Making Workplaces Better
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.”
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.”