Women’s Workplace Engagement Gap

Despite the fact that workplace gender equality is getting the media attention it deserves, women continue to be less than enthused about their current work situations when compared to their male co-workers.

According to a recent survey from Mercer Sirota, female employees are significantly less satisfied and engaged with their organizations compared to their male counterparts. Measuring employee happiness based on three factors — achievement, camaraderie and equity – Mercer Sirota found that 43 percent of women are satisfied with their organization in matching pay based on performance, while slightly more than half of men (51 percent) are satisfied with their pay based on performance.

(Mercer Sirota is the result of Mercer’s December 2016 acquisition of Sirota Consulting LLC, a global provider of organizational assessments, surveys, technology and analytics.)

The Mercer Sirota research surfaced three major areas with significant gaps for women in the workplace: fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive work environments. The survey also found that keeping employees engaged not only leads to long-term employment, but also growth within an organization.  Women have a focus on longer term career and collaboration not seen in men, according to Megan Connolly, senior associate with Mercer Sirota, which is something employers need to realize.

“Although the drivers of engagement and satisfaction may vary from company to company, our research clearly illustrates that fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive working environments are the key to engaging women employees,” Connelly says.

Other findings found trust to be the key factor in terms of sharing ideas and innovations. For example, one in four female employees is apprehensive to report an ethical concern without fear of repercussions, which creates mistrust between employees and employer.

“Understanding the unique needs of women and taking proactive steps to create more fulfilling work experiences may be the key to solving the puzzle that continues to confound organizations, which is how to increase performance through gender parity,” says Pete Foley, principal at Mercer Sirota.

Adopting Freelance Platforms

As freelancers account for a greater portion of large enterprises’ workforce, human resources executives are adopting new technologies to streamline sourcing and paying gig workers.

Chief among those tools are cloud-based platforms such as UpWork, Fiverr and Freelancer.com that help identify independent contractors with skills and experience that match up to requirements for short- or long-term projects.

Companies can use the same platforms to handle onboarding and paperwork, set up project milestones, and pay people once work is completed and approved, according to speakers at a Thursday session titled, “Leveraging the Freelance Marketplace to Harness a Global Talent Pool,” at the HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas.

In the United States, 55 million people do some kind of freelance, gig or project-based work either full time or as a side hustle. Forecasts show half the country’s workforce will work independently by 2020, said Eric Gilpin, UpWork’s senior vice president of enterprise sales. “A lot of people do this as choice,” Gilpin said.

Freelancers know their skills are in demand, and they like being able to work from anywhere. Their biggest problem is finding clients, “and platforms like UpWork can help them market their skills.”

At the same time the freelance workers’ ranks are growing, large enterprises are looking to be more agile and bring on talent on an as-needed basis. Freelance platforms have been more than happy to play the role of digital matchmaker.

For most of the 31 years Rich Postler has worked at Proctor & Gamble, the only approach he took to adding talent was hiring employees. But changing times call for changing methods. When P&G initiated a culture change to innovate faster, Postler, the company’s vice president of HR, global shared services and global information technology, launched a pilot to “borrow” talent only as long as it was needed.

Postler started working with UpWork and several other freelance platforms 18 months ago as part of that initiative. P&G continued to tap ad agencies and other third-party vendors for large, multi-million-dollar projects. But as part of a pilot project, the company gave departments permission to funnel smaller work to freelancers who’d been vetted and approved through platforms like UpWork.

The payoff was almost immediate. Using platforms to find freelancers cut the time it took to source talent for a project from 90 days to 4.2, Postler said. Not only that, in the first full fiscal year of the pilot, quality of the work rose 33 percent, and costs dropped 60 percent, he said.

Postler gives partial credit for such successes to creating a multi-functional team with people from HR, legal, labor relations and procurement to run the pilot and develop processes and controls around how the company uses freelancers and platforms. Bringing on freelance platforms won’t work, though, unless they are part of a larger strategic plan, and have executive-level sponsorship, he said.

Freelance platforms originally launched to support small businesses, but have been adding larger enterprises as organizations transfer responsibility for managing contingent workers from procurement to HR, Gilpin said. “It’s still 80 percent small and medium business, but also very relevant to large organizations,” he said.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

 

Bersin: Massive Disruption for HR

Companies are living in a paradox right now: Brilliant new technology is flooding the workplace and changing business models, and yet, employee productivity and engagement levels are going down in the U.S. and around the world, said Josh Bersin during his closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech Conference.

“Within the last two years, 90 percent of companies have said their business models are under disruption by technology and the problem isn’t the technology—it’s the people,” said Bersin, principal at Bersin by Deloitte. Employees lack the skills to use the technology properly and companies can’t find the people who do, he said.

A big part of the problem, said Bersin, is “the overwhelmed employee.” “One of the most popular pieces my team has ever written is about this phenomenon,” he said. “Technology is doing things to us. It not only affects our productivity but our personal lives as well.”

Employees are being bombarded by emails and texts, at all hours of the day in some cases, and are suffering from FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” said Bersin. They’re stressed over which message to respond to first. All of this is undermining productivity and engagement. The solution, he said, is to find ways to help employees be more productive in the face of this constant change. But how?

The structure of work must be changed, said Bersin. The most cutting-edge companies, like Amazon and Cisco, are doing away with hierarchy and replacing it with teams. At Cisco alone, he said, 20,000 different teams are working on a variety of projects. What’s notable, he pointed out, was that none of this was reflected in the company’s HR database. HR departments—and the vendors that serve them—aren’t adapting their services and tools to support organizations that will increasingly resemble a network of teams.

“This really concerns me,” said Bersin.

Automation is also remaking the nature of work, with Deloitte research showing that 38 percent of companies expect to be fully automated within five years, he said. Seventy-seven percent of companies anticipate that automation will result in “better jobs,” while only 20 percent expect it will result in job reductions. More than 50 percent of companies plan to retrain their employees to work side by side with robots and artificial intelligence. The problem, he said, is that in 65 percent of those companies, HR is not involved in these efforts at all.

“My message is this: You guys have to be involved in the recrafting of work around automation,” Bersin told his audience.

The HR tech vendor community has plenty of tools to offer in this and other areas, with money pouring into the sector from venture capital funds, he said. “HR tech is now a hot marketplace—since 2014, VCs have invested $5.5 billion in HR tech start-ups.”

Meanwhile, more established vendors are investing heavily in making their core HR products more appealing to end users, with ease of use a primary objective. “We used to rate HR software on the number of features it had,” said Bersin. Now, he said, it’s judged based on how quickly employees can master it to become more productive.

The hottest area of investor interest is talent acquisition, said Bersin, with new funding and innovation making it “an incredibly dynamic space,” spurred by record-low unemployment rates that have led to “an arms race among employers to arm themselves with data and create a wonderful employee experience.”

Video interviewing is seeing some of the biggest strides in innovation, he said, with vendors like HireVue creating tools that “can capture a million data elements from one 15-minute interview.”

These tools can analyze candidates’ “micro-expressions” to determine, for example, whether they’re unsure about their answers to questions and assess their micro-expressions against those of the company’s top-performing employees, said Bersin.

Another area that’s seeing lots of disruption is performance management, with “continuous assessment” replacing the annual year-end reviews that Bersin jokingly referred to as “drive-by shootings.”

“I’ve been through around 46 of those myself, and out of all of them, maybe one was a pleasant experience,” he said.

A number of vendors are building tools for continuous assessment, coming at it from “a number of different directions, and the question of how to select the right one is going to be an ongoing challenge for you,” Bersin told the audience. The good news is that continuous assessment—although it can initially feel disruptive to employees—typically leads to increased engagement, he said.

Learning is another sector of HR tech that’s become a hotbed of innovation. “I’m heartened to see that after a period of stagnation, there’s a lot going on, especially in the areas of micro-learning and continuous learning,” said Bersin.

He predicted that the market for employee well-being tools and services “will explode,” noting that “well being” has been steadily trending upward as a Google search term since 2004.

“The idea of corporate well-being has been around for 200 years,” said Bersin. “But it was previously focused on things like safety and reducing insurance rates. Yet as we’ve become more overwhelmed as employees, we’ve changed the issue to be one about human performance—as in, help us learn how to be healthy and well and productive at work.”

“There could be an entire HR tech conference just on well-being—that’s how huge it is,” he said.

From people analytics to performance management, HR technology is being brought to bear on the employee experience, said Bersin: Giving employees the tools and knowledge they need to be productive and well in a period of sustained change.

“The bottom line is, HR tech is reinventing itself,” he said.

Start-ups Make Their Case

Human resources departments know they need to innovate. They know they need to make more workforce decisions based on predictive analytics. In both cases, they also know change means swapping out old HR applications for new ones.

Despite all that, many large enterprises are risk averse, which makes them reluctant to work with start-ups offering the kind of technology that could meet their needs. It’s one reason HR is years behind sales, marketing, accounting and other corporate functions in adopting new technology platforms, according to fast-growth HR analytics and recruiting tech start-up founders speaking Wednesday at a session titled “Start-up Spotlight: What’s New and What’s Next in HR Technology” the HR Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

“Selling into HR is bizarre,” said Shon Burton, chief executive at HiringSolved, a recruiting and sourcing data aggregator tool.

Being more compliance-heavy than other departments could have added to the reluctance to embrace new options, Burton said.

But things are starting to turn around, he said. “You’re hearing CEOs talk about how they didn’t hit goals” and need to change up processes as a result, he said. “The need to innovate has outweighed the fear of new technology.”

Organizations are hungry for something new. But when HR buyers talk to a vendor, they want case studies, white papers and other formal sales collateral that start-ups might not have had the time, resources or longevity to create, said Elliott Garms, chief executive at Human Predictions, a recruiting analytics platform for the tech industry.

At most organizations with predominately white-collar workers, employees account for 60 percent to 70 percent of costs.

You’d expect those organizations to use technology to make their people practices more efficient, said Manish Goel, chief executive and co-founder at TrustSphere, a relationship analytics start-up. The hesitancy to work with relatively untried vendors could result from a lack of awareness of what’s out there, “and that lack of awareness is slowing down the rate of innovation,” Goel said.

Larger companies also have lagged behind in adopting new technology because of the logistical challenges that come with making changes that affect thousands or tens of thousands of people, said Kieran Snyder, chief executive and co-founder at Textio, an augmented writing service that screens employment marketing content for unintended biases that could turn off job seekers.

“But if your competitors are using competitive technology they will beat you for talent,” Snyder said.

If you’re ready to look at upgrades, Snyder suggested starting with well-defined pain points or targets you’re not hitting. “Pick one thing that’s important enough that it’s impeding the productivity of the team” to focus on, she said.

In the end, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the business problem you’re solving. “You have to deliver better outcomes, making things faster, better or more efficient,” Goel said.

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger on a new buy, be wary of vendors that can’t explain the measurable results you’ll get from using their service, start-up executives said. “The whole point of any of this tech is that it can make predictions,” Burton said. “If people aren’t willing to commit to you about the results you’ll see in your hiring pipeline, be skeptical.”

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

Thinking Like an Economist

Google’s pioneering use of data more than a decade ago to improve how the company found, engaged and retained employees helped popularize people analytics for human resources.

But you don’t need to be a tech giant to incorporate analytics into your hiring and HR practices, according to workforce industry economists speaking at a session titled “The Real Economics of HR Technology: Using Big Data to Drive HR Decision Making” during the HR Tech Conference on Wednesday.

In fact, employers that aren’t using analytics to improve recruiting and other aspects of people management put themselves at a distinct disadvantage. A tight labor market that is intensifying competition for workers, technological innovation, the evolution of how work gets done and changing labor demographics make it imperative to plan for the future, and analytics are the best way to do that, economists said.

“CHROs have to think like economists,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of ADP’s Research Institute. Not just CHROs, but the entire C-suite should be using data to understand how best to allocate talent resources to optimize their workforce and increase margins, said Yildirmaz, who produces ADP’s monthly employment reports and other research.

Smaller employers might not have the budget to hire a data scientist. But they can use analytics built into existing payroll, applicant tracking or core HR management systems applications to test hypotheses about workforce practices to see if the data that results bear them out, said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor, the jobs and employer review site.

In addition to internal analytics, economists urged HR teams to track macroeconomic trends and use benchmarking and publicly available data for decisions and planning. When Glassdoor recently investigated changing benefits for its own employees, the company looked up academic research on organizational psychology. Instead of simply changing offered benefits based purely on costs, “we looked at the psychology of what people really care about that would drive satisfaction,” Chamberlain said.

In particular, panelists suggested organizations use analytics to track employees’ skills and matching that data against external job growth forecasts to identify types of skills or positions they’ll need to develop in the future to fill any gaps. Using analytics to pinpoint people for internal training gives employees a chance to grow, costs less than hiring from the outside and could create new roles within HR, such as learning managers, said Josh Wright, chief economist at iCIMS, a producer of talent-acquisition software.

Incorporating outside data sources into workforce analytics also makes it easier to show a hiring manager that a talent problem they’re dealing with isn’t specific to the company but a part of a larger trend, said Tara Sinclair, an associate professor of economics at George Washington University and senior fellow at the Indeed Hiring Lab. That, in turn, could help facilitate a discussion about aspects of the situation the hiring manager might be willing or able to change, she said.

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

 

Researching with Care

In today’s digitally connected world, HR leaders should tread carefully as they research and evaluate their technology options.

That was a recurring theme in a presentation delivered by Blackbox Consulting Principal Consultant Jonathan Grafft and Aptitude Research Partners Co-founder Madeline Laurano at a session titled “Research to Practice: How to Use Industry Resource to Make Better HR Technology Decisions” at the 2017 HR Tech Conference.

To be sure, the hunt for new technologies is fraught with danger.

“There are more and more vendors in the HR technology space,” said Laurano, adding that a report by the research firm CB Insights estimates that investments in HR technology have gone from $400 million in 2012 to $2 billion today. “That indicates a lot of new providers, a lot of new opportunities and a lot of confusion.”

Between the dozens of different analyst firms dedicated to covering human capital management and the hundreds of bloggers and vendors that do their own research, the process of selecting new technology can be extremely difficult.

Grafft said that the process needs to start with figuring out the problem you’re trying to solve.

Then, he said, the next step needs to involve collecting the information that’s going to help you solve your problem. “It might be research reports,” he explained. “It might be [talking to] colleagues in the space. It might be coming to HR Tech and talking to vendors.”

Laurano pointed to research her firm conducted last year that found word of mouth and reference calls with customers were the two sources employers trusted the most. “When I look at ratings or reviews, whether it’s to buy shoes or clothes, I look at what other people are saying,” she said, adding that the same is often true for those evaluating HR technology.

Both Grafft and Laurano advised employers to take a lot of the information out there with a grain of salt.

“Is your source a trusted analyst firm … or a vendor that’s trying to push a particular message?” Laurano asked. “You need to figure out where the information is coming from.”

Often, Laurano said, the information might be coming from someone with a relationship with one the firms.

HR leaders should look at multiple sources of information as they weigh their options, Laurano said. “Don’t just depend on one source.”

Laurano placed analyst firms in three buckets: Those that receive all of their revenue from vendors for writing a report; those that have a membership model and work with corporations to conduct research; and hybrids of the two.

In evaluating analysts, she said, it’s important to ask about their expertise, their knowledge of the space they’re covering and their business model.

At the end of the day, Laurano and Grafft said, you need to narrow the field of vendors down to a manageable number and be comfortable with the decision you ultimately make.

Improving Diversity Through Tech

HR technology vendors are adopting artificial intelligence and other new tools to help organizations deal with the seemingly intractable problem of improving workforce diversity and inclusiveness.

Panelists address ways HR technology can foster greater diversity. (Photo courtesy of Heather Bussing)

Both established technology vendors and start-ups have launched AI and machine learning-powered features or services that bolster customers’ efforts to be more inclusive, including masking job candidates’ gender, making language of job ads gender-neutral, and uncovering pay gaps, according to company representatives speaking at a panel titled “How HR Technology Can Foster a More Diverse, Inclusive Workplace,” held Tuesday in advance of the annual HR Tech Conference.

The advances arrive as companies in and outside the technology industry have come under pressure for failing to hire, retain and promote more women and people of color. They also come as protracted low unemployment has made it harder for companies to fill talent pipelines using traditional methods.

Circumstances are motivating companies to do better. “They get it’s an economic imperative. They’re reading the research. They get it’s not an option, it’s a reality,” said Patti Fletcher SAP/SuccessFactors’ leadership futurist for solution management.

Unconscious biases affect how companies approach recruiting or hiring. At any given moment, any one person’s thought process is affected by 150 of them, Fletcher said. But it’s asking a lot to expect people to account for unconscious bias without some type of reinforcement as back up, or what she called “rules without tools.”

To get around that, SAP/SuccessFactors identified nine key decision points where unconscious bias can affect a manager’s thinking about hiring, promotions and other key points in the talent lifecycle. The company used AI and machine learning to build decision-interruption nudges into its technology to make managers more aware of actions they’re taking.

Textio’s AI-based augmented writing program helps recruiters and hiring managers flag language in job ads that could turn off certain candidates. Johnson & Johnson saw a 9 percent increase in applications from women after the consumer products company began using the service, according to Charna Parkey, Textio customer service director.

An ADP service called Pay Equity Explore gives employers tools to analyze employee compensation data to identify inequities. With more companies interested in supporting gender identity and LGBTQ support networks, ADP is testing a separate service on its own employees that identifies sexual orientation in advance of offering it to customers.

“It’s a touchy topic,” said Jennifer Cambern, and ADP product management and global enterprise solutions vice president. “As we launch features around that, the need to aggregate and protect data is key.”

Michelle V. Rafter is a Portland, Ore., business reporter covering workplace issues and technology. To see her tweets from #HRTechConf follow @MichelleRafter.

Salesforce’s Efforts to Engage

Most employers are looking for better ways to engage employees—and Salesforce is no exception.

Speaking a mega-session on Tuesday afternoon (“Building and Maintaining an Engaging Company Culture”) during the opening day of the HR Technology Conference and Exposition®, Salesforce’s Senior Vice President of Employee Success and Operations David Kingsley described employee engagement as the secret sauce for achieving the tech company’s principal goal of “improving the state of the world.” (You thought I was going to say something like generating greater profits or satisfied shareholders, right?)

Kingsley recounted the story of Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff, who learned about the concept of ohana—the idea that family, in the broadest sense of the word, are bound together—during a sabbatical he took in Hawaii. Benioff, he explained, has since made ohana part of Salesforce’s DNA.

As you might expect, Salesforce—which now employs about 28,000 employees globally—has made a concerted effort to leverage technology to better engage its employees.

While the world outside has become more app-centric, Kingsley said, employers are continuing to use the same playbook in the workplace. “Employees are asking, ‘Why can’t work be more like my personal life,’ ” he said.

Everything comes down to whether or not “we can create a better employee experience,” Kingsley said. He cited the way Salesforce previously onboarded new hires as a prime example of a process that was in disrepair.

“When you started working at Salesforce,” Kingsley said, “you received a printout with 17 IT tickets you had to submit on the first day that gave you access to all of the systems you would use. We’d say, ‘Here’s your laptop [and] here’s your Wi-Fi, now go online and stay there for an hour-and-a-half to fill out these tickets … .

“We were making the employees do the work on behalf of the organization,” he said.

In response, Kingsley and his team looked at the data to identify ways to streamline that experience and change it from being organization-centric to being employee-centric.

Later in his talk, Kingsley shared a related story of an employee who joined Salesforce three years ago. “He came in for orientation and his laptop wasn’t ready, his phone wasn’t provisioned and, worst of all, his boss didn’t know he was starting that day,” he recalls.

By the end of the day, he said, the employee sent an email from his personal account informing the recruiter who hired him he was resigning.

That email, Kingsley said, was sent around the globe with the subject line: “ ‘New World Record,’ ” referring to the fact that Salesforce had lost a new hire after just one day.

“That was our Apollo 13 moment,” he said.

Today, he said, Salesforce is using the cloud, social, mobile and the Internet of Things to create an experience in the workplace that mirrors the one employees are having outside of work.

Stressing over Pay-Ratio Strategies

The Dodd-Frank Act mandated the CEO pay ratio rule — which goes into effect in early 2018 — with the intention of making the public and employees aware of how much a CEO is paid when compared to the median compensation of all employees.

The odd part is employers apparently have little problem coming up with the CEO pay-to-worker data, but the real challenge is figuring out when, how or if they will tell employees about it, according to a recent poll Willis Towers Watson conducted with 360 corporate executives and compensation professionals in September 2017.

No doubt this lack of action is partly because many employers are stressed about how employees will respond to the pay ratio disclosure. WTW believes that’s a mistake, according to Steve Seelig, senior regulatory advisor for Executive Compensation at WTW.

The survey found that roughly half of poll participants report their biggest challenge in complying with the forthcoming pay ratio disclosure rule is forecasting how their employees will react. The poll also revealed that 48 percent of participants haven’t considered how, or even if, they will communicate the pay ratio – even though employees’ reaction to the disclosure is their biggest worry.

“It’s somewhat surprising that so many companies haven’t considered how or if they will communicate the ratio to their employees, given that so many are concerned about how they will react,” said Jim Kohler, director, Communication and Change Management at Willis Towers Watson, in a company news release. Kohler added that employers should view the act as “a golden opportunity” to launch a dialogue with not only employees but also customers, investors and the media about pay positioning and pay transparency.

“In fact, we are working with several companies on developing a communication road map to guide them through the process,” he says.

To help employers out, the Securities and Exchange Commission also issued detailed guidance recently so affected employers can manage their data issues using statistical sampling.

“The clock is ticking for companies to comply,” WTW’s Seelig said.

The good news is of those who have a communications plan in place (a meager 14 percent), 39 percent are prepping  leadership to respond to employee questions. On the downside, just 16 percent of them are prepping managers to have employee discussions. As for a “do nothing” strategy, a similar number as those with detailed plans are not going to say anything at all to employees, according to the poll.

Are You Lonely Today?

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society at large and the workplace, writes Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in the Harvard Business Review. Murthy, who served as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, cites recent research finding that 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely (a number that in reality is probably higher, he writes) and that many employees and half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their jobs.

It’s bad for the workplace and bad for our health, Murthy asserts in the piece, titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” During his work as a physician and as Surgeon General, he witnessed firsthand the ravages that chronic loneliness can have on people’s mental and physical health. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” Murthy writes. Loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety, while in in the workplace it reduces task performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision-making.

Humans evolved as social creatures, depending on the cooperation of others to help fight off predators, find food sources and create shelter. We’re hardwired for socialization, Murthy notes, but in today’s society opportunities for socializing seem to be ever scarcer. The rise of telework, short-term gigs and screen-focused work — in which we sit in front of computers for most of the day, often with headphones stuck in our ears — means it’s increasingly likely we know next to nothing about the people we work with or sit next to.

That’s not just a sad state of affairs; it’s harming productivity and innovation, Murthy asserts.  He cites research by Gallup that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. People with strong work connections can handle stress better and enjoy better health,  he writes, while workers who feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher healthcare costs than low-stress employees.

What to do? Murthy cites an example of what he did during his time as Surgeon General, where he oversaw a fast-growing staff of people who didn’t know each other very well. To bring people together, Murthy instituted “Inside Scoop,” in which staff members would take five minutes during weekly meetings to tell their colleagues something about themselves. In one case, a former Marine officer spoke about his complex relationship with his father and how his children’s musical talents reminded him of his dad. “As he spoke, his eyes glistened,” Murthy writes. “I felt a deep connection to him in that moment and was inspired by his honesty and compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Even though we were close before, my relationship with him became even stronger that day.”

Small steps can make a difference in making a workplace feel more warm and hospitable, and less lonely, Murthy suggests. On a deeper level, he writes, an organization’s leaders can make strengthening social connections a priority by modeling this behavior through building stronger connections with other team members and examining whether a company’s culture and policies support the development of trusted relationships.

Murthy’s own strong bonds with his colleagues eased his path through the many difficult and stressful moments of his medical residency, he writes, and helped make him a better doctor. The stakes are high, he warns, for the workplace and society at large:

If we cannot rebuild stronger, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick and alone.”