We often talk about what makes a bad workplace, but what makes a healthy and happy workplace where people want to stick around? To answer that question, I went to the source—the Fortune World’s Best Workplaces for 2022.
Adobe is one of the companies to grace the top 25, thanks to the 89% of employees who report that it’s a great place to work. Gloria Chen, the design company’s chief people officer, joined the company almost 25 years ago and assumed the CPO role in January 2020—just months before the pandemic transformed the workplace.
Her résumé differs from that of a traditional HR leader. She started her career in engineering, and eventually joined Adobe as a strategic planner after attaining her MBA from Harvard Business School. What’s kept her at the company for almost 25 years is the career mobility and flexibility many of today’s job candidates also seek. Chen spoke with Fortune about her career path, approach to HR, and what she believes contributes to Adobe’s high workplace satisfaction.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Fortune: What were your initial priorities going into the role of chief people officer, and how did they change as you entered the pandemic?
When I took on the role, I wasn’t coming in with a predefined agenda because so much of what I find is it’s really important just to seek to understand. So I was starting my journey just by making the rounds to understand each team, what they were focused on and why, and what their challenges were.
It was only a month into the job that it became very clear what our agenda would be to really help steer and navigate through COVID and everything that was happening in 2020. We were also served with the challenge of how we respond to George Floyd’s murder.
In a global and highly distributed software company, we often don’t think that people in different locations experience things differently because, in some ways, we operate like a boundaryless organization. But COVID taught us that our experience is very different from someone sitting on the other side of the world.
What do you think was the most effective benefit offered then and even now?
I don’t even have to think twice: well-being days off. We were maybe a few months into things when it became very clear that the initial energy, excitement, and novelty of working from home was wearing off, and people were getting burnt out. We decided to call a timeout for a global day off. We do have our holiday shutdowns: one in December and one the Fourth of July week. And because everyone is out, you don’t come back to a bunch of emails and stuff that you missed because you were on vacation.
A couple months later, we started to announce multiple shutdowns, and for a while, we did it every third Friday. We announced last month some more global days off, and people really like it because it gives them the opportunity to rest and recharge. People have vacation time, but it really isn’t about whether they have that benefit. It’s that everyone is hitting pause, which really helps.
Adobe landed on our top 25 World’s Best Workplaces list. Why do you think that is?
I’ve recently held roundtable conversations with people across the company and asked them, what do you love about Adobe’s culture? Employees say that people are really kind, and that’s infused in how we think about recruiting and hiring.
We care that we’re bringing in people who will be additive to our culture. I’m careful not to say cultural fit because everyone brings a different flavor of style, personality, strengths, backgrounds, and experiences. But we want people who are going to positively impact our culture.
We also have progressive family-friendly benefits through fertility treatments, surrogacy, or adoption.
Bonus question: What advice would you give someone who has an eye on HR leadership roles but isn’t there yet?
Some people say to think like your manager or your manager’s manager. I like to think about it within an organization; what’s the common goal?
The second is understanding your superpower. Everyone has a different superpower, and I found mine because people told me it’s structured problem-solving. Finding your superpower and figuring out how to apply it in any situation is important.
The last one is to create relationships, get to know people, and have conversations because every career path is different. Sometimes people believe we’re just climbing a ladder, but careers are more like jungle gyms.
The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.
The U.S. surgeon general issued a warning on Thursday detailing the detriment of chronic stress on workers. Fortune’s Chris Morris writes that low-quality work cultures and the resulting stress have the potential to disrupt sleep and make people more vulnerable to health risks, ranging from heart disease to depression. Here’s what the report says about the impact of stress on well-being:
“Chronic stress leads to overactivation of the 'fight or flight' response, among other responses, and can have negative effects on numerous organ systems in the body…When people feel anxious or depressed, the quality, pace, and performance of their work tends to decline.”
Around the Table
- A French court ruled that BNP Paribas must include bonuses when calculating the gender pay gap. Bloomberg
- A former employee is suing Planned Parenthood for racial discrimination, alleging she was yelled at by superiors and overlooked for promotions. NPR
- There are seven types of bosses, but only one is an effective manager and leader, according to a workplace culture expert. CNBC
- When facing a problem at work, most employees ask anyone but HR for help. Harvard Business Review
Everything you need to know from Fortune.
Great Disengagement. Almost a third of employees report feeling less engaged at work than they did six months ago, according to a survey from the Conference Board. —Christiaan Hetzner
Productivity = flexibility. Employees with flexible schedules report being 29% more productive than employees without flexible schedules. —Jane Thier
Foster parental leave. Crunchbase chief people officer Kelly Schieb is a foster mother to five children. It changed the way she thought about parental leave. —Trey Williams
This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.