Home Posts tagged EANE


By Sandra Mauro


As human-resource professionals partner with their organization’s senior leaders to set priorities for 2024, we at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) can’t help but reflect on the 2023 workplace predictions and ask, how effective were we at deciding where to focus our efforts, and, more importantly, did we move the needle on the critical issues we faced?

In 2023, seven key challenges were forecasted. Number one was quiet hiring, challenging us to look internally and determine if our workforce strengths would meet future organizational needs. Number two was equitable flexibility for frontline workers, an inspirational idea to open up the dialogue for frontline workers to freely express their preferences on how, when, and with whom they work.

Three through six were manager support, pursuing non-traditional talent, coping with stress, and workplace civility. Number seven? Technology and the entrance of AI.

Focusing forward on 2024, two through seven are green workplaces, civil culture, defining the new workplace, psychological safety, learning and upskilling, and career advancement. What a difference a year makes. AI has catapulted to number one.

When we think about AI and ask what will my organization do (or not do) with this new technology, we first need to acknowledge that Gen Z now makes up 23% of our 2024 workforce. This generation literally grew up with technology at their fingertips from the time they could touch it, and will expect nothing less in their workplace. Gen Z is not only tech-savvy, they are highly motivated for change thinking and will quickly move into key positions with great influence over our workplaces.

Yes, the demand for faster information, revolutionary thinking, and finding how and where AI can enhance — or threaten — our workplace will dominate our organizations. And equally important on every generation’s mind are the other six priorities.

There is no question 2023 was filled with turning our organization’s energy from day-to-day survival to blazing our future path. We tiptoed through return to the workplace, fought through scarce candidate pools, and contemplated solutions to quiet quitting and disengagement.

With our sights on what to implement to stay relevant in 2024, we need to collaboratively decide where we are going to focus our resources. Now more than ever, we need to keep our doors open and ask for employee ideas, buy-in, and commitment. Fight not only to align your operational objectives, but to nurture your organizational values, welcome authenticity, and embrace a culture where collaboration across every department is encouraged and celebrated.

And when 2025 is around the corner, let’s reflect back together and ask again, how did we do? After all, what gets measured gets done.


Sandra Mauro is a human resource business partner at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Women in Businesss

Making Workplaces Better

Allison Ebner

Allison Ebner says EANE’s services have become more important in the wake of recent workforce challenges, from retention to legislative compliance.

Looking back, Allison Ebner said she’s had the perfect trajectory to transition into her newest role, as president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE).

“My background has always been in the third-party services area, working in the staffing industry,” said Ebner, who joined EANE seven years ago. “You get to see so much when you’re in so many different businesses, so many different organizations, across a variety of industries, working with their leadership teams and their human-resource departments.”

Those roles, over the years, included talent agent at FIT Staffing, director of Membership Development at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and vice president of Sales & Marketing at United Personnel Services.

“So I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many of the businesses that are members of EANE throughout my career,” she added. “And that’s why it’s really fun to be able to step into this position and continue some of the relationships I’ve had with HR professionals and CEOs for a number of years.”

Longtime EANE President Meredith Wise recently announced she will be stepping down at the end of June after 28 years with the organization, the last 21 as president.

“We have the opportunity every day to make 1,050 organizations across the Northeast better, to have a better employee experience. We talk about that here — how we help create exceptional workplaces.”

“I am so proud of our accomplishments and the work we’ve done to continue the 100-plus-year tradition of the association, including expanding our footprint to serve employers in Connecticut and Rhode Island as well as all of Massachusetts,” Wise said. “The depth and breadth of our resources and services has grown to meet the ever-changing needs of our members and employers in the region.”

Ebner joined EANE in 2016 as director of Membership and Partnerships, overseeing the group that is responsible for keeping members with the association and expanding membership, as well as developing relationships with partners who might provide services and support to members.

For example, “we have partners in the payroll space. We have partners in the background-checking space,” she said. “And we fully vet those vendors and bring them to our members if they’re good partners for our members to have and use.”

Last year, Ebner was promoted to vice president of Membership and Partnerships, and later selected by the board to succeed Wise. Linda Olbrys will join the EANE team as the new director of Membership and Partnerships, bringing considerable experience in both human resources and talent acquisition and retention services.

As for Ebner, she brings not just her experience to the president’s chair, but a passion for EANE’s multi-faceted work.

“We are a nonprofit organization that provides amazing resources to these member companies, and we all really believe so strongly in that mission,” she told BusinessWest. “We have the opportunity every day to make 1,050 organizations across the Northeast better, to have a better employee experience. We talk about that here — how we help create exceptional workplaces. That’s really what we do.”


What’s the Pitch?

Ebner jokes that it’s impossible to craft an elevator pitch detailing all the reasons a business should join EANE. An elevator ride of that length simply doesn’t exist. But it helps the discussion, she said, to break its services into three pillars.

The first is membership support, funded by annual dues that are benchmarked to the number of workers a member employs.

“Probably the most popular member benefit we have is access to our employer hotline, which is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 and 5 with seven or eight certified HR professionals. Members can call with compliance questions, employee-relations issues, safety-related issues, best practices, anything around policies, forms … really, anything.”

Last year, the hotline fielded more than 5,000 calls. During the first year of COVID, it took more than 8,000 as companies were suddenly faced with unprecedented challenges.

“When needs arise, people want answers, they need advice, they need resources,” Ebner said. “Our director of Compliance, Mark Adams, was doing weekly Friday webinars with 500, 600 people — it almost crashed our Zoom. Everyone was trying to keep up — ‘well, what are they saying now about compliance? What do we do about testing? Are we allowed to require masks, or not require masks?’ It just got so crazy. And we had to be on top of everything.

“The pandemic was a game changer,” she added. “The hotline was really crazy during that time. And it still remains our most popular member benefit.”

But members also get access to monthly webinars, compensation and salary-benchmarking data, a library of sample forms and policies, and an online resource tool offering performance-management systems, job-description writing tools, and other resources.

“The pandemic was a game changer. The hotline was really crazy during that time.”

The second pillar has to do with HR support services, like employee handbooks, affirmative-action plans, audits, and recruiting services.

“We’ve done a lot of compensation reports for organizations. When you can’t find the talent, the first place people go is, ‘well, what am I paying? Am I paying fair market? How am I benchmarked versus my competition?’ So we’ve done a lot of compensation work over the last few years, during the talent crunch.

“We also use a service called HR Partner, where, if you need an extra hand in HR or you’re missing HR — maybe you’re a small organization, and you don’t have a dedicated HR person, or maybe you lost your HR person to a medical leave — we have a team that will go out and be your HR team,” she explained. “That’s a really nice option for folks, and a very fast-growing part of our business here at EANE.”

The third pillar centers on learning and development, including more than 40 different training programs, both virtually and on site.

“Our learning and development area is very, very strong, and that’s a fast-growing part of our organization,” Ebner said. “We just had a leadership summit with over 500 attendees at the MassMutual Center.

“So, it’s all those resources, the HR services and the training. What I love about EANE is we’re all under one umbrella; members get a discount on all the HR services and training, and then they get all those benefits with their membership dues,” she went on. “Our challenge is shortening that elevator speech. But, in alignment, it all makes sense.”


Growing Footprint

That network of services and resources benefits members of all sizes, she said, and from all across the Northeast; the majority of EANE members are in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, but the organization is growing in Vermont, and it has members in New Hampshire and even Maine as well.

“It’s for a five-person organization that’s looking for support getting started with their HR infrastructure, all the way up to a large healthcare organization here with more than 10,000 employees,” she noted. “The sweet spot for us is that 50- to 300-employee organization.”

No matter what their size or sector, employers of all kinds continue to deal with compliance challenges, from proposed legislation to raise the Massachusetts minimum wage again to recent laws regarding sick time and family leave.

“We’re looking at those challenges from a compliance standpoint, federally and statewide. But I think what’s really changed for organizations is the deal between employers and employees — that currency, that transaction.”

Elaborating, Ebner noted, “pre-pandemic, employers were really in the driver’s seat. The talent crunch was tight, but it was still a very employer-driven economy for the workforce. That has been turned upside down, and it’s turned into an employee-driven marketplace, where employees are making demands. They want more flexibility. They want work-life balance. They want to work differently. They want to work from anywhere.

“That’s where we’ve had to pivot and provide resources to employers so they can sustain their organizations,” she went on. “And a lot of our members are in multiple states, too. So paid family leave in Massachusetts is very different than paid family leave in Connecticut. And if you’ve got a headquarters in Massachusetts, but you’ve got another facility in Connecticut, you have to know everything; you’ve got to know what’s happening in both states, plus federally. We just brought on a new member, and they have remote employees in 22 states, which means you’ve got tax and employment implications in 22 states.”

HR professionals often find it challenging to keep up with all of that on their own, Ebner noted, and that’s if a company even employs an HR team. “So we really try to provide that value, where we keep up with those things so you don’t have to. And we execute on those things that you need to know.”

And while the questions might not be flying the way they were during COVID, the quickly changing nature of business — from compliance to talent retention to strategies for pay and benefits — is a constant.

“It’s challenging, obviously, but it’s gratifying, helping businesses navigate all this,” Ebner said. “That, I think, is our core mission. That’s why we work here.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 161: May 8, 2023

George O’Brien Interviews Meredith Wise, soon-to-be-retired president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast

Talk of a four-day work week is nothing new; it’s been a topic of discussion for more than a decade now. The talk has heated up recently, though, as the four-day model has been touted as a way to do everything from relieve stress to help in the challenging task of recruiting and retaining talent. On the next installment of BusinessTalk, Meredith Wise, soon-to-be-retired president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast, talks with BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien about whether the four-day week can work, in what sectors it might make sense, and under what circumstances. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

Sponsored by:

Also Available On



By Michelle Desaulniers


Most everyone has been a passenger on an airplane and heard the safety talk. Very often, the ‘put your own mask on first before helping others’ analogy is used to remind people, in myriad situations, that it is OK — in fact, it is preferable — to practice self-care.

Most of us push self-care and everything that goes along with that notion to the bottom of our to-do list — and we just keep on flying. But what if, at the beginning of 2022, you decided to put yourself and your career first? Start this new year on a different note by taking a personal learning inventory.

At the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), we are challenging our members to bring their personal development to the number-one position on their to-do list for 2022 by asking themselves these questions:

• How will you make next year count?

• What will you do to take your career to a new level?

• How will you challenge yourself in 2022?

What will it take to get you into a personal growth mindset? Start by thinking about the last time you took a class, attended a training session, or went to a conference. Remember that feeling of accomplishment, the renewed sense of purpose and engagement that you felt afterwards? It was great connecting with peers outside of your organization and sharing ideas, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t you like to feel that again and really get into that forward-thinking growth mindset?

EANE offers a variety of formal opportunities and options to refresh your attitude and to add substance to your learning inventory. The coming year should be punctuated with your own personal learning events that will enable you to return to your daily challenges feeling refreshed, re-energized, and ready to tackle those challenges with a new outlook and armed with freshly minted skills. Not only do you owe it to yourself, but you owe it to your co-workers. They will see your example, and they will follow it.

No doubt everyone is feeling the weight of the world lately, and no one wants to poke their head up for fear of flying objects. But allowing your professional growth to stagnate for yet another year is like putting someone else’s mask on before your own. On an airplane — and in your career — that could lead to disaster.


Michelle Desaulniers is a member of the Learning & Development team at EANE.

Coronavirus Special Coverage

Q & A for the Reopening

By Ellen McKitterick and Mark Emrick

Employers are beginning to look at bringing employees back into the workplace and/or opening up their offices after being closed for six to eight weeks. Here is a sampling of the key questions that the HR Hotline staff at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) is responding to.

Ellen McKitterick

Ellen McKitterick

Mark Emrick

Mark Emrick

How do I respond to an employee who says they are afraid to return to work? Each instance needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. If the employee has a valid reason that fits within an FMLA, ADA, or other reasonable accommodation, then be sure to start the interactive process and see if the request is reasonable. Otherwise, general fear is not a valid reason, and the employee would be voluntarily resigning.

How do I respond to an employee who says they don’t feel safe returning to the workplace? Assuming you have taken all required cleaning and disinfecting steps, you can respond: “we are operating a safe workplace. We are operating in accordance with state and local safety and health guidelines. There currently is no recognized health or safety hazard in our workplace.” Otherwise, general fear is not a valid reason, and the employee would be voluntarily resigning.

As we ramp up our operations, we need our workforce to return to the physical workplace. How do I respond to an employee’s request to continue working from home? Employers do not have to permit work from home if it does not fit their business needs; it is not up to the employee. That being said, in our current crisis, it is wise to allow working from home until the COVID-19 situation is under better control.

What if I can only bring my employees back part-time? They have been on unemployment during their furlough. How will this affect their ability to collect benefits? Employees who are collecting any benefit from unemployment insurance (UI) will continue to receive the additional $600 from the federal government at least through July 31. Partial unemployment may still qualify them for some UI; there is a partial-payment calculator at mass.gov to determine the possible benefit.

Can my employees continue to collect unemployment after I have asked them to come back, but they refuse? They can try, but they are not eligible if you have offered work. Employers should notify the Department of Unemployment Assistance of any employee refusing to return.

What do I do if my employee says they are making more money on unemployment than working for me and do not want to return right away? The employee needs to make a decision. Either they take the short-term gain of extra unemployment or the long-term gain of their job. This would be considered, in most cases, voluntary resignation. Their position may not be available when they decide to return to work.

What effects does our recent furlough have on my employees’ flexible spending account and dependent care accounts, the loss of contributions, and amount of time remaining for contributions in 2020? Employees may be allowed to make changes to some accounts, but it would require an amendment to your plan. IRS Notice 2020-29 may answer more questions.

Can I screen or test employees for symptoms of COVID-19 before they return to work? What screening methods should I use? Yes, during a pandemic you can take employees’ temperatures or ask business-related health questions such as “have you had symptoms, a fever over 100.4, or been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?: Remember that HIPAA and privacy laws apply.

Can I require older workers who are at high risk to continue to stay at home? No, you cannot exclude anyone in a protected class. If they voice a concern, then you should enter into the interactive process and see if a reasonable accommodation may apply.

Do I have to provide face masks for my employees? In Masachusetts, employees will be required to wear them at work, but it is to be determined who has to provide them. Neighboring states are all requiring the employer to provide needed personal protective equipment.

How do I respond to any employee who refuses to adhere to our social-distancing guidelines or wear a face covering in the office? Upon return to work, employers should put employees on notice of any new policy, any special protocols that may apply, and the personal protective equipment that is required. Engage in an interactive process to ascertain any concerns and determine if special conditions may apply before moving to discipline.

What should I do if my employees are complaining about coming back to work and the extra requirements? Employees are entitled to complain about working conditions to fellow employees. They should remain professional and follow all company policies, but they have the right to voice their opinion as long as they are not defamatory or causing disruptions.

Ellen McKitterick is EANE’s newest HR business partner. She advises member organizations on all aspects of employment law, including wage and hour issues, employment discrimination, employee benefits, leaves of absence, and unemployment, and trains EANE members and non-members on harassment prevention, basic employment concepts, employee medical and leave issues, and key management skills. Mark Emrick is a senior HR business partner at EANE with consulting responsibilities for all aspects of the HR function — recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, benefits administration, compliance, performance management, coaching, development, corrective action, and terminations. He is also an experienced investigator for employee complaints and issues.