Women of Distinction: Leaders need to care for employees if they want them to open up at work

And more tips for how executives can show they care from PRWeek’s Women of Distinction event.

L-R: The San Francisco Giants' Staci Slaughter, Royal Caribbean's Rosanna Fiske, Weber Shandwick's Judith Harrison and Haymarket Media's Kara Giannecchini.

NEW YORK: If companies want employees to be honest and communicate what they need to thrive in the workplace, leaders must show them that they truly care, said executives on a panel at PRWeek's Women of Distinction.

Judith Harrison, EVP of diversity, equity and inclusion at Weber Shandwick, said leaders should ask employees how they are doing, not just once but a few times.

"A lot of times, people can say they are fine but the world is falling apart around them," she said.

Fellow panelist Rosanna Fiske, global chief communications officer at Royal Caribbean Group, added that demonstrating care means more than just being a good boss; it's being a good human being.

"No matter what you do — all the conferences, off-sites, strategy sessions, fun parties — nothing will matter unless your team knows you care," Fiske said. "That allows you to have an open discussion with your team."

Fiske explained that she has changed her management style since the pandemic started. Now, when she sees an exhausted staffer, she simply tells them to go home — not something she would have necessarily done pre-pandemic. For Fiske, personally, it also helps her to "remove the guilt."

PR people, she said, are "always on" and sometimes give more to their employers than they give to themselves or their own families. The pandemic, and working from home, has particularly made the "guilt feeling" worse for diverse employees, who now think they need to work harder to be seen or heard, said Fiske.

Fiske shared a story about how when one team member recently told her she was burned out, Fiske told her to book a cruise — one of the perks of working for Royal Caribbean Group.

"It is having that conversation where your team knows 'this person cares for me as an individual,'" she said.

Staffers will be more hesitant to tell managers when they are having a problem unless leaders show that they, too, are vulnerable. Panelist Staci Slaughter, EVP of communications and senior executive adviser for the San Francisco Giants, said that she has been trying to show her team that it is OK to step away when you need to.

"I don't care when or how you get your work done, as long as you get it done," she said. "I try to model that myself."

The pandemic and remote work has made it easier for leaders to bond with staffers. Fiske said she saw proof of that when she returned to the office in October. Fiske, who joined Royal Caribbean Group in the middle of the pandemic, didn't actually get to see her team in person for months, until the company started working in-person again.

"One way I knew we had done a good job of connecting [remotely] and being vulnerable with one another was that I knew everyone's pets' names, and how old their kids are," she said. "I wouldn't have known that had it not been for the pandemic."

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