Five Things Corporate America Isn’t Doing as Well as it Thinks

By Brenda McDermott, CPCU, SCLA, CIIP, SCLA, ARM, AIDA

Tune in to any leadership or business webinar and you will likely hear some of the current corporate buzz words or acronyms. In this challenging time for getting and retaining top talent corporations are making sure those key buzz words are on the job description, their website, and social media. So, what are the magic five and what is corporate America’s scorecard?

1. DEI/ Diversity Equity and Inclusion. Most of corporate America has some type of DEI program in place. But how good are they doing at it overall? On average corporate America gets a B-. Other than a few exceptions it’s not because they’re not trying. Maybe they’re trying too hard. Maybe they’re so focused on being inclusive of a particular group that they ultimately exclude other groups or leave them feeling excluded. Worse yet by focusing on that one group they may be singling that group out to the point they don’t feel included or feel that the effort is for show or fake.

So how can they fix it? Focus on inclusion of all employees. Focus on your employees’ true selves, not their demographics. Celebrate their talents and abilities. Develop diverse employee groups for better innovation, performance, and engagement. If you focus on talent and abilities and recognize their strengths and what matters to them, you will achieve true DEI. Corporate America seems to be getting it, as for 2023 they appear to be adding another letter and focusing on DEIB – Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging. If they focus on making sure their employees feel valued for their talents and abilities rather than their demographics, the belonging will be automatic, and the score will go up.

2. Purpose aka meaningful work. Recruiters and employers talk about work that provides purpose. But how can they know. Are they assuming because you’re a millennial, Gen Z or Boomer you want the same as another employee of your generation?  How well do they know their employees and what matters to them? Are they focused on the individual’s personal purpose or what they think employees want? Corporate American probably scores a B-.

What can employers do? Ask and listen. Find out what matters to your employees. What do they want to get from their work? Where do they want to go in the future? Don’t make assumptions. Once you know what your employees want from work and value, provide them opportunities to participate in tasks forces, community service, stretch assignments, etc. that help them feel growth, movement along their career/ work-life path and a feeling of accomplishment. Purpose comes from what they value, not what you think they value.

3. Closely related to purpose is employee engagement. Corporate America gets a C on true engagement. If you can’t get purpose right, you certainly aren’t going to get true employee engagement and don’t be surprised if you aren’t unknowingly supporting another corporate buzz word, quietly quitting. Employee engagement isn’t about games or social activities- unless that is what they want. It’s about giving employees a voice, supporting what gives them purpose, providing true work life balance. It’s about opportunities for growth or change and rewards that matter to them, not something out of the corporate catalogue. A recent Gallup study found in 2022 only 32% of employees are actively engaged and 17% are actively disengaged.

So how can corporate America improve Employee Engagement? Again – it involves listening instead of assuming. You need to take a hard look at your corporate culture. That can be hard for a company to do… to take an honest non-sugar-coated view of how their employees feel about the work they do and the company. If the culture at any level is toxic you’ve got a problem, no matter how many prizes you award. Do they want to come to work? Do they enjoy the work they do? Does it give them purpose? Do they feel listened to and valued and that they can grow and achieve their career goals or that they’re nothing more than a butt in a seat, a cog in a wheel? Do they have clear expectations and the tools they need to meet what’s expected of them so that they can successfully do their job? Are their talents recognized to give them opportunities to use those talents to help with their development plans and career success? Are you making sure they have a mentor, advocate, or champion to encourage their development and promote them at work? Is there transparency and effective communication to help them understand how their work fits into the bigger picture? If they don’t feel seen and heard or that their goals and opinions matter, you don’t have truly engaged employees.

4. ESG/ Environmental Social Governance. So, are you reducing your corporate footprint? Are you creating a sustainable workplace? Another B-. Corporate America has shown it knows how to do the right thing- Look at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, January 6, the Black Lives Matter movement. How did your company respond to those telling moments? Did it impact who they do business with and how? Did they put profits or social good on a higher level?  Are they supporting doing the right thing? Are they making sure that they aren’t contributing to waste and global warming? Are they looking around their community for opportunities to help and right a wrong?

By focusing on ways to reduce waste, like going digital or virtual instead of paper brochures, correspondence, forms, or business cards you can reduce a company’s emission waste. Doing virtual meetings instead of in person meetings also reduces the carbon emissions and in turn your corporate footprint. Reusing or repurposing instead of throwing away reduces both the cost and carbon emissions needed to make it new. Do a materiality assessment with your stakeholders- internal and external to determine what matters to them. Look at your corporate identity and brand you are promoting. Does your materiality assessment show your actions are focused on living up to that brand? Doing a materiality assessment will help you identify your priorities and gain a consensus to help focus your strategies and ESG efforts to deliver what matters. What is your employee, management, and board diversity? Does senior management show their commitment to the ESG efforts? Do you have a sustainability officer or leadership guiding your sustainability and governance efforts? Are you focusing resources and actively pursuing the strategy and goals you developed in your materiality assessment? Are you walking the walk instead of talking the talk? A poor ESG rating can tarnish the brand and your corporate reputation.

5. Career Mobility – Not just upward mobility. In today’s workplace people may want lateral mobility or downward mobility or even a new career depending on where they are in their life and what matters to them. Career mobility can often be impacted by your approach to DEI. Do you focus on skills, experience, best fit for the job or do you let demographics impact your decisions? Corporate America’s grades range between B+ and D.

 So, what can they do and why should they care? The first thing employers need to realize is that career mobility isn’t up and out to their next position like it used to be. Career mobility promotes a diverse workforce, encourages employee engagement, and helps employee retention. Retaining employees is cheaper and more effective for your company than having to constantly recruit and retrain. A recent Forbes article puts the cost of replacing an employee at the equivalent of 150% of the position’s salary and benefits. Lack of career mobility is one of the major reasons behind quietly quitting. Rethink career mobility by renaming it opportunity mobility or internal mobility. That way instead of looking just up employees and employers can look around and throughout the organization to expand their focus on additional career opportunities. Doing this provides ways to keep employees – remember number three: engaged, challenged, and excited to come into work and to stay with your company. Opportunity that isn’t limited to upward helps to keep options open for your employees.

In their book Up is not the only way: Rethinking Career Mobility Beverly Kaye, Lindy Williams, and Lynn Cowart emphasize that career mobility requires that employees and managers take an active role in employees pursuing and managers recommending employees for opportunities in their job or elsewhere in the organization to help their growth. And corporations need to deliver career mobility opportunities they advertise on their websites and social media. They need to actively put those promises into action. Corporations need to be more agile in offering opportunities through different assignments for projects or teams looking at multiple patterns of development instead of the old corporate ladders and structured paths. Look at a lateral move as a lateral promotion- moving sideways or “over and then up”. Offering employees lateral moves can broaden their perspective and expand their network.

At the end of the day employers need to talk about it with their employees. They need to discuss opportunities that employees have in their current role or through other positions in the company. They need to develop a clear process for employees who are interested in other opportunities to learn about them and apply for them. Do you support employees seeking lateral and other career opportunities the same way you would for new hires with your current talent? Are employees who take lateral or downward moves or opportunities rewarded and given the same value as employees who only seek upward mobility? If not, then your employees may feel that their opportunities are limited and that they are no longer valued or have purpose and move on.

So, Corporate America you’ve now talked the talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.

Brenda McDermott, CPCU, SCLA, CIIP, SCLA, ARM, AIDA is a workers’ compensation claims specialist in The Hartford’s Major Case Unit. She is a past International Rookie and Claims Professional of the Year and past International CWC Speak-Off winner. Sher was the 2022 Region V Insurance Professional of the Year. She has been a long-term member of IAIP and served in multiple offices at the local, state, and regional levels. A Past Region V RVP she is currently serving as the Region V Marketing Director and Co-Chair on the International Marketing and Today’s Insurance Professional Committee. She is an MAL in Region V from Missouri.

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