The advertising industry, like just about every other sector, has seen a wave of new challenges in the first half of 2020 and HR has borne the brunt of them.
Speaking at HR Grapevine’s HR Tech event on the Workforce of the Future, Emily Hawkins, Group People Director at M&C Saatchi, gave an insight into how the advertising giant has responded to COVID-19 and the growing focus on equality, in an industry that has a checkered past in relation to interpersonal conduct.
“What we found in 2020 was there were a lot of new challenges for our company and like many, the feelings of employee uncertainty around discrimination and racism at work have definitely come into a focus because of COVID-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement. So it’s important to have tools in place so that employees can raise things that they want to make sure the business is acting on,” said Hawkins.
Another challenge that M&C Saatchi, like many other office-based organizations has had to address is the rise of cyber-bullying with everybody working at home and communicating online. “There’s all sorts of issues now around your home being your office. And we’re also hearing domestic abuse is a big issue at the moment too for people who have issues in their home environment that they’re unable to get away from,” Hawkins said.
New solutions through technology
The ad giant’s focus on technological solutions to transform HR was accelerated by the pandemic and one of the key deployments was a listening tool for things that employees might need to speak up about. This initiative formed part of the company’s diversity and inclusion strategy, but was also a way that leadership can demonstrate integrity and that the company is an ethical business. “How can we know where we’re going wrong if we don’t hear what’s going on with our employees,” said Hawkins.
After rolling out the Vault App as the speak up platform, an internal comms program emailed employees with instructions on how to download the app and recommended they did so immediately, so that they already have it handy when they need it. Alternatively, it can be downloaded only when needed.
Hawkins said all new joiners are enrolled into the internal comms program so they are aware of the platform from day one, “and the fact that it’s not implemented or controlled by the business makes employees more comfortable that it’s an independent tool,” she added.
Building trust is good business
Establishing trust like this also goes some way to creating an environment where employers can better help their employees even when outside of the typical workspace. Hawkins makes reference to the employer’s responsibility to keep employees safe if their new ‘office’ is now their home, because it may be harder for workers to raise concerns if they feel isolated, and for some home is not necessarily safe.
Domestic abuse websites have seen a significant increase in traffic during lockdown and many offer a telephone hotline as a way for victims to seek help or advice. This may not be the most effective mechanism for people trapped in close proximity with their abusers.
“We thought that people might be more likely to use the app to report any issues that they’re having at home,” said Hawkins, “and just to make it extra secure if they didn’t feel comfortable openly writing about that on the app they could have request access to the ‘W drive’.
“That’s a red flag to us in HR that we need to check in with you,” she said.
Empowering employees to speak up confidentially also has applications for those that have decided to leave the business. M&C Saatchi reminds existing employees they can use Vault even after they’ve departed. Hawkins said that in exit interviews people tend to be somewhat conservative but giving leavers an anonymous channel to report through has also raised some interesting points they might otherwise have failed to capture.
“I would recommend that all employers look at communication tools within their business and look at the kinds of things that you want to be able to hear from your employees. I think there is something in being brave and in putting yourself out there and saying that we do want to hear what’s going on. It also holds the business to account because you’re able to respond even to anonymous employees and let them know they’ve been heard,” Hawkins said.
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Neta Meidav is co-founder and CEO of Vault Platform, the trusttech company disrupting workplace misconduct reporting and resolution. Neta worked as a senior adviser to the UK Government for over ten years and is a knowledgeable resource on solutions to the problem of harassment and bullying in the workplace.