The importance of a values-based approach #HRtogether

Based in Alberta, Canada, Rob Caswell is Manager, Employee & Labour Relations for Carewest Innovative Healthcare.

Our people team is still getting used to their change of scenery.  Our organization consists of 13 public continuing care sites, and our HR Business Partners especially were used to spending a lot of time at these.  So whilst I am used to not seeing them in the office, it used to be because they were meeting with managers, staff, and union partners on complex issues.  Or just for a check-in, nurturing the relationships they had built.  Now it is because they have been working solely from home since March 16, making their way through technology, working space, and being adaptable to support clients and staff under the new restrictions.

It all went fairly quick, which set the pace for our entire response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the space of four hours on March 12, we went from talking about limiting how many sites we visited in a day to sending everyone remote.  Two of my team members were overseas and we were contacting them to let them know about mandatory self-isolation when they returned to Canada - and hoping their planes would still get them home.

 Adapting the way we work

It wasn’t just where people were working that changed for us.  The vast majority of our staff were still at our facilities, providing care to our clients and residents, and their work was becoming increasingly complex.  Outbreak protocols necessitated staffing increases.  All absences had to go through our Employee Health & Safety group for assessment, to determine if there was a possible relation to COVID-19.  Policy and procedure from Public Health changed frequently as they learned more about the virus.  Staff and unions needed communication.  Under more normal circumstances, teams would have been deployed on-site to assist.  In this circumstance, we had to change how we did the work, and make sure it worked for those we were supporting.

I am so impressed and proud of how quickly our people team rose to this challenge, demonstrating great resilience and creativity in how to provide the level of support the organization was used to, and deserved to have.  We quickly designed and deployed a new recruitment process to rapidly hire contingent staff.  We setup employment investigations through telehealth / videoconference, connecting unions for remote representation.  We took the lead on staff redeployments.  We called employees when schools were suddenly closed to ensure staff had child care arrangements, and advocated for emergency paid leave for those who did not.  We sought out opportunities to take work out of the hands of managers so they could focus on their people and resident care - even if it was not “HR work”.

Creating a Pandemic Response Team 

As an HR team, we were instrumental in the launch of our Pandemic Response Team, which consists of operational leadership and corporate supports.  With nearly every operational issue having a people impact, this gave the organization oversight and connection between issues so as one team, we could help prioritize the needs of the organization and provide consistent, timely responses.  Much of this has included working outside the typical HR space, leaning into the flexibility our team continues to demonstrate.

 Looking out for staff wellbeing

Even with all that flexibility and resilience, we also needed to take time to care for our team.  Daily ‘Zoom’ calls range the spectrum from what is on the docket today, to sharing stories and cracking jokes.  Staff at home are encouraged to step away and into the sunshine when they can.  We recognize that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and when we stumble the rest of the team will pick us up.  As proud as I am of how our team has responded, everyone is still dealing with their own loss of routine, anxiety, and wonder about what a return to “normal” may look like.  As a leader, with my own team and in the organization, a social call to talk about something other than the virus goes a long way.

 The importance of a value based approach

While this may seem like a story of a great team that sprang into action − which is true − the underlying thrust has been in our values.  We have had to make a lot of quick decisions without the benefit of all the information we would normally have.  Our guidepost on those decisions have been our shared values (caring, responsibility, learning, relationships).  If the outcome did not match our values, then it was not going to be the right decision.  This has allowed us to move forward aligned with each other, and with confidence that we are headed in the right direction.

When I look at other organizations, big or small, and how well they have responded, it comes back to values-based leadership.  The pandemic has acted as a spark for innovation; it has also shown whether the values published on the annual report were rooted deep enough to withstand these unprecedented times.

The work people teams are doing right now is seen from the front-line to the boardroom.  To all of the people practitioners working hard to support their organizations, may you find comfort in your values, may you believe in the leadership you provide, and may we all emerge stronger as a profession.  On this International HR Day, remember your impact.

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