AJ Griffin
Director of Government and Community Affairs Paycom

Servant leader helping others reach their potential through better policy, inspired institutions, and businesses with strong cultures.

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On this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast, William speaks with AJ Griffin about how HR tech is enhancing equality in the workplace.

AJ is the director of government and community affairs at Paycom and is passionate about helping others reach their potential through better policy, inspired institutions and businesses with strong cultures.

Tune and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

JDXperts Recruiting and Retaining Talent

Listening Time: 31 minutes

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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have AJ on from Paycom, and we’re going to talking about how HR tech is enhancing equality in the workplace. It’s going to be a fun topic. Can’t wait to get into it with AJ and learn some things from her. So why don’t we jump right into it. AJ, would you introduce yourself and Paycom to the audience?

AJ:

Well, of course, and thanks so much for having me here today. Looking forward to this topic. It’s just so timely and there’s so much happening in the space. So I’m AJ Griffin. I’m the Director of Government Community Affairs for Paycom. Paycom’s a cloud based software, providing HR technology through a single database where our clients, employees have access to their own data and manage their own HR functions.

AJ:

My role at Paycom includes interactions with government officials, community groups, civic organizations, and I also manage our corporate philanthropy program. We’re excited to talk about this topic. We’ve done a lot in this space around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at Paycom and know that technology can be a really important tool as companies all across the country try to make sure their workspace is a place where everyone brings their true and authentic self.

William:

I love that. So where did you all start your journey? Just go back to some of the basics of, not necessarily when you’ve prioritized it, but just some of those things, some of the small steps that you started to take, started to realize that made an impact on your own employees.

AJ:

Well, like all large corporations that are growing, and we’re a growing company, growing very fast and adding a lot of talent, you realize very soon that you’ve really got to maximize everyone that is available. Of course, there’s a worker shortage in this country that is impacting how everybody does business. So if we’re not fully maximizing every available talented individual and that human capital that is our business at Paycom, then you’re really missing the boat. Then of course, there’s been so much that’s happened over the last couple of years: the pandemic, the events across the country around George Floyd’s death and everything that just really highlighted that the truth was we weren’t doing necessarily as great a job as we could have been in this space. So we’ve decided as a company that we’re going to engage employees, and probably the most significant of the new initiatives we have is something that we call Better Conversations.

AJ:

William, it’s a little bit like what we’re doing right now, just having a conversation. While we were not physically together during the pandemic, and we were all working remotely, we took that as an opportunity to say, “Hey, how can we engage our employees around topics that need to be discussed,” and started a series called Better Conversations. Our diversity equity inclusion team and our wellness coaches worked together and put together this series. We have trained facilitators that are just other employees. In fact, I’m one of the facilitators for Better Conversations. We lead sessions of conversation around topics, and those topics include diversity, inclusion, belonging, mental wellness, which became very important when everyone was scattered and a little isolated, working parents. What’s it like to balance your responsibility as a parent and your responsibilities at work? We have series around current events, things that are happening.

AJ:

This is National Hispanic Heritage Month, so our employee that are of Hispanic heritage have opportunities to share about their heritage and our other employees can engage with them and learn and have conversations. So that’s been really, really important and valuable tool for us just to create a space where authenticity is celebrated and conversation is practiced. We don’t always practice great conversations, and that’s been one of the ways that we’ve really engaged over the last year. It’s a new initiative, but it continues. I mean, it’s not going away. It’s just part of what we do in our culture here at Paycom.

William:

It’s really smart, A. B, corporations in general have … We’ve avoided these conversations for a long time because we just figured society would work these things out and all these things got kind of blended together with Me-Too, Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, pandemic. Kind of all of this stuff made for a wonderful gumbo of, “Okay, we need to have difficult or kind of fierce conversations at work,” where we … I love that you brought up Hispanic Heritage Month as a great example. Those that aren’t Hispanic need to just kind of sit back and learn. This is a great opportunity to listen and to learn new things. If you just happen to be Hispanic, this is a wonderful time to teach and to express yourself.

William:

I think you can go around the wheel of all the things that make us diverse, but what also makes us similar is that we can take pride in other people being different and similar. I love that you all are doing that. I love that this is just a part of your journey. Obviously in two years from now, you’ll be doing different things, newer things, and I love that. Where does HR tech play? Where should it play, let’s start with optimally for the audience. What’s its role with equality?

AJ:

Well, when you bring your authentic self to work, those interactions are really important. Of course, we use technology, everybody does to manage their lives, and our technology allows you to manage all your work stuff, but it also allows you to interact. Of course, for Better Conversations, you use technology to find and to learn about the upcoming sessions. You use the technology to sign up for those.

AJ:

But we use it in other ways as well. Recognition programs are extremely important for employees. Everyone wants to bring their own self, they’re valuable and contributing self, to work but they also really need feedback. So technology’s a great way to provide feedback to an employee, not just the formal feedback, but also the informal. The things that are fun. We’ve got a High Five Program that allows employees to recognize other employees for going above and beyond, or even just for the little things. “Hey, I noticed you cleaned the break room. Here’s a high five,” or, “You’ve really gone above and beyond in this area and made this project easier for me.” So using that technology for shout outs. The things that we do on our social media, you should do the same things at work.

AJ:

The other way is really, we’ve got a product called Ask Here that allows employees access to HR any time, anywhere. If you think about, as we all work to manage our personal lives and our business lives, having the ability to just ask a question, or if you’re at home in the evening and you’re really worried about something, being able to type that question in on your cell phone and know that the question’s going to go to the right person and you’re going to get a prompt and appropriate answer. You’re not going to have to try to walk by the HR office five times and try to catch somebody in their office.

AJ:

So all of those things just create a sense of well-being and wellness. When you look at diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, those things, they’re really part of a entire wellness program where you’re trying to create an environment where an individual can perform at their highest level because they’re valued, they’re cared for, and they’re well. We have wellness advisors that are on our staff that are available to our employees, and they use technology for those appointments as well, just to interact and have someone to talk to. Building that culture where when we say service is one of our core values, it’s service to our clients, service to our community, but also service to each other.

William:

I love that. You brought up a great point in terms of access and it brought me to kind of the title of the show with equality in the workplace. Well, the workplace is changing, has changed over the last 18 months or so, and so probably our definition of the workplace is changing and our definition of probably what is equality is changing. I love the way that you brought HR into the access point of, “You don’t have to walk by someone’s office. You don’t have to wait between these particular hours to ask questions. You have access. You have access 24/7 if you like. You have access,” which I think gets to or is a part of equality. So I love that. Could you expand a little bit on just kind of access and why that’s important to employees and to HR? It’s important on both sides.

AJ:

Technology can be an equalizer. Think about the fact that our CEO uses the exact same technology as a brand new, straight out of college first-year employee. They use the same technology to manage their functions. It really does create an environment of equality where everyone’s using the same tools, everyone has the same access to the same folks. The old way was if the CFO needed to talk to somebody in HR about something, they just walked right in the office, and the rest of the employees had to make an appointment, wait outside, or send an email that got stacked up with all the other emails. But this creates an environment where everybody has equal access. Everybody has that open line of communication to the people that can answer their question, that can address their concern, that can provide them the feedback that they need.

AJ:

We really think that with the use of technology in our everyday lives, that you can use that tool to allow individuals to really have more control over everything that they’re doing every day. I mean, think about it. Our clients, employees have access to their data. It’s theirs. It’s not the possession of the HR manager in a file locked in a filing cabinet. It’s actually theirs. They have control and access and insight into their paycheck. They have access and insight into how much vacation time they have. Anywhere, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what level you are functioning at in the company, all employees have that same control and access over their own lives.

William:

There’s a couple things. One thing I wanted to unpack is the onboarding experience these days. Some of the things we’ve learned just through COVID is not everyone has the same connectivity at home, not everyone has the same work place or work environment at home. You mentioned working parents earlier. I got a chuckle out of that. Not everyone has the same tech at home. What’s our responsibility so that we do have kind of equal footing? Because I love the way that you kind of the CEO/CFO, everyone’s using, in theory and in practice, everyone’s using the same tech, which is a great equalizer. I absolutely agree with that, but we don’t start that way, generally speaking. When we recruit someone, we might not know of their situation. So how do we kind of uncover any of those inequities that might exist so that we get them on an equal footing?

AJ:

Well, you have to really do inquiry whenever you’re bringing someone on. The onboarding process, if you think about historically was a lot about paperwork and not lot about connection and connecting with someone. The technology-

William:

I’m old enough to call it a binder.

AJ:

A binder. Yeah, I’m right there with you, William. [inaudible 00:14:06] about the paper. Really it should be about the connection that you’re making with this new person, this new employee, to find out who they are and find out the best way that you’re going to be able to support them moving forward. You’re right, there are areas of the country where this is more challenging when it comes to the technology. Of course, we know that most of us have access to cellular technology even if you don’t have broadband in your home. Most people have access to the basic, but that onboarding, simplifying the paper process really allows human resource professionals time to do the other things. The things that really matter. That’s part of our goal is to put HR professionals front and center at the human capital portion of their job and not the paper pusher part of their job.

William:

You used the word maximizing, I think two or three times in just a short while that we’ve been talking, which is historically kind of a way of looking at performance and performance management of, “Okay, how do we get the most out of our employees,” which isn’t a bad thing. There’s nothing negative about that at all. That’s actually a good thing, but you’ve also used authentic self and bringing your whole you and wellness.

William:

How do we move kind of HR leaders and maybe even just leaders mentally kind of over into this place where you’re talking more and you’re associating the two together: your authentic self, your whole you, again, wellness and well-being and maximization, which is a great thing within the context of all these other things. Letting the individual both have access to technology, being on equal footing, being respected and listened to and valued, et cetera, things that you’ve brought up. You know. You’ve done this long enough to know there’s reluctance. There’s people, leaders, or HR leaders that are reluctant to kind of see the world through this lens. How do you confront those that might not get that right now?

AJ:

Well, of course, William, there’s always the issue of leadership. Of course, any organization really does glean a lot from the leaders, but the biggest barrier historically has actually been things that are a lot more practical and that’s time. How much time do you have in a day? If you say to an HR leader, “We really need to focus on employee well-being,” and they say, “Well, okay, great. But you realize this stack of stuff I’ve got to get done to make sure people get paid, make sure that they have access to their benefits and they’re going to have health insurance next month.” I guess we go back to the old school, we get wrapped up in the urgent at the expense of the important. We’ve really found the ways that if you use technology to take care of the urgent and the things that have to be done, it frees up time.

AJ:

Even just the energy of the HR leader to have to think and to dream and to strategize. If you don’t have that ability to even spend time thinking about how to do this better or how do I really make sure that my employees understand that they’re valued because you’re trying to get them paid. It’s really important. We just see that having an employee show up at work and perform is one thing, but having employees that are comfortable at work, that have the tools that they need to do their job, that feel valued and feel like they belong and that they are part of a team requires HR to be a human resources department. Most people don’t go into HR because they just thought they were going to make tons and tons of money and all that. They went to HR because they really value people. That’s the type of person it attracts and given the opportunity, most will step up and will really follow the leaders of the company and instill that environment given the time and the availability in order to create the programs and things that are necessary to build that environment.

William:

I totally agree with you. It’s funny, because HR has been … It’s firefighting. Most HR professionals, they put on their fire gear on Sunday night before they go to work, and 80% of their work week is fighting fire. If we can get technology to a place to where that makes it easier for their employees, again, you’ve mentioned, and I want to get to the data part in a second, but you make it easier for employees to ask questions, you make it easier for HR to be more strategic, they can take on some of these initiatives. Maybe their reluctance isn’t that they’re dinosaurs or that they don’t have the desire to change. Maybe some of the reluctance is they just don’t have time. I concur. I’ve seen that even with just some of my friends that work in HR that have been able to … Actually the pandemic has allowed them kind of a great opportunity to be more strategic, so they’ve taken advantage of that.

William:

You mentioned employee data a couple times and you phrased it in a really nice way in terms of it’s their data, they have access to it, et cetera. I would like for you to expand on that just in terms of the ways that employees can and should be thinking about their data.

AJ:

Well, our newest product is probably the best example of how employees can really take control, and it also addresses the previous conversation, that’s HR having time. If you look at what HR does, the most important function is getting everyone paid, and payroll can be the biggest time suck in any HR professional. Beti is our newest product and it’s self-service payroll. So it allows employees to actually do their own payroll. They see their paycheck, their potential paycheck, upcoming paycheck, before HR sees it. They have access, they can see their withholdings, their hourly, they can see their hours, and they literally approve their own paycheck before it goes to HR, to their supervisor and then to HR for processing. That allows an individual to exercise a significant amount of control over their own livelihood. When they literally see every pay period, how much they’re going to make, they can plan financially, but they also have insight into all the other things they’re important for them.

AJ:

So Beti’s really extremely important. Then when it comes to the management piece of this, another thing we have is DDX, which is Direct Data Exchange that allows managers to see how many of these daily tasks that HR used to do that employees now do themselves. So let’s say you have moved and you have a new address and you need to change your address. You just go into the app and change your address. You have a baby and you need to add the new child onto your benefits. You just go in and take care of it.

AJ:

So all of this stuff that used to be just kind of a big deal and create a long to-do list, both for the employee and the HR department, they’re handling themselves. Who’s more invested in making sure their personnel file is accurate than the employee themselves? It’s not HR. It’s actually the employee. It’s their stuff, it’s their pay, it’s their time sheet, it’s their benefits, it’s their performance review. All of those are right there. They have access and insight to it all the time, and it really allows them to control their data that is theirs.

William:

First of all, I love that, by the way. What’s the role of kind of communications? Because some employees might not have grown up this way. This might be all brand new to them. They might be used to going by HR’s office or sending an email or calling HR … Again, I’m dating my myself. I might even throw a fax in there just for giggles. But they’re accustomed to that, and so there’s this new way of them being able to. How do we, again now it’s kind of this change management. So how do we get the employees over to a place where their comfort level is using that technology instead of calling or emailing, et cetera, or walking by? How do we move them mentally over to this new way of work?

AJ:

Well, employees tell us and data shows that employees want better technology at work. The technology they use to order their coffee shouldn’t be better than the technology they use in their everyday employment. In fact, there’s surveys that say 70% of employees would take a pay cut in order to have better tech at work and that 77% say that it would make them a better employee if they had access to better technology at work. We’re all people and most of us bank on our phones and order our coffee. So if you’re using that great tech in your regular life, you want the same thing at work.

AJ:

They want tools that work, they want tools that are convenient. That’s one of the things that’s important about what we do with the single sign-on. You’re not having to remember six or seven different passwords or six or seven different websites to go to manage your functions. You’ve got one. If you’re doing it on your cell phone, you can use facial recognition and then not necessarily even have to remember your password all the time. But it’s much more convenient and it simplifies our lives. There’s so many important things that need our attention and dealing with old school tech at work and things and processes that are inconvenient and that take your valuable time, that’s the old way. We think employees want to do it the new way. Employees want to have access to their own information and they want to control it.

William:

I love the data point about that they’d take a reduction in salary. They shouldn’t have to. In a right way, of course they would, but they shouldn’t have to. I love the way that you’ve positioned that this is a way to attract talent: having modern, sophisticated, really commercial grade technology that they deal with on a daily basis. Having that at work, enabling their success at work, enabling equality at work, leveling the playing field at work, it’s a talent attraction strategy, it’s an engagement strategy, it’s a retention of talent strategy, it’s a wellness strategy. It unpacks a lot of things. Again, some of these are historic problems in HR that we’re resolving.

William:

A, I just love the way you all are doing it. What else do you think that we should do or could do to use technology to enable equality? What else? If we put on our futures hat and we think of maybe the next 18 months or two years or so, what else could be or should we be doing? Maybe even if we don’t know, how should we be gathering the feedback from employees and candidates, maybe even alumni to find out what we should be doing?

AJ:

Two things come to mind. The first one is that the workplace looks different. The technology revolution isn’t coming. It’s here. The digital transformation isn’t coming. It’s actually already here. We learned as we all had to change the lifestyles that we were leading over the last couple of years, that many of these changes are going to be permanent for a significant amount of the workforce. It will not be unheard of for HR managers to manage employees that live in a different time zone. Technology is what makes that possible. If you’re using old systems, that’s just simply not going to work. That’s the first thing. The digital transformation is already here.

AJ:

The second thing is that access point to technology, allows us to really find that talent and put them in the right place. Historically in the workplace, sometimes if you were really good at something or think about even in the HR department, the individual that really had benefits down would sometimes get stuck there because that’s what they were good at. They understand it. But the old school, if you know that job, you’re always going to have to do that job, we can replace that a lot of times with technology and allow people to grow and to do new things, and back to that word, to really maximize who they are in the workplace. That’s going to help us as corporations, small businesses across the country really solve our issues with the lack of diversity in many workplaces.

William:

Yeah. It’s another great-

AJ:

We’re not going to pigeonhole people to a spot and not allow them to grow just because we can allow technology to step in and allow us to replace some of those tasks with, not necessarily more meaningful work, but work that has a higher purpose.

William:

Which is again, kind of you did full loop. That’s what makes things equal. So we can automate some of those things that are lesser value, let people grow and grow into new roles. Again, it enables some of that equalizing over time. It helps people get to a different place and again, a more equitable place as well. I could talk to you all day, but turns out you probably have a job to do. AJ, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I absolutely appreciate you.

AJ:

It was certainly my pleasure, and we are very excited about the future and know that that future is bright for Paycom. We’ve got tools that can help everyone create a more equitable environment for their employees.

William:

Awesome. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

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The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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