HR Roundtable Part 3: Helping Your HR Team Survive COVID-19

HR Roundtable Part 3: Helping Your HR Team Survive COVID-19

By Jennifer Gladstone

Most of us have probably ordered more than our fair share of pizza over the last few months!

We have been able to access our favorite comfort food because companies like LaRosa’s Pizzeria kept their doors open and their employees on the job while so many of us hunkered down at home. 

Steve Browne

In Part 3 of our series, Helping Your HR Staff Survive COVID-19, we learn from a regional chain that has to look out for team members who don’t just have to come into work, they have to interact with the public.

Steve Browne is a very familiar face for SHRM members. He is on their Board of Directors, runs a monthly HR Roundtable, hosts raucous convention sessions, and has authored two books. For his day job, Steve is the VP of Human Resources of LaRosa’s, Inc., a Pizzeria chain with 12 locations in Ohio and Indiana.

EBI: What kinds of challenges has your organization faced during COVID-19?

Steve: COVID-19 has forced our company to be more agile than we were in the past. We have been called upon to change on an on-going basis based on ever changing government regulations. Also, each potential case is unique because of the team member, the location where they work and the Board of Health you work with.

There is little overall consistency, so it has made us come together for more cooperation and collaboration across the entire organization. We have been an essential function since the pandemic began because we’re a restaurant company. So, we’ve been in business the entire time.

EBI: How much additional strain has been put on your HR department?

Steve: The biggest challenge we’ve seen is the emotional strain everyone is under. These emotions have probably been present all the time, but they’re coming out now. The level of stress, uncertainty and anxiety is palpable.

As an HR department, we need to remain unflappable in every situation we address and also provide a safe haven for employees to work with. Working remotely both as a department, and as a corporate office, has taken some time to become normal. However, it hasn’t been an obstacle. We’ve assumed positive intent that people are working and haven’t added additional policies to “address” things.

EBI: When it comes to return-to-work plans – how much of this falls on the HR department and how has that been going?

Steve: This has been more seamless than you’d think. We have safety measures posted and communicated to all staff and have PPE stations set up throughout the office.

Since we’ve been active and fully in business the entire year, our response hasn’t been as dramatic as other organizations. The key to all the work in front of us is to remain open minded and flexible. We are considering each person’s personal needs, family care demands and level of comfort regarding when, and whether, they return to the office.

EBI: Has your organization turned to automation during the pandemic? If so, what did types of products are you using and how are they helping?

Steve: Like most we’ve gone to virtual meetings using Zoom. This platform has allowed us to work at any time and to gather at a moment’s notice without having to get to a designated meeting room. Zoom has also allowed us to connect with all of our remote locations and franchise ownership. It’s been a great communication method.

EBI: What has it been like for you personally to deal with all of this? How do you care for the people whose job it is to care for everyone else?

Steve: It’s been a mix of ups and downs emotionally for me. There are times when you want to scream and times when you’re flat exhausted. I’ve been trying to take time for myself to do non-work items, and I’m trying not to get swallowed by the news cycle.

To “cope” with things, I check in with other HR peers outside my organization. I have a very broad, strong network that I can talk to daily. This helps keeps me encouraged and balanced.

I think it’s key to check in with my HR peers because many don’t have connections and a network themselves. I make it a point to be a connector to ensure they have at least one person in their corner.

EBI: What advice can you offer to other HR managers, or even HR teams of one?

Steve: I would give people two pieces of advice regardless of the size of their department. The first one is quit trying to do all of HR on your own like a martyr. You must establish a network of your peers! You can do this through events, social media forums and reaching out intentionally. People want to help each other and be a resource for each other. You’re not imposing, you’re connecting.

Secondly, quit implementing over-arching policies across the organization. Great HR is practiced one-on-one and case-by-case. When you issue comprehensive policies, you are most likely addressing the exceptions that fall outside the norm. Give people parameters to work within and be flexible and agile as this environment has taught us. When you feel that rigid control is the goal, you’re not focusing on performance, you’re focusing on arbitrary conformity and compliance.

People want to do good work and perform. Equip them to do so.

Even though we expect people to perform, they may wander a bit and go outside the parameters you set. If that happens, coach them up instead of trying to “correct” them through discipline. Most companies jump straight to discipline instead of investing time to coach and develop people. If the coaching doesn’t work and a person continues to work outside performance parameters, then you may have to address that situation further up to termination.

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As always, we want you to know you’re not alone in this new normal. Our goal at EBI is to advocate for your business goals and provide useful tools, knowledge, and tips to help propel your business forward.

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About the Author

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone

Jennifer Gladstone is a news anchor and journalist with more than 20 years of experience in front of the camera. She's worked in several markets, large and small, and has performed nearly every task needed in a newsroom. As EBI’s Screening News Editor, she keeps EBI’s customers and blog subscribers up to date on the latest screening news and legislative alerts affecting companies of all sizes.

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