HR professionals have had a unique experience through the pandemic, and for the most part it has gone unrecognized. They’ve been stuck in the middle, pulled in opposing directions by the organizations they serve and the people they work with. It has taken its toll on their mental and emotional health as they try to navigate their way through the changes.
But it shouldn’t rest all on their shoulders. Kris Tierney joins me today to discuss how organizations can better support the mental and emotional health of HR professionals, and how HR professionals can effectively communicate with and support their teams during the pandemic. We talk about the shared responsibility we all have to participate in our organizations, and Kris gives us advice on how we can do that with compassion and empathy for each other as humans.
It’s important to remember that our HR professionals are just like us—human. Let’s do what we can to better support them and build up their resilience as we continue to face the effects of the pandemic. Tune in.
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About Kris Tierney:
Kris Tierney is the Vice-President of Human Resources and Learning at the Human Resources Professionals Association where she provides strategic leadership to the Association’s internal human resources practices, as well as leading professional development and learning programming for the HRPA’s more than 24,000 students and members.
Kris is a passionate HR and business executive who believes that outstanding businesses run on outstanding workplaces where people and culture are strategic priorities. Kris spent more than 15 years’ leading HR and strategic talent programs in high growth, hi-tech companies in automotive and financial services where she served as a trusted people and culture strategist, advisor and business partner to the C-Suite.
Known for her easy and approachable style, she thrives when helping others live their lives with purpose, belonging and value. Kris holds the CHRP and CHRL designations awarded by the Human Resources Professionals Association.
To learn more about Kris, you can connect with her on LinkedIn.
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Lindsay Recknell 0:07
Welcome to Mental Health in Minutes where we open the door to conversations about workplace mental health and help leaders and HR professionals create safe and innovative organizations where our employees and our companies thrive. I’m your host, Lindsay Recknell, the psychological health and safety advisor, a workplace mental health consultant, speaker, facilitator and an expert in hope.
Lindsay Recknell 0:27
Each episode of this show has three objectives, to discuss the future of mental health in the workplace. To identify the best, most successful strategies for opening the door to mental health conversations at work, and to share the top ways we can engage our leadership in the workplace mental health conversation, and have them endorse and pay for a positive culture shift within our organizations.
Lindsay Recknell 0:48
If you’re listening to this podcast, you know that our people need us more than ever, but most of our organizations have a long way to go until supporting employee wellness is embedded in the culture of our workplaces. This episode is a resource you can use to start and continue workplace mental health conversations and my guests will share their experiences and what’s worked for them.
Lindsay Recknell 1:07
Today’s guest is Kris Tierney, Vice President of Human Resources and learning at the human resources professionals Association in Ontario, where she provides strategic leadership to the association’s internal Human Resources practices, as well as leading professional development and learning programming for the HR PA is more than 24,000 students and members. Kris is a passionate HR and business executive who believes that outstanding businesses run on outstanding workplaces for our people and culture our strategic priorities.
Lindsay Recknell 1:37
Kris spent more than 15 years leading HR and strategic talent programs and high growth high tech companies in automotive and financial services, where she served as a trusted people and culture strategist, advisor and business partner to the C suite. Known for her easy and approachable style. She thrives when helping others live their lives with purpose, belonging and value. Kris holds the Chrp and chRP designations awarded by the human resource professionals Association. I am a huge fan of Kris and I cannot wait for you to meet her. So let’s dig in.
Lindsay Recknell 2:09
Hello, Kris, welcome to the show. I am so happy to have you here.
Kris Tierney 2:12
All thanks, Lindsay. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Lindsay Recknell 2:15
I know that you and I have I don’t know of all the people that I get to interact with, I feel like you and I have such a great camaraderie or I relate to so many things that you talk about. And so I really think that the messages you have to share about HR professionals and what it’s been like to lead organizations from an HR perspective this year, the last couple of years, I think will really resonate with the audience.
Lindsay Recknell 2:39
So maybe we’ll start off I read your professional bio in the introduction, but maybe you can share with us in your words, who you are, what you do and who you serve.
Kris Tierney 2:49
Yeah, absolutely. So while I’m Kris Tierney, I am currently the Vice President of Human Resources and learning for the human resources professionals Association, which is the professional regulator in Ontario, the HR regulator in Ontario, a lot of people don’t realize that human resources is regulated profession in Ontario. So I’ve been in HR and an HR leader myself for almost 20 years. I come mostly from the high tech industry, high growth high tech organizations and have recently joined I actually joined HRPA during the pandemic.
Kris Tierney 3:27
So this is, you know, I had that experience and a lot of us have joined are made career changes or joined organizations during the pandemic, who I serve really is all workers in the workplace and, and really got into human resources with that passion to make the work experience meaningful, purposeful, fun, rewarding, safe for every worker. And I’m really pleased when I joined HRPA because now I get to serve the public through the HR profession and through HR regulation in the province in Ontario, as well. And so really serving our members, our HRPA members to help them level up their capability as HR professionals and HR leaders in their own organizations,
Lindsay Recknell 4:17
putting the human back into HR. Always every day. Yeah, that’s amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of getting involved with your organization and being part of the conferences and the education opportunities that you’ve put out and it’s been just awesome to see the quality of the material and the lessons that you’re sharing with your members. Because it’s tough to be an HR professional right now.
Lindsay Recknell 4:44
We are recording this in November of 20. No we’re in December already, Lindsay, December of 2021. For those of you who have been living under a rock, we’re in a global pandemic still, and I can’t imagine a role In an organization that has had it tougher than HR professionals, is that resonating at all with you said,
Kris Tierney 5:07
Oh, my goodness you’re having? Absolutely I know our listeners can’t see me. But I’m like, yeah, yeah, 100% Nodding away with you as you’re talking. And, you know, HR for years has, in some organizations and a lot of organizations has struggled to really get its rightful place in the decision making strategic decision making process in their organizations for a long time. It was established as an administrative kind of back office function personnel.
Kris Tierney 5:37
And what the pandemic has done for HR is really, almost literally overnight thrust HR professionals into the forefront of decision making in their organizations, which has been fantastic for the profession, and for those of us who are passionate about what we do as HR professionals, but what we’ve really experienced throughout the pandemic in the HR profession is this push and pull of conflict in terms of wanting to serve the organizations and the well being in the best interests of the organizations, but also understanding the human impact of the pandemic, on our workers.
Kris Tierney 6:17
And so needing to make really tough early decisions, like mass layoffs, or complete shutdowns of businesses, and complete closures of some organizations has been really difficult not only as an HR person, as a business person, but as a human. And I think HR professionals have experienced the pandemic in their organizations in a really unique way, in that they represent the organization and those business decisions and continue to do so.
Kris Tierney 6:49
But also our experience in the experiencing the pandemic, as humans themselves. As you said, putting human back in HR, your HR professionals in your organizations are humans as well, and are experiencing the same things and sometimes being put into situations where we have to deliver the news or work with the employees as they struggle or grapple through the experiences that they’re going through. places a unique tool on on our HR professionals and in organizations as well.
Lindsay Recknell 7:25
Yeah, absolutely. I, in my mind, I sort of have this triangle in my head, where HR folks are in the middle. And they’re being pulled by senior leaders, senior executives that are looking at them going, what do we do now? And you know, the employees that are saying, looking up at them going, what do we do now. And then the sort of middle leadership, looking at them going, helped me under how helped me figure out how to lead my employees and also manage up and the the push and pull on HR professionals just must be exhausting?
Lindsay Recknell 8:03
Because like you say, they’re also humans trying to manage their own emotions. I imagine the motions of their families and friends and communities and all of those things as well. What, like, what is HR done to help to support these professionals? I know you have a ton of programs, and things like that, but you know, what’s worked to move HR professionals kind of build their resilience along the way.
Kris Tierney 8:31
Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting question. And just like any sort of human experience, whether you’re in HR or not, you have to find what works for you, and what you are going to respond to in a positive way. And I don’t think it’s been any different for our human resources professionals. And, and yes, so having to deal with all that push and pull of, of all those different stakeholders within their organization who they’re trying to support and trying to be compassionate with and empathetic with and still make really good business decisions. But then the HR professionals are going home or they’re at home during the pandemic, maybe with their families and dealing with those issues that they have as humans.
Kris Tierney 9:14
So, you know, I don’t know that it’s really been any different for HR professionals in terms of additional supports. It’s amping up the access to wellness programs, to even podcasts like yours, Lindsey, which is so valuable just to hear the insights and the information from other experts and what’s working what’s not doing some experimentation and it’s just having access to that those variety of resources. And one of the key messages that I’ve tried to relay to any working person but in particular HR professionals I’ve come in contact with over the during the pandemic is don’t forget about your own self care.
Kris Tierney 9:56
Sometimes we just need to prioritize ourselves as individuals so that we can better serve the people around us. And I like to use the analogy of when you’re on the airplane and the oxygen mask, you get those instructions, you know, put your own mask on first before you help others around you. And sometimes HR needs to follow that advice as well and just take care of ourselves first, and then we can help the people around us.
Lindsay Recknell 10:18
Yeah, you can’t pour from an empty cup, right? If you’re put out of commission, because just because your mask isn’t on, you literally cannot help anybody else. Exactly. And I really liked what you said about it’s not a one size fit all fits all. There’s no magic bullet here. We absolutely, I hate to say that we need to continue to be flexible, but we need to. I feel like we need to keep trying the things evaluating and then retrying different things depending on how well those things are working for us.
Lindsay Recknell 10:52
You and I have talked before about this idea of pandemic flux syndrome, where the you know, we continue to flex and be flexible in this pandemic. And even when we think it’s over, it’s not actually over. How are in your experience? How are HR professionals helping the organizations to be continued to be flexible and didn’t you know, continue with this pandemic flux syndrome?
Kris Tierney 11:21
Yeah, yeah. I mean, the experience throughout the pandemic, I think there’s It is, yeah, that pandemic flux syndrome is such an interesting even if you break down that phrase, because it really is, that’s where the truth lies in every individual’s experience. At the beginning of the pandemic, you know, the first wave, second wave, third wave now, now we’re talking about new waves, new variants of vaccination policies and testing and getting people back into the workplace. HR is really there to support each individual as much as they can, recognizing that each person is going to have a unique experience and a unique response to what’s going on around them.
Kris Tierney 12:07
So, you know, from an HR perspective, I think anytime we are creating policy, or introducing policy into the organization, and I’ll use the vaccination policies right now, because it’s a very timely topic in many organizations, that we need to understand and anticipate the variety of responses to a policy such as that, and be prepared to be transparent, to communicate well, to not only explain what we’re doing in a policy like that one, but why the organization is making some of those decisions, ensuring and I think one of the biggest things that HR can do to is ensure that decisions, like policy related decisions, are looked at through the culture lens within the organization, every organization has its own culture, its own unique culture.
Kris Tierney 13:02
And that is HR, his role in that organization to help those decisions go through that cultural lens. And that will also help in terms of the establishing trust, building trust with everyone in the organization, when HR has to be the communication agent. In those circumstances.
Lindsay Recknell 13:23
I really liked what you said about HR being kind of the stewards of that culture and reinforcing the culture along the way, because you’re speaking about communication, and policies and super difficult policies, new policies, and that communication could feel scary, truly, you know, just the thought of communicating some of these things where the backlash could be strong, must feel a bit terrifying to to somebody who, who has to actually deliver the communication.
Lindsay Recknell 13:53
And so I really like so tactically, communicating it through the lens of the culture of the organization. And so if I think about some examples of that, you know, if you are a fun loving and energetic, you know, culture known for, I don’t know, foods balls and movie nights, can you deliver a policy that talks about vaccine in that way?
Kris Tierney 14:22
Yeah, absolutely. I think you can, I think, I think it’s the way in which you deliver a message like that will resonate with the cultural familiarity within your organization. I mean, if you have a fun loving kind of relaxed culture, even the decision around the vaccine policy ought to be put through that cultural lens.
Kris Tierney 14:49
If you’re going to mandate a policy in that kind of relaxed, traditional cultural environment, then I think the decision makers and its HR is role to challenge that decision makers in terms of is this the right policy for our organization? Are we doing the right thing based on where we are culturally? And if you are, then that message is an easy one to deliver. And it’s an easy one to put through that cultural lens. It’s not always going to be received the same.
Kris Tierney 15:23
And so again, you know, being prepared for the range of responses to a message like that is just as important as making that decision initially, but but I think absolutely you can, you can communicate, and HR has to business leaders have to communicate that sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it presents unique challenges, but it is something that needs to be done and can be done.
Lindsay Recknell 15:49
And I think putting it through that lens that people are familiar with, that they resonate with that aligns to the values, this the stated, and also behaved values of an organization will hopefully help get the message to be received in a more familiar way or in a less confrontational way, because it’s coming from a place of familiarity.
Kris Tierney 16:11
That’s right, and you wouldn’t do it in a, in a really formal language you wouldn’t use if you have a relaxed environment and culture within your organization, you wouldn’t suddenly introduce formal language in your communication. So using the same language, the same words that you use in your regular culture, I think is important too.
Lindsay Recknell 16:34
Yeah, as long as we get the sort of the legalities of it, right. You know, and make sure you stay within what the governing bodies have said, you need to do the other language around it does up to you, you get to be flexible with that. And I think that’s something we forget sometimes.
Kris Tierney 16:50
Absolutely. And I, you know, I can give you anecdotally, I can give you an example, what we did at HRPA, when we introduced our policy on COVID-19 vaccination. And yes, we have a very, you know, formally written policy documents as we need to have, but we communicated it verbally, we had an all staff how to like a town hall almost and, and, you know, I was happy to walk the team through, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s our guiding principles that we’ve been using throughout the pandemic, to inform our decision making processes, this one was no different. And then got into here are some of the details of the policy.
Kris Tierney 17:34
So we did it in that fashion first, and then shared the formal policy document and I and, you know, I think it went well, I think people understood the why behind the decision, not just the what is in the policy, which, again, is just anecdotal example of how you communicate some of these things is just as important, if not more important than what it is you’re communicating
Lindsay Recknell 18:03
well, and so it feels nice as well, because you in that town hall kind of environment, it feels like you gave your team the opportunity to provide feedback or to make comment or whatever, it wasn’t just, you know, HRPA, on high, you shall, you know, you shall not whatever that looks like, but it it felt it feels kind of collaborative.
Kris Tierney 18:24
Well, and I would say that that’s our culture at HRPA. Our culture is about two way multi directional communication. And so just to deliver a message in a, you know, single direction, didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like it had a cultural place at HRPA. And so having that kind of town hall and welcoming questions and comments in real time, in response to the message being delivered was true to our culture.
Lindsay Recknell 18:51
Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s, it feels like common sense until you sort of say it out loud, right? But it definitely you’ve given me a lot of things to think about or considerations to make. And I imagine the listeners as well on how they can meet their people where they’re at based on the established culture and values of the organization. That’s brilliant.
Lindsay Recknell 19:10
Um, so what if we get it wrong? You know, we talked about pandemic flex syndrome, and we make a decision. What if we, you know, figure out that it’s not turns out it’s not the right decision, or we have to make a different decision or communicate something different? Do you have any thoughts on tactically how we can recover from that?
Kris Tierney 19:28
Wow. And let’s be honest, we do get it wrong. Sometimes. And I think what’s most important is recognizing when we’ve got it wrong and making the correction as quickly as you can, or as quickly as the organization can and being honest, as a as an HR leader, I really subscribe to honesty, transparency, authenticity, and as a as a human, and as a business. leader and that would definitely be my advice as much as you can to be honest and transparent and say, Hey, we based on the information that we had, we made the best decision at that time.
Kris Tierney 20:13
Now with more information, more experience, we’re thinking that probably wasn’t the best decision, or that’s not the best thing moving forward from here. So we’re going to change it. And again, it’s, you know, HR is often the one who has to deliver those messages, especially if it’s around policy, for example. But again, it’s for those HR professionals to anticipate the response, the reaction, be prepared for that, know that not everybody is going to say, Hey, okay, we understand no problem.
Kris Tierney 20:45
But if every decision that we make is founded in data, evidence, as much really good factual information as you have at the time, then we do the best we can. But ultimately, it’s humans making the decisions and mistakes will happen. So none of us are perfect.
Lindsay Recknell 21:05
What do you know, perfect? I know, I know. It feels also good, what you’re saying. I didn’t hear any excuses. In your explanation there. You know, and I think often, our default is to look for this excuses or get our backup and be defensive about it, but it felt very transparent. And I think that’s kind of key in the communication as well as along the lines of authenticity. And just, you know, we made the best decision we had at the time, but not playing sort of the victim in that same scenario.
Kris Tierney 21:40
Yeah, absolutely. And I think you can very quickly erode trust, if you start making excuses for decisions and trust is really foundational in any organization. And, yeah, this definitely not an excuse maker, and would certainly never, ever recommend that to anybody else.
Lindsay Recknell 22:00
And we talk a lot about sort of leaders responsibilities and leaders, accountability and all of this thing. But I strongly believe that it has to also be a shared responsibility of the humans in the organization, the frontline that the doers, the, you know, the leaders without titles, so to speak. And what thoughts or or advice do you have for the people in the organization and how they can support their HR professionals, their leaders and their organization as a whole?
Kris Tierney 22:32
Well, that’s, wow, that’s such a great, that’s such a great question. I often use the phrase, everyone has rights, but everyone also has responsibilities in any organization, and that rent runs true for any person who’s working in any business. And I think it’s we’re all responsible for the general well being of the people around us, the people that we’re sharing this experience with. And it’s, you know, thinking about the greater good. So how can, how can the individual employee support HR?
Kris Tierney 23:06
I think, first of all, asking questions to ensure that you as an employee, understand the decisions that are being made at the executive level, or at the senior management level, or whether it’s HR, whoever the decision maker is, Be really clear in terms of, again, the why behind the decision, do you really understand why the decision is being made that way? And if you’re, if you don’t ask the questions, but also realize that often HR HR specifically, isn’t advisor to the decision makers, and is quite often not the final decision maker or the final approver on any decision or on many decisions.
Kris Tierney 23:50
So HR, yes, is accountable for decisions, some decisions in the organization, but not all of them. And so it’s that, you know, sometimes don’t shoot the messenger. So, you know, I think just as much as as we would support the individuals around us, I think it’s important to support our managers, sometimes to our HR professionals in our organization and remembering their humans to they’re experiencing these things and they’ve got the same type of challenges outside of work that that you may experience as an employee.
Lindsay Recknell 24:27
I’m hearing compassion.
Kris Tierney 24:30
Boy see much more sustained.
Lindsay Recknell 24:34
Yeah, but it’s, it’s that recognition that the humans doing the job and having compassion for the tough position that they’re in. You know, absolutely, that open mindedness.
Kris Tierney 24:47
Yeah, and I, you know, I often like in an organization to really a community. It’s a community of people who are coming together for a shared purpose or a shared mission and If you’re not supporting the people in your community, all people in your community are you doing everything you can then to, to develop the strength of that community in which you’re a part of. And, you know, I understand that not everyone feels like their workplace is a community, not everyone feels their job or feels a purpose, or, you know, a real meaning behind the job or the work that they’re doing. I get that.
Kris Tierney 25:28
But at the end of the day, we’re all humans, and we’re all experiencing life as humans, and there’s compassion and empathy inherently, in that shared human experience, especially
Lindsay Recknell 25:40
in a global pandemic. I really like that analogy of a community because it makes it feel a bit more personal. You know, it makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, not just for the, you know, not just for the business purposes of it, but actually to find ways to thrive and be fulfilled in my community. I really like that a lot.
Lindsay Recknell 26:04
And what do you think the future of work looks like for HR professionals? You know, when one more post-pandemic, are our HR professionals going to go back to being order takers and admin back office people? What does the future work look like?
Kris Tierney 26:19
Yeah, I would say, oh, no, no, we’re, we’re here where we’re part of those strategic business decisions. And HR really has a place in that decision making process and can bring real value and insights. And I think one of the ways that businesses have changed, and we talked about it right at the beginning is the prevalence of mental health as a workplace issue has really amplified during the pandemic, which, you know, it’s always existed.
Kris Tierney 26:54
And what the pandemic has done is really thrusted into the spotlight in organizations, and HR has a very strong and leading role to keep it there. Because it is, again, mental health, mental wellness is such a shared experience for all of us. And I think that all of us experience some degree of mental wellness or mental unwellness at some point in our lives. And so we, again, approaching that with empathy and compassion. But I think HR will be there to remind our businesses on why it’s important, why it’s valuable to invest in mental health resources in organizations, and to make sure that our policies and our programs to support our workforces are going through this mental health lens.
Kris Tierney 27:44
So that’s just one example. But HR, you know, a lot of things have come to the forefront during the pandemic, in terms of how we support our employees, and how businesses can better support their workforces. And HR is the champion of that. So will they go back to the back office? No. Yeah, that’s it. I’ll leave it there.
Lindsay Recknell 28:08
But it’s I mean, HR professionals have been talking about their value for so long, Similarly, lots of us have been talking about the importance of mental health for so long. But until it becomes a personal experience for us all, a shared experience for us all, it’s hard to internalize the words, right, it’s hard to internalize that language out there, it feels still ambiguous until it becomes real and personal.
Lindsay Recknell 28:33
And I think I feel like that’s a lot of what’s happened in these organizations, his HR was thrust into the spotlight, because you had to show up and be there for your people. And now, the value is really being shown, because people are experiencing how personal it is and how beneficial it is. And I love you know that because it’s here now, that erosion won’t happen, you know, they’ll continue to sit at the table, and rightly so.
Kris Tierney 29:01
Yeah, I agree. And nor would I want to work at an organization where it’s not good, because I think, you know, again, I think HR does have that push and pull of those different stakeholders, that triangle analogy you described, between kind of executive, senior management, your line managers and the rest of the workforce. But HR is the glue that holds that all together. And so to relegate HR to the back office after the pandemic is such a huge mistake, in my opinion. You need a really good trusted HR professional, to help you make these decisions and consider the impact on your workforce.
Kris Tierney 29:47
Because listen, business would be easy if it wasn’t for all the people. So you need somebody who’s kind of an expert in the people side of your business to advise you.
Lindsay Recknell 29:58
Amazing you take care of yourself. They’ll take care of your company. You said it. Amazing, Chris, this has been so awesome. I so appreciate your insights and your brilliant and your experience. Putting the humans back into HR is absolutely something that needs to continue. And I’m happy to hear that you think it will. Thanks for joining me.
Kris Tierney 30:18
Thanks, Lindsay. I appreciate it.
Lindsay Recknell 30:20
Lindsay Recknell 30:22
Thank you for listening to another episode of mental health in minutes. Every single time I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with Kris, I leave feeling richer for the experience. It sounds sappy, but it’s true, especially from a profession like human resources. Kris is the type of person you want at the table, helping you make those strategic decisions, and making sure that humans are the central figures in your organization.
Lindsay Recknell 30:43
We talked about how HR professionals have had a unique experience to the pandemic. And we talked about our shared responsibility to participate in the communities we call our workplaces. So many great insights and tactics delivered in a compassionate and authentic way.
Lindsay Recknell 30:56
Kris and I both believe in the power of our leaders to create psychologically safe workplaces and we know you do too, or you wouldn’t be listening to this. If you loved this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review on your favorite podcast player. You can find this everywhere at mental health in minutes, as well as on the web at www.languageofmentalhealth.com.
Lindsay Recknell 31:14
The thing we do best at mental health in minutes is open the door to conversations about mental health at work. And episodes like this give us real things we can try to truly make a difference. I know you’re making a difference at your organization, or you’d really like to be or you wouldn’t be listening to podcast episodes like these ones. I’d love to help accelerate your impact at work, help you really move the needle on mental health maturity in your workplace, and get people to a place where they’re feeling less stressed, more fulfilled and able to integrate work and life in a way that works for them. And your organization.
Lindsay Recknell 31:45
Being a people leader is especially hard right now, you might feel like you’re managing both up and down the corporate ladder. And if the thought of figuring out how to best support your people and yourself feels overwhelming and impossibly hard, let’s talk. Let me help you by doing the heavy lifting with resources and materials along with training and facilitation. And you can get back to doing what you do best, engaging with and supporting your people. I have many ways to support you from full service hands on the guidance and support from afar. So let’s chat about what works best for you and your people.
Lindsay Recknell 32:16
As always, I’m here if you need me
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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