Ep. 62

Updating Your Unwritten Employee/Employer Contracts w/ Philip Romm

In episode 62, we talk with Philip Romm about how he sees evidence of unwritten employer-employee contracts every day as he advises growing companies about their strategic HR.

Philip Romm

Founder/Chief Human Capital Strategist
EliteHR

Once upon a time, an employer could threaten to fire an employee for not dropping everything to come into work on a Saturday—but not anymore. Today’s employer-employee relationships are drastically different from what they were 10, 20, 30 years ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, more and more companies are beginning to realize that if they want their workers to stay, they need to treat them with respect and match their values. 

Philip Romm, founder and chief human capital strategist at EliteHR, sees evidence of unwritten employer-employee contracts every day as he advises growing companies about their strategic HR. In this week’s episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, Philip discusses why employer-employee relationships have shifted and gives advice to businesses struggling to keep up with the change. 

During our discussion, we talked about: 

  • The three most recent stages in the employer-employee relationship
  • How employee loyalty (or lack thereof) impacts companies
  • Tips for respecting your people’s work-life balance
  • Why it’s important for employers to know what employees value
  • How to create flexibility in industries where remote work isn’t an option
  • The importance of getting employee input

Get in touch with Phil via email: [email protected] 

Episode 62 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice. And today I’m joined by Philip Romm, who’s the founder at Elite HR, also the chief human capital strategist there. So Philip, how you doing today?

[00:00:15] Philip Romm: I’m wonderful, Garrett. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:18] Garrett Jestice: It’s great to have you on the show, you know, before we jump in, tell our guests just a little bit more about you and your background.

I know you have this wealth of experience when it comes to HR. So tell us a little more about that.

[00:00:28] Philip Romm: Yeah. So I have over 20 years of, of HR experience in multiple industries, many different positions, most recently being my own boss at Elite HR and founding a, a company. So trying to spark that entrepreneurial spirit and leverage my HR experience to help businesses do some of the hard work and, and be strategic in the HR space.

[00:00:50] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Tell us a little more about Elite HR and the types of businesses that you work with specifically.

[00:00:56] Philip Romm: We work with businesses that are looking to, we really don’t have any particular vertical or industry or size or anything along those lines. We look for businesses that are looking to grow, adapt, and change to the current working environment. And that means in some cases, as we’ll talk more today, updating their employee, employer, unwritten contract, and some of them it’s cultural studies, some of them it’s HR tech stack, some of them it’s globalizing.

So it’s really, companies that are looking to say, we’ve got a problem. We, we need a strategic solution. And we’re gonna bring in that, that expertise.

[00:01:29] Garrett Jestice: I love it. That’s so great. And I can definitely see how that can be needed in many businesses, large and small. So, you know, before we jump into our topic that you kind of seeded, one question I like to ask a lot of our guests is, you know, what, what really drew you to the field of HR and kind of part two of that, what’s kept you there.

[00:01:47] Philip Romm: So it’s a great question. I didn’t, wasn’t drawn to it. I landed in it. 20 some odd years ago, I answered an ad in the New York times, to be a part-time recruiter at a very large bank in New York city where I was living. And I, I landed the job kind of outta nowhere. I had zero experience. I had, I had no background in HR.

I just graduated from, from undergraduate school in, at the University of Rochester. And I loved, I love the fact that it’s never, two days are never the same. And so, you know, you, you walk in some days you think you have a plan and then, you know, a sexual harassment investigation pops up and you’re, and now you’re off to a very different, a different mode.

I like as a generalist, you know, that you get to have your fingers in a lot of different pots. And so you, you have to know a lot about a lot of things. So there’s a lot of opportunity. And I would say what’s kept me in it the most is that HR has evolved from what it was 20 years ago. I mean, my first title 20 years ago, you know, was personnel manager.

And, and so that, you know, that is a very transactional, operational kind of feel to now much more strategic, helping businesses grow. Working them do adaptive change to, to drive an ROI. So that’s what sort of, you know, keeps me going and, and, and helps me stay in the field.

[00:03:03] Garrett Jestice: I love it. That’s great. I, I’m not hearing the New York accent. It must have just faded over the last 20 years. Is that it?

[00:03:08] Philip Romm: I, I, I don’t really have one. I’ve worked really hard to, to not have one. But I, I, I now have lived just about, as much out of New York as I’ve lived in it. So maybe we’ll see what what 

[00:03:21] Garrett Jestice: Maybe it’ll maybe it’ll, it’ll, it’ll, you know, slip in a little bit here and there. So we would love that. So well, Philip, you kind of seeded this idea for, what we’re gonna talk about today. And specifically you kind of proposed this idea of, you know, businesses, employees, employers have typically this unwritten contract. 

And in most companies that’s changed or is in the process of changing. So we wanna talk a little bit about that today. So I guess to start us off, tell us a little bit more from your perspective, or what was the, in the past, the older unwritten employee, employer contract, what did that typically look like at businesses?

[00:03:57] Philip Romm: Yeah, I, I, I would say in my career, I’ve gone through sort of three different changes in ships in that unwritten employer, employee contract. When I first started my, my career that sort of the unwritten employee employer contract was almost a, a cradle to grave kind of philosophy. When you walked outta college, you walked into your company, you stayed there for 50 years, you got your gold watch at retirement, and you put your kids through college, you bought your house, you know, your card, you went on your two to three weeks of vacation and that that’s where you stayed and you didn’t look to leave and you got a moderate potential increase every year. 

And that was sort of that they, that was that the company took care of you, you know, the old company man or company, woman kind of, kind of idea. And then, you know, right around the start of the, the, the two early two thousands, right after 9/11, that sort of to break down a little bit when companies started to say, okay, well, it’s no longer really a feasible relationship for, for us to have this sort of, you know, 50 year employee anymore.

[00:05:03] Philip Romm: We’re going to do much more flexible models. And they got rid of their defined, benefit pension plans. And they went to defined contribution 401ks. Layoffs started to become a, a bit more of the norm in terms of when they needed to right size or downsize or upsize their, their staffing models. and, and that sort of, you know, kind of became much more of, of that ruling.

And then from the employees side. Once that loyalty from the employer was broken, it became much more of a job hopping. I’m going to leave now for different opportunities to either grow salary. I know I did that earlier on in my career opportunity title, you know, relocation, whatever it was. There wasn’t that sense of loyalty back to the employer because they weren’t no longer taking care of all of my needs. And, and as kids who watch their parents do that, now they’re in their own employer, employer kind of kind of agreement where they, they no longer want work to be the central part of their lives. Work is a part of their lives.

It’s no longer the defining aspect of their lives. So, you know, people now, it’s much more of a humanistic model. I think it was breaking pre COVID. I think COVID sped up the break, and to where now work is a function of who you are, not the only function. And people, employers now are in this great mist of who do we get everybody back to an office?

Do we stay remote? Employees want flexibility. We, we think we we’ve invested all this money in office space, you know, so that, that great conversation is still still happening. But now the, the we’re looking at people as humans and saying that the balance and the distinction between home life and work life is no longer a distinction.

This is who the person is. This is who Garrett is. This is who Phil Romm is. And this is what Phil Romm needs. This is what Garrett needs. And how do we bring that about to get the best out of both people to allow them to, to have full lives that include a working relat.

[00:07:13] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think most would you know exactly what you said would resonate with most people, you know, I think we’ve all seen that evolution from parents, grandparents, you know, being the company man, or company woman to, you know, early two thousands, like you said, that’s starting to break down to, COVID really changing and speeding a lot of this up.

So, you know, right or wrong, it, it is what it is. And it’s, it’s the state of what most companies are facing right now. So you kind of described a little bit of like what that, that new employee employer contract is, in that it’s, it’s the person and they’re, it’s more holistic. Right. And what does that actually mean though, for employers?

Like what, what are the impacts or the changes that employers have to be thinking about with this kind of new unwritten contract that has emerged.

[00:08:05] Philip Romm: Yeah, it, it, it’s a couple of really, really key things and it’s, it’s a very different kind of conversation. It’s a conversation around, I’m not going to stay at this job, if it no longer fits my values, which was a very different conversation than I, I, I I’ve ever, ever heard in the workplace before. And, and people are taking and choosing jobs that fit along their values.

So employers now have to not only offer great pay, great benefits, all of those things that still drive the market, they have to make sure that their values are aligned to where their employees want to be and, and are. And by that, I mean, things like. If you say you are an eco-conscious culture, then you have to live being an echo conscious culture and do things like recycle coffee grinds.

If you have a, if you have a in-house office, if you have an in-house office. Do you have green space, in your office? Or do you, you know, do you use green energy? You know, do you yourself, as the CEO drive a hybrid car or are you showing up in your, you know, 10 mile to the gallon Hummer? And, and you know, those types of things, cuz that’s, what’s going to resonate with the current employees when they look at what the values are.

To match their values. As an example, you say you are a, remote based company, but if you have policies that say, everybody must live within one or two states in the United States, well then are you really a remote based company? Or are you just a kind, lets people work from home. And, and so there, there are, you know, conversations around that is happening all the time.

[00:09:44] Philip Romm: If you say, and I’d like to put it in this type of language, people now are valuing performance driven opportunity. So being measured based on output versus time and space and by time and space, I mean, things like showing up at an office, and, working nine to five Monday through Friday, that old sort of model, where they got a performance review once a year.

And they either, you know, were satisfactory or unsatisfactory. that’s no longer the case. They want outcome driven sort of metrics and outcome driven feedback. And they wanna be able to say no to the 6:00 PM meeting that interferes with some sort of life activity. Whether it’s parents, it’s it’s sports, whether it’s single individual, you know, whatever game time, or other types of things.

You know, ironically, I was reading an article this morning where the company drinks after work is now becoming an issue because individuals no longer wanna socialize in that manner. So companies that are looking to get workers back to work are struggling because companies don’t, individuals no longer value that as an activity.

[00:10:52] Philip Romm: So it’s a very values driven, kind of thing. And it’s, if you don’t meet my values, I’m not gonna work for you. So you have to find the values that attract to me.

[00:11:04] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. That’s, that’s fascinating. And I, I think that totally resonates, you know, the, the thought process that where my, where my mind’s going, you know, on this topic is. Is how, how is this different for different sizes of companies or in different industries? Right? So like you, you mentioned some things, especially related to like the in-office remote work.

You, you know, there are certain industries you think of, you know, a small plumbing business or HVAC or construction or restaurants or retail where, you know, they have to be on site. You can’t necessarily do a lot of that work remote. So how is this, what’s the change that’s happening if at all, in these types of businesses, right?

Or is this something that’s just happening in certain industries or segments of companies?

[00:11:53] Philip Romm: I think it certainly there’s a, a greater freedom in, say, professional services where some of this can be. Much more easily, documented and, and seen, in retail, manufacturing, warehousing, and physical space where you need to have people on site it’s significantly harder, but not impossible to, to, to do.

And where that sort of becomes, becomes, becomes seen in, in like an HVAC company or doctor’s office or warehouse is you have systems set up for flexible scheduling, shift sharing, shift swapping, right? Where that you have a technology process where instead of calling out for the day, I maybe swap my shift with a, a, a peer who does a similar job, that needs to now take off because of a sick child.

And, and so you could not go into overtime because you’re shift sharing. Or shift swapping or job sharing. I mean, we, we’ve all talked about these sorts of things for years, but now there are real opportunities to sort of bring them about, and the technology is readily available. And, and that was one of the limiting factors years ago was that there wasn’t a really effective way to send a text message out saying this shift is available.

[00:13:04] Philip Romm: Anybody wanna take it? Or I need to take this day. Can we swap a shift and, you know, I noticed you’re working this day. Can we, can we swap that shift and not have to have supervisory management sort of intervention on all of these very sort of day to day interactions that management probably doesn’t need to be involved in on a real basis that the employees can handle.

If you give them the autonomy responsibility, training and tools. so whereas, you know, it’s becomes something along those lines. In an HVAC or kind of retail situation, it’s about also having really great incentives and understanding that their that employees are gonna also need to call out and be out and things are going to happen.

And then not using that as a situation to text somebody on a Saturday night saying, you know, you must get your, your, your, your body into, into work or you’re going to be fired, right? Like, Those types of messages, just you, you aren’t resonating anymore and people are, are more and more are saying, okay, thanks very much goodbye.

You know, that message no longer scares the employee to come in. And, and so it’s about having opportunity autonomy,ability to, to, to do, to make decisions, even in a retail and, you know, more manufacturing type environment. That gives the employee the opportunity to sort of own their, their time and, and participate in this new unwritten contract.

[00:14:28] Garrett Jestice: That that totally resonates. I can definitely see how that’s the case. So, I mean, the next question that naturally comes to mind for me is how do these businesses, the employers figure out what their employees most value? I mean, You could simply go ask them. Right. And that’s probably where to start, but what other tips do you have in helping employers figure out what are those values?

Is it flexibility? Is it, this, is it that, does it vary very much? Or are there a core set of values that most employees care about today regardless of the company? Right? How do, how do employers figure that out so that they can then start to tailor, you know, their internal processes to the, those values?

[00:15:08] Philip Romm: Yeah. this is a great question. And I think that for for, for one, you know, survey certainly is a way, go ahead, ask a survey. I’m not always the, the biggest fan of surveys. You know, you get typically low response rates. You end up having to chase people. They tell you what you think they, you wanna hear.

So I’m not usually a big fan of surveys, but what you could do is you can create a bottom up movement. You could, you can simply have sort of town hall sessions, and it’s gotta be more than one and it’s gotta be transparent and it’s gotta be something where if somebody makes a bold suggestion, they don’t get their head chopped off the next day.

They can’t, you know, so that you have to encourage that kind of talk, where you simply just have forums where you’re asking the employees, we’re thinking about doing X, you know, what do you think? Would you find this to sort of be valuable? Or can let’s generate some ideas. And, and, you know, no ideas is, is, is too dumb.

[00:16:01] Philip Romm: Let’s moon shoot this, you know, give us sort of the, you know, what, what you’re gonna find valuable, understanding we can’t do them all, you know, and, and have a transparent open conversation and then do one or two pilot it for six months. See what the response is. See if it tracks and retains, individuals.

See if it see if it works. And if it works and you can expand it to make it a bigger. If it doesn’t work, then you could retrench and try something new. But I think if you start the conversation with the employees that we’re willing to meet your needs and develop what you think is going to be valuable within our set of, of values, which, you know, which ebb and flow over time. You know, they shouldn’t be concrete, you know, at so concrete that they can’t can’t be changed. 

Then you can find that the employees would be willing to sort of talk to you about it. One of the biggest things I’d say is the hiccups is leadership. Can’t do this without authenticity.

And they can’t do it without transparence. So if you’re just doing this to do it, employees will find that you’re fake and then they won’t participate. If you’re not transparent, employees will notice that as well. And if employees themselves find that they’re getting shown the door or loss of opportunity, or somehow because of a suggestion that they make, then that will also drive people back on to, to, to not participate further.

[00:17:22] Philip Romm: So there are a lot of things that you can do, and there’s some tips that you probably shouldn’t do. And, and, and sort of the help make a successful conversation.

[00:17:30] Garrett Jestice: I love the point about authenticity there because you know, the, the thing that I was really thinking about is I’m sure that there are. You know, small business owners, people in leadership who have lived through these different transitions of the changes of this employee, employer contract, right. Maybe they were raised and kind of started their career in that, you know, lifer situation before they started their own thing or something like that.

Right. And so I, I can imagine that for some of those people, it’s probably difficult to understand. Why are we doing this? And, and so for those people who might not initially just inherently get it right for those leaders, what would you say are the impacts for those businesses who don’t invest time doing these things authentically and transparently to really tailor the, to that new employee, employer contract.

[00:18:28] Philip Romm: Yeah, I think over time they will begin to see that they will lose out on the top talent. They will lose out on opportunities, to, to grow into new markets, into different markets, into, into into new things. And, and time has a way of passing these companies by, it’s an adapt or die mentality. And if you don’t start doing the, the hard adaptation work now, you know, it’s gonna become harder as the company moves along and gets into a potential, you know, dire, straits issue.

Everybody wants A players, in their company. But A players want to go work in a cultures, you know, A rated cultures and, and, and that fit and meet their values and needs. They don’t want to go work for Bs and Cs cultures. Right. So if you don’t wanna have the BS and C players, you you’ve gotta start having that a, a mentality.

[00:19:17] Philip Romm: And you have to do the adaptive change. You know, and, and, and that all starts, starts with some very hard conversations and it starts, you know, slowly this doesn’t have to be a radical, you know, one day your culture is this and the next day, your culture is that. But you have to start that process. Otherwise you’re just, it’s gonna adapt or die.

[00:19:36] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. So what other, what other advice would you give to, you know, especially a small business owner or the solo HR person who hears this message, sees the change and wants to start, that progress making that progress of changes at their company. What, what other advice would you give to them of like where to start.

[00:19:56] Philip Romm: Yeah, I would say that, that the thing I would say is, you know, kudos to you if you’re recognizing that you need to have this conversation. And, and I would say is, if you’re not ready to hold it yourself, or you don’t know where to begin, talk to someone like me, you know, talk to, other, other people that are in this space that can give you sort of that, that jumpstart, that starting point, that, that, that little bit of advice that sounding board, you don’t have to go it alone.

And, and, you know, there are, there are great books on this sort of topic, that give you some, some, some freedom to, to, to, to experiment. and you know, that’s an opportunity for you to sort of say, you know, how, how do I go about this? Where do I start? I don’t know what, I don’t know. and I’m gonna bring in and talk to an expert, and, and there, and, and that’s sort of a, you know, a way to do that.

[00:20:44] Philip Romm: And I hate the term expert. I, I much prefer some much prefer a term like, you know, advisor or, you know, a consultant type relationship because it isn’t about me giving you expertise. It’s about me being a sounding board for your ideas.

[00:20:58] Garrett Jestice: Right. Yeah. I think that’s a great point. So, wow, Phil, this has been an awesome conversation. I can definitely see how this is applicable for really any business out there. I mean, this is something that everyone’s facing right now with these changes that we’ve seen in the world. So thank you for joining and sharing some of that knowledge or expertise if you will, right with us today.

As we kind of wrap up here, one of the last questions I really like to ask a lot of our guests is what’s a commonly held belief, you know, regarding HR, among small businesses that you passionately disagree with. It may or may not be related to our topic today, but I’m curious like what your point of view is on something that really stands out as you’ve worked with all of these different businesses.

What’s that commonly held belief that you disagree with.

[00:21:40] Philip Romm: That we don’t need this, that we don’t need this level of sophistication that, we’re, we’re good. You know, that this doesn’t apply to us or, or any sort of, deviation of that sort of theme, because my answer is you, you will, and, and it will affect you. And if you wanna grow, these are types of things that you need to need to start to think about.

And you know, whether you’re the five person, you know, mom and pop main street firm, struggling to make your hires, or whether you’re the 50 person manufacturing firm in, in, in a regional sort of location. These all, you know, the sophistication matters, and people do notice, when, when some of this, when, when you start to listen to them. 

And so I would say that the, the thing that, that, that I, that bothers me the most is when companies don’t believe that they need to or can be sophisticated,

[00:22:29] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. Yeah. And I think you kind of hit on that earlier on that, you know, previously, maybe there weren’t the right tools or resources out there to support, especially these small businesses, but that’s no longer the case right? Like there, there, you can be sophisticated as a very small business with the right tools and resources and you have the, the, you can be nimble enough to make those pivots and changes, right.

[00:22:52] Philip Romm: Not only that and, and the, the, like the, the price points now are so relatively low per employee, you know, per, per, per employee, per month, that it makes almost not investing, you know, a long term issue. 

You know, I, I, I keep using this type of example where, if your employees are hired, you’re hiring, you’re going out, you’re hiring rock stars and you sit them down in, in office on day one with a stack of 30 pages of forms and a pen, you’ve got a problem. You know, that’s something that if you’re still doing that, That is a, that is a, a tremendous onboarding issue. And that is the first cultural step that this person is experiencing in your, in your company.

[00:23:36] Philip Romm: And, and you’ve basically just told them that you are antiquated, you know, and, and, and, and, and lack the resources or lack the investment. And don’t really care what they think or their, what their experiences have been. And you know, the funny thing is a lot of kids in school today aren’t even taught cursive or penmanship in any great strength.

So there’s gonna come a point in the next sort of generation or so where they’re not going to be able to fill out these forms. So at some point you were gonna have to, again, adapt or die. So the sophistication doesn’t have to be overly complex or overly expensive, but it does have to start.

[00:24:13] Garrett Jestice: Yeah, great point. Love it. Well, Phil, this has been an awesome conversation. If there are listeners who want to get contact with you either to learn more about the topic or learn more about working with you, what’s the best way for them to do that.

[00:24:25] Philip Romm: The best way is to contact me by email it’s Phil P H I L, HR hyphen elite.com.

[00:24:33] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. We will drop that in the show notes if you’re listening. And so you can find, that email address there, don’t have to worry about writing it down. Phil, thank you so much again for joining us today and we hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:24:44] Philip Romm: You too. Thank you, Garrett. Thank you everybody for listening.

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