speak up for those who might not feel safe doing so to help change the culture at companies where maybe it’s not as supportive and not as normalized.
I’m wondering how does Oyster HR think about this. Is this the kind of thing that you factor into your plans and your roadmap?
Uh-huh. Absolutely. We look at employee burnout. We look at the analytics from the anonymized aggregated usage of our Plum therapy services. We look at the data that comes out of our Kona app to see where the line is trending in terms of green, yellow or red check-ins, how are people feeling across the company by team. We pair that up with engagement survey data that we do three times a year. We look at anecdotal data from one-on-ones. We have a mental health channel in our Slack where people can share openly with each other and support each other. We’re very clear that it’s not a place for medical support or psychiatric health, but a community led day-to-day support.
But also our CEO is very vocal about his own mental health challenges and struggles, and our leadership team is very supportive and very vocal. We try to create a culture where it’s not only okay, but like that vulnerability is celebrated, that vulnerability is appreciated and is meaningful to us as an organization, especially when you have people in countries where it’s not normalized, where it’s not okay. Or maybe they come from a country or they come from a culture where talking about your mental health is taboo.
It’s easy enough for me as like a tech worker in Berkeley, California to be like, “Yes, talk about your mental health.” It’s a lot harder for someone who comes from a culture, even in the US, like a family culture, where mental health is just not discussed.
So one last question. Tell me about Oyster HR. Can you give me an idea of like what you do and what you think sets you apart?
Yeah. We’re a global EOR, an employer of record. We help companies hire people anywhere in the world. So as some listeners may know, it’s very complicated and expensive to set up entities in every location around the world where you want to hire, but if you’re looking to diversify your workforce you want the whole world to be at your fingertips in terms of talent acquisition, because the old saying that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not, so we have a mission to bring more opportunity to places where it has not traditionally been granted.
We help companies do that by enabling them to hire all over the world. We handle the compliance and the benefits and the payroll and the actual processes, being legally able to hire in various locations.
The thing to me that really sets us apart is… It sounds so cheesy, but like we really, really care about individual people. We care about our customers obviously, and helping our customers grow with the most diverse, supportive workforce possible, but we really, really care about the team members that we’re impacting, including or own. We have… Like I said, 30% of our company is from emerging economies, non-traditional tech places such as your typical tech company hubs.
And it’s just been remarkable to see that mission in action within our own walls and within our customers’ walls. We just launched a new work style campaign to help people celebrate their differences in the different ways that we show up at work, the different needs that we all have, and how we work fast, and how we show up at work to be our best contributors to our team.
We really, really are committed to the idea that a diverse team, not just diverse by gender, but diverse by gender, race, economic background, education level, languages spoken, past experiences, like the diverse experiences really makes us a special place, and I think every company should be that way.
That’s the thing that drew me to Oyster in the first place and the thing that keeps me really motivated, is this passion for celebrating the whole person, the whole human, you’re more than your job, you’re more than your resume, and how you exist in the world as a whole human being makes you who you are when you show up at work.
Kim, thanks for taking time. I know you’re at a conference and you’ve stepped out to talk with me, and I appreciate it.
My guest today has been Kim Rohrer, the principal people partner at Oyster HR, and this has been People Tech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com, and to keep up with HR technology visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.