In the "old days" (pre-2020), organizations and employees could draw a fairly clear line between a person's work life and personal life. But that line has been slowly erased over the past three years and employees now want to bring their "whole selves" to work. Forward-looking organizations are embracing that request.
"The outside world bleeds into the workplace at a rate that I never thought in 33 years would be possible," said Andrea Ferrara, CHRO of North American Beverages and Nutrition at PepsiCo, speaking on the May 2023 episode of the People + Strategy podcast. "Before, you'd have one or two things that you'd need to help talk through with your associates, but it's a lot of bad things happening out there right now."
Ferrara has worked for PepsiCo since 1990 and said today's CHROs and leadership teams need to be much more empathetic and human in connections with employees.
"What we saw coming out of the pandemic was a pretty significant shift in what associates are valuing," said Ferrara, noting that employees are looking for much more than compensation and benefits from their employers these days. "We've found that an energizing workplace, job fulfillment, having a trusting environment, having predictable and flexible work, and having a peer set that they can lean on really rose to the top" of employees' priorities.
Ferrara, who oversees HR for PepsiCo's $21 billion beverage service in North America, said the company looked inward during the pandemic and realized it needed to become a more human-centric organization by focusing on "the three C's": career, connection and care.
CAREER. "We now have a front line career map where we can showcase all the front-line roles that exist. Then we've equipped our front-line supervisors to have career conversations" with each employee, Ferrara said. "That is something five years ago we would never have done. We would've waited for people to raise their hands to say, 'Hey, you know what? I want to do something different,' or 'I'd like to try to become a supervisor.' Now, it's a much more engaged and proactive approach for us. That's a big differentiator for us."
PepsiCo prides itself on being viewed as a talent academy, and many of today's Fortune 500 CEOs had careers at PepsiCo, including the current CEOs of Target, Ulta Beauty and Dick's Sporting Goods.
CONNECTION. "The concept of connection to people and work groups in our culture is super important," Ferrara said. Like many companies, PepsiCo has embraced a hybrid work model since the pandemic, allowing white-collar workers to split their working time at home and in the office. The way that hybrid looks can be different depending on the role.
"For some folks, it's obviously engaged by coming back into the location or into the office. But for others, a lot of our sales professionals, it's engaging in the market, engaging with customers, engaging in doing market visits and stores," Ferrara said. "We understand that people will need time at home because life has changed, but what we don't want is people to lose the feel and the touch of PepsiCo and those connections."
PepsiCo has increased its mentoring programs and opportunities for small-group connections. For example, in its HR department, the company has created HR Pods, where small groups of employees stay connected both virtually and in person. And while connecting over Zoom is fine, Ferrara sees great value in those old-school, in-person watercooler moments.
"We want to get people back in because I do think some of the most meaningful mentoring I've ever had was sitting face to face with someone and just talking and getting to know them on a much deeper and personal level," Ferrara said. "We've always believed that leaders build leaders, and you pull young leaders through. I mean, candidly, that's why I stayed. That's how I got to where I was. I had people more senior to me that pulled me through, and those connections and those touchpoints are critical."
CARE. Like many companies, PepsiCo has focused heavily in recent years on employees' mental health. This includes resiliency training and employee education on new mental health benefits.
"But it's also about teaching our leaders to be a bit more in tune to some of the signs and things that they should look for with their associates, so that if someone's struggling, we can catch it earlier and try to help," Ferrara said. She noted that PepsiCo HR is giving more training to its leaders to become more comfortable in talking to employees about mental health and handling their reactions.
"In HR, we really do try to be that single source of information where we can give [leaders] the guidance and the training and the tools. It's hard. I think every company's struggling with this, and I think every company's got to lean in and not take their foot off the gas, because it's a complicated issue," Ferrara said.
More Key Takeaways from Andrea Ferrara in the People + Strategy Podcast:
HR is the "conscience of culture," not the owner of it. "Oftentimes, young HR leaders think that they own the culture. I just don't agree with that. The CEOs and the business leaders own the culture of the organization, which ultimately drives employee engagement. HR professionals, we're responsible for putting the tools out there, and I always say we're the conscience of the culture. I think that that's a critical differentiation."
To advance in HR, is it best to switch jobs or stay with one company? "I think everyone has to follow their own path. For me, I always asked myself a couple questions: Was I growing? Was I learning? Did I feel valued? Did I feel challenged? And was I making a contribution? I was very lucky to be able to answer yes to that for 33 years. … Selfishly, companies want their leaders to stay and grow, but it's a partnership. You've got to be able to deliver results. But the company also has to afford you the opportunity and give you the stretch and the development. When you get a match like that, it makes sense to stay."