Janessa Mondestin on the Pillars of Building an Inclusive Workplace Culture

Words matter to Janessa Mondestin, Director of Employee Experience at Mission North. One major thread running throughout her career is the importance of language and communications and of holding organizations accountable to their commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and to transparency.

Janessa joined Mission North in 2021 as a vital addition to our HR team and to support our 100+-and-growing staff. Her role draws on prior skillsets honed through positions in the wellness and finance industries at Yoga International and Better Fit Body and at JPMorgan Chase.

“I think I'm always at that crossroads of how we can balance out what different groups need—whether it’s employees and employers, trainers and clients, or bankers and the communities they serve,” Janessa said. “It’s not necessarily about compromise but it is about collaboration and becoming catalysts for change or greater good for all. You won’t always get what you want, but I guarantee you that you will have something better in the end result than what you had in the very beginning.”

A key piece of Janessa’s work is in taking the building blocks of DE&I projects and making sure that they become an integral part of the living and breathing corporate fabric. “I think about organizations and how they live their values as creating a clothing ensemble,” she said. “We wear our work, day in and day out, and I want to know how people feel about wearing their organization outfit in their daily lives.”

I recently chatted with Janessa about her thoughts and advice on employee experience, building inclusive workplaces and how DE&I should be part and parcel of everything that a company does. What follows is an edited version of our discussion:

What does employee experience mean to you?

Leaders tend to think of employee experience as wanting to manage all the different people that could work there, but it’s something that can’t be measured. What you can do is to build infrastructure that you want people to navigate through and you build a maze or a pathway towards success, but how employees receive that, based on all the external pressures, you cannot manage that.

You don't know what people are bringing to the table on day one. Most people leave their job on Friday, then start a new job on Monday. And trust me, the baggage of all their years of their previous job doesn't go away over a weekend. And so the experience is curated.

Employee experience is making sure that we're aligned between who we say we are and how we present the processes for those values to show up. If we find through check-ins or surveys that we are misaligned, it’s about how we course correct in a time period that is feasible and acceptable.

What we can do is provide employees with the tools and the resources to manage the workload that we have, that's designed to make the business profitable. If you need to scale back, we have a method for that. If you need to progress, we have a method for that. And if we don't have a method for it, we need to create one to alleviate the burden of being at work and feeling like it's arduous, because work is effort.

<split-lines>"Employee experience is making sure that we're aligned between who we say we are and how we present the processes for those values to show up."<split-lines>

In terms of building more inclusive workplaces, where do you think that organizations are succeeding, and where are they failing, and why?

I think where they're succeeding is in building communities inside of their organizations. Where they're not succeeding is in empowering those communities to have a say into how the policy in the workplace actually enforces their values. If, when the inclusivity meeting ends, I have to go back to microaggressions and a toxic work environment, then what was the purpose of having the community?

The other part of being more inclusive is in looking outside the box for what organizations consider an ideal candidate to be. It’s about identifying skill sets and the potential to grow. Then, it’s also not counting people out at face value, both during recruitment but within the workplace. Everyone has a different way of communicating and a different working style.

I've met people who work fantastically and creatively at night more than they did ever during the day. Working asynchronously has been huge for organizations to move the needle on progress and success. Companies couldn’t think of those types of solutions beforehand because everyone worked 9-to-5. Now, you have so many more variables where people can show up to work as their best selves in their own element and still move the needle.

"Being more inclusive is looking outside the box for what organizations consider an ideal candidate to be. It’s about identifying skill sets and the potential to grow."

The bright line dividing home and work life is now blurred. What’s your advice to organizations in being sensitive to how much of an individual’s self they bring to work?

There needs to be space to allow the entire spectrum to show up. When I was in school, they used to tell us exactly how to dress to get and then do the job. I remember taking speech classes to land interviews and to lose my accent because English is not my first language. It was about eliminating all these identifiers of yourself.

That's not going to fly in today's market. Now, it’s like the gamut of employees is welcomed. A company can’t say “We’re inclusive,” but then tell a new hire that they have to fit in a particular box when they arrive at work. That’s an absolute disconnect.

How should employees hold organizations accountable for their DE&I initiatives?

I think it has to start with looking very deeply first and foremost at your personal values. And then literally asking during interviews and then throughout working at an organization: “What are the personal values of the people who are making the decisions and how do those values align with what they say their company is about?”

It’s also about stressing to those executives: “What are you learning today? What are you unlearning today? What are you studying and how is your research reflected in your work?” There is change happening and so it’s important in an organization committed to DE&I that leaders do want to show they’re vulnerable. The other side of that coin is that you need to allow space for vulnerability to show up.

<split-lines>"There is change happening and so it’s important in an organization committed to DE&I that leaders do want to show they’re vulnerable."<split-lines>

How should we think about measuring employee experience?

It’s not necessarily about the numbers, but how did we derive those figures? How do you show up to be inclusive? How did an individual leave the organization? Were they upset, meaning they’d not had a good employee experience or did they describe it as something positive. It’s deeper than just looking at the numbers. When we’re talking about people on a human level, you can’t just quantify that all the time.

Broadly thinking, I think having a mix of annual engagement surveys and pulse check-ins are great. When I joined Mission North, I talked to everyone and identified common threads across the then 86 one-on-one employee interviews I did in three and a half weeks.

One thing that holds me accountable is that statement attributed to Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Employee experience is about how you feel at the end of the day when you say, “I work for Mission North.”

What are organizations getting right about wellness versus where they’re still clueless?

I think of wellness as giving people the resources and the parameters in which they can recharge. So, ask employees in a pulse or engagement survey question: What do you need to recharge?

Some people might reply that they need a babysitter once a week so they don’t have to manage childcare in the middle of meetings. Other folks might say they need some kind of excursion or experience like skydiving or paragliding. I would rather see companies build a pot towards that more individualized wellness program than tell me that I need yoga at 6:30 in the morning.

Any closing thoughts on what’s next in employee experience?

I think we will see an ever-developing and nuanced language in the management of people and in leading change in companies. All of this work is about diversity, equity and inclusion.

What it comes down to is how can we include more people, figure out the values of individuals that matter to them, and how can they show up in my organization so that they can do their best work? It's simple, but it's incredibly intricate and complex. And I think all of this is going to continue to evolve as the world evolves.

Are you interested in joining the Mission North team? We're hiring! Check out our open positions here.

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