Pandemic Training: How a Nonprofit Learned New Tricks
Andrea Herron 00:01
Have you ever wondered how a company is able to offer unlimited time off or be a pet friendly office? Curious how HR leaders manage the well being of remote or essential workforces? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scape. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces. Because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Today, I am so happy to welcome Rhonda palos, the Vice President of HR at the Oregon Humane Society. Thank you so much for joining us. My pleasure. Well, I know everyone is already excited because I said the Oregon Humane Society. And yes, everyone we are going to talk about those cute furry critters. But first let’s learn a little bit more about our guest. So Rhonda, we would love to hear a little bit about you and your career journey and how you got to where you are today.
Rhonda Palos 01:07
I’m good in human resources, my whole career, which is, oh, roughly 300 years or so. But I’ve been in a variety of industries in human resources. I’ve been in the healthcare field, I’ve worked in the legal field and in post secondary education. But I’ve also spent 30 years of that career in the nonprofit industry. For me being at Oregon Humane Society is, is a marriage of both my skills and passions. I went through veterinary medical school, and also with the 300 years of human resources together, it made really a perfect marriage for me. So I’ve been at ohs for going on for years. And it really is a wonderful organization.
Andrea Herron 01:48
Wow, that is some amazing experience to bring it with you, and especially for such a great organization. So I I guess I can only assume that it’s probably fair to assume at this point that the last year hasn’t been all sunshine and butterflies for any of us. And I’m assuming that extends to y’all as well. So, you know, I’m curious, with a totally different structure than you know, some of our other guests have been in healthcare or you know, small business and things like that, you know, being in a nonprofit in a very public facing organization and fundraising and, and all of those things, you know, what were some of the unique challenges that that kind of showed up? And how did y’all handle that?
Rhonda Palos 02:32
Well, you’re right, OHS did go through the changes that every business has gone through, but we have some, some special things that we dealt with. And just to kind of give you a idea of the changes that we went through. Most people know us about adopting animals, right. And so a lot of our foot traffic in our door is partially about adopting animals, but it’s also about bringing animals in for medical care. Sometimes it’s just a destination. I mean, it’s a fun place to bring your family, right. So this year, we were closed down literally for a little while. But we were able to invite state to be able to open up just a little bit. But we went a typical day used to be about 500 people walking through our front doors now because we do things either curbside or by appointment only. We have about 20 people walking through the door. So huge change. Yeah. So we do everything now by online and phone and eye appointments. So that was a really big change. So those people that used to come to us through our door, now go online, and so instead of about 7000 hits on our website a day, now it’s about 12,000 to 14,000 a day. So
Andrea Herron 03:41
another big shift. Yeah, wow.
Rhonda Palos 03:44
Yeah. And of course, half of our staff are working from home that didn’t used to be and all of our fundraising efforts were 100% funded by donations. So all of our fundraising efforts like doggie dash, if you’re familiar with that, very early there would, there would be about 7000 dogs and their people attached to them down at the waterfront. It’s all online now. So we have completely reimagined all the ways that we bring money into the organization, it has been a enormous change very fast.
Andrea Herron 04:16
Wow, that is so much change to manage in such an abrupt time period. I mean, it’s one thing to have staff get set up and work remotely at home. But it’s another thing to completely transform how you do business with the public and then fundraise in a completely new way. And everybody I personally know a lot of people maybe myself included who got a pandemic puppy. And you know, I love the doggie dash. It’s a great fun time and I’m sure people are missing it but I’m glad to hear that there was some creativity and how to make those things still go on because Portland, I mean, other places, I’m sure pet friendly but Portland is just a city of animal lovers.
Rhonda Palos 04:59
You know it has A huge impact on the animal part of the equation to not just the people part, because we get a lot of our Amazon, our spay and neuter programs around the country, but particularly in Northwest are very, very effective. So there are, over the years kind of a decline in animals available anyway. And when the pandemic started, and we’re unable to get animals from out of state, we really had just a dramatic drop in the number of animals available, we now will typically get 400 or more applications for every dog we have available.
Andrea Herron 05:32
Wow, well, and you know, people want to rescue and adopt. And that’s amazing. But that’s a pretty big bottleneck there. So is there going to be a change in that, like, are you going to be able to bring more in? Or is it just going to be that competitive going forward,
Rhonda Palos 05:50
it’s starting to loosen up just a smidge, as other states start to open up a little bit. But truthfully, this is kind of a trend that’s been happening over the years. And we expect it to continue, such that we’re actually changing part of our business model going forward, which I’d be happy to share more about the future OHS too. But yeah, it’s kind of a thing now.
Andrea Herron 06:09
Wow. Yeah. I mean, we would certainly love to hear a snippet about where it’s going, and then maybe come back to the employees and how they’ve handled all that change.
Rhonda Palos 06:21
Well, I think one of the new things that I’m really, I think the future of OHS is really exciting not for OHS just but our community and our employees and the animals, because one of the things that we just did was broke ground on a new community hospital, that is going to be right next door to our main campus. And it’s really focused on where we believe animal welfare is going. And that is not just about adoptions, but about removing the barriers, particularly financial barriers, for people seeking care for their pets. So really, the future is about making sure that people can stay with their pets in the home together, instead of having to relinquish their animals or adopt, you know, when when there’s too many animals in our geographic area. So having a community hospital that can subsidize medical care for animals is really a big deal. And we have an incredible hospital, it’ll be opening in about a year and three months or so. But ground was just broken. So it’s really an exciting time.
Andrea Herron 07:28
That is very exciting. And so needed, I think in the last year, it’s become even more apparent, you know, the discrepancies in consistency with care and access and how wages and people have lost work. And they don’t want to lose their animals, but they’re in a really tough spot. So, you know, anything that we can do to have more equitable care for our furry friends and keep them with the people that desperately need them. is amazing. So that’s wonderful news.
Rhonda Palos 07:59
Yeah, it’s going to be very exciting time. And it also means a lot of change for our employees, like you said to them.
Andrea Herron 08:04
Absolutely. So circling back to them, then over the past year with all this change. I mean, you know, people don’t always love change. And we’ve been forced into quite a bit of it over the past year or so, you know, what has been the biggest response? Are any of the things that you’ll have found that really work for your staff?
Rhonda Palos 08:21
Well, you know, I think our staff are just like everybody else in every other workforce. I mean, the stresses over this last year have been amazing. The financial stresses, the social unrest, the global pandemic, the Oregon fires, my goodness, children at home, the frequent changes, not only what we do in our work, but where we do it in our work, has completely changed the face. I mean, if there’s a legacy to COVID, that’s what it is, it’s that we’re able, and many employees expect to work from home. So that’s certainly one of the largest changes that we as HR professionals went through is figuring out how are we going to do that? And how are we going to make it work for both the man you know, management and the employee, and satisfying the business needs kind of reengineering how we do work. So certainly the the flexibility and the balance, and it’s not just changing up my schedule, about where I work, it really realizing that it has to do with each individual employees needs and their job, what the needs are. So it’s really about balance and flexibility for me, not just for the company, it’s about me as an employee, and that’s how employees are thinking about it. Other things like PTO, for example, you paid time off. In this weird time, people were short staffed, because people were sick people were unable to be at work for other reasons. And even if they took time off, where they’re going to go, you know, and so a lot of people didn’t take time off. So the whole PTO policy, changing that so that there’s no penalty for not using it that you can carry it over to other years, changing the limits thinking about it. things differently than in traditional ways. So we did a number of changes there. I think one of the biggest things now and going forward is figuring out, what do people need now? What are they going to need in the future. And one of the new benefits that we implemented was about tailoring resources specific to what an employee needs at that moment. And it’s different for everybody. It might be financial support, it might be mental health or emotional support, family changes, or daycare needs food scarcity issues, the benefit that we put in is kind of like a concierge or a navigator type role where an employee can say, My landlord is going to evict me, I don’t know what to do, and someone is there to help that person with whatever that need is that they are struggling with that day, I think it’s going to be a really impactful benefit. We’ve gotten really good utilization from it. And it’s getting to employees with the problems that they’re experiencing at the moment. And I think that’s, that’s kind of the future of what I think that we as HR people need to keep developing.
Andrea Herron 11:04
I definitely agree with you. It’s, it’s kind of like the increased further individualization of the benefits package in my unique employee experience has become an expectation. I mean, people that don’t want to do that commute anymore, you can have a lot harder time explaining why they must be in an office when they’ve been doing the job for a year remotely. And the being able to flex those benefits is encouraging and probably a little difficult, you know, to figure out how to set all that up. But I would imagine it was received really well by the staff.
Rhonda Palos 11:40
It has been and you’re absolutely right, that it’s become last year before the pandemic, the world was in a really stable place. And we thought we knew what we were doing with recruitment and retention. And within a month, it flipped. And now that we’re coming on the backside of the pandemic, the expectations and the recruitment and the decisions to leave your organization because you revaluated what you want from your career, from your life, from how you spend your time for your needs at home. All of that has changed for employees. And it is a hot job market right now, for the job seeker.
Andrea Herron 12:19
It is because so many companies have loosen their geographical limitations. And so if you as an employee aren’t going to be as flexible to meet the employees where they are, there’s plenty of companies that will and I think it’s you are spot on, because that is something that if we if people haven’t already seen it, it’s gonna be coming.
Rhonda Palos 12:38
Yeah. And I think it puts pressure on our compensation systems, because there’s so much competition for certain positions in particular, but all positions, you no longer have to have to accept a wage that you’re at, because there’s so many jobs by being vying for your attention that it’s going to put some pressure on our compensation, I think it’s going to put pressure on our internal cultures, people want to work where it’s really meaningful for them. And frankly, I think OHS is a really great place to be from that perspective, it people find that they can connect to our mission really well.
Andrea Herron 13:15
Yeah. And then also adding in some of the benefits that you all changed with the rollover of the PTO and having the benefits concierge. I mean, those are also great things that other companies can look at to try and crack that man as it were. Okay, so you know, getting people back into the office is a whole conversation that we could have. But, you know, assuming that people are going to be going back to an office, hybrid, whatever that looks like, a lot of companies are trying to find ways to incentivize their staff to want to come in. And it occurred to me that maybe one incentives that people would really be into is maybe bringing your pet I’m assuming mostly would be dogs. I don’t think cats are really be that into it, but bring your dog to work. And so I was curious if y’all have a pet policy, if people really do it, like how does that work? So we can all do it?
Rhonda Palos 14:10
Well, of course we do. Of course, we wouldn’t be organizing society. Without it. We’re very pet centric organization in every sense of the word. You know, it’s really pets in the workplace have been proven to be a stress reducer. It’s an engagement increaser. You know, let’s face it, it’s a happy factor, you know, who doesn’t want their best friend alongside of them. And so we do have a pet at Work program. It goes right in tandem with our values of our organizations. We also provide discounted veterinarian care, of course, because we have, we have those resources on site. But no for other organizations. I think it’s a viable opportunity to but you have to think of a few, a few logistics behind it. So for example, in our particular organization, because we’re All about animals, we don’t have any carpeting. So your physical logistics are part of it. We have enclosed spaces. So our animals, people, employees that bring their pets to work, have to have an enclosed space. So our doors throughout the organization are swing top doors, kind of like the Mr. Ed doors. Oh, that’s nice. So you can still have interactions with people have meetings, talk to your co workers, whatnot, but the animals are still contained. So I mean, that’s kind of a logistics thing, having a place to let your animals take potty breaks or get some exercise breaks. That’s another consideration that companies would have to have to have. But that’s the logistics side of it. There’s also the people part of it. So when you’re putting in a pet work program, you need to consider other individuals that are in that space. Do they have allergies? Do they have fear factors that should be considered? Are they okay, mutual comfort levels, I guess with having an animal, someone might be allergic to cats, but be fine with dogs. And we’ve actually had some birds and and stationary animals like turtles and whatnot. So I thought, Wow, all kinds of pets in our organization. But the policy that we put around it, assuming that all of those things can work out, we we require things like they have to be spayed and neutered, and they have to have their vaccinations and be house trained. They have to be leashed and good with people and other animals. employees use their lunch breaks and break times to tend to their animals. And there’s a little very small pet fee that people pay per pay period. So those things are just part of the policy. But you know, it is a real pleaser. And I think most people know their co workers animal names more so than they even know their kids names.
Andrea Herron 16:49
Yeah, of course. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, those are some really great tips and things to keep in mind, if people are interested in putting something like that in place. You know, the carpet one would be interesting, because, you know, a lot of offices do have carpet. So that’s one to keep in mind. But, you know, the, the animals are going to be devastated when they start going back to work. So you know, maybe this is a compromise.
Rhonda Palos 17:14
I think it’s a new field of therapy, the separation anxiety that either we’re gonna feel away from our pets or our pets are gonna feel away from us one of the two.
Andrea Herron 17:21
Yeah, well, the cats might be okay with it. I don’t
Rhonda Palos 17:25
feel the same saying Good riddance, go back in
Andrea Herron 17:27
here long enough, get out. Circling back to kind of OHS and I know you’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up. And we talked about the doggie dash, you know, are the the pet adoptions are going strong with the limited capacity? You know, is there anything else that people should know, you know, specifically coming to OHS or just trying to adopt a pet virtually? I mean, are there any, you know, tips or I just, I’m imagining people being like, Okay, I’m ready, and now there’s nothing available, or you know how they should go about finding their perfect pet if they can’t be in person to see it.
Rhonda Palos 18:07
You know, truthfully, most people choose their pets actually buy a picture online. And that was true even before the pandemic, the adoptable animals are always on our website. So the way to go about it is to check out our website, follow it when you see an animal that’s available that you like, schedule an appointment, and you’ll be in a queue of appointments, you know, kind of a first come first serve thing, but truthfully, and especially when it comes to kittens and puppies, we’re just approaching kitten season, which is kittens coming out your ears type thing. So most people choose by like picking the color of a car, you know, they pick the cutest kitten that they can find. Because they’ll all be terrific. See if you can get on the waiting list as soon as you can. It’s always best to do that in the morning when we put the postings up, and we’ll get you in as soon as we can for adoptions.
Andrea Herron 18:54
Wow, kitten season. That sounds like a fun time. Yeah, and who can resist those cute pictures? I mean, yes, we’ll take them all right. Awesome. Well, before we let you go, I wanted to definitely wrap up and ask you my favorite question to ask our guests at the end of these sessions. And that is if you would like to tell us one thing about yourself that we may not know.
Rhonda Palos 19:22
That’s always a fun question. Okay, so the people that don’t interact with me daily, might not know that I raised laws and I in their wool and I also spend the wool and hair of other animals angora rabbits and macaques and Buffalo and dogs. So I make beautiful yarn and garments out of them. And it’s just one more way that I stay connected to the animal world.
Andrea Herron 19:46
Wow, that is amazing. The only time I’ve seen llamas represented in the media is Napoleon Dynamite. Eat your eat your dinner Tina. So I don’t know if your experience With that, if they’re good eaters or not, but they aren’t cute.
Rhonda Palos 20:05
They’re sweet. I’ve had llamas for about over 40 years or so and so they’re pretty special to me. The reason I started with llamas is because when I was in my 20s, I saw this really beautiful scarf. I have a co worker of mine. And of course, it’s like all that’s so gorgeous. And she says, yes, it’s dog hair. And I thought, you’re kidding me. Right, what she was doing is collecting the the trimmings from grooming stores, grooming shops, and her particular scarf that she had on was from a poodle. And it was so soft. And that started me on spinning which started me on llamas and alpacas, which started me on decades of fun with fiber. So that’s where it all started is your local poodle.
Andrea Herron 20:52
Well, and what a like a fun and creative way to relieve stress and just have something productive that is probably somewhat like a, almost like a moving meditation, you know, through that process. So that’s probably good for mental health as much as anything.
Rhonda Palos 21:06
There’s something very tactile, whether the animal is alive or not, you know, there’s something very tactile about it, putting the wool
Andrea Herron 21:13
off. Awesome. Wow. Well, now we’re all going to hit you up for scarves at Christmas. All right. Well, thank you again for joining. I had a great time chatting and we’ll talk to everybody next time.
Rhonda Palos 21:27
Thank you, Andrew. It was my pleasure.
Andrea Herron 21:31
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