Finding a Company That Puts Employees First, with Katie Augsburger

Listen On:

Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 246:

Finding a Company That Puts Employees First, with Katie Augsburger

Airdate: May 27, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

Our show is sponsored by TopResume. Upload your resume today for a free review by one of TopResume’s expert writers. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Organizational culture ranks as a top concern for job seekers. But how do you find a company that puts employees first?

Here to talk about this is Katie Augsburger. She’s the founding partner and employee experience strategist for Future Work Design.

Katie has been creating and implementing successful human resources programs for more than 15 years.

She joins us today from Portland, Oregon.

Katie, let’s start here, what do you mean when you talk about a company that puts employees first?

Katie Augsburger:

When I think about an organization that centers the needs of employees, that’s what I think about when I say, “Putting employees first,” but really puts them in the center of how they design the work experience.

Mac Prichard:

What does that look like in practical terms? I mean, it doesn’t sound like we’re talking about money and benefits, although those are, of course, important, but how do you see that in a day to day experience as an employee?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, well, often when we think about the employee experience, we think about onboarding, and compensation, and all of these individual moments in an employee life cycle, and when you really put the employee in the center of those needs, it’s like, “What does that employee need to feel whole? To feel that they’re having their best career? That they’re cared for? That they feel connected with almost everyone in the organization and their coworkers?”

And so, that really looks at having a holistic approach to the employee experience and recognizing that there’s many different needs, and dependent on that person’s identity, there might be some additional barriers that may exist for an employee. It’s about looking at their experience holistically.

Mac Prichard:

When you think about those barriers, what kind of obstacles come to mind for companies that do, both identify and remove those barriers? What kind of obstacles are they removing?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, it can be very different for different employers, but an example is, if you’re a working parent, what will make you the most successful employee? Often, that might look like having a robust leave policy. Maybe that means flexible start and stop times. That also might look like a really great health benefits package. And to recognize that different employers have different needs but when you center employees that have a lot of barriers, based on either their family status, their racial identity, gender…when you center the people with the most barriers, you actually get an experience that benefits everyone. That’s what I look for when I look for an organization that is a great, employee-first company.

Mac Prichard:

How do employers who are successful at doing this come up with a program that serves the needs of, as you said, so many different people? Because it must be complex, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, is it?

Katie Augsburger:

No, and I actually use an example from history that helps illustrate ways organizations can do this well. So, in 1945, in Michigan, when soldiers were returning from war and they had mobility issues, there was a movement to start creating cut-outs inside of sidewalk curbs, so that they could move between streets easy. And what they found was that the small accommodation for this group, this small group that wasn’t the majority of the population, but it actually benefited everybody. Everybody benefited when they made the small accommodation. So, when I work with employers, I help them identify ways that they can make something for someone who has the most barriers, that will benefit everybody.

An example is a maternity/paternity policy, which, on its surface, is often for working mothers who are returning to work after having a child. But when you actually implement it to the greatest benefit of all the employees, that helps everyone who is a working parent. Or if you do something like flexible stop and start times, that makes life easier for all sorts of people, not just people who are most impacted.

Mac Prichard:

When you work with employers, Katie, to create these policies, what kinds of questions do you encourage managers to ask of their employees in order to get clear about what people’s needs are?

Katie Augsburger:

Well, the first thing you said is exactly what I ask them to do, it’s to ask questions. Because what often happens is employers want to predict what employees need, and especially, if you don’t share the same identity of the employee, for example, if you are a white manager talking to a staff that is predominantly LatinX, and you’re trying to predict what their needs are, you may get it really wrong. And so it’s important to ask, “What are the barriers you have to working and being successful here? What are things that I can help move and build for you? And where are areas that you are struggling, or finding great success, that we can capitalize on that struggle or success and remove the barriers and the struggles?”

Mac Prichard:

What kind of obstacles do you see both employers and employees face when they go through this kind of process to get clear about those barriers and identify solutions?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, some of the things that lock organizations up is a sense of, “We’ve always done it this way.” Where it’s like, “This is the way it’s always been done.” And so doing something different can feel like anarchy or it can feel like lawlessness and can be very confusing and without structure, and so that often is the first hurdle for us to get through. Is that there can be a new way of working that is different but doesn’t mean it is wrong or problematic.

The other thing that people often worry, first and foremost, is cost. How expensive is this change going to be? Which is a very rational and reasonable thing to worry about. But what we find is that, often, those costs aren’t actually real. They’re imagined, they’re feared, but they’re not actually realized and there’s usually a huge cost savings by implementing things that help the employees stay in their roles and be successful and grow.

Mac Prichard:

Can you talk more about the savings that result from adopting these employee-first policies?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, a great example is career paths. So, when we take the time to invest in training and development for employees, creating career paths that are clear, promoting, we have longevity with our employees. Which, we have really good data that if we keep employees and grow them, that is a net benefit to the organization over turn and churn and rehire, and that cost to rehire and train is very expensive. So, when we actually put the dollars into investing in the staff that’s there, particularly staff from marginalized communities that may not have had historical access to those roles, we see a huge return on that investment. That usually means that upfront cost, that you don’t get to see get realized for a year or two or three.

Mac Prichard:

As the economy worsens, do you think that employers will be more resistant to adopting policies that put employees first?

Katie Augsburger:

You know, I was pretty fearful of that when this all started to happen; that the first thing that we would see is just a return of some pretty money-focused and not people-focused solutions to some problems. And what I’m finding is actually the opposite. I think what we’re seeing now, in this humanity crisis is a need and a reaching back to what makes organizations great. Which is the people.

What we’re missing right now the most is people connection, and so, I’m seeing a real shining light in how many organizations are connecting with their employees, even when they’re having to make hard decisions.

An example that I just saw today was AirB&B is doing a pretty large lay-off where 25% of their staff is impacted, and the letter that the CEO sent out about how they’re going to care for these impacted employees and how they’re going to reimagine their strategy is a real master class in how we can do this well, and still center humanity in our employment decisions.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought that example up because I think some listeners might imagine, “Well, a company that puts employees first is something you can afford in the good times but that is going to get jettisoned during tougher times.” But it sounds like you’re not seeing that.

Katie Augsburger:

No, and putting employees first doesn’t mean that we always bring in ping pong tables and beer pong; it means that we put them in the center of our design even when we’re making hard decisions. So, when the decision is difficult, like we’re going to have to make a lay-off, we’re actually centering those employees’ needs. What information do they need? How much care-taking do we give them and the people who are not impacted? How do we communicate to the communities? How do we ensure that we’re being equitable in our decision making? How do we ensure that the right people are involved in that decision making? Even in those really tough decisions, centering those employees’ needs and how to care for them is mission critical.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about policies and practices and the benefits both to an employer and the workers in those practices. What about values? How important are they in a company that puts employees first?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, this is where, as a job seeker, this is so important to find an organization that aligns with your values and I don’t necessarily mean surface-level values. I mean, deep values, of like, connection, what you care about, transparency, fairness, or equity. What are the things that mean the most to you? Because you may find that in a company you were not expecting it. And so, organizations practic these values very differently and they may, on the surface, talk a lot about how they value one thing and it may not show up in their practices, and so to really look deeply, how is that showing up? And so, to use the example of an organization that’s very transparent; when they make tough decisions, how are they communicating that? Where is that showing up and how much information do I get about that?

That helps me understand that when things are good, I can trust that organization to maybe share those benefits, if we have a great quarter. Or that I’ll have a better understanding of how my work impacts the bottom line.

Mac Prichard:

I want to take a break, Katie, and when we come back I want to talk about how to find these companies, especially when you’re doing a job search.

Stay with us. When we return, Katie Augsburger will continue to share her advice about how to find a company that puts employees first.

Understanding what it’s like to work for an employer is a fundamental part of any job search. And so is having an effective resume.

But many of us struggle with how to talk about ourselves and our accomplishments.

Does this sound like you?

If you need help telling your career story, sign up today for a free review of your resume by our show’s sponsor, TopResume.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Within two business days, a professional writer at TopResume will give you a personal evaluation of your resume.

You’ll get specific suggestions about your resume’s format, the language you use, and what to do to get past the dreaded application tracking systems.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Now, let’s be candid. A resume alone won’t get you your next job. You also have to invest time in research, interview preparation, and follow up.

But a well-written resume will get you more interviews and get the job you want faster.

Find out today how you can make your resume better.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Katie Augsburger.

She’s the founding partner and employee experience strategist for Future Work Design.

Before the break, we were talking about how to find a company that puts employees first. Put yourself in the shoes of a job seeker, Katie, how do you recommend someone get started in finding firms like this?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, the thing that I recommend to friends and colleagues first is be clear about your own personal values. That you need to understand what is important to you, first and foremost, and sometimes we can get, like any consumer, dazzled by the organizations that have the best marketing, that sound the best on paper. Those aren’t always going to give you the most generous benefits, most exciting careers, or even the deepest connection with your colleagues. So to look at organizations that really speak to what is interesting to you and what your core values are.

Mac Prichard:

Is there a simple exercise or perhaps a shortlist of questions you recommend someone ask themselves to get clear about those values?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, so one of the things that I like to ask an organization is how their stated values show up in the day-to-day. And so often, organizations will say, “We’re compassionate.”

And I like to drill deep and to say, “Okay, well, what does that look like to you? How do you practice that value?” And that might seem like an interesting question to ask when it becomes that part of the interview question, for you to ask questions, but it allows you to see how those values show up in a way that is meaningful and as opposed to something that’s just on their wall in the lobby. And so, if transparency is a value, “Give me an example of how you practiced transparency in your organization. Does that show up in your compensation system? Are you transparent about your pay? Does compassion live in how you do your benefits programs or how you offer your paid time off?”

Those are really great indicators if we’re living the values that we state.

Mac Prichard:

I love those questions. I have to ask though, as a candidate do you jeopardize your application by asking questions that might make a manager uncomfortable?

Katie Augsburger:

I think that’s a really good tell; if you ask questions about an organization’s values and that makes them uncomfortable, for me, that might not be an organization that would be…there would be a misalignment between me and them. Because I want an organization, for me, that can answer some difficult questions, even in that new, beginning phase. I like to, anytime we’re meeting a new person or creating a new connection in our life, whether that be a friendship or a romantic partner, if we can’t ask even very simple questions about how you work, what you value, what you care about, that’s a bit of a flag.

Mac Prichard:

In addition to asking questions like these during interviews, any other steps you recommend a candidate take, perhaps before an interview, to get clear about whether a company puts its employees first or not?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, I like to say that the honeymoon is not the marriage when it comes to interviewing. When we first meet an employer, often they tell us a lot of things that are there to attract us to the organization, but might say very little about what’s there to retain us. So, the honeymoon is great, you can have a great honeymoon, but you want to be with an organization, my assumption is, for much longer than just those first few months. So, what are those retention policies? What do we do to retain our employees long-term? And that would look like, what are your career paths? What does your retirement program look like?

The benefits that are often very short-term are kind of those small tangible items like, maybe a travel perk or movie benefits; sometimes those are the fun perks that we often read about in organizations. But I like to ask, “What is the average tenure in your organization? How long do people stay here?” That gives me really good information about how often people grow in the organization and how well they’re valued.

Mac Prichard:

Some organizations are small, there’s no place to go because there are just a handful of positions other than out. How do you recommend someone trying to understand the career path of people who preceded them at that organization? People move on, is that a good or a bad sign?

Katie Augsburger:

I think it’s always a good sign if there’s a connection still kept with the organization. So, there’s nothing wrong with short tenure, and there’s nothing wrong with people not developing into new roles if that’s how the organizational structure is made. But there needs to be some storytelling around that so that I can understand why that is.

To your point, in small organizations where lateral growth is impossible, what does vertical growth look like? Where can I grow in ways that give me more skill, maybe give me more responsibility, maybe expose me to new ideas? But might not mean that I’m managing employees or growing upward, but I might be growing out, so how does that look? How am I connected to the organization, if I decide to move to a career that’s outside?

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned earlier asking questions about benefits; talk to us about timing, Katie. The conventional advice is don’t have a conversation about vacation or other benefits until an offer is on the table. How do you recommend timing conversations? The questions you mentioned earlier.

Katie Augsburger:

I think those conversations happen when those compensation conversations happen, which is, when we have had time to get to know the role, get to know the manager, and I’m getting close to making a decision. But before I sign and make that decision final, I need to know more about how you’ll operate. And I think that also gives the organization that vetting time, as well, to make sure that they are prepared to answer some of those questions in more depth because they’re already invested in you as a candidate.

I think what’s really great about having those conversations towards the end of the interview cycle is you may have enough information to really fine-tune those questions and some of those questions may have already been answered for you in the way they’ve talked about the organization so far.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked about the candidate asking lots of questions of the employe about’ values and policies and practices. What should a candidate expect a manager, or a hiring manager, rather, to ask them about their professional values and career paths?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, I, as a person who’s done a lot of interviews, I really like to ask questions about how people show up for their colleagues or how resilient they are when mistakes happen. So, those to me are really important signals of your ethics and values in times of stress.

If I hear a conversation in the interview process in which I don’t feel like you’re very loyal to the absent, meaning, you’re not only driving the bus over somebody but you’re driving backward and forwards over somebody in a conversation about where a mistake was made, that indicates to me that maybe we’re going to have a misalignment in values.

The same is true with how you talk about a project or a process that did not go well. I look for people to show resiliency in these conversations, because in organizations and just in the world, and this moment is a great example, we will face crisis, and it’s important to me to look for people who can manage through crisis and are looking to be of service and help during difficult times.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought up the example of the manager who might speak ill of someone who might have been there in the past because certainly candidates are always coached, “Never speak ill of a past employer, no matter how legitimate the complaint might be,” and it’s a good sign for candidates to keep an eye out for, too, isn’t it, if you hear a hiring manager or employer “trash talk” someone?

Katie Augsburger:

Absolutely, and think it’s a great thing to ask why a position is open. That might give you a window to if that manager is going to do exactly what you said. If I ask, “Is this a new position or an open role? Is this an open role or a role that has been recently vacated?”

You may get some information about the departing employee and if you find that that information is a bit of a roll of the bus over somebody, then that’s an indication that maybe it won’t be an organization that you’ll feel very excited to work for.

Mac Prichard:

As part of your homework in researching a company, do you recommend talking to past or current employees about the company’s values and practices?

Katie Augsburger:

Absolutely, but know that sometimes, you’re going to get information that might not always be relevant to your experience, because often the manager plays a bigger role. And so if you’re not going to be in the same reporting structure, that might not be as relevant but it may give you a good window to the organization. The best questions to ask an employee that’s current or department, is around the policies and practices. So, those aren’t necessarily manager specific but it gives you a lot of information about how the company values their employees.

Mac Prichard:

Often when an offer is on the table, you might receive a copy of the employee handbook, as well as perhaps other policies and practices from the firm. How do you recommend a candidate use those documents in making decisions about whether this, indeed, is a company that puts employees first?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, I know that people find employee handbooks pretty tedious to read, and as a person that reads a lot, and I will be reading some today, they can be. But they tell you so much important information about the values of the organization. And so, if you’re reading through that handbook and you see policies or practices for groups that you do not belong, groups from marginalized communities where you can see that they’re centering their needs, that’s a really good signal that this organization has done deep work, in creating an employee experiment that matters for everybody. So, I look for that inside of handbooks.

Where have we created signals, policies, and practices that really reach out to those that have had the most historical barriers and creates an organization in which they’ll be cared for? Because, regardless of my identity, it signals to me that they have done some deep work and that I will be cared for.

Mac Prichard:

Katie, it’s been a terrific conversation. Tell us, what’s next for you?

Katie Augsburger:

Well, I am doing consulting with our team, Future Work Design, and actually kind of enjoying the extra at-home time with my kiddo.

Mac Prichard:

That’s terrific. I know people can learn more about your company by visiting your website www.futurework.design.

Now, Katie, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to find a company that puts its employees first?

Katie Augsburger:

Yeah, this is a very difficult time, and it feels like you should probably just take whatever job you can get, or that you should be thankful for whatever position you can find. But there are great employers out there that want great employees, that are going to caretake for you and make sure that they can have the best career for you. So, don’t be discouraged by hard times. It just might mean that that look is a little harder.

Mac Prichard:

Your resume is one of your most important career tools. But if you’re not sure about what to include or leave off your resume, TopResume can help.

Sign up today for a free resume review.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Do you like this podcast?  Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter.

Every Wednesday, we’ll send you links to job search resources mentioned in the interview and an episode transcript.

Go to macslist.org/podcasts.

Next week, our guest will be Nick Corcodilos. He’s the host of asktheheadhunter.com, where he has answered more than 50,000 questions from job seekers and employers.

Nick says the biggest job search mistake he sees people make is applying everywhere. Instead, you should chase companies, not jobs, says Nick,  and build relationships employers before you apply.

He and I will talk about how to choose your target companies, and why doing so will get you a better job.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Are you ready to leave the company-centered job space behind to find an employer that puts its employees first? Finding a position where you feel deeply valued and truly connected to all your coworkers can be difficult, but Find Your Dream Job guest Katie Augsburger says it is possible. The first step is to be able to articulate your personal values. Secondly, Katie recommends asking questions about the company’s retention and growth policies and practices, and finally, being willing to read the employee handbook for evidence of policies that support marginalized communities. 

About Our Guest:

Katie Augsburger is the founding partner and employee experience strategist for Future Work Design. She has been creating and implementing successful human resources programs for over 15 years.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re ready to transition your company to an employee-first model, Katie and her team can help. Learn more about what they offer at www.futurework.design.
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by  TopResume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of Top Resume’s expert writers.