Eric Mosley: 9 Lessons of a Pandemic and the Future of Work

May 18, 2021 Aaron Kinne


9-minute read

“Hope is no longer just something that’s on the horizon. It’s arrived.” 

With that, Workhuman® CEO Eric Mosley welcomed an international audience to the third, all-digital Workhuman® Live. In a moving acknowledgement, he recognized the “tireless efforts” of the humans at ModernaAstraZenecaPfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – as well the countless healthcare professionals who have helped the world navigate the pandemic.

A “well” of positivity and connections

Eric noted that in the early days of the pandemic, many companies – buoyed by the surprising productivity of their remote workers – declared they’d never go back to an in-office model. “It was a knee-jerk reaction,” observed Eric, “sometimes fueled by the fact that they had very expensive offices in some of our coastal cities.”

In Eric’s view, worker productivity during the pandemic drew on an existing “well” of positivity and connections – which in turn provided employee resiliency and agility. The notion of a “well of positivity” was something he picked up from his recent podcast with former Workhuman Live speaker Brené Brown. Her company “stayed the course during the past year because they had a deep well of human connection, a social fabric, if you will.”

But what happens when the well runs dry? “Humans are social creatures, social learners. We thrive and grow through our interactions with others.” Eric observed that workplace loneliness is “rampant,” with more than 60% of Americans feeling lonely, isolated, and craving companionship. The result? The “relationship economy” – which Eric defined as “that invaluable spark of collective purpose, knowledge, accountability, and support” – has been stretched thin.

Moving beyond the pandemic: 3 key questions

As we emerge from the pandemic, there are three key questions leaders must face: 

  • How can we recover some of what we’ve lost? 
  • How can we replace what wasn’t working before? 
  • How do we apply the lessons this experience has taught us?

In Eric’s view, we need to first “rebuild our relationship capitol, refill that well.” And we need to start the process now – rather than waiting until people are back in the office.

“Building a culture of human connection – of shared purpose and individual meaning – takes time, and it can’t wait.”

Second, we need to replace antiquated approaches, such as “command and control.” “Top down, hierarchical systems weren’t working before the pandemic,” he noted. “As we’ve seen over the last year, the organizations that had the best adaptability and agility – they doubled down on empowering individuals and teams to problem-solve independently, and re-skill as needed.”

Finally, citing a survey conducted by Deloitte, Eric noted that “improving worker well-being” ranked high on the list of hoped-for work transformation efforts in the coming years. That’s important because “happy, supported employees are more engaged, more productive, and are more likely to find purpose and meaning in their work.”

Purpose versus meaning

Eric then unpacked the distinction between purpose and meaningPurpose, as he sees it, is “something that’s shared by all of us – within a team or organization.” Meaning, on the other hand, is personal to each individual. He noted that at Workhuman, recognition is a bridge between the two. “That’s an idea we’ve built our business around: the practice of recognizing and rewarding effort toward a shared purpose – which reinforces our own individual meaning.”

Purpose and meaning are dynamic concepts that draw on a need for resiliency – on both a personal and organizational level. To illustrate his point, he referenced Workhuman customers in the healthcare and pharmaceutical arena. “For them, the ability to pivot to face a once-in-a-lifetime challenge could not have been higher.”

But it wasn’t just healthcare organizations that stepped up. Workhuman customer Autodesk quickly pivoted to making face shields when PPE was in short supply. Likewise, CAE – a Canadian manufacturing company – transitioned from making aircraft simulators to producing respirators and air sanitizers.

image of a team award from the Workhuman Cloud

Team Awards

During this year of unimaginable adversity, many Workhuman customers recognized and rewarded the heightened demands their humans have confronted with Team Awards – a group recognition given to all employees or a large sub-group of employees by a leader in the organization. That was the case at CAE, where everyone in the company received recognition for their resiliency and rapid response to meet the needs of the medical community.

A Team Award, as Eric sees it, is “a way to send out waves of goodwill in times of transition, or to bring people together to celebrate shared success. In an era when agility is increasingly the competitive advantage, it allows organizations to make pay agile enough to keep up.”

Thank, Talk, Celebrate

Eric then introduced Rosette Cataldo, Workhuman’s VP of talent and performance strategy, who examined the progressive notion of continuous performance management, and how our Conversations® platform can facilitate a vigorous, dynamic program performance development strategy in any organization.

A core concept at Workhuman is the notion of “Thank, Talk, Celebrate.” Eric calls this the “trifecta of actions that lead to more engaged, more human-centered workplaces that move the needle on performance.” Social recognition comprises the “thank” component of the equation. 

“Talk” is about a progressive way of looking at performance management. As Eric noted, “There’s a reason the number of companies that use only annual reviews has plummeted over the past few years: It’s not a recipe for growth.” Workhuman has found that frequent check-ins with managers is a far more effective way to lift performance – while making workers two times more likely to trust and respect their manager, and two times as likely to envision opportunities for growth. And – fasten your seatbelt – check-ins make employees five times less likely to be disengaged.

What’s really interesting here is that, even when the employee-manager conversations aren’t about work, the benefits of a check-in are still realized. “What this tells us is that all communication between employees and managers is meaningful,” noted Eric.

Workhuman has been working with IBM to develop and make available a new, improved version of our Conversations performance development platform. In a lively and engaging interview, Eric sat down with Nickle LaMoreaux, CHRO at IBM, to discuss how continuous performance management can help shape a culture at scale – and the role technology can play in that effort.

Making DE&I your organization’s DNA

In a year in which diversity, equity, and inclusion issues such as LGBTQIA rights and representation, systematic racism, and pay equity have been front and center, people want to see change. “We want our workplaces to be places of equality,” noted Eric. “We want our workplaces to be places of inclusivity.”

And as I wrote in a recent post, creating a workplace that’s diverse and inclusive is not just good for humans, it’s also good for business. As Eric pointed out, organizations that fail to embrace DE&I as a core value will struggle to recruit the best talent, risk a “public shunning” of their products, and see investors “ditch” their stock. 

image of Workhuman Inclusion Advisor tool

But here’s the good news: the data a social recognition platform delivers makes it possible for companies to set benchmarks and identify inherent, organizational bias. And now, thanks to Workhuman’s new Inclusion Advisor™ tool – which Eric introduced during his keynote – individuals giving recognition are notified of any inherent bias in the moment through AI and machine learning. Why is this important? “The language we use is one of the most powerful ways our own inherent biases can inadvertently harm others,” observed Eric. “Because of this, it’s also one of the most powerful ways to learn about those biases.” 

Eric introduced Celeste Warren, vice president, global diversity and inclusion center of excellence at Workhuman customer Merck, who explained how Inclusion Advisor is making a dramatic impact on advancing more inclusive language in award nominations at this leading pharmaceutical company.

image of Workhuman Moodtracker survey types

Taking the pulse of your organization

Of course, embracing DE&I initiatives is just one aspect of creating a Human Workplace. Organizational trust, co-worker relationships, meaningful work, work-life harmony, empowerment and voice, recognition, feedback, and growth are all key factors in making a workplace more human. So how can leaders identify their strengths and weakness? As Eric pointed out, “You can’t do better until you know better.”

One highly effective, no-cost way (yes, you read that right) to take the pulse of your organization is with Moodtracker®, Workhuman’s employee pulse survey tool. Built by data scientists at Workhuman, Moodtracker empowers business and HR leaders to listen and act upon the voice of their employees. 

Celebrating with the people at work

The need to belong has always been part of the human condition. Yet despite all our technology – or maybe because of it – we are more disconnected that ever. As Eric noted, “What’s missing on Zoom or Slack, or over email, is those casual conversations; all the human interactions between meetings, over lunch, in your free time. Those moments that paint the fuller picture of who our co-workers are – and allow you to share who you really are.”

That’s why he was excited to introduce Community Celebrations® – the latest addition to the Workhuman Cloud®, joining Life Events® as part of our “celebrations suite.” Community Celebrations recognizes our “common themes, common heritages, and common experiences.” Moments like team outings, holiday observances, charitable events, social responsibility projects, off-site team building, running clubs, festivals, and more. Eric emphasized that, “We cannot lose this aspect of our work communities … the richness of our colleagues’ human experience needs to be amplified in the workplace.”

A workplace renaissance?

As we emerge from the pandemic, what will the future hold for the world of work? “Will we move forward into our own Renaissance? Or go back into the Dark Ages?” Eric asks. “Will we give up on the future of work we once imagined, or will we build it together?”

The time to bring more humanity to the workplace is now, says Eric. “A Human Workplace is filled with people who are supported, empowered, and inspired to do the best work of their lives,” he observes. 

As I pointed out in my recent post, a Human Workplace is good for humans, and good for business. And Eric concluded the same as he closed: “The moral argument for a Human Workplace and the financial argument are one and the same: When you feel seen at work, you do your job better. When you do your job better, your company gets stronger. When your company gets stronger, it thrives. And, in turn, you thrive too. It really is that simple.”