Guest Voices: Ashley Cassidy on Getting Back to Work

Atlanta Humane Society’s Associate Vice President of Employee Success, Ashley Cassidy, shares her thoughts on next steps in this new normal. How can we set ourselves and our organizations up to successfully serve our communities in new and better ways?

COVID-19 has rocked our world. In early March, many of us were scrambling to come up with modified operations plans to carry us through two, three weeks, maybe? No one really knew, but surely, it could only be a couple of weeks, right? 

And here we are, 12 weeks later, still operating in some reduced, modified version of our normal. And in the time that has passed, we’ve adapted to the new normal. There are challenges, yes. Every day presents another challenge. Economic impact, health implications, being physically separated from loved ones, managing the impossibility of working full time while also acting as a homeschool teacher or full-time entertainer to small children. But in some ways, we’ve come to know what to expect from each day. We’ve grown accustomed to waiting… not knowing… anticipating… and somehow making it all work. 

And now, we are faced with a new and different challenge – the expectations of re-opening. It is time to return to work and figure out how we get back to “normal,” knowing that it won’t be the same. Things will not be just as they were before. Mindsets have shifted, anxieties have risen, and we look at the world and our surroundings differently. These new perspectives have to be considered when creating our plans to get back to work. 

So, it is time to plan

When creating our plan, the wellbeing of our people must be at the forefront, inclusive of staff, volunteers, and our public. As employers, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment for our employees. Not just during a pandemic, but always. And it is especially important that we consider emotional and mental health with the same care and attention we place on physical health. 

Having a written plan is key. Employees need something they can see and reference. Something tangible. How the plan is written is important. We are thinking through every ‘if this, then that’ scenario, but documenting guidelines for every possibility isn’t realistic. Much like writing an employee handbook, we need those policies and guidance in place, but they aren’t intended to provide all of the answers. The purpose is to establish the guidelines by which we make decisions. Everyone must understand that procedures, processes, and protocols will remain as fluid as the situation demands, while our mission, goals, and desired impacts remain constant. 

Our plan should illustrate that we have thought through countless scenarios, we have taken into consideration and applied the recommendations provided by public health officials, our state and local governments, and we have put measures into place to create a safe space for our employees to come into each day. It should also be clear that planning will continue, and changes will be made as needed moving forward. 

It is important for employees to know what to expect

In times like this, we are all wondering how the changes will impact us, as individuals, and the work that we do. Having answers to some of these questions can help to ease anxieties. 

Will we be required to wear masks throughout the day? Will health screens and temperature checks be conducted each morning? What social distancing measures are in place? What PPE will be provided by the organization? Beyond requirements for staff, how is the organization addressing volunteers or customers coming into the facility? What requirements do they have? 

The plan should address these questions. 

It is also important to acknowledge that these new requirements won’t necessarily look the same for everyone. While it may be easy for someone in an administrative role to maintain social distancing, a Veterinary Assistant working in surgery is side-by-side with their team and cannot socially distance. Guidelines and recommendations must be applied to the fullest extent in each work environment.  

Not all solutions can be written into a policy or guideline

Regardless of the detail of the plan, and the measures put in place, situations will arise that cannot be planned for. Some employees aren’t going to feel comfortable coming back into the workplace just yet. The idea of being in public areas or coming into contact with groups of people may seem terrifying to some. Others may fall in a higher risk group or live with someone who does. The solution for these scenarios can’t always be written into a policy or guideline. We must show compassion and consider each on a case-by-case basis. These situations call for individual conversations. They will look very similar to the conversations we have when bringing an employee back to work after an injury or period of leave. We must engage in the interactive process of determining whether or not there are  reasonable accommodations that can be made to alleviate concerns or challenges and enable the employee to get back to work. Part of that process may include obtaining documentation from the employees’ healthcare provider regarding a medical condition in order to consider available modifications or allowing an employee to continue working remotely for a period of time. If, as employers, we take every step to provide a safe work environment, and make reasonable accommodations as needed, we can bring our employees back to work and we should feel comfortable doing so.  

There are still many unanswered questions and uncertainty about what the coming months will bring. Above all, we must be realistic in our planning and expectations. Over the coming weeks, as we gradually shift back to something that resembles “normal,” we all must understand that things will continue to change, new recommendations will be issued, and our plans must adapt. 

As leaders, we must guide our organizations with an openness to doing things differently. This is a key to thriving while serving the animals and our communities in new and better ways. 

Ashley M. Cassidy, PHR, SHRM-CP, Associate Vice President of Employee Success, has led Human Resources for the Atlanta Humane Society since 2011. She participates in The Association’s OnPOINT HR group, and through her work, strives to create a sound infrastructure and support a thriving culture of learning, innovation, and growth. Ashley earned her BA from Auburn University in Political Science, and Master of Public Administration from Troy University.

Bookmark These Resources

theIntake on YouTube: Support Your Team During Change & Uncertainty
theIntake Podcast: Support Your Team During Change & Uncertainty
Human Resources sample documents from Oregon Humane Society (scroll down to view the 9 sample documents)


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