Employee Loyalty Leaders
Interviews with HR Leaders Building Exceptional Employee Experiences
Interviews with HR Leaders Building Exceptional Employee Experiences
“To truly thrive, we have to learn how to unhook ourselves from our self-defeating thoughts and emotions and take actions that align with our core values and long-term goals. The better we get at unhooking, the better able we are to effectively navigate stressful situations, adapt to change, and bring the best of ourselves forward in work and life”
– Jennifer Ernst
Employee loyalty is a growing challenge in a post-pandemic world and companies are rethinking their approach to the employee experience.
In this interview series, we’re talking to HR leaders to get their insights on leadership and how companies can improve employee loyalty and thrive in this changing world.
Jennifer Ernst is a therapist, coach, and mother who is bringing more courage, connection, and meaning to our lives, relationships, and work. After earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology in 2011, she spent the next decade developing leaders and transforming cultures in organizations ranging from America’s Best hospitals to Fortune 500 companies.
How do you tackle the response people have to change and practicing the behaviors that people need to be successful?
Throughout our lives, in particular when we were children, we adopted patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in order to secure our physical and emotional survival in the environment we were raised. These patterns are comfortable and familiar to us – they kept us safe in the past – so fear kicks in the face of something unfamiliar and we tend to get stuck in these old patterns and hooked by habitual thoughts and emotions, even when they’re no longer serving us well or helping us move where we truly want to go.
To truly thrive, we have to learn how to unhook ourselves from our self-defeating thoughts and emotions and take actions that align with our core values and long-term goals. The better we get at unhooking, the better able we are to effectively navigate stressful situations, adapt to change, and bring the best of ourselves forward in work and life. Emotional agility is the set of psychological skills we need cultivate in order to unhook – things like courage, self-compassion, mindfulness, growth mindset, and walking your why.
These are all are daily practices, that when exercised enough, become these incredible gifts that allow you to get unstuck, embrace change, and make small, deliberate, daily choices that add up to make a huge difference in your life.
What did your eight-year-old self-love doing and how does it relate to what you do now?
I was a very curious little girl who loved to learn. I enjoyed school and became involved in many activities, from horseback riding to gymnastics to classical guitar. I loved them all. For me, learning created a sense of connection to a world outside of myself and cultivated a sense of wonder, discovery, evolution, possibility, and hope.
I eventually settled on music as my hobby of choice and began to play competitively. Over time, music became less about discovery and creative self-expression and more about competing, striving to get to the top, and winning, which sucked the joy out of it and left me feeling disconnected from myself and burned out. As I say this, it sounds a lot like the world of work today and many people’s journeys up the career ladder. It became my journey for a while too, until I started to say “Enough!” I continuously felt like I was abandoning myself and what mattered to me most in order to achieve society’s definition of what success and having it all looks like.
I stepped out of corporate in 2019 and went after work where I could dedicate my time to learning how to become more of who I want to be and helping other people learn how to become more of who they want to be. Building my own practice as a therapist and coach where I help people who want to truly thrive in the way live, love, parent, and lead makes that possible for me. And it fills me with that sense of curiosity, wonder, connection, purpose, possibility, and hope that I remember feeling as a little girl.
If you could go back 10 years and share some advice with your younger self, what would it be? (This could be a specific mistake that you learned from)
You don’t need to be extraordinary to be enough.
We live in a culture where so many of us suffer from the shame-based fear of being ordinary – the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. I suffered from this too.
When I was younger, I missed out on joy where it’s most often found – in the ordinary moments – because I was too busy chasing down extraordinary, which for me showed up as a relentless striving at work to fix everything and be everything to everyone so that I could get recognized and validated. This left me exhausted, anxious, burnt out, and took me further away from my true purpose.
When COVID hit and I gave birth to my son, Avery, I was forced to get really honest about who I want to be and what I value, and take action to align my life with that and let go of the things that no were no longer serving me.
How do you see your job as a HR leader changing over the next five years?
HR has historically been about transactions, policies, and procedures. HR that brings transformational business value is about changing culture, which is not about open works spaces and pizza parties, but about how we as people show up in relationship with one another. It’s the hardest piece of culture to tackle, but the most important at driving business outcomes and improving the quality of people’s lives.
When companies start to deliberately create cultures that align with what people need to truly thrive – psychological safety, connection, development, higher purpose and meaning – companies will thrive.
Do you have a podcast (or book) you have listened to in the last year you would suggest to other people leaders? Why?
Podcast – I love Brene’ Brown’s “Dare to Lead” podcast. She captures all of these messy human dynamics and breaks it down in a simple way for people to understand – and talks about how that shows up in the work experience.
What is one thing people leaders should start doing that will have the biggest impact on employee loyalty?
It would be really interesting if leaders started looking at themselves and asking themselves the big “life” questions: At the end of my life, what is it that I want to be remembered for? What is the human impact I want to have on people’s lives through my leadership? I believe when leaders start answering those questions for themselves in a vulnerable way and start taking actions to better live into these human values will they lead in a way that people won’t want to leave.
What is one thing people leaders (or other executives) should stop that would have a big impact on employee loyalty?
Companies all over say “We put people first,” then make decisions that don’t care for the person doing the job because they think of them as means to their profitable end, rather than an end in and of themselves.
For example, I always hear the phrase “We run lean.” Translation in terms of what I’ve observed: we aren’t willing to invest in the human resources we need for the amount of work required, so we ask one person to take on the job of two or three, which creates higher stress, overwork, and burnout, not to mention the negative effect it has on employees’ health and well-being and the connections with their children and loved ones.
People leaders should stop defining success only in terms of money, power, and status and recognize the exponential value of creating human value in harmony with economic value. They have to continuously practice making the courageous choice of actually putting people first when it’s not the easy thing to do.
What is one thing companies are doing well to build employee loyalty?
Workplace flexibility, which COVID accelerated. Companies are recognizing that employees can work when they want and where they want and still get work done well.
“One of the most common mistakes organizations and their leaders make is trying to meet adaptive challenges with technical means, and so they focus on training technical skills, not psychological or human skills, which is more important in today’s innovation economy”
What are the biggest opportunities and/or pitfalls companies face when it comes to training and development?
One of the most common mistakes organizations and their leaders make is trying to meet adaptive challenges with technical means, and so they focus on training technical skills, not psychological or human skills, which is more important in today’s innovation economy. Though technical capabilities are vital, it is most critical to strengthen psychological muscles in L&D practices. For example, one of the top reasons employees fail is not technical knowledge, it’s slips in their psychology. “Fast” thinking gets applied to complex situations requiring “slow” thinking, and people make an emotional, wrong decision.
Companies treat L&D as a separate or additive component of the business engine. But in today’s innovation economy, pursuing profitability and pursuing human development are one thing. Companies who weave learning and development rituals and practices into the daily fabric of operational life (for example, continuous feedback) that keep employees trying to acknowledge and overcome their limitations continuously are the most resilient and thriving organizations over time. This is very different from sending an employee to a three-hour workshop and expecting the information they just heard to translate into new behavior that can be sustained in the operational environment.
What tips or guidance would you share that have helped make employee onboarding more successful?
Onboard employees around culture, the company’s higher purpose, its’ organizational values, and expected leadership behaviors.
What are the most important people metrics that companies should be paying more attention to? And why?
They should pay more attention to metrics that measure the human behaviors that make up a thriving culture in a company. For example, “organizations move at the speed of trust” is well-known and accepted in most business circles I’ve been a part of, but we don’t put “trust” on our business scorecards.
In an innovation economy, your number one most valuable asset is people. So what is the nourishment you feed people that enables them to thrive? The answer is culture – how you run your company. When companies design their culture to meet the basic human needs every single person on this planet has – to feel safe (not just physically safe, but psychologically safe), to connect, to learn and grow, and to serve a purpose greater than themselves, people, and in turn the companies that they make up, will thrive.
Companies need to establish culture metrics that measure these four components and look at them just as frequently and take them just as seriously as they do their financial statements.
About Jennifer Ernst
Jennifer a therapist, coach, and mother who is bringing more courage, connection, and meaning to our lives, relationships, and work. After earning her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology in 2011, she spent the next decade developing leaders and transforming cultures in organizations ranging from America’s Best hospitals to Fortune 500 companies. She is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and workshop facilitator with a focus on how cultivating emotional agility contributes to thriving workplace cultures and leadership.
Jennifer is building a thriving clinical practice at Life Reset Solutions in Glenview, IL. She specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapies for the treatment of anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout. She is also a Conscious Parenting Coach and Emotion Focused Couple Therapist who helps parents and couples cultivate a deeper sense of trust, respect, kindness, and connection in their relationships.
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