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The secrets of staffing up in an ‘understaffed’ industry

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter where we share the latest tips, tools and insights to help you stay informed about the modern tech office. Today: Solving the understaffing issue, salary transparency, and the state of mental health at work.

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—Amber Burton, Reporter (twitter | email)

The Big Picture

Sounds like a workplace problem

It's been another week where Facebook took over a chunk of the news cycle. I myself (and all my good friends on Twitter) spent a significant amount of time dissecting every morsel of information offered by whistleblower Frances Haugen about the inner workings of the social platform. But of all of the statements published over and over again, what stood out to me was the workplace issue at the heart of it all. Haugen shared that Facebook faces a vicious cycle of understaffing and the resulting problems that ensue. According to Haugen:

  • "Facebook is stuck in a cycle where it struggles to hire. That causes it to understaff projects, which causes scandals, which then makes it harder to hire."

Facebook aside, the challenge of securing and retaining enough good tech talent in the industry is far from new. It's only become more critical during the pandemic. In fact, some companies wouldn't call the problem understaffing at all — it's a downright scramble for talent.

Protocol spoke with two companies that focus on growth to ask how they're staffing up and retaining top tech talent right now. They also shared strategies that have made hiring just a little bit easier in a competitive labor market.

Leading with purpose and a strong mission is the strategy at Honor Technology, Inc., a tech platform that connects families to senior care professionals. The company recently secured $370 million in financing and is in the midst of staffing up its technical teams. Co-founder and CEO Seth Sternberg said he's noticed more people in tech seeking work with a higher social impact.

  • Leveraging a different value proposition for potential employees has become key for them in a competitive labor market. Honor's leadership stresses the advantages of working on meaningful features that affect humans and their respective care, rather than leading with benefits and the competitive salary (although they assure that's there, too).
  • Sternberg attributes their high retention rate of three and a half years to seeking "mission-motivated" people during the interview process: "It can't just be that you are mission-oriented and that you have a good culture. It also has to be that you actually are hiring people who are truly mission-motivated," he said.
  • Quality over quantity has become the focus rather than the notion of being understaffed — especially when people's lives are at stake. "Anyone who says they're not understaffed compared to what they want is not telling the truth," Sternberg told Protocol. "There are two ways you can approach that: You can either try to pump out the same amount of product, but the quality will be lower. Or you can reduce the amount of stuff that you worked on, but keep the quality bar high. We literally work in a world where it's humans' lives [at stake]… so we keep the quality bar high. We might not be able to write as many features as we want to, but we pay attention to doing it right."

Payroll, HR and benefits platform Gusto also focuses on mission in its interview process. Gusto conducts a "values and motivations" interview with every candidate, ranging from entry level to board of directors.

  • "If you're going to be a part of Gusto, we want to authentically understand who you are, what makes you tick. We want to be transparent in who we are and what makes us tick, and the mission, the values that we're trying to uphold as we continue to move forward," Emil Yeargin, Gusto's head of talent, told Protocol.

Gusto also recommends meeting employees where they are with authenticity and alignment.

  • "I think values and mission alignment is really, really important to folks. And they really want to go to places where it's truly in your DNA, not just talking points," said Bernard Coleman, chief diversity and engagement officer at Gusto.

Last, providing benefits that employees actually want and need. Yeargin told Protocol that this is a way Gusto empowers its employees to be their best selves and do their best work.

  • The company has a hybrid work model that allows people to choose between a flex schedule, being in-office or working totally remote.
  • Gusto has adopted an "a la carte" perks program in which employees can choose what perks they want. They're given accounts with funds they can use on anything from financial coaching and work-from-home snacks to sleep-coaching for a new baby.

Work Spot

Men are telling women what they get paid

Even though the gender pay gap in tech is well documented and well known (men in tech still make 3% more on average than women), pay discussion among colleagues remains taboo for some. The difference in who shares their salary and who doesn't is often generational — 50% of millennials, compared to 41% of older generations, said they believe it's important to talk openly about finances, according to a 2020 report by Klarna. Not only is salary transparency generational, but it can be gendered as well. Women have been known to share their salaries with each other through whisper networks. But sharing with other women can only be so helpful when they are also being underpaid, software engineer Lauren Hasson to'd Protocol. Many women have found when men speak up and share how much they make it can cause real change.

Read the full story here and follow Protocol's Salary Series for more stories about what happens when workers in tech start sharing their compensation.


Create a more confident workplace with Envoy's proof of vaccination. Comply with federal mandates and provide a work environment that employees trust to keep them safe. Employees upload proof of vaccination for a company admin to verify before they arrive on-site.

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Today's Tips & Tools

This week's testimony from Facebook's whistleblower spotlighted the effectiveness of working with a whistleblower agency to develop a concrete plan. The risk of calling out a company and bringing it to account comes with so much complexity, and it might not be the right choice for everyone. For this reason, several whistleblower support agencies, alongside Pinterest whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma, have developed a site called "The Tech Worker Handbook."

  • What it does: The handbook consists of four guides covering legal, media, security and stories. Ozoma has made it clear when speaking about the handbook that it is not a bunch of "how-tos" for bringing a company down, but rather a resource for being prepared. Each guide includes detailed processes, terms and risks authored by various organizations in the whistleblowing space.
  • The goal: To both help potential whistleblowers more critically evaluate the risk of speaking up and show them what they can expect if they do. The creators hope the guidebook will help people feel less isolated and encourage workers to reach out to the involved organizations if they need additional support.

By the Numbers

The impact of wellness initiatives at work

Oct. 10 marks World Mental Health Day, and for people in the corporate world it's a time when companies launch new wellness initiatives and take stock of how their employees are faring. Earlier this year, research firm Forrester took a closer look at the impact of these workplace wellness initiatives. The report, which surveyed both leadership and employees, found the amount of perceived support did not match up.

  • According to Forrester, 94% of organizations say mental health is a large part of their corporate wellness strategy, but only 31% reported that they assessed the amount of value their mental health initiatives has on employees last year.
  • Only 14% of the companies surveyed measured the actual ROI of investing in mental health services for their workers.
  • Last, it was reported that only 26% of firms have a mental health solution focused on reaching silent sufferers at work, an issue that often leads to health risks and retention challenges.


Create a more confident workplace with Envoy's proof of vaccination. Comply with federal mandates and provide a work environment that employees trust to keep them safe. Employees upload proof of vaccination for a company admin to verify before they arrive on-site.

Learn more

Around the Internet

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

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

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