How Do You Measure a Year?



How do you measure a year?

It’s a question asked in the Broadway play Rent, but it is also one I have been pondering myself.

Somewhere around five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes ago from writing this post, I was preparing to fly to Cleveland, Ohio to speak at the Northern Ohio SHRM Conference. The impact and implications of Covid-19 were just starting to hit the 24 hours news cycles. I remember being unsure if the conference would happen, as things were a bit up in the air in terms of what the proper protocols should be. The NBA had just postponed their season. Social distancing was not yet a “thing,” and certainly not a staple in our collective vernacular. Masks weren’t yet part of our everyday fashion plans, either.

That trip to Cleveland will always be entrenched in my memory as part of what I recall when I think about the beginning of the pandemic. About ten minutes prior to my presentation, the governor of Ohio mandated that no gatherings of more than 100 people were allowed in the state. Hence, people who were at the conference waiting to hear me speak had to leave, and my speech was recorded to be played back virtually. It turned out to be the first time I presented to an empty room, save for the gentleman taking care of the A/V needs. Mike, as I recall his name being, got a kick out of being my only captive “audience.”

It was that day things quickly started to change. My company stopped travel, and I had to book an earlier flight home. Not being able to get one until the next morning, I had dinner at the hotel bar and spoke to the bartender there about her thoughts on what was going on. I was interested from a human perspective, but also from an HR perspective, too.  As things were beginning to shut down, she was nervous to lose her only source of income. She pondered what she would do if the hotel shut down. The hotel restaurant, usually bustling with business travelers she said, had been largely empty for the past week, as so many companies halted business travel abruptly. I’ve often thought about that chat over the past year.

Reflecting on that conversation, no one could have predicted how bad things would turn out to be on so many different levels. We’ve all dealt with so much loss, and it’s important to acknowledge that both as individuals and as a collective society. Loss of life due to the pandemic has been unimaginable, and whether you personally know someone that has been affected by the loss of life or not, the sadness still weighs heavy on our collective hearts.

In my speeches, I often speak about perspective. We see the world through the lens of our individual experiences both within and outside the workplace. And those experiences outside the workplace surely affect us at work. They shape who we are as people, and ultimately who we are as employees, too.

As HR professionals we have been through so much this past year.

It’s easy to think about everything that’s been missed since mid-March 2020. Birthdays, holidays with family, sporting events, concerts, vacations, and gatherings with friends come to mind as some things I’ve missed. On a professional note, I was slated to speak at several SHRM conferences around the country last summer, and into the fall. Many of those conferences turned into virtual speaking opportunities which was some consolation, but still not the same thing as getting together to learn—and laugh—with other SHRM members. Looking at it optimistically, I think I’ve mastered the art of the webinar at this point, and certainly been exposed to what seems like every webinar platform there is!

Both personally and professionally we’ve endured unimaginable losses, trials, and change. But within the face of adversity we’ve also gained some things, too.

We’ve all increased our resilience skills. Yes, that means you!

Each of us has had to pivot in some way due to the pandemic. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t had their life disrupted in some way over the past year. And you’d certainly be hard-pressed to find an HR professional that hasn’t had to innovate, manage change, and perform all of those “other duties as assigned” in our job descriptions.

From crafting creative onboarding initiatives, spearheading new HCM technology implementations, and helping to shape a new remote company culture, HR has been elevated and is at the forefront of leading businesses and maintaining a good employee experience. We know that even when times are good it is challenging to ensure that the employee experience you are providing is doing all you want it to do to attract, engage, and retain workers. But it’s during tough times that we, as a profession, rise to meet challenges and shine, providing calmness and continuity in the face of the storm. In times of uncertainty and adversity, employees look to HR leaders to provide communication, information, and a sense of safety—both physically and psychologically. That’ll remain a staple of our profession as people return to the office.

When reflecting on the past year it’s become solidified to me that despite what we think might happen in the future, we cannot ever be certain what our circumstances will be from one day to the next. We can, however, do our best to pick up the pieces and rise above our challenges to positively influence people in our lives both personally and professionally.

Here’s to bright days ahead, HR!



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