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SHRM: Bouncing Back from Adversity

Posted by Debra Cope on May 1, 2021

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) outlined key lessons from COVID-19, citing AEE President Heather O’Neill on how the organization has adapted and attempted to maintain a positive workplace morale. Read snippets below and the full article here.

The COVID-19 crisis that disrupted life around the globe has brought into focus attributes that help individuals and organizations rebound from unexpected challenges...

The COVID-19 crisis that disrupted life around the world in 2020 has certainly been a litmus test of corporate resilience, even for companies whose products were suddenly in high demand. Here are some key lessons learned… 

Recognize that Little Things Add Up

Heather O'Neill, president of Advanced Energy Economy, a clean-energy business association with a staff of 40 based in Washington, D.C., found that many small, deliberate steps have helped her organization thrive through challenging times.

Most of the team was already working remotely when COVID-19 hit, so "our organizational culture didn't center on the physical office," O'Neill says. "We were already using Zoom and Slack."

For many employees, it was their home life that changed the most. Advocacy staff that was accustomed to traveling to state capitals, for example, had to adapt to performing education and advocacy work from home, often while balancing new demands such as supervising children during the workday and coping with isolation.

At the start of the crisis, the association gave every employee a week of paid leave to prepare for their new everyday realities. These days, O'Neill worries more about burnout, since working at home has made it harder to draw a bright line between work and home.

"It's incredibly important to step away and not be connected all the time," O'Neill says. She has led by example: She took time off to renew and refresh, and is vocal about the need to do so, even sharing vacation photos with her staff upon her return.

Don't Forget to Have Fun

The association has supported employees and helped them to persevere by being flexible and maintaining a sense of fun, O'Neill says. The mindset around the workday quickly loosened. "If they need to take chunks of time off and do work at odd times, that's OK," she says.

She also instituted regular communications to keep people feeling connected. Every week, Advanced Energy Economy publishes a "feel-good Friday" e-mail that lets employees share what they're doing to rejuvenate.

But a steady diet of isolation and Zoom meetings can get to even the most resilient employees, O'Neill says. She recently noticed an uptick in people snapping at each other. In response, she gave each employee a $50 wellness credit to use on anything that would buck them up, excluding alcohol. "It's not a life-changing amount, but people found the gesture meaningful," she says. One employee used the funds to create an indoor seed garden, another did an online tea tasting, and still another signed up for yoga online.

The association has encouraged team members to relax and play games during virtual lunches. And when the March Madness college basketball tournament was shut down in 2020, the organization's leaders declared Starch Madness instead, as employees went toe-to-toe over who had the best potato recipes, complete with bracket sheets to track the leaders. "People are still talking about it," O'Neill says.

And at a time when its members can't meet in person, the association has found a way to provide networking opportunities virtually. At the organization's quarterly business meetings, staff open the Zoom line 15 minutes early to give members a chance to mingle and catch up.

Where's the evidence that efforts to keep employees resilient and positive are working? Strong employee retention is one proof point, O'Neill says. Advanced Energy Economy also conducted a survey to ask employees what was and wasn't working. "They wanted us to keep that feel-good Friday rhythm," she says. "And they appreciated our emphasis on their safety."

When it comes to fostering resilience, the crisis has shown that "there isn't a silver bullet," O'Neill says. "It's about having a sense of humor and being flexible."

Read the full article here.

Topics: AEE In The News