How HR Leaders Are Rewriting the Playbook in a Pandemic

Vice Media’s Daisy Auger-Dominguez hosts the second The New HR: CHRO Roundtable centered on how HR executives adapt to workplace challenges

One saying aptly describes the discussion at Profile’s second virtual CHRO roundtable: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.”

Human resources leaders from across industries joined host Daisy Auger-Dominguez, chief people officer for Vice Media, on August 26 to discuss how they have been addressing the challenges that come from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we think about the economic, political, social health challenges that are going on in the world, we really are having to rewrite the playbook day in and day out,” Auger-Dominguez said.

One response echoed from all attendees: giving employees and leaders permission to be human.

“We’re always trying to get leaders to connect and be a little more emotionally engaged,” said Rebecca Sinclair, chief people and communications officer at ATD. “You have to become that way because you’re living it, too. We gave everybody permission to just be human and allow people to integrate their lives.”

Screenshot of Daisy Auger-Dominguez hosting the Zoom rountable
Clockwise from top left: Ashley Parish, Profile; Justin Davidson, Profile; Daisy Auger-Dominguez, Vice Media Group; Frannie Sprouls, Profile; Amber Kennelly, HUB International; Sid Srivastava, Cinemark; Donna Hughes, EmblemHealth; Rafe Harwood, Vice Media Group; Trisha Daho, Empowered Leadership Cultivation; Rebecca Sinclair, ATD; L. David Kingsley, Vlocity (a Salesforce company); Laura Finley, ATD; and Carey Pellock, Neustar

And at EmblemHealth, CHRO Donna Hughes noted that it was important to let people know that it was okay not to be okay—especially in the healthcare industry, as colleagues are on the frontlines caring for COVID patients.

“What I had to do was remind the leaders that this all applies to you, because you can’t really lead and serve if you refuse to take the S for Superman and Superwoman off your chest,” she said. “We had a lot of leaders who were struggling because they didn’t want to appear to be vulnerable, and they didn’t want to let their colleagues down.

“So we really focused on care for the self and trying to ensure that people were taking the time to divorce work life from your own life,” she concluded.

Burnout is an inevitability if leaders aren’t putting their oxygen masks on, said L. David Kingsley, senior vice president and chief people officer at Vlocity, a Salesforce company. “We don’t work from home anymore,” he said. “We live from work.”

But for some businesses, working remotely is not an option. Sid Srivastava, senior vice president of HR at Cinemark, noted that they had to shut down theaters and lay off a huge portion of the workforce in March. Srivastava explained how Cinemark collaborated with companies that were hiring to ensure Cinemark employees were able to get secure jobs at other companies.

Now, as Cinemark gradually reopens theaters, Srivastava said that many of its hires are returning employees. “I think we did that right,” the SVP of HR said. “By taking care of people, showing the human side of the company, the more employees will still want to do something for you.”

The pandemic has forced HR leaders to not only adjust to a flexible workplace but also reimagine the employee experience. Hiring still continues, whether it’s at Cinemark theaters or EmblemHealth.

“You can’t undo a first impression,” said Hughes of reimagining the orientation and onboarding experience. Her team has been focused on creating a welcoming hiring experience and making employees feel part of the organization, creating more of a white-glove service to ensure employees are part of the team.

“Rethinking the entire employee life experience is really critical for all of us in the coming months,” Auger-Dominguez said to close the night’s discussion. “I hope that we can lean on each other to share insights because it’s going to take all of us.”


This coverage is part of Profile’s The New HR: CHRO Roundtable series, which brings together top HR leaders to create a space where industry innovators can talk about important ideas, develop new perspectives, and connect in a whole new way. See what events are coming up next.

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