How embracing the growth and evolution of our employees has made us a better company and a better place to work.
The rise of freelancing, the prevalence of millennial burnout and the lowest unemployment rates in nearly 50 years have combined forces to create an unprecedented market for talent, one in which workers have the advantage, requiring companies looking to recruit and retain high quality talent to not only offer their employees more (more money, more benefits, more opportunity), but in many cases to change the way they operate and even do business to satisfy the changing needs, interests, and expectations of today’s worker.
And it’s not just about money. According to recent research, Millennials–now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce–are looking for more than money from their employers; they value engaging work, stimulating work environments, flexible company policies that accommodate their unique circumstances, and ongoing education and professional development. So just how do companies create an optimal work environment that can both retain and recruit top talent while still maintaining the needs of a business? As a company, it’s a question we’ve been interested in since day one.
At Cake & Arrow, we like to think of our company as a community. And like any community, the needs, abilities, and circumstance of the individual people that comprise it change and evolve over time, and so, as a company, we have learned to adapt, grow and embrace the rollercoaster known as life. In my almost two years with Cake & Arrow, I have seen our community experience the joys of parenthood, the excitement and challenges of relocation, career pivots and the transition to new career opportunities. And just as the people of Cake & Arrow have changed and grown over time, so has our company evolved too.
Below are several of the most significant ways I’ve seen us embrace the evolution of our employees, and in doing evolve to become a more modern, inclusive, and ultimately a better place to work.
As a company that has been around for 16 years, and with many long-standing employees who have been with the agency almost since the beginning, we have watched many of our employees transform from young entry-level employees with fresh degrees to full-on adults experiencing all of the typical hallmarks of adulthood–marriage, children etc. And as the lifestyles, priorities, and responsibilities of employees shift with new family obligations, we have done our best to embrace these changes, and in doing so have learned to be a more inclusive workplace for employees with families.
- Establishing a parental leave policy, for both new moms and new dads. As the state of New York is pushing toward more progressive policies that support new parents, having a generous parental leave policy in place is table stakes when it comes to embracing family. While we respect, value and see the importance of parental leave policies (for all new parents, not just moms), having a policy in place is only a first step. It’s critical to also create an environment of acceptance and support. Before parents leave for their paternal leave, we work with them to ensure coverage is in place so they can completely hand off work responsibilities while they are away and fully focus on their newly expanded family.
- Helping new parents transition back to work. For some, this may mean a more flexible work schedule, that includes work from home days and/or a modified schedule. We do everything we can to help parents meet both their family and work obligations and feel comfortable in their role as a new parent even while they are at work, whether this means ensuring new mothers have access to the quiet, private space they are entitled to under the law for breast pumping or joining them in celebrating the newest member of their family. Kate Muth, a content strategist at Cake & Arrow, wrote eloquently about the subject here.
- Acknowledging family obligations. As we have watched new parents integrate back into work at Cake & Arrow, we have found that embracing family is ongoing, long after babies are first born. We have learned to be flexible when working parents have to stay home to take care of sick children, to respect hard stops at the end of the day for parents who need to pick up their children at school, day care, or need to be home to relieve a nanny, and have worked hard to create opportunities for company bonding and socializing during office hours for parents who aren’t able to attend after-work activities.
Amanda Huffington, a User Experience Designer at Cake & Arrow, has found Cake & Arrow to be an especially family-friendly place to work: “When I was hired, I was pregnant with my first child. After the birth of my daughter, it was a lot from me to process–figuring out how to be both a new mom and dedicated UX designer, but C&A worked with me every step of the way. Now I have two young children and I can honestly say C&A makes a commendable effort to give working moms and families a seat at the table. C&A gives me the schedule flexibility I need to be there for my family, while I remain committed to delivering the best possible user experience to clients.”
Embracing Physical and Mental Health
Not all changes employees will experience throughout their tenure at a company are as exciting or as joyous as a new spouse or a new child. Throughout the years, we have seen our employees deal with their fair share of both major and minor health issues, both physical and mental. According to recent data, mental health issues amongst Millennials are at an all-time high, with Millennials experiencing work-disrupting anxiety at twice the US average rate. With physical and mental health being an impediment to effective work, we have strived to support our employees through these challenges, helping them put their health first, by:
- Encouraging employees to take mental health and personal days when needed. Being physically ill isn’t the only reason to stay home from work. As with physical health, recovering one’s mental health takes time and rest. And while many employees report feeling their company supports their mental health and well-being, more than half of adults of all ages reported going to work even when they thought it best to stay home and look after their mental health. At Cake & Arrow, we encourage our employees to treat their mental health in the same way they might their physical health, taking time off when needed and offering a flexible work from home policy.
- Giving employees flexibility in their schedules for visiting doctors or therapists. Cake & Arrow CEO Josh Levine is not shy about his weekly appointment with his lifecoach; he strives to be open and transparent about his own pursuit of mental health, so much so that this appointment is viewable on the shared calendar. Because we believe that mental and physical wellness is critical to effective work, and we do our best to offer our employees the flexibility they need to attend to their mental and physical health, whether this means going to see a therapist every Tuesday afternoon or for employees with chronic health issues, allowing them to work around appointments.
- Offering alternative work situations and making remote employees feel present and connected. As a team, we value coming into the office and having a culture built around being present. This has been challenged over the years. Some of our most trusted and valuable employees have experienced life circumstances that have taken them away from our home-base in New York City. As an organization, we choose to tackle this in partnership with our newly minted remote coworker. Did we have the immediate solution to making mutually successful? No, but we didn’t waiver in trying new techniques for engagement, collaboration and inclusivity. Enter the need for tools to bridge the physical distance. To meet this need have invested heavily in technology that allows us to work together in real time, pushing us to become better collaborators all while building relationships with our remote colleagues who we may not have a chance to connect with IRL.
In our quest of being stronger together, we look for ongoing improvements. One easy win included the practice of having audio and visual for all meetings. This was a great start but failed to capture the essence of being in the conference room and the various speakers. Based off the suggestion and research of another team member, we found that a 360 degree camera could help solve this problem. The result has been exceptional! Team members are now able to be fully immersed in the speaker and view the overall attendees. For us, these tools are an investment in our people, the experience they have and an invest in creating lasting relationships with each other.
Embracing Work-Life Balance
In her now eponymous article, How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Preston describes the financial, social, cultural, and digital pressures facing Millennials today. Crippled by student debt, limited by stagnant wages and a growing cost of living, and overwhelmed by demands on their attention, digital and otherwise, she paints a picture of an anxious, overworked generation of workers teetering on the edge. We want Cake & Arrow to be a place that is energizing and inspiring, that nurtures creativity, and brings a sense of meaning and purpose to our employee’s lives, not a place that depletes and drains our workers. To create this kind of place, it’s a priority for us to support our employees in drawing boundaries between life and work. Some of the practices we employ include:
- Respecting “office hours.” Agency life can be demanding, and project deadlines sometimes require an occasional late night, but we do our best to stick to regular office hours, and to ensure that working crazy hours is an exception, not and expectation. For us, it’s important that this behavior be modeled the company leadership. This may mean refraining from sending a late night email or slack message, responding to emails only during office hours, or leadership themselves trying to go home at a normal hour. Our CEO Josh has even gone out of his way to explain to younger or less senior employees that just because he may be working a late night, doesn’t mean they are expected to also.
- Providing ample time off and encouraging employees to take it. In addition to paid vacation, Cake & Arrow closes our offices the week of the 4th of July and between Christmas and New Years. The entire company goes dark during these weeks, and are offered in addition to regular vacation time. We also try and encourage all of our employees to take their paid vacation time, and will work with them to ensure that while they are away proper coverage is in place so they can truly “turn off.” In an era of burnout when more than half of Americans don’t take all of their paid vacation, we believe that a little R&R goes a long way when it comes to getting the best out of people.
- Resourcing for reality. In the agency world, everyone knows that just because you are resourced to a project for 20 hours doesn’t mean you will only work 20 hours on the project. In an effort to maintain the highest level of billable hours, in many agencies it’s common for the project team to be over-resourced, especially when you factor in all of the non-billable work that usually lands on full time employees. This is why we go to great efforts to ensure that our resourcing is as accurate as possible, and that we factor into everyone’s schedules non-billable time to contribute to company efforts as needed, whether this be marketing, new business, or operations.
Embracing Career Evolution
Unlike workers of previous generations who might stay at one company for their entire career, Millennials change jobs frequently, with 43% planning to leave their current jobs within the next two years and 60% open to new opportunities. And not only are Millennials more likely to switch jobs, but they are also more likely to switch careers. The Freelancers Union found in a 2017 survey that 55% of freelancers had reskilled in the last six months. Indicative of this new generation of employees is an embracing of learning and a thirst for knowledge.
At Cake & Arrow, we place value on being a work in progress. As an organization, we are not content with our employee’s skill level standing still, and we are continually searching for ways help our employees grow–both personally and professionally and to embrace growth and change, even when it means employees moving on to new positions within the company or elsewhere. We embrace career evolution by:
- Hiring career changers. Our hiring history shows our commitment to working with talent looking to make a career transition and invest in our mutual successes. We’ve hired from various bootcamps within the New York City community, notably General Assembly. We have, for example, seen freshly minted User Experience grads coming out of a job training program or bootcamp to join our team as apprentices and transition to Experience Designers and Product Managers. For this to be successful, we’ve partnered with these employees to identify development plans, prioritize both independent learning time and embrace the power of mentorship by disciplined peers.
- Offering apprenticeships. One of the most unique and popular positions at Cake & Arrow is our UX Apprentice position. Many of our past apprentices have quickly risen through the company ranks to become UX and Product Management leaders. The UX apprenticeship is geared toward career changers and younger professionals/recent design graduates. The program is designed to be more than an internship. Outside of the financial incentive, it provides apprentices hands-on experience doing everything from research, experience strategy, concepting, interaction design, prototyping and testing and to eventually take on full-time positions within the agency. In this way we are nurturing employees from the very early stages of their careers and integrating them deeply into how we work and operate, and setting them up to become effective leaders within our company.
- Supporting career moves. While we pride ourselves on our reputation for retaining employees over many years, we our also proud to see our employees grow beyond their roles at Cake & Arrow and move on to new career opportunities. We encourage openness when employees are seeking new opportunities and strive to support them in every way we can, whether by offering recommendations, facilitating transition planning, or simply celebrating their accomplishments, at Cake & Arrow and in their future endeavors. We consider many of our former employees a part of our extended community, and it is not uncommon for former Cake & Arrow employees to show up at unofficial gatherings long after they have left, or even return to Cake & Arrow for new projects, roles, and positions later on in the future.
A company is only as good as the employees that comprise it. By embracing the changes and lifecycles of our employees here at Cake & Arrow, we’ve learned how to become a more inclusive, accommodating company that is friendly to people at all stages in their careers and in their lives, whether they are recent graduates, new parents, or more established professionals. As employee expectations continue to evolve over time, we believe that the ability to evolve alongside them will be critical to our our survival and success long into the future.