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CPN’s HR department adapts to serve employees during pandemic

By Paige Willett Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
CPN Human Resources representative Gwen Rice conducts a new hire orientation with Destinee Hernandez, Monday, June 15, 2020.

As Pottawatomie County’s largest employer, Citizen Potawatomi Nation has approximately 2,300 people working across its 15 enterprises and numerous offices. Throughout the pandemic, the Tribe’s Human Resources Department workload has remained unhindered. 

According to department director Richard Brown, HR staff were prepared to face new challenges because they adapt every day, regardless.

“We do everything,” he said. “Some of (CPN’s employees) need help. They’ve been locked in the house for a couple of months looking at four walls, not having anyone to talk to or whatever the need may be, HR is there for them. And so, we’re that arm they can call, or we can find them assistance if it gets to a point to where they and we think they may need additional help outside the normal workplace issues.”

Usually, the HR Department is reliant on face-to-face communication. However, staff continues to harness creativity, developing contactless ways to serve CPN’s workforce.

A new normal

Before COVID-19, the Tribe held extensive new hire orientations in person every Monday. Due to the circumstances caused by the virus, the Nation acknowledges the impracticality of gathering multiple individuals in a room for hiring purposes. As a result, the department developed a “curbside” orientation.

“We meet them at the curb, give them their badges. They present to us their identification proving their eligibility to work in the U.S., and in turn, we’ll send them out to their supervisors and departments. And therefore, we’re keeping that social distancing going from that standpoint,” Brown said.

Human resource’s online capabilities allow for electronic review and signature of all necessary documents. Employees process and complete their paperwork before they meet with a staff member from their car.

“When they get here, that six-hour day that they spend with HR has gone from that to about a 15-minute meeting at the curb,” he said.

While some Tribal departments and enterprises cut their hours back, others hired employees as their workload increased throughout the pandemic. The three FireLake Discount Foods locations saw increased foot traffic, and other essential positions still require qualified candidates to fill them.

“We’re always available for a phone call, or if there are questions about what we’re doing, what you need to do, what people in your family need to do from a COVID-19 standpoint,” Brown said. “We still have our central businesses that we are hiring for, which basically is law enforcement, our health care facilities, our daycare and our grocery. That’s really important.”

A new focus

As a department itself, human resources now relies on virtual meetings, staggered office days between staff and telework. In the last few months, they’ve taught and helped other departments do the same.

“I don’t think so much that the job has changed,” Brown said. “We still do everything that we’ve always done. It just may be from the standpoint that you’re not sitting in front of me, or I’m not sitting in front of you. We’ve had to learn phone etiquette all over again because (that’s how) we’re having a whole lot of our conversations.”

New and current employees also complete mandatory training regarding COVID-19. It includes the basics of the spread of the virus as well as safety measures, including CPN and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“We’re looking at all the ways that we can, as an employer, keep 2,300 staff safe and healthy. Not only do we have to worry about that 2,300 staff, but we’re worried about their families — the community as a whole. And so we’ve taken some measures through policy, basically, to ensure that we are doing everything we need to do to stay safe,” Brown said.

CPN leadership included human resources as soon as preparations began on how to manage and fight COVID-19. Brown sat alongside experts from CPN Health Services during each planning stage. He enjoys taking advantage of their accessibility and knowledge to keep everyone safe.

“They keep us up to date with the various things that they’re getting at the national level, state level, local level. And together with all of those sources, we think we’re able to do what we need to do to stay healthy as far as our employees are concerned and to ease their mind,” Brown said.

While adjusting to many changes, the human resources department’s focus remains the same — to act as a source of support and stability for the Nation’s employees, even under difficult of circumstances.

“The one thing I expect from HR staff is when we talk to someone, put yourself in that person’s shoes on the other end of the line,” Brown said. “You need to visit with them the way you would want to be visited with and remember that nothing is personal toward you. This person’s looking for help. We’re here to help them, and we’re going to treat them with courtesy and kindness,” whether that is on the phone, in a parking lot meeting or on a Zoom call.

As staffing increases and business continues, the Nation looks forward to welcoming new team members at every level.

“We’re always looking for good people at CPN and want them to come join our big, happy family here,” Brown said.

Visit firelakejobs.com to browse current job openings and apply for positions across all Tribal enterprises and offices.