Elevating Humanity in the workforce- Laurie Ruettimann [Interview]

About Laurie Ruettimann

Laurie Ruettimann is a very familiar name, to all aspiring HR professionals and the host of Punk Rock HR. Laurie is an avid blogger with a large following. She has since been writing, speaking, and coaching organizations about how they can have a more efficient HR practice. A true inspiration, Laurie is a highly recognized speaker and has been featured in media and publications like the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The New Yorker, Vox, and CNN. Laurie believes that self-leadership and individual accountability are the competencies required for the future of work.

Elevating Humanity in the workforce- Laurie Ruettimann [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Laurie today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end to end one view integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform. The winner of the 2019 Global Codie Award for HCM, that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future for work, with AI and Automation Technologies.  We run the peopleHum blog and Video channel, which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publishes around two interviews with well-known names globally every month

Aishwarya

Welcome, Laurie. We’re thrilled to have you.

Laurie

 Well, it’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invite. 

Aishwarya

Thank you so much, Laurie. So let’s begin with the interview.

My first question for the day is to tell us a little bit about your experience, your journey from being a corporate executive to a full-time influencer helping to reinvent human resources.

Laurie

Well, thank you for all the kind words, by the way. It doesn’t feel that way in my life. I don’t have imposter syndrome, but I just have unrelentingly high standards on what people should do.

And I think if you’re in the world of work, you work in human resources, you ought to be focused on the employee in their positive experience at work. So my journey really began when I left Corporate America and I decided to have standards for myself and to do the kind of work that met my own expectations.

I no longer wanted to be part of a system that didn’t care about humanity within everybody.

“I wanted to be part of a system that really recognize that we’re all people first and then workers.”

So I’ve done that for the past, Oh, my goodness, 13 years I’ve talked to large and small organizations. I’ll talk to anybody who wants to really elevate humanity and the workforce. 

Aishwarya

Wow, that is wonderful. I’m sure that’s been a roller coaster ride for you, right? 

Laurie

Yes. Yeah, that’s very accurate. You know, in the early days when social media was just this emerging tool, I would speak to HR professionals. And I would say you have the opportunity to connect not only locally but globally with people who are like-minded, people who have big ideas.

So get on Twitter, get on Facebook, get on Instagram, get on linked in. And I was laughed out of the room. These HR professionals would say, Why do I need to be on these tools? I’m so busy, I’ve got things to do. And now we’ve done a 180 where community and connection is really the only thing that’s going to get us through some of these large challenges, like a pandemic or even like global wealth inequality. 

So this message of connection, I think, is important now more than ever but it’s always been important and it really doesn’t matter what medium you use. You need to connect with people who have your back, who have your best interests at heart but also can challenge you, can push you to move a little bit forward. 

Aishwarya

Yeah, You know,

Talking about the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus, how do you think our way of life and work will change once we come out of the crisis? 

Laurie

Well, if I knew I might be a billionaire because I could monetize it or can start to implement that. I only have hopes, and I really hope that we come out of this a little bit more connected to our community. We come out of this with integrity, knowing who we are and what we stand for. Many of us are now trapped in our homes, and this could be a very difficult time because a lot of people don’t like to sit still with themselves and their thoughts.

But the more we sit still and we contemplate what it means to be ourselves, what it means to be human, what we believe in, and what we will no longer tolerate going forward…

“I think society will benefit from that and moreover, work benefits from that.”

Because then we’re all running our lives like businesses. Instead of just responding to our leadership, teams were taking an active interest in our own future. That is my hope. But I’m not naive. And if it’s the end of this, we just come out of this a little bit kinder and a little bit nicer. I would be okay with that, too. 

Aishwarya

Yeah, I think it’s time to, you know, reflect and look back at what you’ve done and how you can improve yourself as a person. I think it’s a fantastic time to do that. 

Laurie

Wait, wait a second. I’m going to ask, Are you doing that? Because I have trouble doing that

(laughing)

Aishwarya

Well, yeah, I’m trying to get a little me time, you know, in the mornings and at night. But here I am kind of overloaded with work, so I like that. It’s very important to keep yourself positive in this period of time.

Laurie

Agree, agree. It’s so difficult, though. You know I don’t have children, but I don’t envy the people who are trying to work, trying to manage their families in a new way, trying to make sure their Children stay educated, whether or not they have access to school and books.

And all of that is very challenging for all of us right now. And it’s really about, I think, routines, making sure we have a good routine every day, in as much as we can, but also making sure that we are constantly aware of our choices.

Because when you’re making a choice to be on the Internet and look at the news that upsets you, you’re also making a choice not to focus on you and so regularly throughout the day.

I’m just reminding myself that I have a choice. I’m making a choice about where my attention goes, where my energy goes, and even when I’m choosing to sit on the couch and snack on food, that may not be healthy for me, at least I know I’m making that decision. Nobody is forcing me to do that, so that offers me a little bit of comfort. 

Aishwarya

Yeah, I think we’re completely changing our mindsets while working from home. It’s very different and refreshing. 

Laurie

I hope so. I hope so (laughing)

Aishwarya

We would also love to know more about Let’s fix work and Punk Rock HR, could you tell us more about these initiators? 

Laurie

Sure. Well, Ah, a couple of years ago, I decided to finally write a book. I’ve written E-books and in different formats of books, but I decided, all right, I’m gonna go for it and try to get a literary agent and find a publisher in New York City and write a book. And I brought forth this idea of, um, everybody should take ownership of their career and fix work. And it’s really what My podcast, let’s fix work was all about.

And so luckily, I was given the opportunity to write a book. It’s coming out in January 2021. I’m hoping my fingers are crossed. That’s what I do all the time. Now I just cross my fingers and say spells and chants to make sure it happens. But, the book is actually called “Betting on you”, how to put yourself first and finally take control of your career. And I’m telling global stories of people who really stepped out of their comfort zone and decided to take an active interest in their own careers in their own lives.

So one of the things that I’ve discovered throughout this whole journey is that nobody is really fixing work. And maybe we don’t fix work by attacking the system. 

“We fix work by fixing ourselves”

…and so I kind of abandoned the idea that we can’t fix work, and I just decided to kind of go back to my roots. And when I stepped out of corporate America, I started blogging under this moniker Punk Rock HR because it’s something that my friends called me at work. And, you know, I’ve decided to bring that brand back.

I think it’s time for people to have a different way of looking at the world of human resources. Back in 2007, we wanted to be really important, and we called it Human Capital, which is a terrible name. It makes us sound like animals in a slaughterhouse, and so I’m really trying to get back to this notion that we are people, people first, and

When you work in human resources, you have to balance the executive agenda and the people agenda.”

You have all sorts of interests coming at you, but if you stay true to treating people like individuals, you’re gonna be on the right side of history, so that’s a long way of telling you my story. But, um, punk rock HR, something that got me out of corporate America continues to keep me interesting and interested in the world of human resources. 

Aishwarya

So when you say that you’re trying to fix work, what exactly do you mean by that? Could you elaborate on that?

Laurie

Yeah, I think for too long we have been told that shareholder value matters. And that means that people who invest in an organization their interests are the priority and that if we keep the shareholders happy, whether they’re private or public shareholders, we’re going to be working in the best interest of everybody. And it turns out that’s not true because shareholders can have agendas.

Shareholders can even here in America be daytraders right who just kind of zip in and zip out and trade stock and don’t even care about the mission of the organization.

“So in order to fix work, we really need to look at the individuals and accept a notion called conscious capitalism”

…where we understand that what’s good for people, people on the front lines, people in leadership roles. For everybody works in the system.

If we focus on those people, we will provide shareholder value down the road. So that’s what I believe. We fix work by focusing on the people who do the work.

Aishwarya

That’s beautiful!

Laurie

And I don’t know if it’s realistic but Thank You. 

Aishwarya

No, it’s a very beautiful notion, and I think if you’ve really acted on it, something great would come out of it, you know, and it’s about being people-centric rather than being business-centric.

Laurie

Well, I certainly hope so. Here in America, there is an organization called the Business Roundtable and they’re a lobbying firm. But they represent 200 of our most progressive and profitable organizations, which turned out to be global companies like Pepsico and several others and J. P. Morgan and Citibank.

But those leaders in August of 2019 came together and issued a new statement on the purpose of a corporation. And the Business Roundtable now believes that 

“In order to be a successful corporation, you have to be a good corporate citizen.” 

You have to take care of your people. You have to also respect your vendors and your suppliers and the people who are part of the gig economy. And then, if you do all of that, you’re going to provide shareholder values.

So once I saw the Business Roundtable, accept this notion of conscious capitalism, it really cemented for me that this is serious, that we need to take a look at our human’s supply chain, if you will, and not just on our business and technical and logistical supply chain.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That’s wonderful and…

Being a person who’s always encouraged or not, depending on your HR what got you in is the best thing that can be done by the organizations to improve that employee experience in that organization?

Laurie 

I really believe in continuous listening, and I say that with a grain of salt because organizations say they’ve been listening for many years and they’ve been using surveys and even employees suggestion boxes where people stick in a note and complain about the workforce, right? They say they’re listening.

I think we have a new opportunity to really understand the way people are working and to get them involved in the solution. You know, an employer who’s listening and then dictates change is not really listening. We need worker focused groups, and I think if you get the workers involved in solutions, they also understand the business more and they break down that barrier.

So I’m not advocating for employee surveillance. I’m not advocating for constant, annoying pulse surveys like there’s a place for a survey, but it’s not every day or every couple of hours. 

“What I’m saying is that we need to really rethink how we communicate to our workers and then ask them to be the change that they want to see in the workplace.”

And when they’re part of the solution, they begin to understand. Profit and loss are they understand revenue. They understand fiscal responsibility, and I think they begin to act like owners and not like children. 

Aishwarya

So it’s about more active listening and doing what’s really required for the employees rather than the other way around. 

Laurie

Yeah, absolutely, and there are great technology solutions out there, but you don’t have to buy a continuous listening suite to do this. You can just simply start to do focus groups.

You can start to talk to the workers and you can ask questions like what do you need so that you can do your best work. And if you need this, how would you go about implementing this? You can drill down and get them involved in answering those questions instead of creating yet another corporate policy that may or may not be effective.

Aishwarya

Right, and talking about the latest technology trends.

And since you are a believer and what do you think, how important for role will technology in digital making be the inclusive birthplace of the future?

Laurie

Those are excellent questions. I think I have, actually, two opinions on this. One is technology is inescapable and so technology that is built in a transparent way with organizations, technology companies that are listening to their customers and really understanding their customer needs.

That is so important because we build so much bias into technology anyway. Just, you know, we have all of this debt from our lives that we bring to code, and I fear that organizations buy technology, and then it’s just the static thing.

Even if it’s you know, software as a service, it never really changes to meet the needs of a customer. And so I think that one and two-way communication is really super important. But I also think that technology is limited and as long as we employ humans and we still employ, humans, we’re not a robotic workforce, at this point. 

“Technology is only part of the answer.”

We need human-focused policies and programs that recognize that employees, individuals are worth more than their labor. Humanity means something in their potential.

Their future ideas are immeasurable. We cannot anticipate the brilliant idea that is going to come from someone who’s a delivery driver or a brilliant idea from someone who’s working on a line in a factory. As much as we think we can really anticipate this, we cannot. And so we need to leave space for human potential. And we do that by not necessarily relying on technology 24*7.

Aishwarya

Right!

So, you’re saying that humans are important in creating that employee experience as well as technology but technology to a limited extent?

Laurie

Yes, it’s only part of this part of the solution, and, you know, I think there are. There are pungent and technologists out there who have these nice answers wrapped up in a bow, and I think some of these questions are philosophical questions about the way we work and the way we live, and they may not lend themselves to beautiful, succinct answers. And I think we may get it wrong as well.

We may have an assumption about the way the world works, and we may be clueless at this point. So a lot of this is just conjecture. A lot of it is dreaming, and companies are gonna have to stumble their way through this and be comfortable with failure in order to then move forward and get it right down the road. I don’t know if that makes any sense. 

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Aishwarya

It does. It does. And, you know, in your career, I’m sure you’ve seen our company’s going through ups and downs.

So you know, what is it that most companies miss out on? What is that element that they probably don’t think about that much? 

Laurie

Yeah, I think companies focus too much on productivity, instead of looking at the broader trend of how these little mistakes, these little iterations are just experiments that get us to greater revenue and profitability down the road. Productivity is often calculated daily.

How many people were working? What was the cost of labor? What did we produce? And then they look at trends for the quarter and they look back and they look forward. But they don’t project out and they don’t build in and bake in calculations for the mistakes that drive additional Innovation down the road.

I don’t have a formula for you. I don’t have an algorithm that I can recommend. But I do think this quarter to the quarter view of a corporation which is truly necessary just to understand where you are at a point in time is also only one way to calculate success. And so I think, taking a broader view, looking at the environmental landscape in which you operate looking backward.

But also trying to project forward in a different way is going to be the way the business operates in the future and beyond one year or even five years.

I think companies that are looking 10, 15, 20, years down the road, and understanding that mistakes really drive innovation are the companies that are doing well.

“I think about Unilever. Unilever is an innovation forward organization and they’re doing that because of their baking failure. Same thing with Google’s same thing with Amazon.”

But, you know, my local pizza delivery place is delicious. It’s amazing. And they’re doing this by taking, a people-first approach a human-first approach to management, and they’re baking in the cost of mistakes and really trying to look at opportunities like if we create this pizza pie that nobody likes.

Let’s drill a little bit further and find out the components of what they like. And there’s a woman down here who’s just doing an amazing job, really taking a different look at failure. 

Aishwarya

Wow, that’s a really great example.

And I think I really do think that failures are important to take into account because, you know, that’s how you are gonna move forward, right? That’s how you move forward, right?

Laurie

So I love this little example of pizza, and I’ll just share it with you. The pizza place is called Pools Pizzeria, and the chef is actually Christiansen, and she’s a James Beard Award-winning chef, and so that means something right to a lot of people.

But she’s created this little micro experiment with this pizzeria where people are just allowed to really experiment and innovate and I think if you can do it at a local level, you could do it at Unilever. There’s hope for all of us in the middle. Like failure can be de-mystified.

Aishwarya

Absolutely, absolutely. Uh, that’s wonderful. I’d love to go to that pizzeria one day.

(laughing)

Laurie

You know what? Maybe if she’s successful enough, she may have global operations someday. 

Aishwarya

Awesome, that would be great.

So tell me about the future, right now with the increase in the millennial workforce, the gig economy is rising, and we have contract workers now for many roles. So how do you think this trend is relevant with respect to the future of work?

Laurie

Well, for right now, we have a stratified system of work. We have full-time employees. We call them FTEs right because they aren’t human(laughing). So we’re gonna give them that title. So there are FTEs. And then there are contract workers. And then there are consultants.

And then there are gig workers and there are flex workers and there are part-time workers, and we have all these different names for the ways that people contribute to the economy. I think this is a false construct because at some point we’re going to realize these are all workers. And 

“The idea that one worker should have different benefits than another worker based on some sort of legal or social status is temporary.”

And I think more and more this idea of gig workers full-time workers will be challenged by courts that will be challenged just in society. And we may say, if you’re working just a couple of hours a week, you’re not entitled to the same slew of benefits, the same corporate access that full-time workers have.

But we’re not going to treat people so differently, at least that’s my hope that at some point these things will change and we will have a more mature view of it, because right now, in many countries around the world, we don’t treat gig workers like they’re even human.

We make them come through a different door. We make them in America, park in a different parking lot, or we don’t, them the same face time with executives, and this is so stupid because we’re all people we’re all working, and our paycheck, where salary comes from is just this human construction, and we’ve created the system, this stratified system that is totally unfair. And I feel in the next couple of years, especially with the Coronavirus, this is going to change. It has to change.

We cannot view people differently just because of their paycheck, their salary, their earnings come from different entities.
So that’s a long answer.

Aishwarya

I completely agree with you. I think they should be treated with equality because you know what, they are part of the organization, and they are working for you.

So why’s there bias? But what do you think is the reason for this bias? Is it the mindset or is it just a little baby boomer with their siloed thinking, What is it? 

Laurie

I think it’s greed and I think it’s, um, selfishness. I think corporations think that they can cut costs and also pay less attention to certain individuals whose attention is a currency. I think they’re just trying to be cheap and trying to make their numbers look good for their shareholders, for their principal owners, for their families that own companies. And I think they’re in for an awakening.

We in America in 2008, In 2009 had something called Occupy Wall Street, which was just a baby movement, a little movement, right and translated all over the world to sit-ins in London and Paris and every like, even in Japan, right? People were protesting corporations and it died down as the economy picked up, but it never went away.

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And online and in these younger communities, people are mad, People are angry and they’re not going to put up with being treated like second and third-class citizens. This is brewing, especially in emerging countries where a lot of the population is under the age of 30. They’re sick and tired of being poor, they’re sick and tired of being treated like their work is not worthy and equal, they are tired of the bias against them.

And I think organizations would do good to look at the way they treat those workers now, rather than when those workers are showing up like rocks and pitch for accidentally. This is coming, this is brewing, and I counsel so many of my clients to stop thinking about the gig economy as temporary labor that they don’t have to care about. They have to care about every individual in their ecosystem.

Aishwarya

Absolutely.

And do you also think that gig, economy, or let’s say the employee’s experiences are also biased towards, you know, men, or is there inequality there, too? 

Laurie

I think…

“Entire workforce is biased to people who are already in power.”

And for many organizations, that tends to be men and men over a certain age and in countries that tend to be men who are part of the power group of whatever ethnicity is in charge.

So I think that’s changing, but not fast enough. But it may change too quickly if these people in power don’t get their act together and start acting a little bit more charitably.

You know, here in America, we’re having a bailout of all of these corporations who are affected by the Coronavirus, and these corporations also benefited from a significant tax cut and the bailout and the tax cuts affected executives globally, and wealth is still accumulating at the top, and this is terrible.

This is terrible because when change comes, it’s going to come hard for them, and I don’t know who is going to survive as a corporate entity as a billionaire as an executive. We’ll see how this plays out. But, um, 

“If people don’t start taking an active interest in their workers, a revolution is going to come.”

So I would rather be an executive who tries to get ahead of this than who reacts to this. That’s me. 

Aishwarya

Yeah. I think that’s the way forward. And maybe we all change. You know once the pandemic is over, there would be a revolution, you know, I  hope for that. 

Laurie

Yeah, we want peace. We want a peaceful revolution, a peaceful evolution, and not what we would call in America, class warfare. We don’t know who benefits from that, right? That’s ugly. That’s violent. That tears apart, brands. And we need companies to exist.

We need good brands to exist. We need people to work. We need them to provide for their families. So I really hope that executives are taking a good look at what’s happening and trying to get ahead of it and not just reacting to it. 

Aishwarya

Yeah. Yeah, I really hope so, too. 

You have spoken about your book already, but you know, a little bit more about “Betting on you” how to put yourself first and finally taking control of your career” that’s due in June 2021. 

Laurie

Yeah, thank you for asking. So my book is really an opportunity for people to have a conversation about how they think about work in their lives. And so the book is broken up into a couple different, um, subsections.

But I really focus on putting yourself first, and that means running your life like a business because if you’re running your life like a business, you will be a good employee. And that means looking at your finances and running your finances is if you’re running a business of your household. And one of them, I think, important things about the book is that I try to take lessons from my life and speak about them honestly. 

And so I talk about my expertise and experience in human resources, and it’s not always flattering, like I did a lot of really dumb things, and I try to be honest about that.

And then I talk a little bit about my family and some of the mistakes that we’ve made, hoping that it prompts people to have a conversation about their families. And then finally, I talk about how I think…

“Human Resource has let the workforce down, but also the potential for HR, to be a part of the solution in the future.”

So it’s not a traditional business book that it applies to global businesses, I believe, and I hope it’s helpful. 

Aishwarya

Wow, that is that’s a beautiful theme, actually. And I’m very, very sure that’s gonna be very successful and all the best for the release of your book

Laurie

Thank You so much.

Aishwarya

And I have the last question for you, Which is if you have any sound bytes for our viewers. Some advice that you’d like to give them. 

Laurie

Yeah, I really So just this is me being silly, right? And this is me being just Laurie Reuttiman. But…

“I really feel that we have an opportunity right now to radically show up as people and be vulnerable and be ourselves and normalize more human, human experience at work and just in our communities.”

So here I am today with allergies, drinking a cup of tea, trying to make my throat normal. And I think the more we try to be ourselves.
And unless we move away from being a personal brand, the more accessible it will be.

And the more we can talk about the things that make us human, the good things and also the painful things. Nobody goes through life unscathed, and I think sometimes we go to work and we try to put on a mask and we try to pretend like everything’s okay and we’re competing against one another. And I think the way we all win is just by being approachable and kind, and this word is overused but radically authentic.

So that’s what I’m trying to be in this world. I’m trying to model that and make it okay for people to have good days and bad days for people To be happy, but also to be sad. And if we do that, I think we change more than the world of work. We changed the world.

Aishwarya

Well, that is a beautiful thought. So just be Genuine is what you are advising.

Laurie

Yeah, yeah, try. And even if you can’t be genuine, the effort is so noble and the effort is so important. People will sense that. You know, I did put on a little lipstick for you today. This is not how I look every day so I’m not 100% authentic, but, um, I’m trying. I’m trying to be me.

Aishwarya

That is beautiful because I think a lot, a  lot of companies even go through that. You know, how do you filter out people who are generally nice from the ones or just pretending to be that, you know? And, you know, dropping all those masks is really difficult. 

Laurie

Yeah. And I think sometimes the people who aren’t genuine, the people who struggle, just need a leader. They need to be taught that it’s okay. They need to be shown that vulnerability as Berne Brown says, is worthwhile.

“Vulnerability is the thing that makes us more successful.”

But sometimes it’s hard to go first. And so in my life, I try to go first, and it may be ugly or awkward or ridiculous. It may seem silly to people when I’m online, but I’m just trying to show it’s okay to be me and to be you. And if I do that and it’s awkward, I don’t care. I really don’t care. That’s true. I don’t care. 

Aishwarya

Yeah, I think you’ve been known for asking the right questions and, you know, being the rebel, which is really commendable, and I love that about you. 

Laurie

I’ve also been known for being terrible and obnoxious and irritating and all of it’s true. Like I’m human, right? All of it is true. But at the end of the day, if we are kinder to one another And if work becomes a place of joy and not a place of burden and sorrow, I’ve done my job. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Laurie, for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you. 

Laurie

Thank you. I hope your audience really got something out of this. And I hope they didn’t find me too insufferable talking about myself for 30 minutes. But it’s really been a joy to connect with you. And I would love to connect with anybody who is watching this. So find me on social media. Tell me you saw this video and will connect and hopefully get to know one another. 

Aishwarya

That’s brilliant. Thank you so much for the viewers on our channel. And you have a good day. Take care of yourself, Laurie. 

Laurie

You too, well, Bye Bye.