Six in ten CEOs expect a full return to office in the next two years – that’s according to recent research from KPMG.
The issue is not just this return to office push, but the fact that as a result, presenteeism is alive and kicking.
87% of CEOs told KPMG that they were more likely to reward those employees who do make the effort to come into the office with better assignments, as well as raises and promotions.
All of this bodes badly for the impressive diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) progress seen during the 2020s so far.
The question that remains is how to tackle presenteeism? In an exclusive UNLEASH interview, KPMG’s global head of inclusion, diversity and equity Kristine Remedios is very clear: “We can never go back to where we were before.”
But, the problem is that organizations are keen to ignore this, and go back to the good old days. Remedios says leaders need to ask themselves: “Are we equating people being in the office with productivity, and why is that?”
The reality is that “a lot of firms have been thriving in the pandemic from a revenue growth perspective – where is the evidence that in-person is a plus for the workplace?”, adds Remedios.
Prioritizing equity will nip presenteeism in the bud
UNLEASH asked Remedios what she would do to nip presenteeism in the bud if she saw it in action at KPMG.
Her answer was to lean into equity; “we need to take people’s individuality into context”, and really ensure “we recognize differences and that everyone works differently”.
KPMG has been very flexible since before the pandemic – hybrid wasn’t that new to the consultancy giant – and Remedios gives her personal example:
“If I think about myself, I am a woman, I am a mother of two, I worked remotely pre-pandemic, and now I work remotely 90% of the time, and I am feeling more engaged than I have ever been.”
She continues: “I know for myself that spending two hours commuting in the morning, missing sending my kids off to school, missing being home for dinner has a huge impact on my mental health.”
For the HR leaders unsure where to start with this equity conversation – Remedios reminds us that the presenteeism challenges aren’t fundamentally different to previous DEIB conversations that were going on before the pandemic.
“Pre-pandemic, when we were in the office, we weren’t always getting it right” around diversity, and equality of opportunity.
“Our strategies are no different today than they were” before the pandemic – but seeing the presenteeism trend rear its ugly presents an opportunity to step up now, and nip it in the bud before it gets any worse.
If she spotted that a leader or a manager was putting “more emphasis on physical presence” (and therefore practicing presenteeism around promotions or raises), then “we need to really think about why that is”.
Members of the HR or DEIB team need to say, ‘Sorry, could you hold on for just a moment and just explain that a little bit more to me? Can you share how them being in the office or not has impacted the way they are performing?’
In this context, organizations are ensuring that talent decisions are based on outcomes (not inputs), and are fair and equitable.
To help here, KPMG has a common set of criteria for career development, and that ensure objectivity, not subjectivity, during these conversations.
Inside DEIB at KPMG
UNLEASH’s was keen to find out how KPMG is thinking about DEIB internally – how is the consulting giant creating a genuinely inclusive and psychologically safe working environment?
DEIB has been top of mind for the consulting giant for many years, but this work has accelerated since 2020.
The social context and discussion around diversity has really helped to “propel” the DEIB work to where HR leaders would have always wanted it.
Since COVID-19, Remedios states, “you cannot separate the walls of work and the world”. People are no longer to prepared to work for companies that do not share their values or their purpose.
In July 2020, KPMG invited all of its 17,000 employees in 120 countries globally to share their thoughts on DEIB, and particularly anti-black racism amid the Black Lives Matter protests going on around the world.
The consulting giant’s employees did not hold back, they candidly shared their thoughts – and KPMG realized that while huge progress had been made, there was lots more work to be done. (Plus, people’s expectations were changing.)
The outcome was a global IDE (what KPMG calls DEIB) action plan – this includes producing a global policy that acts as a “baseline” globally, and setting goals for DEIB progress (and making leaders accountable for success).
Remedios was brought in to execute on the plan as a whole, but KPMG also made sure that it had a DEIB leader in every country who was really paying attention (and drive) progress.
One of the DEIB goals was around women in leadership – KPMG is aiming for 33% female representation by 2025, the figure currently sits at 29.4% (up from 26.1% in 2020).
Remedios explains that figuring out the goal took a lot of work from the bottom-up, each country had to look at their data (some for the first time), and then figure out where they wanted to get to.
While Remedios is really proud of the progress that’s been made – “we continue to track towards that goal”, and KPMG has introduced a new inclusive talent process guide to level the playing field on hiring, but also promotions.
She also notes that diversity must move beyond gender.
KPMG uses its annual global engagement survey to take the pulse of its employees across a range of DEIB topics – whether that’s gender, disability or the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the most recent survey, 80% of employees are in favor of KPMG’s diversity policies and happy with progress.
In addition, the consulting giant published a LGBTQ+ inclusion statement in 2022, to set the tone and create that global baseline for respecting the rights of this community, and therefore achieve psychological safety.
The wording was decided in collaboration with KPMG’s pride network, and external partners like Out Leadership.
Lots of progress has been made, and Remedios and her team are keeping a close eye on the data and actions that come out of this.
Making the business case on DEIB
When UNLEASH asked Remedios what was top of her to-do list for 2024, she shares that given that we are living in a world that is constantly changing, it is important to not get sidetracked by trends, and instead “stay close to the collective action plan we set three years ago”.
DEIB is a marathon, not a sprint.
What we’re trying to do is not get distracted by the external environment”, as that may prevent the ultimate goal being reached. Instead, it is about sticking to the “long-term commitments that we made”, and really staying focused on doing what KPMG said it was going to do.
“I am just excited about the fact that we’ve got our plan, we set it three years ago, and we are on track to complete that plan and move forward,” shares Remedios. Employees and leaders alike are engaged, and the outlook is looking positive.
UNLEASH was keen to find out Remedios’ top tips for HR leaders who are further behind on this work and struggling to make progress.
She shares that “we’ve moved beyond the business case”, and HR leaders just need to look at the data already at your disposal.
“There is so much data about how IDE, revenue and growth are intertwined – for any HR leaders, I would say use those tools you already have,” concludes Remedios.
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