A Q&A With Workology’s Founder & Chief Innovation Officer On Podcasting, Employee Retention And Meaningful Leadership

Jessica Miller-Merrell is Founder & Chief Innovation Officer at Workology.
  • Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a podcast and information resource for HR and recruiting professionals.
  • Jessica also runs Duo Works, a flexible shared office and event space in Austin, Texas.
  • In this Q&A with Allwork.Space, Jessica discusses people management and why retaining talent is essential for the future of work.

For those who are well acquainted with the world of HR, Jessica Miller-Merrell needs no introduction… but we’ll give her one anyway! Jessica and her team at Workology reach half a million HR and recruiting professionals every month through their trailblazing podcast, newsletters and useful training resources. But that’s not all.

Together with a friend, this serial entrepreneur also runs Duo Works, a shared office and event space in Austin, Texas. When she’s not immersing herself in work or being a mom to her 11-year old daughter, she likes to read, cook, listen to live music, paddle board, and coach volleyball. 

Considering her schedule, we were thrilled when Jessica agreed to take some time out to answer our burning questions about people management and the future of work. 

Q: Hi Jessica. So what gets you most excited about HR at the moment?

I’m excited about helping HR leaders develop and grow personally and professionally. This is a great time to be in HR. The spotlight is on our people and the growing need for technology and automation. I love the shift that is happening where we are being embraced more than ever before as trusted business partners and experts on human capital. 

At Workology, we are expanding our online learning courses and offerings, which makes my heart so happy. Last year we launched a new learning course for HR pros who are seeking HR certification, called ‘Ace the HR Exam’. Our other learning program is changing from an on-demand learning platform for HR recertification into a community and platform focused on HR transformation and personal development. There is nothing that gives me more joy than helping and inspiring others to reach their goals and dreams in the HR community. 

Q: One of your recent podcasts is titled: ‘How to Use Emotion to Improve Your Workplace Communication’ (listen here). Why do you think some employees shy away from showing empathy? And why is showing emotion so important?

Working in HR, I think we tend to work very hard to take the emotion out of our work because we are often involved in situations and decisions that are not pleasant. We often see the worst side of people as an HR leader in business. My worst day in HR was when I had to layoff 400 employees. 

While I was only the deliverer of the message, it was an extremely emotional day for me because my words impacted their lives in a way I had also experienced especially since my own husband had recently been laid off from his job at the time. 

“Podcasting helps me [connect with individuals] in a way that is different and more personal than writing.”

Emotions are important because so much of what we do as leaders requires empathy and compassion. It’s easy to get jaded in our roles within HR, but it’s our compassion that can really make a positive impact in our leaders’ and our employees’ lives. 

Q: Speaking of podcasts… what advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting one this year? Is there a secret formula for success?

I love podcasting. It gets me out of my comfort zone. Being a digital entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time alone and in my own head unless of course I’m traveling or attending conferences, events or meetings with clients. Podcasting gets me out there connecting and hearing from people that I wouldn’t always connect with at a conference or event. I love that because I have more of an introverted nature, and I don’t generally enjoy networking in large groups. I do love connecting with individuals in a meaningful and personal way. Podcasting helps me do that in a way that is different and more personal than writing.

As for the secret to a successful podcast, I will tell you there is a lot of work involved in developing, launching and sustaining one. It’s more than most realize until you are in the middle of it. If you are launching a podcast, find a mentor or podcasting group to connect with and ask questions. And before you launch your podcast, I suggest you have a clear understanding of your podcast purpose and the audience you want to connect with. 

Before you launch, I recommend having 3-4 podcasts already recorded and a content plan and schedule for who to interview for the first 8-12 podcasts. I produce my podcast weekly and we tend to record podcasts 3-4 weeks in advance, giving us time for editing, changes, and updates as needed. 

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Q: In one of your podcast episodes, experts argue that employers should focus their efforts on retaining talent and keeping people engaged rather than obsessing over recruitment. What top three things can businesses do to retain employees in 2020?

This tide is really changing as the talent market becomes more competitive. It is more cost effective to keep an employee who fits in with the culture and understands the expectations than spending time, money, and efforts to seek out to find a new team member. 

“It is more cost effective to keep an employee who fits in with the culture and understands the expectations then spending time, money, and efforts to seek out to find a new team member.”

My three keys to retaining employees are:

  1. Taking the time to build a relationship. You need to get to know them on a personal level and understand their personal goals and dreams. This means spending time helping them career-pathing or finding creative ways to grow at your company that are different. 
  2. Following through. Make the introductions you promised you would. 
  3. Finding ways for your own self to grow as a leader. This means asking for feedback from your team and seeking out ways to grow, evolve, and change. Doing this really sets the standard and shows your employees you really care and want them to be successful. 

Q: How important is the workplace itself (i.e. the office, whether physical or virtual) when it comes to employee retention and engagement?

I think that technology like Zoom, Slack, and Teams is really changing the game. So many more employees are working remote, at coworking spaces, or from home. We have global teams which can make leadership and engagement a challenge. You have to plan for these opportunities and prioritize building a relationship that works in person as well as virtually. 

I have a global team with many working across multiple time zones. This means sometimes I schedule meetings to connect with them late at night or very early in the morning. Their work is critical to the success of our business and as a leader I want to make them feel welcome and wanting to come to me with suggestions, ideas, and challenges. 

Q: Work can feel all-encompassing and consuming for many people in today’s competitive climate. What can we do to switch off and gain some perspective?

I am focusing on taking time for self-care this year which is an incredibly hard thing for me. Leaders need to set the example by shutting off their phones and taking time off. They need to encourage their team to do the same. I just booked myself my first solo retreat, and I’m so excited. You can’t expect your employees to want to grow and prioritize time off for themselves if you can’t do the same for you. 

“As leaders we need to set the standard and work to create a culture that encourages employees to disconnect from work.”

We are busier and bombarded with more things than ever before. I truly believe that we are our most effective and productive at work when we are in a flow and feel the best about ourselves. We can’t do that with anxiety, money problems, and without the support of our leaders and teams. As leaders we need to set the standard and work to create a culture that encourages employees to disconnect from work. 

Q: And finally, what advice would you give to a young person who doesn’t know which career path to go down?

I can tell you I’ve been there before. I have battled depression, anxiety, and crippling insecurities in my life, leaving me paralyzed with fear and unable to move forward. I feel the most confident and self-assured when I focus on my own self-care and meditate. I love to write either privately or publicly through my blog, helping me move through my challenges to find solutions. It’s hard to face your fears, flaws, and obstacles, but it’s necessary to be able to really move forward. 

Once you have a clear mind, it’s easier to think calmly, clearly and develop a plan or at least be able to listen to your inner voice for guidance. I’ve often found that when I take the time to do that my voice is telling me the same things as the advice I haven’t been taking from my trusted friends, advisors, and mentors. 

Subscribe to the Workology podcast to hear experts discuss the latest HR trends, tools and case studies. Each episode is 25-minutes long, making it a great choice for the commute!

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