Changing the way we work is hard work
The key to helping employees thrive in the workplace is to care about them
Slowly but surely, the time when leading a successful career necessarily meant sacrificing one’s personal life is fading away. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a trend towards a more harmonious integration of work and life for employees around the world, and Solvay’s Chief People Officer Hervé Tiberghien is a strong advocate of pushing the envelope in that field.
A natural booster of employer attractiveness
Many things have changed in the professional world: the explosion of remote work, but also a shift in the balance of power between employer and job seeker. Hervé remembers a time when one was just happy to find work at all. Now, he says, a good candidate often has several job offers to choose from and will therefore go for the one that enables the best quality of life.
Such is the context that human resource managers must work with in the 2020s, making it all the more important to take a step back and think about how management must be conducted and employees treated in a modern, welcoming company.
“I was always driven by the idea of having a positive impact on people,” explains Hervé, who joined Solvay in 2019 after a career in the US. “Some companies still believe work and success are the only things that matter. I’ve always fought against that way of thinking, if only because young people today aspire to something different, and we need to continue to attract talent.”
More importantly, the advent of a better ‘work/life integration’ (an expression Hervé prefers to the traditional ‘work/life balance’) is in line with the values he wants to convey - and those of Solvay overall, for that matter. It starts with little things, like his email signature that explains that recipients should feel free to answer whenever convenient to them. “If I send an email on a Sunday morning, I don’t want people thinking they have to reply immediately. The ‘24/7 availability’ model is increasingly rejected by employees, with good reason.”
Bringing your better self to work
Of course, the goal of all this is not just to make Solvay look cool to potential candidates. By taking care of employees beyond their professional tasks and making sure they feel like they can be themselves in the workplace, the idea is to ultimately bring out the best in people. “If you’re passionate about something, say a hobby, you shouldn’t be afraid of bringing that to work,” says Hervé. “That’s how you can be your better self, by operating a fusion between your personal and professional lives.”
By letting co-workers get a glimpse of each other’s personal lives through virtual meetings during lockdowns, Covid-19 was a formidable accelerator of this fusion. Everyone, top managers included, had no choice but to lift the curtain on their personal realities, “and unless you’re completely insensitive, that necessarily has an impact on the relations between people,” adds Hervé. Like any crisis, the pandemic provided an opportunity for change, applied today through Solvay’s “Work from Anywhere” program. Offered to employees in applicable positions around the world, it also happens to be in line with the aspirations of today’s new recruits who, more often than not, ask whether they’ll need to come to the office every day.
All these shifts in workplace practices have particularly affected the role and position of managers. They are now encouraged like never before to let their humanity show, while also soothing their coworkers’ anxieties in light of the world’s crises and transformations. “Now is a time for managers to be connected to their teams,” sums up Hervé. “That’s why we’ve created a strategy called ‘Care and Dare’, with programs that encourage them to no longer be afraid of bringing their emotions to work. No one wants a robot-like manager; we’re there to show them they can continue to strive for excellence and performance (‘dare’), while also caring for their people.”
“If you’re passionate about something, you shouldn’t be afraid of bringing that to work. That’s how you can be your better self, by operating a fusion between your personal and professional lives.”
Hervé Tiberghien, Chief People Officer, Solvay
Diversity and balance for all
Thanks to the humanistic streak that has been in its DNA since day one, Solvay is well equipped to put in practice such a state of mind, says Hervé – he also cites the support of CEO Ilham Kadri, who champions the same values as he does. But that doesn’t mean change is always easy.
In fact, Hervé’s job is often an uphill battle against long-established practices and preconceptions, but all in all he observes that, under the influence of startup culture and pushed by lockdowns, workplace mentalities are changing. “Of course, there are still some people who are averse to the idea of remote work for example, and that’s fine,” he says, “At the end of the day, we need to acknowledge that the ‘one size fits all’ model doesn’t work. The key is to find the right balance between what should be standardized and what should be specific to an industry or sector, in order to foster initiative and help everyone be as happy at work as possible.”