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Interview

How MailChimp beat burnout and built staff loyalty

But, what do you think about their approach?

MaryLou Costa

burnout

MailChimp’s VP of Talent, Culture, and Inclusion reveals how its new initiatives go beyond tackling burnout and aim to build loyalty. Unleash Your People

We might have seen less of our colleagues during the past 18 months, but burnout has become only too visible.

71% of global respondents to a recent Asana study say they have experienced burnout at least once in the past year, with nearly half citing being overworked as a key factor, and a further 26% attributing “app overload” to making them less efficient.

While there are clearly benefits to remote working, the heightened level of connectivity required is taking its toll.

Companies like LinkedIn, Bumble, Mozilla, and Hootsuite have responded by awarding all employees a bonus week of fully paid leave.

Well-known email platform MailChimp has followed suit, and even gone one step further, offering paid and unpaid parental leave to all parents in the company during the pandemic, to support home-schooling and childcare efforts.

And as an added bonus, MailChimp’s 1,200 employees are now enjoying “Summer Hours”: a 1 pm finish on Fridays from May 28th to September 3rd, to either spend on personal development or simply recharge ahead of the weekend.

No doubt the initiatives are a great employer brand move, and a surefire way to gain positive PR. But the company’s Atlanta-based VP of Talent, Culture, and Inclusion, Crystal Gaskin, stresses two key things. 

Making family focus the norm at MailChimp

First, that giving staff more time to focus on themselves and their families should become the norm beyond the tech industry and across the wider corporate landscape. 

Crystal Gaskin, VP of talent, culture and inclusion, MailChimp.
Crystal Gaskin, VP of Talent, Culture and Inclusion, MailChimp.

“We’ve learned so much around employees’ needs during this experience across 2020. It’s allowed us to think more intentionally about all of our programs, and ask, “What does it need to look like for employees to feel productive, to be cared for?” So I’m hoping this trend continues,” says Gaskin.

Taking a data-driven approach

Second, the company’s feedback-centric approach to policymaking will determine whether the changes – alongside softer touches like meditation support and kits complete with blankets and journals – are helping to keep burnout at bay for the long term.

“We leverage our employee surveys a lot,” Gaskin explains. “We learned that employees really wanted to have more time with their families and to do more personal development.

“The new policies have been extremely well supported by employees – and by leaders especially. The goal was to minimize burnout and fatigue, and take control of what balance looks like for our individual employees,” says Gaskin.

“We’ll be putting these on the docket to get feedback from our employees to see whether these are things they want us to continue next year. Because at some point, we could switch it up and offer something a little bit more nuanced based on what we’re hearing.”

Getting into Mailchimp’s logistics

The benefits of a company-wide week off are clear, Gaskin adds, but not without thinking of the necessary logistics.

“Having everyone off at the same time is a definite positive. Where we have high degrees of collaboration, and interdependencies on product launches, or customer support, everyone is at the same time enjoying that benefit.

“So there’s no requirement for someone to be left behind and cover someone else’s work, or to come back to an inbox that filled up while you were away. That is really helpful,” Gaskin notes.

“Obviously, on the other side, there’s business continuity. For our customers, in particular, we typically have always had a triage team that has supported customer support when we have, you know, an influx of customer questions coming in.

“So that is something we have planned for ahead of time: to make sure there was adequate coverage from our partners so our customers were well taken care of.”

Gaskin also has the added oversight of ensuring all new policies are inclusive of different employee life experiences.

Attributing previously anonymized surveys with demographic data, she indicates, has been helpful for understanding how a group of employees may experience a policy differently from another.

Gaskin and her team also use insights from employee resource groups to gain additional feedback that may be more qualitative and nuanced than a survey would allow.

Winning the loyalty game

The goal, Gaskin asserts, is for MailChimp’s HR team to become experts in how to manage and cultivate a hybrid workforce.

“We now have to help prepare our organization for the capability to do that in a way that’s inclusive of all employees, regardless of what their preferences are (eg fully remote, remote with some office, or office with some remote).

“That has to be embedded in how we recruit,  and how we develop and manage talent,” she explains.

And the endgame for MailChimp? Securing the all-important loyalty that’s being questioned by talk of a “Great Resignation” – ie, that 40% of people want to change jobs this year, and just 17% want to do that full-time in an office.

“With the increased competition in employee options, employees will decide what works best for them,” Gaskin states.

“One of the big lessons we’ve learned is people want to be productive, but in an environment where employers understand everything that we’re managing at home.

“So it’s not okay for it just to be a policy for now and switch later – it has to be sustainable. I think employees are really savvy about this right now.

“We have an advantage of being able to do this really well as a differentiator for our company and our employees.”

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