Natasha Bowman
Founder and CEO Performance ReNEW

For nearly 20 years, Natasha Bowman, JD, SPHR has labored to transform the American workplace from the inside out. As a champion for employees, she’s worked with a broad range of organizations as an c-suite HR executive to create an engaging environment in which employees are respected, genuine leaders are cultivated, and top performance is achieved. Natasha is a modern day pioneer of workplace equality, inspiring organizations to not just pay lip service to workplace rights but craft highly-engaged cultures where every employee is truly dignified and valued for their contribution. Because of her ability to diagnose workplace issues and provide proven solutions to organizations, she is often referred to as The Workplace Doctor.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Natasha from Performance ReNEW about how the UK has launched a four-day work week, should the US do the same?

Some Conversation Highlights:

It has to play out. What we are seeing in terms of labor shortages, it is having a significant impact on our global economy, on our supply chain in many other aspects. So it has to work. Employees would rather not work at all than to work in this model, than to work five days a week back on site vs a four-day work week. So they’ve got to figure it out. It’s no choice. And I work with many organizations and they all know this. They all know there’s no way people coming back to work five days a week on site.

And they all know that they if they’re currently in that model, that the workforce is turning at a rapid pace. People are like, “I’ll begin my own business. I’ll find something else to do than to work on five days a week.” So this is the future. There’s no negotiating it and they’ve got to get on board.

And for those that are trying to go against that grain, trying to return to post-pandemic cultures or pre-pandemic cultures, they’re going to be left behind. They’re going to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for labor and for everything else and they’re going to eventually have to shift. So why not shift now? This four-day work week, my friend is the new normal.

 

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 28 minutes

 

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Music: This is Recruiting Daily’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 Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Natasha on from Performance ReNEW and we’ll be talking about the topic of the UK launches a four-day work week, should the US do the same? And it’s a question that pretty much is on everybody’s mind quite frankly, especially as we near the two year anniversary of COVID. I’m sure people are thinking about it more and more. I can’t wait to learn from Natasha. Natasha, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Performance ReNEW?

Natasha Bowman: Absolutely, and thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here today. So as you said, I’m Natasha Bowman also known as The Workplace Doctor. I am the president and founder of Performance ReNEW, which is a leadership development, talent management DEI firm based out of New York City.

I am a labor and employment law attorney by trade but decided early in my career I didn’t want to be on the dark side of misconduct. So I went over to the HR side pretty early in my career so I could be more proactive and intentional in creating positive and inclusive workplaces and that’s essentially what I’ve done through many avenues.

In addition to being the president of my firm, Performance ReNEW, I’m also an author of two books, You Can’t Do That at Work, which was published in 2017. And I have a new book out, The Power of One: Leading with Civility, Candor, and Courage. I’m a TEDx speaker and a professor. So that’s me in a nutshell.

William Tincup: Well, and you’re not busy at all.

Natasha Bowman: I’m not at all, I’m quite bored.

William Tincup: You got some extra time just laying around?

Natasha Bowman: That’s right, that’s right.

William Tincup: Now as a published author, I have to ask, because you’ve got a couple under your belt, have you already got your next idea?

Natasha Bowman: Oh, I’m actually working on my book… Well, how did you know that?

William Tincup: Well, it’s funny. Well, I worked with an editor at one point a 100 years ago and he told me, he goes, “Successful authors think in threes.” I said, “Do you tell?” He said, “You got to put everything into that book that you’re writing but you’re thinking about the second and third book.” And I’m like, “You’re kidding.” He’s like, “No, you go back…” And he could name authors, both fiction, nonfiction all across the spectrum. He’s like, “That’s how they write. They think in threes, they think in chapters.”

Natasha Bowman: That’s right.In fact, my second one hasn’t even been published yet. It’s released on May 4th and I’m already halfway through my third book. It’s like, okay, I’m done with that book and it hasn’t even been read by…

William Tincup: Oh yeah. Now what’s funny is you’re going to get pulled into the circuit, you’re going to have to go do tours and talk to people. It’s like, “Well, I’m already on this other thing over here.”

Natasha Bowman: Right, “I want you to hear about this.”

William Tincup: And some funny stuff. And I love your firm, it’s absolutely, again, we’re a 100 years late to a lot of this stuff, but the fact that there is more social discourse and corporate discourse which is fantastic. I hate that we’re at this place but at the same time I’m glad that we’re having more discussions. And I’m a bit cynical when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the sense of we’ve been talking for a long time.

Natasha Bowman: That’s right, that’s right and that’s why we’re getting calls after the murder of George Floyd. And I’m like, “Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to finally have this conversation. But I’ve been begging to have this conversation for some years now.” So like you said, not new to this, but true to this that’s why I will take what I can get as we go.

William Tincup: Again, we look at COVID and the same ways it sped up so many things in HR in a good way that it would’ve taken us another 20 years to get to. So it’s unfortunate that all the things that you look back and all the combination of movements of Love Is Love, and Me Too, and Black Lives Matter and all the other ones that I’m not mentioning. It’s great that society has finally gotten to a point of like enough’s enough. And that’s carried over, which was a worry of mine was like, “Okay, it’s one thing to protest. Is it actually going to carry over into corporate America?”

Natasha Bowman: That’s right and it did some privately, right?

William Tincup: Yes.

Natasha Bowman: If we think about the murder of George Floyd, that wasn’t the first time that we meet unarmed black man being murdered by law enforcement. So people wondered, “Well, what was different about George Floyd?” And I think it’s exactly what you just said because we were in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the world finally was on a pause and they had the opportunity to actually reflect on things and they saw themselves and others in a different light. They start to value humanity.

So just thinking about that delivery person that would come and bring you food. That person became the most treasured person in the world at that moment. When we’re poor, we barely made eye contact. We just grabbed our food and left and now it’s, thank you.

So I think that we were in that moment of reflection on humanity and that’s why we thought about, these types of things are not just happening in our communities. But when George Floyd was saying as we watched his final moments, “I can’t breathe,” that became a metaphorical type of phrase for marginalized employees in the workplace who were suffering and being silenced and felt like they were suffocating under these systems that had been put in place that crushed them. So if you think about those similarities that’s what this movement brought.

And as you said, I’m glad we’re still having these conversations two years later. Some organizations are not. I’ll admit some have fallen off the wagon and there’s this pure performative.

William Tincup: Yeah, but I think Natasha, I think it’s at their peril because the genie’s out of the bottle. And not just generationally, it would be very easy for us to say, “Oh, Millennials and Gen Z.” At 53, I feel the same way. If I’m joining a company, if I’m reading their job descriptions, I want to know what they’re doing, not what they’re saying. But how much money are you putting behind the programs in ERGs and SIGs? I’m like, “What are you actually doing? What does your leadership team look like?”

Natasha Bowman: Exactly, I’m taking a one way ticket to the leadership team webpage but about to break my leg getting there to see what does that leadership team look like. And if it’s not there yet, I’m looking for a plan of how they plan on creating a pipeline. I’m looking for those types of things.

William Tincup: And I don’t think we’re unique. I think that candidates are, especially candidates and employees they’re fed up. So when companies pull out it’s almost like we’re coming up on, let’s say June’s Pride Month. So here’s what we all know will happen. Everyone’s going to colorize in rainbow eyes their logo for a month. Now do they actually care about the LGBTQ+ community? I don’t know. And I look at that and if you really care about a community, you care about them all the time, not just during that month. I say the same thing about Black History Month and women’s-

Natasha Bowman: Right, whatever it is.

William Tincup: If you care, you care all the time. But the thing is, is I like the way that you framed this great reflection that people have had and reframing the way that marginalized people thinking about work and thinking about what they’re not willing to put up with, which is a great segue into the four-day work week.

What have you seen so far with… Because we’ve talked about the four-day work week for a while. It’s not a new concept. It’s new in the sense that people are actually doing it and being successful at doing it. So that is absolutely new and really interesting. But what do you see right now when companies are considering the four-day work week?

Natasha Bowman: So I think they are taking a lead from some of other countries who have implemented it or have some sort of… What’s the word I’m looking for? Completely a pilot program, that’s what I’m looking for, for doing it. And these pilot programs and these other countries that have implemented it show that it absolutely works and it’s different than a model that we have traditionally seen some companies do where, “Hey you can work four days, have your fifth day off.” But you got to work 40 hours in those four days. So you’re working a 10-day workday for four days. So you’re kind of still getting 40 hours.

William Tincup: That was my concern. Initially, is that the expectation of work wouldn’t change in terms of the outputs in productivity. You’ve basically cramped five days of work in four days.

Natasha Bowman: Yeah, so in the good models, the models where it’ll work is that expectation has shifted. You work 32 hours, you still paid your normal salary and it’s not that expectation that you’re getting 40 hours of work into the 32 hours. And that’s where it really works because even if you have the four day model, I’m working 10 hours a day, I’m going to still experience burnout at some point. And if everybody’s not on that model, I’ve seen it where not everyone is on that model, so therefore there’s meetings and still that’s happening on that fifth day. So therefore I’m still feeling like I’m coming back to a whole bunch of stuff. So it just doesn’t work that way.

So the model that we’ve seen implemented recently in your New Zealand and your other places with this 32-hour model expectation is 32 hours worth of work and you still get that 40-hour salary. That is the beginning point of what this looks like.

And many countries have implemented on a pallet basis and many organizations here in the US have implemented on a pallet basis because they’ve got to do some, “Let’s make sure this is going to work. Let’s make sure that our leaders are trained around this to make sure they’re not trying to cram 40 hour worth of work into 32 hours and then it backfires on us in some way where now I’m experiencing even more burnout because I’ve got a short period of time to do my work.”

So I think essentially the goal, which I had to really say, is that we should just stop focusing on quantity and focus on quality. And it should be individualized so I can get things done in a very, very quick manner, in a high quality way and it may not even take me 32 hours. But give me my objectives for the week. Let me reach my objectives and don’t really care how many hours it takes me to do it. To me, that should be the model.

William Tincup: So a couple things that the leaders will be listening to this that they probably will need to reconcile is inefficiency in our work week and the way work that we do. So an hour long meeting, do we ever need an hour long meeting? So stuff like that. Do we need to rethink the way that we work on productivity? As leaders do we need to think, not just less about the how of how something gets done. But maybe the expectation is that there’s not as much but it’s higher quality and people are happier.

So when you’re talking to leaders, the C-suite and the board, let’s just go straight to the top, when you’re talking to them, how do you get them to trust? Because one of the things I’ve seen and I know you’ve seen this yourself is people want to go back… Some of these leaders, which I think is just my take, my opinion, it’s an indicator of a poor leader that they want employees back to the office. So it’s kind of like a tell. You’re telling me that you like command and control, you want to see people, you want to be able to witness the work to make sure the work gets done, which is something very 1970s about that. So that’s just my personal take.

But as they look at work you do recognize that in a remote environment or a hybrid environment that there’s fear that people aren’t getting the job done and there’s trust issues that the job’s not getting done now. So how do you resolve those? So how do you coach them up to understand how they can mitigate those feelings that they have or anxieties that they might have and create a better environment?

Natasha Bowman: Yeah, you’re right. It begins all with trust just like you said. When we are seeing organizations asking their employees to return to work especially on a full-time basis, it’s all about trust. For some reason, organizational leaders cannot conceptualize, even though they’ve seen it for two years now, they can’t conceptualize employees working from remotely and being productive even though every piece of data has told them quite the opposite. That employees are not only productive, their mental health is better, they’re more creative, et cetera, et cetera. Medical insurance costs are down because it’s less stress.

We have all of this data supporting the remote work environment or some sort of hybrid but yet bosses for some reason, it’s that proximity bias, is what it’s called. It’s that bias of, if I’m seeing you work, you’re coming in early, you’re staying late, you must be working harder than someone that I don’t see. So it’s just a bias that we’ve got to rewire somewhere down the line.

And it’s unfortunate that after this two year pilot of this work remote or flexible work environment, that leaders are calling people back to the office because of this proximity bias. So again, it’s about checking your bias. When you think about what a leader is, you may picture a male. Those types of things that we have to retrain our brain. This is something that we have to do to dismantle our bias around proximity because that’s essentially all it is.

We just have been programmed to think if I see you working, you’re working harder. I’m going to favor you because I’m spending more time with you, et cetera, et cetera and it’s creating what’s called a zoom ceiling for the remote workforce. Right?

William Tincup: Yep, yep. I was actually worried about this when people first started talk about hybrid models. I’m like, “Are we creating different citizens? Are we creating a three fifths?” The people in the office are going to get promoted at a higher click. They’re going to get internal mobility. People that aren’t in the office aren’t as seen. Are we creating different classes of citizens?

Natasha Bowman: Yes, we are, we are. And what it’s doing, it’s those that really need to take advantage of the remote work environment, your working mothers who we saw was the most that left the work environment during COVID, those marginalized employees are typically the ones that need to take advantage of the remote work environment. And this is being yet another strike kind of against them. Is, “Oh, now I don’t even get to see you.” So therefore there’s another, in addition to the glass ceiling, there’s a zoom ceiling. So it’s creating more inequities in the workforce so we’ve got to look at that.

We need to see who’s taking advantage, who needs this remote work environment? Which we know now is to be those that have been traditionally marginalized or oppressed. And, and then we need to figure out how to reconcile this inequity that is being brought upon us and it starts, like you said, with trust. It starts with eliminating the proximity bias and we’ve got to come up with objectional ways that we are looking at performance and measuring performance and success rather than the subjective measure such as I see you so you must be working harder.

William Tincup: So how do we go from, well, everything that we already know, so how do we go from the known to a four-day work week? Do you suggest kind of a phased approach or is it rip the bandaid off? If someone’s considering this, how do they think about it?

Natasha Bowman: Yeah, I think the phased approach is okay. Start with a department in your organization, maybe a smaller one that this would be a little bit less complicated. Start there, figure out some of the kinks there and then broadly expand it just like some of the countries that are implementing this. It’s a pilot program. They’re trying to see what do we know? What do we don’t know? What do we need to figure out before we make this either requirement et cetera, cetera? So that’s absolutely okay. But if you feel like ripping the bandaid, do that.

But I think the key is to listen to your employees, just don’t implement this program. Make sure you have employee involvement as to how to roll this out. No one can tell you how they best work on the works of circumstances than your workforce and a lot of times we miss that step. We just roll things out, we don’t get input from the workforce.

So involve employees in your initiative, in this strategy so that you can optimize success. And so you’re figuring out less kinks because they’re going to be able to anticipate the what ifs, the what if, the what ifs and therefore you can on the front end manage through and think about those what ifs.

William Tincup: So industries or sizes of companies or geography, is there anything that you’ve seen in the data and what other countries have done where this works better or let’s start here? Is there anything that you’ve seen in the data?

Natasha Bowman: Well, it can work in any industry and we’ll have people that will say, “Oh no, I’m retail, you’ve got to be there.” Da, da, da, da, da. That’s fine, you can still be open seven days a week although you have a four-day work model. It may mean you’re going to hire a couple of more staff and people will complain about that. But in the end if we look at the turnover right now, if we look at the great resignation that’s happening especially in the US, employees are leaving. So hiring those two or three extra people you need to hire to make the four-day work week model work, that’s going to come to your advantage. You’re going to see that actually is going to be a cost savings because you’re more likely to retain your current workforce. You’re more likely to retain that knowledge that you have there and that loyalty and commitment.

William Tincup: I love that. So any potential, I say downsides or is there any employees that this doesn’t work for? We’ve talked about leaders and managers and things like that so we’ve kind of covered that. But is on the employee side and you’ve worked and you’ve been educated on the union side. So I’m curious as to on the employee side of things.

Natasha Bowman: What’s funny is that working with unions, unions have been asking for this model for quite some time and they’ve made it work with organizations. I do a lot of work in healthcare. And in the past negotiations that I’ve participated within healthcare, especially for nursing, they have been on a four-day, three-day off, a 12-hour work shift model where they work for four days and they’re off three days. I’m sorry, they work for three days and they’re off four days. I’m sorry, it’s the opposite. And so they have been negotiating this same type of flexibility for some years now. Now those are blue collar healthcare work, you know hospitals are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If it can work in that model, it can work in any model.

William Tincup: I love that. And again we’ve been talking about flexibility in the workplace for a long time as well so there isn’t a downside. Now put on your pragmatic hat for just a second. How do you see US businesses… And again we pride ourselves incorrectly, I’ll just go ahead and say it for what I think, incorrectly for our work ethic and workaholic behaviors. We kind of have as a badge of courage. How do you see this playing out over the next decade or so in the US?

Natasha Bowman: It has to play out. What we are seeing in terms of labor shortages, it is having a significant impact on our global economy, on our supply chain in many other aspects. So it has to work. Employees would rather not work at all than to work in this model, than to work five days a week back on site. So they’ve got to figure it out. It’s no choice. And I work with many organizations and they all know this. They all know there’s no way people coming back to work five days a week on site.

And they all know that they if they’re currently in that model, that the workforce is turning at a rapid pace. People are like, “I’ll begin my own business. I’ll find something else to do than to work on five days a week.” So this is the future. There’s no negotiating it and they’ve got to get on board.

And for those that are trying to go against that grain, trying to return to post-pandemic cultures or pre-pandemic cultures, they’re going to be left behind. They’re going to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for labor and for everything else and they’re going to eventually have to shift. So why not shift now? This my friend is the new normal.

William Tincup: So last question and because we started the discussion talking about diversity and inclusion and marginalized folks at work because these things probably dovetail nicely, but what’s the crossroads between or the intersection points between a four-day work week and the groups of people that we were talking about?

Natasha Bowman: Yeah, absolutely. So going back to women who are typically working mothers. So the fact that I don’t have to get up, get my kids ready, get them to school or daycare, get myself commuting. Oh, by the way, they’re sick so that means that I have to take a whole day off of work because I can’t come in. That doesn’t make sense when I can work from home and attend to my sick child. So if we’re looking at that…

So what’s happening is, when we saw during COVID, was they weren’t able to do that. Schools were out, they had to homeschool, they do all these things. They said, “Forget it, I’m just leaving the workforce.” So we’ve got to find a way for them to reenter the workforce.

As it relates to other marginalized employees which we already know have been disadvantaged from a pay equity standpoint. How do you bring that equity in the play? Well, guess what? I don’t have to pay for gas anymore in commuting. Now I may even have time to start that job on the side because I have so much more time that in my hands.

And the fact that I’m not in the office face-to-face, with the exception of that proximity bias, other biases are also curtailed. You can just look at my work instead of being distracted by other things as it relates to my identity. And I’m not distracted about things that relate to my identity, I’m not dealing with microaggressions and some of those other things that take place between meetings and when I’m sitting side by side with people.

William Tincup: I love it. Drops mic, walks off stage. Thank you so much because this is just a wonderful topic and I think the more we unpack it with folks in the podcast like this and just discussions like these, people are going to start nibbling around the edges and starting somewhere. I like the way that you said, pilot, just pick a department. You started somewhere and kind of work out your bugs, work out whatever kinks you have and then release it on the rest of the firm.

Natasha Bowman: Yep, absolutely.

William Tincup: Thank you so much for your time today.

Natasha Bowman: Thank you for having me.

William Tincup: Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.

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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