Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed on The Benifit
Paul Wolfe is a trailblazer in the world of Human Resources. Starting out in customer service with American Express, Paul led Human Resources teams at many large companies including Conde Nast, AppNexus, and Orbitz Worldwide. Paul’s philosophy as a people leader is to treat people like adults, giving people guidelines and best practices instead of policies.
In this episode of The Benifit, Paul chats with host Kate King about the importance of the manager-employee relationship, why employee wellness is always a company priority, and why offering unlimited paid time off works. You want to pause this incredibly candid, fascinating episode. Listen below.
[00:56] Paul talks about his journey from customer service to human resources
[03:54] Paul talks about how he defines happiness in the workplace
[09:06] Paul shares why the entire company is connected to the mission statement, “I help people get jobs”
[15:13] Paul talks about who technology has affected work-life balance
[19:59] Paul shares why Indeed gives employees unlimited paid time off
[27:25] Paul talks about his morning routine. Hint: rolling over and grabbing his phone is the first thing!
[29:54] Paul shares why one of the rules he lives by is assume positive intent.
The Benifit Interview w/ Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Indeed
[00:00:04] Kate King: Hi. This is Kate King, host of The Benefit, where every episode we dive in and explore companies on how they enable in careers to thrive. I am joined today by Paul Wolfe, who’s the SVP of HR at Indeed. We talk about strategies for happy employees, tactics that drive productivity, and why it makes sense to offer an unlimited paid time off the policy.
Okay. Firstly, thanks for joining us today, Paul. I’m excited for you to share your experiences of implementing growth oriented people strategies throughout your career. For our listeners today, can you start by telling us about your journey as a key member of some very well-known leadership teams implementing people strategies? Perhaps you could talk about your key values that drive your purpose along the way.
[00:00:56] Paul Wolfe: Sure, definitely. Thanks for having me, Kate. I really appreciate the opportunity. My journey is probably a little different than some of my peers in the HR space. I actually started out working in contact centers for American Express a very long time ago, longer than I like to admit these days. I did that for a while. Ultimately, I got to citysearch.com which was the first IAC company that I worked for. I was running customer service for them. This was during the peak of the internet bubble on the west coast of the US. Our head of HR for the company left and we had lots of conversations on our senior team about the HR role. Ultimately, one of our co-founders and our CEO offered me the job.
Now, I was a little perplexed by that because I was a contact center or a customer service, client services person, whatever you want to call it. They had a couple conversations with me. I came to the revelation on my so hold on to this belief today that a customer service and HR are very similar, we just have different clients. At the end of the day, it’s trying to make people as happy as possible and as content as possible whether they be clients or employees. That was my pivot to leading an HR function. And then I went on to HR functions at a few more technology companies. Then ultimately, about three and a half years ago, I became a head of HR at Indeed and joined the company.
A lot of HR leaders have grown up in HR. Maybe they’ve been an HR business partner or they’ve been in one of the Centers of Excellence Employee Development, or total awards, or even HR technology. I just have a different path where I have this customer service. I grew up in customer service and then I pivoted to HR. I think they’re very similar at the end of the day.
[00:02:56] Kate King: Fantastic, Paul. I agree with you completely. It’s interesting. I think now when you see a lot of the HR function and that employee voice and customer voice are really being taken into consideration when you look at employee tactic. Really understanding the employee voice segment in the voice almost what you do when you take care of your marketing efforts with your own customers. I think it’s exciting and thrilling that we see a lot more movement towards that employee voice and being able to take care to your point in making employees happy in that process.
In your blog, you said, “It’s not about free food. What really matters is when it comes to employee engagement.” You sourced there that happy employees are 12% more productive. I was really intrigued by that and went through the sources, but how do you define happy in the workplace, Paul?
[00:03:54] Paul Wolfe: Yes, it’s a good question. I think every employee will define happiness or engagement, whatever word we want to use, forward in their own way. At the end of the day, it goes back to — and you just said it that the voice of the employee and understanding what they want. While that may be different by individual, you’re going to see some common themes that come out of that. If I think about Indeed, we have 5,300 people worldwide right now. There are some themes that come out of our engagement surveys when we think about engagement, or happiness, or loyalty. I hear career development a lot, which I think is an engagement factor or a happiness indicator.
I want to be someplace where I’m doing a job today, and I like it, and I enjoy it, but I also know there are some paths for me and whether that is being promoted, or broadening my skill set, or even being able to learn other functions or get into other functions. What does that potential career path look like for me at whatever company I’m at?
The free food comment is one that I talk about a lot. I think it’s the technology industry hangover or necessity these days to some extent, based on some of the larger tech companies that have been out there and they set the bar there. I also think it’s about how you — the culture that you create for your employees. My philosophical approach to HR is treat people like adults and I’m not — It’s not about my HR team and I, we’re not police I don’t even believe in the work policy is. We provide guidelines and best practices to our leaders and to our employees. Assuming they act like adults more often than not, they’re going to follow those best practices and guidelines and if they don’t, that’s a different conversation.
I also think providing a benefits package when you get into it and benefits and perks get — put together these days and I’m fine with that. What’s important to our employees and what stage of their lives are they at? We’ve got an organization where a lot of people are getting married and starting families and so looking at benefits that are useful for the vast majority of our employees is important to us. They may change over time as our organization’s average age gets older and changes. Then I think just learning in general.
I talked about career pathing and I think learning is — Employee development is on the same vein of that but people being able to have the tools to effectively do their job and succeed at their job and contribute to the organization. Being able to innovate and think differently and that’s part of our culture at Indeed but making sure that all employees have an opportunity to have a voice in that or pitch ideas. I think there are few other things I think about when it comes to engagement. I think that the other thing, the other two things that come to mind are my manager and am I able to learn and am I engaged by my manager?
It’s not that you’ve got to be friends with your manager outside the work environment, but you’ve got to respect them and you’ve got to feel that they have — If you’ve got a clear career development goal, that they are providing you feedback and are aligned with that and helping you achieve that goal. Ultimately, you own your career so you should be driving it but they’re supportive about it. Then I look at who are my peers in there and are they engaging to me and do I enjoy coming to work every day? Because of the people I work with. I made this comment to somebody here at Indeed. I think it’s a week or two ago.
I said, “A big part of the reason I get up and come to work every day is because our mission statement is I help people get jobs and that gets me excited. It gets me excited to help the global workforce find a job that they’re interested in or that’s more fulfilling for them. Whatever the reason they’re changing jobs or looking for work maybe.” The other thing I said to this person was like, “I work with one of the most amazing groups of people. They challenge me, they’re supportive, we have interesting conversations and we’re doing good for the world. I think those to me are the core tenants, if you will, of engagement or happiness for employees at work.
I think they can change by person but I think there are a vast majority if I think about our employee population that would put a handful if not a majority of those tenants in their bucket of engagement or happiness also.
[00:08:38] Kate King: Paul, I love the way you put the elements of organization, peers, manager. Can you go into some more details at specifically at Indeed.com in terms of what you do. I know you said these are the broad aspects of happy, but you’ve mention guidelines and best practices which is you and your team. Could you maybe share with us what Indeed.com does with their people?
[00:09:06] Paul Wolfe: Sure and I’ll start at the org level which is Indeed. I think part of it is our mission statement, I hope people get jobs. Five words, pretty simple, it’s on all of our swag, all of our t-shirts and we talk about it in our company meetings all the time. It’s around our offices and I think that the beauty of that is, that is the DNA of our culture. Everybody, no matter what your role is at Indeed, you understand how what you do directly or indirectly every single day, but helps people get jobs around the globe. I think if you take that a step further or on the true social perspective of that is we’re really helping reduce the global unemployment rate by getting up and coming to work every day and that’s exciting.
It’s also interesting, there’s a page on our website that basically is job seekers around the globe telling us where they’re located and they found a job on Indeed and what job that was. And that there are times during the day sometimes it is a bad day, sometimes it is a good day. I would go to that page and you just look at that and you see these little dots pop up on the global map about where they are and what job they found it’s in commentary about their interaction with Indeed and that is really a fulfilling thing. And that brings our mission to life.
I think there are some other things we do at the company level that brings the mission to life by going out and helping job seekers with their job search. How to best use Indeed, how to search for jobs, how to refine their searches on Indeed, how to think about their resume and some feedback on the resume and going so far as helping them with interviews and even to the point of here’s what you should do if you’re trying to negotiate a better salary or a better package when you get to that point of the the job interview or the job seeking process.
And so I think being a mission based company has helped bring all of that to life through and of what we do as an organization. I also think the other part that we do really well at the organizational level is innovation. So if you think about — Indeed was founded 13 years ago by Rony Kahan and Paul Forster who wanted to think about recruiting differently. It wasn’t the standard model. Our core product uses a pay-per-click model from a revenue perspective which is very different than other recruiting organizations. And so that’s what innovation started and now it’s kind of grown into, how do we think about getting the best matched jobs in front of the job seekers and helping job seekers get the right jobs, being exposed to the right jobs and be able to apply for those jobs easily and go through the process. We created programs internally to keep that innovation going and to keep us thinking about how to differentiate our product, how to come up with new products all the time. And that is a grassroots effort that all of our employees are able to be a part of. I think those are the kind of board level.
If I think about peers it is — again, it’s not and is — I think I made this comment before about you don’t have to be friends with your manager and see, you can’t be friends with everybody. That you want to create an organization and create teams in that organization where people respect what other people in the team bring to the table. That you create a collaborative culture and that they enjoy working with the other people on their team and the other people in the organization. And it’s not to say that everybody agrees all the time. Because we have a very — we’re a data-driven company and the data that we capture on a regular basis creates a fair amount of debate in the organization about this is how I interpret it, here’s what we should do and somebody else has a different interpretation. And I think creating the environment of Mark Steers where it’s okay to debate within the lines of being respectful. You certainly don’t want to get outside of those lines. But debate is a good thing and ultimately I think the best ideas from our employees are going to come when it’s a combination of pieces of ideas of each one of those employees and that’s where we’re going to get kind of the best end result for our job seeker.
I think the same goes at the manager level. One of our core values as a company is transparency. We try and be as transparent as possible with all of our employees. I think that really ‘the rubber hits the road’ there from a manager perspective. Providing regular ongoing feedback and receiving regular ongoing feedback so that you know exactly what’s going on, you know how you’re performing, you know how your projects are going from your manager’s perspective and you’re able to get feedback and you’re comfortable giving feedback to your manager on a regular basis. So I think that’s an example at the manager level of how we bring some of our values to life in the organization.
[00:14:06] Kate King: Thank you. I think that link to culture, that mission based strategy is receiving many, many, many, many more companies and some of the big behemoth companies going towards that. Typically, it’s always been that culture sits in one part of the organization. Then you have kind of leveraged that a little bit in HR then you look at the policies you put in place and then you look at really managers owning the kind of well-being and actions with their people. So bringing it in all together clearly is a key element of Indeed success. So thank you for sharing that with us. Many more companies are getting into this idea of well being. A benefit we say when humans thrive companies prosper and there’s that real direct line. It goes somewhat to being that happy, having that element with your peers, with your boss, with you. But tell me what indeed does with regards to well-being programs in the company?
[00:15:13] Paul Wolfe: Sure. I think that well-being is really important from an employee perspective or just in general as a human perspective. If you think about technology and it’s changed our lives of the course last 10 or 15 years for the better for the most part. There are some things I think that are more challenging. But it’s also that technology that helps us every single day and has blurred the lines between work and life. If I think about when I started working, again, too long ago for me to want to talk about, but there was work, there was my work day and then there was life. There was this kind of 9:00 to 5:00 thing and then there was everything else and you could — There was a probably clear delineation between those two.
Today, we’re connected all the time and we have the ability to be connected all the time, which I think is an amazing thing. We communicate differently but it’s — I think technologies make communication easier and better in the last several years. But that the line between work and life is blurred and so I think there are a couple things from a kind of wellness if you will or kind of well-being perspective. Being flexible with when somebody is in the office or not in the office or even where they do their work from. And so I said before our kind of population right now is starting getting married and starting families.
The simple example is, if somebody wants to come in the office and be in the office from kind of 9:00 to 3:00 and they have a newborn or a toddler and they want to be able to get out of the office, then at like 3:00 in the afternoon and go pick up their toddler from daycare or go home, if they’ve got a nanny, spend time with that young child, feed them dinner, spend that time with them, read them a story, put them to bed and then you see them pop back online later in the day. And so I think from that perspective of the philosophical approach is, look, we’ve got tasks that we need you to do and you’ve got projects to work on and deliverables. So it really about performance, it’s not necessarily in a lot of cases about, I always refer to what is butts in seats and so I go back to my contact center days far before all the technology and contact centers today and before even work from home in the context in our world. And it was about if I was running a 5,000 seat call center for American Express, I kind of needed butts in those seats to answer the calls that were coming in because I had card members that were expecting people to answer the phone.
Now, again with technology, there’s work from home in the call center space today too. And so I think flexible work arrangements and the flexibility around people being able to manage how they do their work and when they do their work is important.
I also think, if you think about talent, I categorize that if I’m thinking about going after it in three different buckets. How do I bring it to me and so I may have to think about relocating somebody if they’re open to that and there’s a cost associated with that. But that’s about getting the talent going to where the talent is. And so do I decide to open if there’s a large pocket of talent in the city. We don’t have an office and we really need to tap into that. Let’s think about opening an office there. And then there’s kind of remote work and I think there are nuances to the remote work especially from a manager perspective and making sure that remote workers feel connected all the time.
But there are tools out there and there’s just a way of thinking that we can keep those remote workers connected all the time. That’s kind of a little bit on the flexibility side too. I think from a pure benefits perspective, what’s important to them, we’ve got a very kind of robust wellness program, whether it’s boot camps that we offer, in-house or yoga or meditation or on-site gyms or just a myriad of other things for a wellness perspective. We talked about it with our benefit broker a lot and we’ve got this like 60% plus participation rate which they are kind of astounded by because what they see in the industry is kind of this 30% or 40% participation rate.
So we’ve got good participation which what that tells me is, we’re putting programs out there that are meaningful to our employees. So at the end of the day, that’s what I want, my team and I to be thinking about is like what is going to be most meaningful to the vast majority of our employees. So that they’re able to use it and it’s beneficial for them. I think one of the other things that we do from a well-being perspective and we move to this, it’s almost 2 years now, it started at the beginning of 2016, is we have an open PTO policy which is unlimited vacation. PTO is Pay Time Off.
[unintelligible 00:19:59] goes back to being philosophical about HRs treat people like adults. People know what they have to deliver in a given time period, whether it be a quarter or a year over a two or three year period and really being clear about managing a performance from their leader’s perspectives and not limiting the amount of days or weeks they can take off in any given year. I think that’s meaningful because we put the responsibility at the manager and the employee levels which is where the core relationship is when you’re an employer at the company.
Then two, it is — I want people to, and a big reason we move this way is, I wanted people to step away from work before they hit that proverbial wall. We all know, we all get a sense of when we’re hitting, it’s like, oh my god, there’s so much going on, and I haven’t had a day off in a while. Don’t let that happen to you. Take a deep breath, take a step away whether it’s for a day or whether it’s for a week or two weeks or four weeks, as long as you can manage what needs to happen so the business can keep moving in the right direction.
Then your performance’s strong, you should be able to take the time off that you feel you need to take off. I also think it’s important for people to — because of this, the work, life, wine disappearing over the last few years, making sure that you keep relationships going outside of work, whether it be with your immediate family, friends, extended family, high school reunion and taking time off to reconnect with friends that you had a while ago, that you’ve kept in contact with through other social platforms.
But I think those two things are stepping away before you hit that proverbial wall, and get burnt out because then that leads to not really engaged employees, less productive employees, and they’re not happy, and making sure that you’re balancing all the work that’s going on with these other important relationships in your life. So I think those are some of the things that we’ve done at Indeed over the course the last few years, to really help employees from well-being perspectives.
[00:22:10] Kate King: Great. I love the participation that I would agree with your broker, that is a great number. It’s interesting on your unlimited PTO because we talked to a lot of clients or customers and they’re maybe a little bit apprehensive about that, but when we look to science and maybe you have specific details with Indeed, that people don’t actually abuse it. Just having that flexibility is really such in positive engagement through with them.
[00:22:39] Paul Wolfe: I completely agree. It’s interesting I’ll talk to clients a lot. I talk about PTOs and they look at me with this quizzical look on their face like people are going to abuse it or it’s not going to work, it won’t work. And I go back to a part of treating people like adults and part of what we’ve done and at least, we’ve measured on an annual basis, is we’ve provided managers with and we’re really reporting on it and we really look at who hasn’t taken time off.
So it’s not that policing factor of like, oh, Paul’s taken six days off in the last 30 days or the last 90 days. It’s who hasn’t taken time off? If there’s a reason I haven’t taken time off because of working on this big project or a big product that we’re about to push out, like okay. But we should make sure they take time off after that. If there isn’t some mitigating factor as to why they haven’t taken time off, let’s talk about that.
When we implemented it in 2016, the beginning of 2016, we — I’m sorry. Yes, beginning of 2016. For the full year in 2016, we compared the average number of days off by employee to the average number of days off under our previous plan which had a typical vacation policy that had caps to it. Our employees took 28% more days off, and our first year out under open PTO. So that was — I got asked [unintelligible 00:24:02] at a metric civic company. I mentioned that before.
When I rolled it out, one of our engineers asked me what metric I was going to use to determine whether it’s successful or not, I said “Look, people should be taking more time off, and if they’re not, we should dig into why.” For our first year out, people taking 28% more days off than the year before, was a good indicator that it’s working. We’ll measure it again at the end of 2017, and make sure that that trend is continuing. If it isn’t, we’ll dig into why it’s not continuing that same way.
We’ve not seen — there’s not an abuse of it because again, we put back — we put the power the decision-making process in the hands of the manager and it’s based on performance. And can the team deliver what they need to deliver because previously, it was up to me to determine what the caps were for vacation.
Look, I know my direct reports performance intimately well. That’s my job as a leader in this organization. But to say that I know and I’ve got 10 direct reports. We’ve got 5,200 other employees in the organization. I don’t know their performance intimately well, and so it shouldn’t be left up to me or an HR director or anybody else in HR to say here’s this arbitrary cap. It really is down to the manager level that goes back to making sure we’re creating this environment where feedback is happening on a regular basis. There’s two way communication happening so that if somebody is going to ask for six weeks off, that they know in their mind I’m a good performer, I’ve got the stuff that I need to get done in this period of time I want to take off covered. Or I’ve been able to get the work done before I want to take the time off and the business and my team can keep delivering what they need to deliver. Those are the things to me that have made our program successful. None of it is rocket science. It’s just really communication, being transparent and kind of setting the managers and the employees up for how to navigate in the world of around the vacation.
[00:26:03] Kate King: Thank you. It’s exciting to put the power back into the dialog between an employee and their manager. I think when it is to your point based on performance, there will be tremendous kind of soft benefits that are very hard I know to be able to measure. But that engagement that ability to not get sick, that ability to actually sleep in those eight hours that we’re all supposed to sleep, ha ha. This gives the freedom. Thank you, that’s a phenomenal example of things that some companies may be fearful of but I think really truly give an empowerment and engagement model between the manager and the employee and ultimately the soft benefits for the company. Thank you.
[00:26:49] Paul Wolfe: Sure.
[00:26:50] Kate King: Paul, I’m going to switch gear a little bit to you, if I may.
[00:26:53] Paul Wolfe: Sure.
[00:26:54] Kate King: With each episode, we’re intrigued to know a person’s morning routine. There’s a lot out there. Tim Ferriss talks about it, Tony Robbins talks about it, Andrea Huffington’s talking about it. It’s all over, the web, so to speak, around successful morning routines and really people embracing them to get their own level of success. Do you have a morning routine, and if you do, could you share it with us, and if you don’t, why not?
[00:27:25] Paul Wolfe: I do have a morning routine. Typically 6:00 or 6:30 is when the alarm goes off depending on what’s going on. My first, and this may be a good or a bad thing, my first thing is roll over and grab my phone.
[00:27:40] Kate King: [laughs]
[00:27:41] Paul Wolfe: The reason I do that is, is because we’re a global organization. I look at what emails have I gotten from my team in [unintelligible 00:27:52] and my team in A Pack that may need to be dealt with right away that may be triaging. Then I also look at global headlines just to understand what’s going on in the world while I was sleeping for the last, hopefully, eight hours, that I always get eight hours of sleep. That sets the global nature of the business and look, we live in a world where things things go on all the time, it’s just being aware of what’s going on.
I’ll get out of bed at that point if there’s nothing major going on that I need to deal with, get out of bed, do the shower, throw on some clothes. I’ll come to the office. I usually get to the office by 7:30, eight o’clock. I’d like to get in early before we typically — Things start to rev up around Indeed offices 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning. I’d like to get in early. I’ll grab coffee. I like to go through the Wall Street Journal in the New York Times. Just under again it’s a deeper dive into that just not the headlines but what’s going on. Look at what’s going on the business world. I also look for interesting things kind of on the HR side that maybe in those two publications.
I also like to take a look at my calendar for the day. This is kind of how am I going to manage my day. If it’s a day of back to back to back to back meetings which probably are the most challenging days for me, are there any pockets of time I can carve out of there where I can get some time to decompress or think about strategy or talk to somebody about a unique or innovative HR idea that I’ve been ruminating on or something they’re thinking about, whether be a peer or somebody joined the company.
Then I also just prioritize like one of the things I need to tackle today, kind of how am I going to think about managing my day. Then 9:00 or 9:30, rolls around and the day has kicked off and we’re off to the races. That’s how I think about — That’s the first couple of hours of my day before the true work day starts.
[00:29:54] Kate King: Great, thank you. Three rules that you live by.
[00:29:59] Paul Wolfe: This is a [unintelligible 00:30:00] [laughter]
I think the first one is its API which is Assumed Positive Intent. I think if everybody in the world, in the global community lived by that mantra, things may be a little better off in the world. I know that’s tough and that’s very altruistic, but I’m going to assume that everybody is, I’ll think about it at the Indeed level, that everybody is doing something that they believe is in the benefit of Indeed or the benefit of the job seeker. I’m looking at things through that lines.
One of the other rules that I live by or values I live by is nothing illegal or nothing unethical. In my key years I said that a lot. Those are my two lines in the sand. The way I think about that is like, look, there are– ” If you think about it from an HR perspective, there is always an HR way to handle a situation. But really, my job and my team’s job is to help this company be as successful as it possibly can. We really need to put a business hat on when we’re thinking about situations we’re dealing with, or questions we have to answer, or problems we have to solve.
That’s where the nothing illegal, nothing unethical because there’s the HR way or the HR answer to things, and then there’s taking the business needs and desires into account and coming up with that compromised solution without crossing either one of those lines. I think the last one is just treating people like adults. That goes in personal lives as it does in business life.
I found over the course of the last 15 plus years in HR that if you do that or by doing that, the majority of people are going to act like adults most of the time. Every once in a while you’re going to get somebody who doesn’t and you’ll have that conversation, or figure out why, and you’ll deal with that. But I think, for the most part, those three things have become my mantra for how I live personally and how I live professionally.
[00:32:08] Kate King: Fantastic. Paul, thank you so very much for sharing your morning routine and the three rules. I think that the first one is definitely a big one for myself, the assume positive intent. You’re right, it is difficult sometimes. You remind yourself of that [chuckles] in today’s current environment. Thank you very much for not only sharing the people growth strategies that you put in place in Indeed and many other places, but also your personal philosophy around that.
[00:32:38] Paul Wolfe: Sure. I’m happy, too. Thanks again for having me.
[00:32:43] Kate King: Firstly, thanks for listening and spending time with us. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Paul. For a transcribed version of the show, head over to benefit/podcast, B-E-N-I.F-I-T/podcast. This is the star of conversations that begin to identify the best practices and when humans thrive, the companies prosper. If you would like to recommend anyone for the show, please email me at [email protected], [email protected]
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