With Labor Day weekend behind us now and millions of American employees beginning a fresh work week, Ann Mukherjee, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America, is taking a determined stand on the “return to office” issue.
“As the leader of a spirits company, you might think I can hardly wait for the return of the office happy hour,” Mukherjee wrote in a LinkedIn post that went live on Sept. 6, 2022, at 10 a.m. FOX Business was shown a preview of her remarks and also engaged with her via email about the issue.
Mukherjee added in her piece, “But would you be surprised to hear me say that it’s not actually about that?”
The CEO explained that during a panel discussion that took place this summer, she “came face-to-face with a question that has consumed most of the business leaders that I know: Will workers return to offices this fall?”
She explained that “at Pernod Ricard North America, we are choosing a hybrid approach” in terms of addressing the great “back to office or not” question that’s been circulating.
The company, she said, is “asking employees to spend at least 40% of their time in one of our offices and to do so in an intentional way.”
“The magic that is created when individuals come together is why we do what we do. It’s that magic that fuels creativity: the ability to problem-solve, to innovate and to lift our business and one another higher.”
“As a business,” she explained, “we exist to unlock the magic of human connection — and while sometimes that means over a drink, it also means every big and small moment of collaboration, partnership and togetherness.”
Mukherjee said previously that returning to the office “won’t work if it’s just based on free sandwiches and yoga classes.” In response to a question from FOX Business on that point, she explained further.
“What employees now consider a ‘benefit’ has shifted,” she told FOX Business. “Sure, free lunches and happy hours serve a purpose — but what do people really want? Respect for the employee to know when being in person makes sense for their professional and personal growth.”
She added, “It’s a flexible mindset that I call returning to the office with purpose. We have proven that we can work remotely, but there is no substitute for in-person engagement.”
“The task at hand is about finding a new kind of balance and I believe that employers need to get behind this if they want to grow and retain their workforce in the years to come.”
“The task at hand,” she also told FOX Business, “is now about finding a new kind of balance and I believe that employers need to get behind this if they want to grow and retain their workforce in the years to come.”
In her LinkedIn post, she also said, “The magic that is created when individuals come together is why we do what we do. It’s that magic that fuels creativity: the ability to problem-solve, to innovate and to lift our business and one another higher.”
Mukherjee added, “Connectivity is what unleashes each of us.”
She then detailed how the company, amid the pandemic, “doubled down on how we continue to help our employees thrive professionally and personally, with leadership coaching, one-on-one time with our top leaders and additional wellness days on top of PTO” (paid time off).
“While these innovations have played a vital role in moving our business forward, it became clear that a fully virtual model was not going to be sustainable long-term.”
She explained, “While so many factors have played into the ‘return to office’ decision for each business leader, for myself as the only woman and person of color to serve as the CEO of a major spirits company, this leadership issue weighs on me for a very specific reason.”
She said that during that same panel discussion over the summer, someone asked, “What if women and people of difference fail to return to the office in strong numbers? Does that mean we lose so many of the gains we have won?”
Murherjee addressed it this way: “My own effort to lead people back to the office has taken on an additional purpose: to ensure we do so without risking the diversity, inclusion and equity gains that so many workplaces, like ours, continue to fight for. We must return with presence and purpose.”
“An inclusive and equitable balance should also involve consistent ground rules that apply to everyone, irrespective of seniority.”
She said it all “starts with clear expectations and intents. Reporting to work to only dial into Zoom calls that we could have taken from home doesn’t show respect for employees’ time,” she wrote in her LinkedIn post.
Instead, “the expectation ought to be that the workplace — for all employees — is for moments that matter, inclusively and impactfully. An inclusive and equitable balance should also involve consistent ground rules that apply to everyone, irrespective of seniority.”
She said that at her company, Pernod Ricard, “we’ve asked that employees spend at least 40% of their time in an office — but the rest is up to them. They will choose when they come in, for what purpose and when it may actually benefit them more to be home.”
On this point, she told FOX Business that flexibility is stressed for employees: “Some people may want to come in each week, or perhaps group their days toward the beginning of the month and let the rest be remote. We’ve been very clear in all our return-to-office conversations that we have many options.”
“When you meet employees where they are with respect to their anxieties, you are … seeing them as their whole selves.”
In her LinkedIn post, she noted that there is “trust” in colleagues “to make those decisions that work best for their lives.”
“When you meet employees where they are with respect to their anxieties, you are respecting and seeing them as their whole selves. They want office leaders who can empathize with their concerns, without judgment of their hybrid working needs.”
She added, “Without such empathy, we risk the formation of workplace dynamics that work counter to inclusion and culture-building, simply for failure of listening.”
She also said she wants a “brave new future” workplace that “works for everyone.”
She added, “I believe in the magic that occurs when colleagues, by happenstance, meet in hallways, rally around ideas and make the possible happen, occasionally, over a cocktail.”
She said she’s also looking forward to “seeing almost our entire North American team at our first all hands meeting in seven years in Las Vegas” in the week ahead.
“I hope this to be the first of many in-person events,” she concluded. “That is my happy hour.”
Ann Mukherjee joined Pernod Ricard in December 2019 as Pernod Ricard North America’s chairman and CEO. Prior to that, she was at S.C. Johnson and Company, serving as its first-ever global chief marketing officer and, later, global chief commercial officer, according to company information provided to FOX Business.
She previously worked for a decade at PepsiCo. As CMO for Frito-Lay North America, she created a mantra of “Transform Tomorrow Today” and oversaw the multiyear Crash the Super Bowl campaign, which aired fan-made ads in “a radical first” for the advertising business.