What Are You Thankful For?

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek November 24, 2021
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Happy Thanksgiving

​The Thanksgiving holiday, coming up Nov. 25, reminds us to take some time from our busy workdays to think about what we are grateful for. HR professionals around the country shared reasons they are thankful this holiday season. 

Supportive Leaders

HR specialist Gabrielle "Gabby" Martin is a competitive powerlifter when she's not at her desk job at Bio Recovery, a biohazard remediation and crime scene cleanup company in Patchogue, N.Y.

"While lifting, I recently suffered a moderate hamstring strain and was having trouble sitting without having pain throughout my hip," she recalled of the sport that entails lifting as much weight as possible during the squat, bench press and deadlift rounds.

"I am grateful that our CEO was supportive and that he surprised me with a standing desk the next day," she said. "I'm no longer leaning on my hip, which has helped me make an even faster recovery." 

She is also thankful, she added, to work for an organization that supports her, emphasizes good health and provides the work/life balance employees need when dealing with holiday stress and the challenges of her industry. Staying grounded and grateful is important in Bio Recovery's line of work, Martin noted.

"The deathcare industry poses its own set of challenges, and staying thankful and positive keeps us mentally strong, for both our clients and ourselves, on the day-to-day grind." 

Caring Colleagues

"I am most thankful for the generosity and empathy of our employees," said Navolia Bryant, chief people officer at Premier Trailer Leasing and Trailer Rental in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

"During the month of September, we lost a dear employee to a surfing accident while he was on vacation with his family. After hearing about the accident, our leaders sprang into action to care for the family—sending flowers, meals, cards, texts. … I am grateful that our employees live the culture of care!" 

[SHRM members-only resource: Gratitude May Help Improve Retention

Adoption Assistance

"Each November, I am reminded how grateful I am to the company I have dedicated over 15 years of service to," said Amanda Gee, HR coach at Paychex, headquartered in Rochester, N.Y. "[It] supported the growth of our family through their extraordinary adoption assistance benefit. We have been immeasurably blessed through our son's adoption. Adoption is not an easy journey, and the financial obligations are steep; however, some of the burden was reduced through the financial benefit I received. 

"In 2021, we were determined to begin the adoption journey again. I was thankful to receive financial assistance through our adoption assistance program again. We are now waiting to meet the newest member of our family. November is not only the month of Thanksgiving, but it is also National Adoption month, which reminds me to be doubly grateful." 

Healthy Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic put the workforce's well-being into perspective for Robin Mugaas, vice president of HR at Executive 1 in McLean, Va. 

"I am grateful for our employees' health and the safety of their loved ones," she said. "I would not have imagined being thankful for meeting in person instead of Zoom or [Microsoft] Teams, but I am. We are very fortunate to keep everyone working during this global pandemic, and for that, I am very thankful." 

Genuine Relationships

"The pandemic has taught me how important it is to create meaningful relationships in life, as those are what will carry us through any storm," said Mike Monahan, national managing principal, people and community, at Grant Thornton in Chicago. "I'm grateful to be part of a firm that values genuine relationships, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve my friends and colleagues at Grant Thornton each and every day."

An Employee-First Focus

Jamie McCormick, SHRM-CP, HR director at Betterworks in Menlo Park, Calif., is grateful for an employer that puts its people first.

"When the pandemic hit, our CEO was quick to send everyone home and this year decided to go remote-first," she said. "We offer flexibility to our employees through our paid-time-off policy, paid parental leave and First Fridays off. Well-being is always at the forefront of our decisions. As a people leader, I'm truly grateful for it." 

Fair-Chance Hiring

"I'm thankful for the renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) across corporations large and small," said Linda Shaffer, chief people and operations officer at background-screening company Checkr, based in San Francisco, "and am grateful to work at an organization with a mission to broaden employment opportunities for every worker.

"The past year and a half put pressure on businesses to create an inclusive and open work environment. While many organizations have taken strides to improve DE&I, their strategies remain incomplete as an entire population of Americans—those with criminal histories—is still being excluded. At Checkr, we believe fair-chance hiring is key to reaching true workforce inclusivity." 

HR Serving as a Positive Influence

"These last two years have been relentless for HR professionals, who have continuously adapted to ever-changing situations all in the name of caring for their people," said Dave Almeda, chief people officer at HR tech company UKG, based in Boston.

During the pandemic, the company successfully merged two 6,000-person global communities without layoffs, welcomed more than 2,000 new employees and increased its benefits spend by $35 million, he said.

"HR has been expected to do so much more than ever before, often putting their fellow employees way in front of themselves and, in some cases, their families. The silver lining in all of this is that the HR profession has been elevated to new heights, given the positive influence HR has had on employees, their families and the success of the business as a whole." 

An Opportunity to Create Positive Change

"This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful to work at a mission-driven company that supports a hurting industry like veterinary medicine," said Sara Ott, director of content and community at Denver-based Hound, whose HR responsibilities include employee engagement.

"Veterinary medicine in the U.S. is having a culture crisis," she said, pointing to American Veterinary Medical Association statistics that show 1 in 6 veterinarians have contemplated suicide. Veterinarians also are 2.7 times more likely than the general public to die by suicide. Working in an industry where employees are often underpaid and lack a quality work experience, along with challenges presented by massive student loan debt and a surge in pet ownership during the pandemic that has led to increased working hours and the resulting employee burnout of veterinarians, contribute to this crisis, Ott explained.

"Waking up every morning to help combat [this problem] and create positive change in the space," by creating strong job postings, algorithmic matches and other strategies, she said, "is something I'm so grateful I have the opportunity to do.

"I'm thankful for working with energetic, focused colleagues who are so passionate about our work while also balancing their lives and working healthily. I'm also grateful for the opportunity to work flexibly from home." 

The Great Resignation

Tamica Sears said she is grateful for the Great Resignation because it gives HR professionals an opportunity to change the business model.

Sears, who has more than 20 years of HR experience, has guided organizations through mergers and acquisitions, organizational restructuring, succession planning, and leadership development programs.

"HR professionals such as myself should be thrilled by [the Great Resignation] because it is our opportunity to, first and foremost, say 'I told you so' and, second, take the reins and put the company back on the path to success," said Sears, founder of Sears Coaching in Tempe, Ariz.

While reasons vary for quitting, "many people are leaving jobs because their leader and/or their organization as a whole didn't value them and failed to give them a good employee experience," she noted.

"In my lifetime, there hasn't been a time that made the mission of human resources as abundantly clear, so I am very thankful for the Great Resignation and the change in business model and leadership styles that should accompany every organization's response to the paradigm shift. From data-driven analysis and recommendations to the implementation of sustainable DE&I programs, companies now need to focus on the employee experience to attract and retain talent, and that is where myself and all of my fellow HR peers should shine. … It's time for HR to save the day."

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