Ceridian CHRO opens up about change management, reluctant leadership, mental health
Malaise has set in across the workforce, and it’s up to HR leaders to stimulate and engage their employees.
Nearly 90% of employees have felt stuck in their role over the past year, and 70% are now a flight risk, according to Ceridian’s 2023 Pulse of Talent survey, which polled more than 8,800 workers across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
In order to retain employees, companies must offer opportunities for learning and development. In fact, more than half (51%) of respondents said a new career path within the company or working on new projects or with different teams (46%) would make them want to stay with their current employer.
“When you feel stuck in your role, you also feel burnout,” says Susan Tohyama, CHRO at Ceridian, a Minneapolis-based HR technology firm. The data supports her position: 9 in 10 (87%) workers have experienced burnout, a 6% increase from last year, according to the survey. Meanwhile, nearly all (92%) of senior leadership also feel burnt out, with 40% experiencing very serious or extreme burnout symptoms.
“We’re fortunate that people are starting to destigmatize conversations around mental health,” Tohyama told HRD. “HR leaders have to ensure their leadership team sees this data and then suggest ways to change people practices to make employees’ lives better. How can you reduce someone’s burnout? Is their commute too long? Are they dealing with childcare or eldercare issues? Let’s try to make flexibility a priority.”
Ceridian has done just that. The virtual-first organization, which also has offices in California, offers employees flexibility in where, when and how they work. Tohyama attributes that freedom and autonomy to leadership’s trust of its workforce, allowing employees to focus solely on bringing their best self to work and fulfilling their highest potential.
“You also have to make sure people managers are asking employees what they want to do in their career,” Tohyama says. “If employees sense their employer has a clear path – it doesn’t have to be a vertical path – but if they feel the company understands what they want, their commitment to the company will increase.”
Mastering change management is essential post-COVID
Tohyama understands the importance of career advancement better than most. The HR veteran has spent a quarter century criss-crossing the globe, working for high-profile brands like The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, and the NBA. After a two-and-a-half-year stint as CHRO at VICE Media, she joined Ceridian just one week after the world shut down due to COVID-19.
“I work for companies that really put people first,” Tohyama told HRD. “As soon as the pandemic happened, our goal was to make sure we preserved our people’s jobs. As an HR leader, I don’t have to sell the leadership team on what will inspire and empower employees because they already know that. I’m here to help facilitate and come up with some creative and innovative ideas.”
One of those was “Focus Fridays,” in which Ceridian avoids holding internal meetings that day to allow employees to truly focus on their work. Company leaders weren’t initially gung-ho about the practice, Tohyama says, but any kind of change in business (and in life) is usually met with resistance. That’s why understanding change management has been crucial since the pandemic disrupted the workplace.
“Many leaders understood they had to be flexible at the start of the pandemic, but they also think we have to go back to the way it was because that was successful,” Tohyama says. “Unfortunately, that ship has sailed.”
When implementing major changes, HR leaders have to convince company leadership that these decisions are best for the long-term health of the organization. “Make sure you have your external data and your internal data (engagement surveys), put a strategy around them and then tell your leaders it’s going to be different, but the world of work is changing,” Tohyama says. “Here’s what we’re seeing and hearing, and this will lead us to hopefully higher engagement and more success in the company. However, we’re also flexible enough to pivot if it doesn’t work out.”
Of course, HR leaders have proven over the past few years that they can adapt to any situation, including one that nobody could predict. “Companies talk about leadership training up to a point, but when you get to a certain level, there’s an assumption that leaders know everything,” Tohyama says. “But there must be this continual learning as the world of work evolves. Right now, leaders have to release control and just trust their employees.”