In Employee Experience, What Is True No Matter What?

BY Katie Chambers | February 07, 2024

Katharyne Gabriel, chief of human resources, North America at the Coca-Cola Company, has fond childhood memories of heading to the McDonald’s drive-through window with her mother to enjoy a Diet Coke from the fountain “because it just tastes better.”

She’s not alone in this, she says. Most Coca-Cola employees have a strong connection with the brand. “We are very proud of our company’s purpose, which is to refresh the world and make a difference,” Gabriel said. “And there are many ways that we’re able to then draw from our employees and help them find connection to their career and the community.”

Since the lesson of recent years is that the workplace will be buffeted by one disruption after another, employers need to focus on fundamental values that resonate with workers in any season. In a fireside chat session at From Day One’s conference in Atlanta, Gabriel shared how the Coca-Cola Co. focuses on employee fulfillment.

Gabriel cites three tenets that hold true in elevating employee experience. The first is transparency, or employees feeling like they have full context for why and how certain decisions are being made. Next is autonomy, which Gabriel describes as allowing employees to make career decisions that benefit their personal professional growth and the lives of their families. Lastly is recognition: helping workers be appreciated for their individual identities as well as their workplace contributions.

Katharyne Gabriel, the Coca-Cola Co.'s chief of human resources, kicked off the conference in a fireside chat titled “In Employee Experience, What Is True No Matter What?” (photos by Dustin Chambers for From Day One)

These have been especially valuable during recent years, during which society has faced a pandemic, natural disasters, war, and economic recession. “No matter what is coming at us, how can we best serve our population?” Gabriel said. By focusing on core values like transparency, autonomy, and recognition, corporations can provide a steady foundation even in times of uncertainty.

A Practical Approach to Recognition

“Recognition and specificity around behaviors or goals, those are cultural icons for many companies, including the Coca-Cola company,” Gabriel said. “But [what’s also important is] broadening that definition so that my unique individuality is recognized.”

Coca-Cola’s Thrive Career Network is an example of employee engagement through a combination of recognition and career development. Gabriel says that the corporation’s values of transparency and autonomy are at the forefront of the program. “We’ve tried to be very transparent about the tools and the resources we have for each of us as employees to drive a career in the company,” she said.

They’re also focused on being clear about leadership behaviors that are especially important, she says. “We’ve put our employees in the driver’s seat with meaningful tools to help them effectively navigate what that career path looks like.”

Part of building out an individualized career path for an employee is updating the definition of growth. “We always hear growth, and think it means more–bigger title, bigger remit–and that isn’t what the growth aspiration is for everyone,” Gabriel said. Instead, she prefers the word “fulfillment.” This allows space for those interested in a more traditional vertical growth, but also those who see professional development as an opportunity to try out a new department, mentor others, or learn new skills.

Leroy Chapman, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, interviewed Gabriel in the fireside chat

“We’ve started with broadening out how we define a career. How do we then make sure that we’re meeting individual needs and recognizing what they’re looking to get out of the Coca-Cola company?” Gabriel said. With 80,000 workers in their network, moderator Leroy Chapman, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pointed out, “That’s a lot of employees to support!”

Subsequently, that’s a lot of pressure to potentially put on managers hoping to guide and nurture their workforce. Gabriel shares that the company developed a set of manager tools that encourages leaders to facilitate conversations and think critically and creatively with team members about what they need to succeed. This strategy releases managers from feeling the need to have all the answers, but instead to simply be accountable for having the conversation to lead colleagues to the proper resources for their version of fulfillment.

Building a Culture Rooted in Diversity, Equity, and Belonging

“The 800,000 employees between the company and our bottling partners are dispersed in 200 markets across the globe. And we know it’s imperative that we represent the markets that we’re serving in order to stay in front of the consumer needs,” Gabriel said.

“We aim to create equal opportunities for our employees in order to meet that growth mission for the company.” This involves creating an inclusive environment in which employees are set up to bring their individual selves to the workplace and build a career that best serves themselves and their families.

Coca-Cola has the goal to become 50% female-led by the year 2030, Gabriel says. Already, its board of directors and executive leadership team have hit that benchmark, and its North America operating unit is being led by its first female president, Jennifer Mann. The company also hopes to soon have its own demographics in the U.S. reflect current racial and ethnic census data.

One way to cultivate a sense of belonging, especially in a workforce increasingly defined by a rift between older and younger workers, is through listening. “We’ve checked ourselves not to make assumptions about what the workforce entering wants or doesn’t want, and how different  they are from other generations. [Instead], we ask,” Gabriel said.

Coca-Cola works to instill its values in employees early, before they move into leadership roles. The organization is finding volunteerism is increasingly important among younger generations, and in return has increased its paid volunteer hours for employees and created a “Kindness is Refreshing” campaign. This spirit of generosity among younger employees is perfectly aligned with Coca-Cola’s values and bodes well for the company’s sustainability. “Coca-Cola has been at this for a long time, 137 years to be exact,” Gabriel said. “And we’re looking to live this purpose for another 137 years.”

Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.


Hiring 10,000 Employees a Year With an Eye on the Horizon

If your company struggles with finding a few new employees every year, how would you like to try for thousands? That daunting number isn’t too much for Jason Grosz, Head of Global Talent Acquisition for St. Paul-based clean-water giant Ecolab. During a fireside chat titled “Hiring 10,000 Employees a Year With an Eye on the Horizon,” Grosz talked about how his company recruits workers for its businesses around the world while at the same time investing in its future workforce. Grosz was interviewed by Patrick Kennedy, business reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune at From Day One’s Minneapolis conference.“I once heard the expression ‘glocal’ when it comes to talent acquisition – global with a local twist,” says Grosz, a 19-year Ecolab veteran. “What we’ve tried to do is create a standard structure for hiring, and allow a local version of that to be executed.”Jason Grosz, Head of Global Talent Acquisition at Ecolab spoke at From Day One's Minneapolis conference. He was interviewed by Patrick Kennedy, right, Business Reporter at the Star Tribune,Part of finding good employees is presenting your company as a good place to work. But Grosz points out that just saying so doesn’t make it so, and prospective talent can often see through the hype.“We talk about our employee value proposition very intentionally,” he says. “But if you don't deliver on the promise, then it doesn't really mean anything. People figure that out. And that gets out.”Selling the company culture to employment prospects is one thing, but continuing to provide value to workers once they’re on board can be another. To that end, Ecolab tends to match its number of annual hires with a roughly equivalent number of promotions, says Grosz.“We’re actually moving people more than we’re hiring people,” he says. “We use Career Hub and Workday. We’re trying to build a visible internal capability and opportunity marketplace for our people. Our CEO will sift through different talent reviews and hear from our businesses: What’s the landscape of talent? What are the needs? Where are the gaps?”As a measure of how effective such extra effort is, Ecolab’s retention numbers tend to hover around 85 percent, Grosz says. Part of the reason lies with an aggressive approach toward acquisition and adoption of new technologies.“We’re looking for more people in that analytics world, and we’re looking for more people who are comfortable in the A.I. technology space,” says Grosz. “You want people who understand biopharma and bioscience. So we've always had this need to find these distinct, unique types of talent.”Dan Heilman is a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.

Dan Heilman | June 13, 2024

Establishing a Well-Being Culture That Actually Works

Wellness has always existed as part of employee health concerns, but the pandemic hyper-focused our attention on the importance of well-being and the needs of workers. Yet, in an era of hybrid work, tighter profit margins, and AI, the range of well-being needs are challenging to meet. Companies are having to learn to do more with less but not lose sight of their employees well-being.“Two things have to be true for a benefit to be used. Number one, the benefit itself has to be designed in a revenue model perspective, meaning the cost has to be incentivized for your employees to use them as much as they possibly can. If the company has a business model where they make more money when less people use it, it will not get used. The second thing I'll say is that we have to focus on the science of behavior change," said Elena Gambon, chief strategy and growth officer at First Stop Health.A panel of business leaders came together to discuss the ins and outs of well-being, and how to create a culture of wellness at From Day One’s Dallas conference. The discussion was moderated by Will Maddox, senior writer for D CEO magazine and editor of D CEO Healthcare.“We’ve given so much permission to say I'm overwhelmed or I’m worried about my well-being or my workload, yet, have we equipped the people that have to handle that?” said Dennie Laney, VP of HR at Associa.Gambon says that at First Stop Health, they use behavioral scientist B.J. Fogg's model for human behavior: B=MAP (Behavior ‘B’ happens when Motivation ‘M’, Ability ‘A’, and a Prompt ‘P’ come together at the same moment).The first thing people need, Gambon says, is motivation. “The pain or the pleasure to act has to be high enough for someone to actually make a change. Second is the ability needs to be there. And for us, that means the service needs to cost $0. For the patient, the time that it takes to get to talk to one of our doctors needs to be minutes. Not hours. Not days. The third prong of that stool is promoting. If you’re not constantly reminding people that you exist in creative ways that resonate with them, no one will remember that it’s there.”Greg Miller, SVP, talent management and human resources, at AccentCare says this idea of prompting and promoting is a good one, but when push comes to shove, wellness gets sacrificed. "I think one real challenge for us and others is how do you really tie wellness and flexibility to tangible business results in ways in which we can talk about them as retention drivers, as attraction drivers."Hope Gladney, global lead of client relationships at AceUp, says you have to meet the individual where they are. “A lot of these programs really need to be done within the flow of work. So I think we really need to understand what it is that each individual needs, and try to tailor benefits that are actually going to meet them in the area where they're going to achieve the most benefit for them personally.”But, Gladney points out, the benefit has to also relate to the overall success of the organization.Covid was especially hard on the healthcare industry because they were the frontline, and there was a lot of panic and silent hardships in the beginning. “A lot of people left the industry because of that,” Miller said. “What we’ve tried to do within healthcare is to create the space to say I'm not okay, I’m scared and I need some help. We’ve tried to better leverage the resources we already had in place like employee assistance programs.”Healthcare is hard and there are still more questions than answers when it comes to supporting a 24/7 industry and social need, says Miller. The 24/7 reality of healthcare doesn't just apply to paid professionals, though. Being a caregiver is something that extends to unpaid work, the family, and your extended support network.Gambon says there’s a full spectrum of caregiving that’s invisibly happening behind the scenes with every healthcare worker.The executive panelists discussed the topic "Establishing a Well-Being Culture That Actually Works" in conversation mdoerated by Will Maddox of D CEO Magazine“All of this unpaid labor that predominantly female identifying individuals [do], not always in the home, whether it's to care for a neighbor or a family member or an aging parent or their own kiddos, who are well or special needs – there's just a full spectrum of caregiving that is happening invisibly behind the scenes. With almost every single employee. How do you make sure that anything you provide to your employees across the board is not only equitable, but available to all members of the family? However the employee defines family?” Gambon said.Understanding your work culture means also understanding your workers and who they are. Meaning there is no one size fits all approach to well-being. Gladney says you have to have self-awareness and understand your own triggers and biases. “When you take an inclusive approach to it, it’s first recognizing that everyone’s well-being journey is uniquely theirs.”Michelle Howard, the diversity and inclusion director at Vizient, says it’s about knowing what kind of organization you have. “People like to say, 'Oh, we have a culture of blank.' But you accidentally created a culture of blank. So understanding truly what your culture is. And then determining, is that what you want? And if it's not, it takes time to move that.”“Often when we think about creating inclusive benefits, we give people what we think is inclusive, and we don't ask them what they want or need. As hard as it is to invest the time and the money to listen and gather data, it is the most important step in creating something of value. I like to say that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, the ‘D’ is both for diversity as well as data. Because it is a science, and a proven science. The more you focus on the individual, the better off they will be,” said Gambon.“Everybody knows the golden rule, right? Treat others how you want to be treated? It is the platinum rule. And you have to tap in to understand what that is," Howard said.Matthew Koehler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | June 11, 2024

Total Well-Being: Optimizing Benefits for a Diverse Workforce

AT&T has consistently championed employee wellness, driven by a team dedicated to the four pillars of well-being: mental, social, physical, and financial. So, when they introduced an on-site doctor for their workforce, it was no surprise given their forward-thinking approach.In a fireside chat, Stacey Marx, AT&T’s senior vice president of total rewards & HR technology, discussed the impact of Covid on corporate well-being and how the company continues to stay ahead in supporting their employees.“That really put a bright light on wellness,” she said at From Day One’s Dallas conference, in conversation with Lauren Crawford, reporter for CBS News Texas.Helping Employees Prioritize Mental HealthThe first step in improving mental health is destigmatizing it, says Marx. “It’s a simple start,” she said. “Talk about it, make it normal, whether that be everyday talk, in big town halls, or employee gatherings.”Once employees realize it’s OK to discuss their mental health, they feel comfortable sharing if they are feeling down, Marx says. She recommends offering online platforms and tools so team members can quickly find help, including virtual appointments with mental health providers.In addition to having an on-site doctor, employees appreciate virtual appointments because they only take up a bit of their time, says Marx. They also give team members in rural areas or other locations without easy access to in-person mental health treatment a way to get the care they need.AT&T also recognizes the importance of social health by giving each employee one day off per year to volunteer. “We encourage them to volunteer with their teams,” Marx said. “Everybody feels great. It’s fun. And we don’t have to take vacation or do it after work.”Caregiver Leave and Family PlanningCaregiver leave and family planning are two popular offerings for AT&T employees. “It is so important to take care of yourself and your family so that you can bring your best self to work,” she said.Stacey Marx of AT&T, left, spoke with Lauren Crawford of CBS News Texas at From Day One's event in DallasTheir leave policy especially critical for those in the sandwich generation, who have children still living at home and aging parents. AT&T employees can take up to three weeks of caregiver leave. Marx says the team members love it because they don’t have to use their vacation time if a loved one is sick or needs surgery. “Vacation time is a sacred time for you to rest and relax and recover,” she said.The company also partners with Maven, which helps young families from fertility education through each trimester of pregnancy and beyond. “Even after you return to work, it helps you have support,” Marx said.Determining the Benefits Your Employees NeedWith so many different benefits available, how can companies choose the ones that are best for them?“We found two cornerstones that you should think about when you’re thinking about well-being,” Marx said. “The first one is putting that employee first and really soliciting feedback, but it’s not just getting the feedback. It’s actually listening to the feedback.”The second step is gathering data. She said that data can come from employee surveys, which she calls the "first line of defense," and focus groups, where companies ask employees who use a particular benefit what they value about it.During annual enrollment, AT&T has robust Q&A sessions “where we get the HR team in the field with the employees to really get that feedback,” Marx said.Communicating With EmployeesIt can take a while for company leaders to feel comfortable talking to employees about benefits, says Marx. It’s best to educate them so they can answer questions from their team. When talking to their teams about benefits, leaders should use “simple, non-HR speak, so people can really find what they’re looking for,” Marx said.One of the best things AT&T has done is giving employees their own personal health care concierge, says Marx. There’s a phone number on the back of their insurance cards that they can call if they are in a challenging situation. “Maybe you got a scary diagnosis and you want to talk to somebody about what is the right next step,” she said. “This team will help you. That’s a real live example of how we put the employee in the center of all our wellness benefits and really design around them.”Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | June 07, 2024