Finding the “sweet spot” for the workplace environment of the future - Penn-Mar

Finding the “sweet spot” for the workplace environment of the future

Posted on June 23, 2022

By Gregory T. Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Human Services | Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Foundation
Greg Miller

Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services

In my last blog, I spoke about how good it was to gather in person with my peers at the ANCOR Conference. Much of the conversation there centered on workforce issues and what “the workplace of the future” might look like.

I shared that when new people interview to join our team at Penn-Mar, often one of the first questions they ask is, “Can I work remotely?” That expectation has forever changed the American worker.

On the national news front, Elon Musk has told his Tesla employees to come back to their respective offices full-time or “they should pretend to work somewhere else.”

These are just a few examples of the challenges all types of businesses – and employees — are grappling with since the COVID pandemic made remote working an essential and in many cases a doable option.

Adding to this dilemma is the fact that there are way more positions available today than there are people to fill them and we all want to attract the best employees to our organizations.

So given these conditions, it is imperative that we create opportunities for new and current employees that will provide them with a work/life balance that addresses some of the expectations of what our work environment is going to transition to permanently.

As the leader of a human services organization, I am most interested in having a healthy workplace for all of our team members and discovering what that looks like for different positions. But that does not mean I will accept what people want for themselves if it is not good for the organization.

The core of our business is to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live courageously in pursuit of their best life.

This is something that relies — and thrives — on personal interaction and strong relationships.

However, with the exception of our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), most of the job functions in our organization do lend themselves to some form of remote work.

Nothing can take the place of the one-on-one relationship with a team member. That is why in some situations we may find ourselves considering a hybrid-working situation where it makes the most sense.

I strongly believe managers who primarily supervise DSP’s cannot do that exclusively and effectively from afar.  The biggest challenge we have at Penn-Mar is with our DSP team members who need to be on the job, every day, supporting the people with disabilities in living courageous lives.

Because the DSP-supervisor relationship is so incredibly powerful, we know it drives workforce retention in our organization. As I have said many times before, people don’t always leave an organization; they often leave managers or folks they work directly with because of relationship issues.

So we find ourselves looking carefully at how we can support all of our team members with flexible work schedules and, where appropriate, the ability to work-off site.

The goal is to find the sweet spot. This is not about “convenience.” It’s about “efficiency” in delivering essential supports.

And while we will continue to strategically embrace what technology will allow us to do to enhance our supports, we are under no illusion that it will ever take the place of the DSPs’ role and any of the primary supports we provide.

In trying to create this new workplace dynamic, we will continue to listen to our team members and solicit their input. This will not be a top-down decision by any means.

It is critically important that all of our team members have a shared sense of ownership for whatever decisions made to re-invent the working environment at Penn-Mar and the knowledge that they were thoughtfully designed with the best interests of themselves and the organization in mind. 

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