Labor Day’s origins may date back to 19th century unions and laborers, but the holiday has evolved to celebrate the contributions of all types of workers. In this Recruiter Intel Spotlight, Executive Senior Partner Cindy Comisky explains the holiday’s relevance within HR, and shares insights to fuel your team’s peak performance during the pandemic:
Mandy Wittschen: Hello and welcome to Lucas Group’s Recruiter Intel Spotlight. My name is Mandy Wittschen, and today I’m joined by Cindy Comisky, Executive Senior Partner with Lucas Group. Hi, Cindy. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Cindy Comisky: Thank you for having me.
Mandy: Today’s topic is helping your HR team perform at their peak during COVID-19. And this is certainly a hot topic. But before we dive into today’s discussion, if you would, Cindy, tell me a little bit about your background, your area of expertise, and your current role with Lucas Group.
Cindy: Sure. My background is actually in organizational development, so I was doing OD consulting for some of the Fortune 500 organizations here in the Atlanta area before I got into recruiting through a boutique management consulting firm. I got into recruiting about five years ago with Lucas Group, and I’m currently an Executive Senior Partner. So as part of my role, I am acquiring and managing client accounts, but I’m also placing HR professionals as well.
Mandy: So you see both sides of the desk there.
Cindy: That’s right.
Mandy: Perfect. Thank you. And I’m really glad that you chose this topic for today’s discussion. It’s a perfect one because of the Labor Day holiday coming up, as well as a lot of the current workforce challenges that most employers are dealing with right now. And I don’t think that I need to list them. I think we understand them very much. But let’s talk first about the historical significance of Labor Day. As a child, I always remember looking forward to it because it meant a day off of school.
But it means a little bit more than that. If you would, tell us what this holiday is all about and why it’s still relevant today.
Cindy: Sure. And I think we’ve all seen those movies that take place in the late 1800s, where people are working in more manufacturing or industrial-type conditions. They’re working 12 hour, 14 hour, 16 hour shifts. There’s no safety equipment. You’ve got kids that are working as young as five years old. It’s kind of crazy when we think about it today.
But back in the day, there were a lot of movements that were started by both unions and laborers themselves who wanted to get better conditions for their work. So back in 1894, a bill was signed into law in order to celebrate the contributions of laborers nationally, basically.
And I think it’s still relevant today. We’ve come a very long way, certainly, but I think that from an HR perspective, we are still fighting for that employee. We still want to have better conditions, and there’s still some things to work on.
I know many of us these days are not necessarily working in an industrial setting. We might be in the office or working at home right now. But sometimes, even working from home, you’re still working 12 hour days because you don’t turn it off. You don’t get up and leave and battle rush hour traffic. So I think our issues and challenges today just look a little bit different, but by all means, we still need labor to be organized in a way that makes sense for the employee and supports the employee.
Mandy: Absolutely. And as you described, Labor Day is a holiday that’s all about celebrating the contributions of all types of employees. Its roots, like you said, go back to manual labor, but also now it includes all different types of workers from HR professionals, which is your area of expertise, to professionals and executives.
So what can HR leaders do right now to keep teams engaged during the pandemic?
Cindy: Communication is going to be key here. Ultimately, this is nothing groundbreaking or earth shattering. I think we’ve all done the Zoom happy hours, which I love. But I think, certainly, if they’re not already doing it, make sure that your C suite, and in particular, your CEO is communicating with the greater employee base, whether that’s through a quarterly town hall or maybe a biweekly email kind of “state of the business” type of a thing. I think it’s important to hear from the leaders of the business and understand what their priorities are, and what they’re working on. Ultimately, the worker is probably going to think up the worst case scenario in their mind when there is a lack of communication. So making sure that we are still communicating.
I’ve also got some HR professionals that are including leaders of the business in their team meetings or their team calls or whatever that looks like right now. And that does two things. I think it helps remind an HR professional, you know what? I am a cog in this bigger wheel. I fit into this and here’s how.
But I also think a lot of HR professionals working from home right now, they’re feeling a little disconnected from the business because they’re not working with the business day in and day out in the same way, hands on, that they were prior to COVID. So I think it’s also that kind of connection that they’re getting from the business that helps remind you of who you are and why you’re doing this.
Mandy: Do you have any examples or anecdotes of great communication that you’ve seen by an HR leader that might be helpful?
Cindy: I’m so glad you asked that, Mandy.
So I have one client who has been conducting one-on-ones. And I would say my call to action, for sure, if you’re not already conducting one-on-ones with everybody that reports up into you, this guy does it for 60 people on his team. Make sure that you’re setting whatever cadence makes sense for you to do that.
What he does is he talks through three different questions with each person that he’s talking to. They are, what are you working on? How can I help you? And then how do you feel? So it does get a little bit more personal. And I think that that’s okay right now. Ultimately, when he started implementing this, after the fact, he basically got the highest level of engagement scores in the entire company. And we’re talking a very large global organization here. So it’s pretty significant.
And I think we need to give employees a lot of grace right now. The world is very heavy. People have family members that are succumbing to this illness, and they can’t be with them. A lot of people are going through financial issues right now. It’s tough to be an HR professional in an environment where you are the sounding board for everybody. You need to be a strong person. So I think it’s okay to have one-on-ones and to really, truly see your team member as they are, as a whole human, understanding that it’s not just work-related all the time. You’re not just a number to us. We actually value you as an entire employee. So that’s important too. Getting personal is not always a bad thing in this case.
Mandy: And they’re three very simple questions. They’re very human questions, like you said, and people do bring their whole selves to work. So I understand the importance there. Thank you for sharing that example.
Aside from keeping the HR team engaged in a remote environment, as many of us are working from now, what more can an HR leader do to develop and grow their team right now?
Cindy: That’s a really good question because this is an area that I’m actually kind of concerned about in the HR field. We’ve got a lot of companies right now that are deciding to use their resources, not for the growth and development of their employees, but towards other things to keep the business going. So I can understand if we can’t all provide that formal growth and development that we once did.
But keep in mind, your top talent is going to want to know what their place is in growing and learning more and developing themselves. And if you’re not giving them an outlet for doing that internally, they’re going to go externally and find somebody else that does do it for them. So just keep in mind, if you can’t do something formal right now, try to be creative, figure out a way you can do that informally.
So some ideas, and these aren’t going to work for everybody. It depends on the size of team you have, and many, many other factors. But an HR shadowing program, if someone raises their hand and says, I want to learn more about HR information systems, let them be on that team’s call as a fly on the wall so that they can learn more about it. And it may not be a formal, here’s your way to get into this role one day. But if anything, I think the benefit of that is the employee is going to feel like, you know what, they’re doing something for me to allow me to learn and grow. And that’s what we’re trying to hit on right now.
Another example, if you don’t already have an HR mentoring program internally, make sure to turn that on. And then finally, because of the whole focus on wellbeing right now, see if anyone wants to create a training or coordinate a speaker to come in on things like financial wellness, on meditation, whatever works to help employees feel like they’re avoiding burnout a little bit more because that’s a big issue these days.
Mandy: Right. And even though we are in a pandemic, your top performers don’t want to hit the pause button on their career success.
Cindy: No. Not at all. They’re thinking, what’s in it for me? So that needs to be what’s at the forefront of your mind too. And to make sure that you’re focused on retaining them and then keeping their engagement levels high too.
Mandy: It probably just takes a little bit of creativity with these distance challenges and people working virtually to really sort of embrace technology, I would think, and make it work for you, because if you are having a Zoom meeting or a Teams meeting, you can invite another person to be a fly on the wall and just have them get into the mix, even if they’re not all in the same room together.
Cindy: And that doesn’t cost you anything. Of course, it costs you time, which I do want to call out. I understand the difference. But by all means, you’re not paying to send this person to a formal classroom-based setting. You’re telling them to read books, things like that. You can get creative with how to grow and develop somebody. And again, it’s more the act of saying, hey, I value you as an employee, and I want to do what’s best for you, which, if you’re showing an interest in this, we want to make sure that we don’t extinguish that flame.
Mandy: Makes sense. And then finally, I know from my own recent experience, how challenging it has been to keep teams focused on performance. We’ve been in firefighting mode, it seems like, for a long time now. But we need to keep our eye on performance and measuring it and keeping it on track. But during a time when so many of us are working virtually and stress levels are high, how should HR leaders keep their teams focused on the job?
Cindy: I think there’s so many distractions right now. So certainly, that’s something that can get in the way. But believe it or not, a lot of the HR professionals that I’m talking to, they feel like I have purpose. HR is really at the helm right now. This is a people issue. So the good news is, I think that there are a lot of HR professionals out there that feel that sense of drive, that sense of purpose. And they are more connected than ever and focused on the end goal for HR.
I do think that, certainly, on the other side of that, we do have to, where we can, think about allowing for mental health days. Make sure that your team doesn’t get so burnt out because, again, they are that sounding board for other employees, and that can weigh very heavily on someone. If you can take off early on a Friday, those are some things that I’m seeing implemented now to kind of avoid that burnout from an HR perspective.
But I think in terms of, if you feel like your team is not focused on the business goal, and you need to kind of get control of that, think through, if you haven’t already, do a daily touch point with the team. Or maybe it’s not daily, maybe it’s three times a week, whatever cadence works for you. But make sure that you’re specifically only talking about what’s on everybody’s priority list, have any priorities changed, where do people need support, and kind of make it that very quick, I would say stand up meeting, but many of us are remote now. So if you want to stand, I guess you could. But that would be a way that I would get my team to focus on the job at hand. Granted that’s a business-based meeting, and I think the one-on-ones are going to be more personal. That’d be my recommendation.
Mandy: These have been some great insights that you’ve shared today. And I’d like to thank you very much for your time. And if anyone who’s watching would like to learn more about Lucas Group or to get in touch with Cindy, we’ll be adding information at the end of this video.
On behalf of Lucas Group, thank you very much for watching. And thank you, Cindy.
Cindy: Thank you, Mandy. I appreciate it. Thanks for watching, everyone.
Do you have questions about your career? Have you thought about working with a recruiter? Leave a comment in the fields below.