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Mastering the flexible workplace at Pinterest

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. I hope you had a restful Memorial Day weekend. I enjoyed a nice respite from the city camping and rock climbing here.

Today: Allison Levitsky talks to Pinterest’s chief communications officer about the company’s flexible work plan, geographical pay and how she communicates bad news to employees. Plus, Amber Burton on the rise of executive coaching and a new survey on why Americans are now working to live, as opposed to living to work.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

Stop trying to make bad news sound like good news

LeMia Jenkins Thompson’s PR career has spanned, well, America: She’s worked in comms on Capitol Hill, in the casino industry and at Walmart. For the last two years, she’s been at Pinterest, where she is currently chief communications officer as the company combats climate misinformation, expands into ecommerce and solidifies its flexible-work future. I spoke with her about Pinterest’s new flexible work plans, relocating during COVID-19 and what she’s learned over the years about sharing bad news.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What was your strategy for gauging what people wanted and what would work for the company?

We spent a lot of time just having anecdotal conversations, but also really understanding employee needs, what’s important to them. If you look at every life cycle of an employee, there’s different needs at different times. When I was in D.C. and wanted to be around my colleagues all the time, that was a specific need. [Now] I’m at a different space in my career, and I wish I’d had the ability to choose that throughout my career.

Offering employees that flexibility is really important, and just hearing their feedback to understand: What’s important to you? What consistency do you need, and what excites you? We noticed that folks were relocating during COVID, so if they wanted to stay in that location, we don’t necessarily want to bring them back. They can choose to stay there, and obviously we’ll pay according to the location. I think it’s been really great for employees, and the feedback has been relatively positive.

What have you learned in your career about communicating unpopular decisions or delivering bad news to employees?

I’ve had a lot of crisis experience working in the gaming industry, working in the retail space. I think the thing that people are craving during bad news is: How does this affect me, and what is the simplest way you can say it? I think sometimes when companies are delivering bad news, they try to make it seem like good news, and I think being as direct as you can, like: This is not great, but this is why we’re doing it. As communicators, being as transparent as possible and as simple as possible is always the best impact.

Even back from my political days, I worked for a member of Congress from Mississippi. Most of the people in that district were at a second- or third-grade reading level. I was in grad school, I was getting my master’s and I was all in the books, trying to prove how smart I am and how amazing I am. The member of Congress reads [my writing] and he says, “Most people in my district can’t read this.”

That was the moment in my life that was so impactful in all of my communication: You really have to think about the audience first, and how do you formulate your communications to really reach that audience and meet them where they are.

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

Executive coaching for all

It used to be that executive coaching was something that only CEO contenders and top brass could afford. That may be changing, according to new reporting from my colleague Amber Burton. Companies are hungry for new and creative ways to retain and recruit employees, and some are increasingly turning to coaching startups and services focused on career advancement as well as mental and emotional well-being. One of these startups is expected to deliver about 250,000 coaching sessions in 86 countries this year alone. These coaching services have also skyrocketed since the pandemic began, as telehealth became more accessible. “There are so many great people out there that do not really stand a chance unless they get help,” one coach told Burton.

Read the full story.


Hybrid work success looks different depending on who you ask. Your company is made up of a cast of players, each with a role critical to a competitive and thriving business, and with an eye on their North Star: employee happiness. How do you appease all those stakeholders?

Learn more

Today's tips & tools

I started reading “Digital Minimalism” on the recommendation of WSJ tech columnist Christopher Mims, and one of the most helpful tips in the book that Mims also points to is “going for a completely phone-free walk, alone, for at least 15 minutes a day. No music. No podcasts. No distractions at all.”

It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s a great and simple way to get the creative juices flowing and do some uninterrupted, deep thinking.

By the numbers

It’s kind of a worldwide joke that Americans live to work, but that may be changing thanks to remote work, according to a new report on remote work habits from automation platform Zapier.

  • 66% of Americans surveyed agree that remote work has given them the flexibility to attend to family life. 96% of them associate work-life balance with happiness at work.
  • 61% said that they would quit their current jobs for a fully remote position. That rises to 100% for respondents between 18 and 24.
  • Working remotely has also allowed respondents to improve their savings (61%) and has boosted their morale (62%).

More stories from us

In tech job market news:

Microsoft is the latest giant to slow hiring, and Paypal is laying off employees in risk management and operations. The company said cutting staff would save the company $260 million a year.

Amazon defeated all 15 shareholder proposals at its annual meeting. This is a loss for workers and activists who were pushing to improve warehouse safety and human rights.


Apple is raising pay and sending an anti-union message. Its VP of Retail also sent a stern anti-union warning to workers: “I worry about what it would mean to put another organization in the middle of our relationship.”

DoorDash posted its first diversity report. (Not to be confused with its first ESG report last month.) Underrepresented people of color comprise 11% of the DoorDash leadership team, but diversity in tech roles still lags.


Rightsizing, where each meeting space is outfitted for a specific purpose, is top of mind for facilities pros. Reconfiguring rooms to support new hybrid work schedules enables personalization and a safe return to the office. Understanding how employees will use spaces as they come back will be critical for success.

Learn more

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

What’s happening right now to tech stocks isn’t cyclical. In fact, it’s well-earned and long overdue.

An inside look at Microsoft’s toxic corporate culture, where “golden boy” execs are still running wild, eight years after the company vowed to make the culture more inclusive.

Here’s another sign the tides are shifting for once high-flying startups: As the market sours, Substack is dropping its fundraising efforts.

Hybrid work schedules might mean more sleeping in on work-from-home days. Unfortunately, that might be doing you more harm than good when it comes to performance and work relationships.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great day, see you Thursday.

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