Prioritize Your People

While I started my career in the tech industry, I spent the last 3 years working at non-profit political organizations. These industries are often considered opposites, but I quickly learned that these industries share a core emphasis: the work always comes first.

And yet… I am constantly baffled by this mindset; because there is no work without the people.

In order to deliver optimal business results, our people need to be a priority. And I’ve got some suggestions for how you can make sure you’re doing just that.

Check your PTO

If your employees are working when they are sick or when their families are sick, they won’t be doing their best work. And yet, if you’re based in the United States, you probably know that there are no federal laws requiring that workers are given paid time off. But I think you should do it anyway. Because if employees are confident that they can take the time they need to care for themselves and the people they love, they will be much more committed to their work and your organization.

Your PTO checklist:

Type of leaveWhy to offer itLinks to learn more
Sick leaveThe bare minimum! If possible, I highly recommend not requiring a doctor’s note. Demonstrating that you trust your employees will help them trust you.Sick leave should cover chosen family

“We should allow sad days, not just sick days.”
Vacation and holidaysWe all know the joy of feeling productive and well-rested after PTO — you might have even thought to yourself, “I should take time off more often.” But you never do? (Or you don’t have enough vacation days to do so?) Your employees will be more productive – and more importantly, will be happier! – when they don’t need to stress about micro-managing their vacation days.Inclusive holiday policies

Minimum vacation policies
Parental leaveParental leave should be available to all parents (birthing and non-birthing!) and to do it best, I recommend learning from actual parents and being as inclusive as possible (bonding time is crucial for adoptive and non-birthing parents too!).Need a Parental Leave Policy?

Becoming Mommy Mountain: My Experience As a Working Parent and What Companies Can do to Support Working Parents
Compassionate leaveThis leave is used when employees lose someone they love, experience pregnancy loss, are coping with domestic violence, or any other reason they may need a little extra compassion. As I suggested with sick leave, please do not require proof. Trust is so important, especially when individuals are grieving.Against “Feel Free To Take Some Time If You Need It”

The most important thing is to ensure your leave offerings meet the needs of your employees so they are working when they are most productive, and can be elsewhere when they need to be. In addition to the leaves mentioned above, companies offer a variety of leaves to fit their workforce including: menstruation leave, mental health days, short and long term disability, military leave, comp time, volunteer time, and sabbaticals.  Leave names are less important– clear definitions and accessibility is what matters the most when it comes to showing your employees that they’re the priority.

Shift your perspective of workers

The next time you’re in your office or in a large Zoom meeting, look around at your colleagues’ faces. Are you seeing workers or are you seeing people? Are you seeing what they produce or who they are?

It’s easy to lose ourselves in the work – we get caught up in process and products and forget about the humans behind everything we do. We often think of ourselves and our teammates as workers, rather than people who work

To see each other as people who work, we need to get curious and vulnerable:

WorkersPeople who work
Workers get into their 1:1 and automatically start talking through projects.People who work check in with each other first during 1:1s.
Workers expect themselves and their colleagues to be productive every single day.People who work understand that not every day will be your best day, and that’s perfectly fine.
Workers hide the fact that something is going wrong, especially if they are in leadership.People who work are open and vulnerable about challenges, and subsequently build trust with their organizations.

And the next time you’re in that large meeting, surrounded by “workers,” take a moment to zoom out and remember this new perspective: these are people who work. They are brilliant, nuanced humans. Yes, they do great work, but they achieve it because of who they are; they aren’t who they are because of the work they do.

Caption: Image description: Coach Roy Kent (a character from the TV show, “Ted Lasso”) speaking in front of two press conference microphones says to the reporters listening, “They’re not just footballers. They’re people.”

To build a more human centered work environment, we must make space to be more than workers to each other. This means leaders demonstrating vulnerability in order for team members to feel comfortable doing the same.

Consider the implicit messages

We’ve all heard the phrase: “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your priorities.” Obviously, as we look at our company’s budget, we see a significant portion that goes to salaries and benefits for our people, which should clearly define people as a priority. And yet, often the messages staff receive from their employers are internalized as “people are not a priority”.

The actionThe message people may receiveThe impact
Professional development funds are hard to accessEmployee development is not a priority because employees are useful with the skills they have now. The organization is not looking out for employees’ futures, just their current work.If employees don’t think the organization is invested in them (and their futures) – then they will be less invested in the work.
Product teams are the only ones regularly recognized at all staff meetingsWhen the only work that is recognized is product work, the message you send is that the internal work is not as important.Employees who contribute to internal work will begin to lose motivation and their work may suffer for it. Subsequently, the product teams get less internal support so their work deteriorates as well.
People team members are first to be laid offPeople assume the work that the laid off employees were doing isn’t a priority. Which is awkward… because the People Team’s work was prioritizing the people.Employees will receive less internal support when you don’t have as many People Team members, further reinforcing the message that the people are not the priority.

Actions are loud, and the choices you make regarding your people will determine their level of commitment.

Don’t stop

I wish this blog ended with, “As long as you do all of that, you’ll be totally fine!” But unfortunately, it doesn’t. The road to prioritizing your people never ends. That said, if you have a strong foundation, the road is a lot smoother. Creating an environment where your people feel valued and are motivated to return that value to the company takes constant care – but it is absolutely worth it.

Learn more about our Author: AnnE Diemer (she/her/hers) is an HR Consultant who prioritizes the human in HR. With eight years of recruiting, DEI, and HR generalist experience across tech startups and non-profits, AnnE is dedicated to supporting organizations who are ready to take a people-centered approach to HR. At Stripe, AnnE led initiatives focused on improving candidate experience, diversifying application pipelines, building university recruiting programs, and developing leaders within the company’s employee resource groups. In 2020, she brought these skills to political non-profits where she designed programs that improved equity in hiring, promoted self-care and sustainable work, led internship programs, designed performance reviews, and facilitated connections amongst staff as they worked remotely for the first time. In her consulting practice, aedHR, AnnE approaches her work through a lens that holds contradictions: ​​How do we build great workplaces while also questioning capitalist systems? How can we work efficiently and move quickly while also prioritizing ourselves and each other as humans? When she’s not trying to answer these difficult questions, you can find her crocheting or riding her new bike around Washington, DC.

*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.