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Opinion

Opinion

By John Henderson

We’ve all heard the famous quote by Henry Ford, “the only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

When you invest in someone’s professional growth, how do you measure the return on your company’s investment? There are several models that can help you measure return on investment (ROI). One model that many people use is the Kirkpatrick Model of Training Evaluation. In this model, there are four levels to evaluate:

• Level 1: Reaction. This is simply noting how people directly respond to the training. Were they satisfied? You can measure that by evaluation responses.

• Level 2: Learning. What knowledge and skills did the employee acquire due to the training? This can be measured by observing the employee’s performance after the training — was there improvement?

• Level 3: Behavior. How did the employee’s behavior change? Has there been an increase in productivity, motivation, and employee engagement?

• Level 4: Impact. How has the training impacted the goals of the team and/or organization?

While the Kirkpatrick model is widely used, if you are looking for a more mathematical way to measure ROI, you can use a more traditional formula: simply calculate the dollar return (benefit: have sales increased, have efficiencies increased, has retention increased), and divide it by the cost of the investment (training).

Now, with all that said, let’s look at how to effectively get the most return on training investment.

First, determine the skills gap and identify the appropriate training course for the person to attend.

Second, set them up for success by doing the following:

• Explain to the person why you are sending him or her to the training session. I once had a participant during a break tell me he thinks he was sent to the leadership series because he was in trouble. I asked him if he would be comfortable asking his supervisor why he was selected to attend. When he returned to the next class, he proudly proclaimed, “I’m here because they think I have high potential to be a leader.”

• Provide the person with all the logistical information and an overview of what the content of the training will be.

• Provide the trainee’s supervisor with the same information.

• Encourage the trainee and supervisor to meet after the training is completed to discuss what was learned and how the employee intends to use the newly learned skills.

Investing in your employees’ training can bring great ROI if you make sure to follow the four steps outlined above. Don’t spend your learning and development dollars without ensuring that the participant is prepared and ready to learn.

 

John Henderson is director of Learning and Development at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By Kim Dunn

 

Many organizations face the challenge of creating and keeping their workplaces free from conflict and drama. Although drama comes from many places and in many forms, the only sure way to rid your organization of it is to get to its true source.

Identifying the cause or source is where you get to put your detective skills to work. Digging down to the root of the problem starts with asking deep and meaningful questions to draw out what the true issues are that are creating the conflict. To do this, you will need to become an expert fact finder, which is often easier said than done. In many instances, there is not just one issue, but many, and the path to identifying what has created the tension or conflict between employees is murky and blurred with emotions.

It is interesting that there are some organizational cultures that seem to breed drama and others where there is rarely an issue. My research and experience with managing conflict in the workplace has reinforced that failing to address the following items will almost always lead to workplace drama.

• Inauthentic Leadership. A lack of authenticity creates a belief that management is hypocritical and that they only talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. In this environment, employees lose enthusiasm for their jobs, passion for what the company represents, and, most dangerously, they lose trust.

• Lack of Transparency. Misguided attempts at confidentiality can create the sense that everything is a secret. In the face of lacking information, employees will write their own story, which is almost always dangerous. Remember, employees usually know more than you think they know. Old-fashioned though it may sound, it pays to be open with as much information as possible.

• Not Addressing Bad Behavior. Many leaders hope drama will just go away if they ignore it. We know all too well that bad behavior never goes away on its own. The fact that the drama exists must be acknowledged and accepted so that action can be taken to address it. Inconsistency in dealing with conflict not only leads to the erosion of trust, but also increases the chance that it will return for a second act.

What all of these causes have in common is that they lead to a lack of trust in leadership. When employees do not trust and respect leadership, they will quickly become disengaged.

Drama can be created from many sources, and once you have identified the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ you can begin to take the action necessary to repair the damage or at least stop the bleeding.

If drama is alive and well in your organization, do not wait to take action to uncover and address the issues that are creating or feeding it. Drama impacts the bottom line because it takes up time, and time costs organizations money. That alone is reason enough to make it a top leadership priority.

In taking the steps to address workplace drama, it is important to remember that not all drama is created intentionally. It can be driven by insecurity, fear, or other emotional issues that have not been identified and dealt with. In many organizations, drama is created because people simply do not have the skills to manage conflict. Not many of us wake up in the morning looking forward to managing conflict; however, not having the skills to deal with it can lead to disastrous and expensive drama-filled workplaces.

The culture that you and the leaders are creating and cultivating in your organization must be a priority. By modeling the behaviors of collaboration, support, and customer focus, you will create a foundation where destructive behaviors are quickly identified and corrected. You can even take it a step further and build these behaviors into your performance-management system, which will help reward the best and address the rest.

The one thing we know for sure is that if conflict, aka drama, is not dealt with quickly, thoroughly, and consistently, it will never go away.

 

Kim Dunn is a Strategic Human Resources consultant at the Employers Assoc. of the Northeast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By John Henderson

Let’s face it: we are living and working in a socially and politically divisive world that can have a negative impact on a company’s culture. So what can an organization do about this in order to create and sustain a culture of respect in their workplace?

It really comes down to courtesy — being polite and aware of other’s concerns and feelings, and practicing the good manners of saying “hello,” asking “how are you?” and actually waiting for the person to respond rather than continuing to walk by them.

We foster a culture of respect by appreciating everyone for their uniqueness and intrinsic worth as a person — what they bring to the team and organization. We realize that we must create a place where people can be their authentic self at work. We show that we value and support others. And the most important thing is that we accept people for who they are and what they do, but we don’t necessarily need to agree with their opinions or values.

The last one is where many organizations fall short by allowing people’s differences to get in the way of having a productive and positive environment where people feel valued and feel that they belong.

As in real estate, where the most important things are location, location, and location, the things that are most important to creating a respectful workplace are communication, communication, and communication. We must lead by example and communicate openly and constructively.

We must also have embedded in our culture the willingness to effectively address disrespectful behavior, not turn and walk away from it. When communicating, make sure it is clear, specific, and understood by the recipient by asking them to repeat back what they heard and what you agree upon. Most importantly, remember that our non-verbal communication is 70% of what is conveyed.

To foster a culture of respect does not have to be a difficult undertaking. Ensuring that the values and norms of the organization are understood by all is the first step, but living them is the next step that needs to be part of everyday life in your organization.

 

John Henderson is director of Learning and Development at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By State Rep. Aaron Saunders

 

I grew up in a home where it was OK to ask if you were OK, mentally or physically, at the dinner table. This was not common during the 1980s, when a stay in a psychiatric ward could be a mark against you for life, but my dad was a psychologist, and my mother, a teacher.

They knew the importance of conversations with their boys about feelings, expectations, and disappointments and not just a skinned knee and how you got it.

I was reminded of this recently during a visit to the newly renovated adolescent unit of MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke. Its recent reopening brought back on line 16 much-needed inpatient beds in Western Mass. for youth ages 13 to 17. The redesigned environment enhances delivery of care and healing for this population, in which recent government data estimates that nearly 50% have had a mental-health disorder at some point in their lives.

Massachusetts, with its Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform, introduced last year a Behavioral Health Line to call 24/7 and network of community behavioral-health centers that provide broader access to mental-health services for those in crisis. The state, too, has added inpatient psychiatric beds to ease Emergency Department boarding that continues for all age groups.

We, as legislators, need to ensure that there is ongoing funding for such services and adequate reimbursement rates for such beds, as well as for addiction-treatment programs. Mental-health and substance-use disorders co-occur frequently, and it is important for both to be treated.

We also need to continue to consider policies that address staffing shortages and issues like educating students and their families on the importance of mental healthcare.

Yet, there is another barrier — stigmatization — around lessening disabling behavioral-health conditions. Massachusetts has a campaign that seeks to educate that addiction is a chronic illness and not a personal choice, but stigma and misinformation continue to prevent individuals with behavioral-health issues from seeking treatment.

You can’t legislative away all stigma. We all need to be better-educated that mental illness can be treated and that there are steps to be taken to prevent poor mental health from progressing to where it interferes with daily life. This is what I reflected on during my recent visit to MiraVista.

I hear from my constituents of the need for services close to home and, in applying the lessons learned from my parents in asking my own three children about their feelings, I get a look into their day in an age when bullying and pressure to engage in unhealthy behavior can come from anywhere.

We all need to be more open to talking with our families, friends, and healthcare providers about our mental health and that of those in our care, as this, too, is part of the roadmap to raising emotionally healthy children and staying emotionally healthy, too.

 

State Rep. Aaron Saunders represents the 7th Hampden District.

Opinion

Opinion

By Dr. Negar Beheshti

In a world where the pursuit of perfection can sometimes overshadow the significance of self-compassion, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center emphasizes the need for New Year’s resolutions that prioritize mental health and are both realistic and achievable. This approach aims to reduce the pressure often associated with traditional New Year’s resolutions and promotes a more holistic perspective on personal growth. The key themes are:

Prioritize self-care rituals. Resolve to incorporate daily self-care rituals into your routine. This could include activities like meditation, reading, taking a warm bath, or going for a nature walk.

Establish healthy boundaries. Set clear boundaries in your personal and professional life. Learn to say ‘no’ when necessary and prioritize activities that contribute positively to your well-being.

Cultivate mindfulness and presence. Make a commitment to being more present in the moment. Practice mindfulness through activities like meditation, deep-breathing exercises, or simply taking a moment to appreciate the present.

Nurture positive relationships. Focus on building and strengthening positive relationships. Invest time in meaningful connections with friends and family, fostering a support system that contributes to your emotional well-being.

Limit screen time. Reduce the time spent on electronic devices and social media. Allocate time for activities to promote mental health, such as reading, engaging in hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones.

Practice gratitude. Start a gratitude journal and make it a habit to reflect on the positive aspects of your life. Regularly expressing gratitude can shift your focus towards positivity.

Engage in regular physical activity. Choose physical activities that you enjoy and make them a regular part of your routine. Exercise has proven benefits for mental health, releasing endorphins that can boost mood and reduce stress.

Seek professional support. Break down the stigma surrounding mental health by committing to seeking professional support when needed. Therapy or counseling can provide valuable tools for managing stress, anxiety, or other mental-health challenges.

Embrace a healthy sleep routine. Prioritize sleep by establishing a consistent sleep routine. Ensure that you are getting enough restorative sleep each night, as it plays a crucial role in mental and emotional well-being.

Learn a new skill or hobby. Engage your mind in positive and creative activities by learning a new skill or picking up a hobby. This can provide a sense of accomplishment and contribute to your overall sense of well-being.

 

Dr. Negar Beheshti is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist and chief medical officer for both MiraVista and TaraVista Behavioral Health Centers.

Opinion

Opinion

By Ben Brubeck

 

The Biden administration’s final rule, “Federal Acquisition Regulation: Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects,” implements Executive Order 14063, which requires federal construction contracts of $35 million or more to be subject to controversial project labor agreements (PLAs).

The Biden administration’s burdensome, inflationary, and anti-competitive PLA mandate rule will needlessly raise costs on taxpayer-funded construction projects and steer contracts to unionized contractors and workers. Absent a successful legal challenge, this executive overreach will reward powerful special interests with government construction contracts at the expense of taxpayers and the principles of free enterprise and fair and open competition in government procurement.

When mandated by governments, PLAs increase construction costs to taxpayers by 12% to 20%, reduce opportunities for qualified contractors and their skilled craft professionals, and exacerbate the construction industry’s worker shortage of more than a half-million people in 2023.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) will continue to fight on behalf of quality, experienced contractors harmed by this rule and the 88.3% of America’s construction industry who have made the choice not to belong to a union and want a fair opportunity to participate in federal construction projects, but cannot do so because of PLA schemes.

In addition, ABC condemns Biden administration policies independent of this rulemaking that push PLAs on competitive grant programs administered by federal agencies, affecting nearly $260 billion worth of federally assisted infrastructure projects procured by state and local governments, as well as schemes by the Biden administration to coerce private developers of hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of clean energy and domestic microchip manufacturing projects to mandate PLAs. Biden’s PLA policies circumvent congressional intent as none of these policies were passed in funding legislation.

Some background: on Aug. 19, 2022, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council issued its proposed rule implementing Executive Order 14063. In October 2022, ABC submitted more than 40 pages of comments to the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, calling on the Biden administration to withdraw its controversial proposed rule.

ABC’s opposition was shared by more than 50 members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, 19 Republican governors, and a diverse coalition of construction-industry, small-business, and taxpayer advocates urging the administration to withdraw its proposal and additional policies promoting PLA mandates on federal and federally assisted construction projects.

At least 8,000 stakeholders across the country — including 2,500 ABC member contractors — submitted comments opposed to this proposed rule during the 60-day comment period. In a September 2022 survey of ABC contractor members, 98% opposed this proposed rule, and 97% said a construction contract that required a PLA would be more expensive compared to a contract procured via fair and open competition.

ABC plans to challenge this Biden administration scheme in the courts on behalf of taxpayers and the majority of the construction industry. In the interim, ABC will continue to oppose its special-interest-favoring policy using all tools in our advocacy and legal toolbox while educating stakeholders about the negative impact of government-mandated PLAs on federal and federally assisted projects.

 

Ben Brubeck is vice president of Regulatory, Labor, and State Affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors.

Opinion

Opinion

By Henry Howard

 

There is nothing minor about the support the American Legion Department of Massachusetts receives from the Springfield Thunderbirds.

For years the Thunderbirds have supported Massachusetts Legion programs such as Boys State, Junior Law Cadet, American Legion Baseball, and the developing softball program. The hockey team honors a Veteran of the Game and regularly conducts a jersey raffle, with proceeds going to a Legion program.

Department of Massachusetts NECman Jodie Pajak raves about the support. “There’s no question, no feedback, no static when we ask them for anything. There is no hesitation from anybody on their staff. I’ve never been to any establishment where they are that welcoming. They want to be part of the community, and it definitely shows. The relationship is phenomenal.”

The Legion-Thunderbirds partnership was on full display on Dec. 1, the Legion’s Be the One Day. American Legion members set up a booth inside the arena to educate fans about the organization’s primary mission to reduce the number of veteran suicides. Legion family members handed out customized brochures to thousands of fans. Additionally, a special Be the One jersey, signed by the entire team, was revealed. It will be raffled off at the end of the season, with proceeds going to the Veterans & Children Foundation to support Be the One.

The Be the One mission is especially meaningful for Pajak. “Veterans suicide is a cancer that should not be,” she said. “There are way too many resources, way too many programs to help veterans and their families, to help combat these needs and feelings that these veterans develop in their military careers and come across as they try to transition out of service and back to civilian life. You can’t just flip a switch and go from structured to unstructured. You have to have some help. After a few years, you find you just can’t cope. With this program, we hope that they see us and seek us out.”

Be the One was a natural tie-in this season for the Thunderbirds, which have regularly honored veterans. Their nickname, appropriately enough, is related to the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The team “wanted to get more involved with the community, and they are wonderful to work with,” said Pajak, who, along with her husband, Drew, are members of Post 185 in Agawam. “They felt the need, and they did want to help. They have been phenomenal in promoting this as a way to reduce the stigma. We have a partner that loves putting the Legion first.”

The Thunderbirds highlight the American Legion at all 36 home games. The Legion staffs a table inside the arena, promoting timely programs and initiatives. Over the course of a season, that outreach connects the Legion with at least 220,000 fans.

“At this level, specifically, I thought it was crucially important for us to build our business to open our doors to community projects and give it back to a number of programs, specifically the Legion,” said Nathan Costa, Thunderbirds team president. “Part of the vision from the very beginning was how we can do things to make an impact on the community while also trying to do the right thing.”

Ryan Smith, who manages the team’s media, community relations, and broadcasting, said his grandfather served in World War II. “It’s wrenching for me that there are so many of these military folks who come back and, for a variety of reasons, are not able to reacclimate to society,” he said, adding that he is thankful for the freedom he enjoys thanks to generations of veterans.

“This is a chance to thank them for all that they do, because without them, who knows what we could be doing on a day-to-day basis?” he said. “There is no amount of thanks that we can give them for all that they do for us.”

Strong community partners embolden the Be the One mission.

“It should be important to everybody,” Pajak said. “Everybody should be aware. The Thunderbirds are family-oriented and community-oriented. It’s not only veterans; it’s the community itself. It could be your neighbor. It could be your friend. It could be your co-worker that might need some help. They are willing to help us spread the word and make sure that it is known that is it OK to not be OK.”

 

Henry Howard is deputy director of Media and Communications for the American Legion.

Opinion

Opinion

By Kimberley Lee

 

In the vast landscape of public service, few figures stand as tall and unwavering in their commitment to mental-health advocacy as Rosalynn Carter. The former U.S. first lady carved a legacy defined by compassion, resilience, and an unyielding dedication to destigmatizing mental health. Her journey, spanning decades, has transformed the conversation around mental well-being and left an indelible mark on the global pursuit of mental-health awareness.

Carter’s journey into mental-health advocacy began at a time when discussing mental illnesses was often shrouded in silence and shame. In the 1970s, as the first lady, she fearlessly stepped into the spotlight to challenge societal norms, becoming a powerful voice for those whose struggles were often overlooked. Her early advocacy laid the foundation for a lifelong commitment to breaking down barriers and fostering understanding.

In 1991, she took a monumental step by establishing the Carter Center Mental Health Program. This initiative, born out of a deep sense of empathy, has been a driving force in shaping mental-health policies, conducting groundbreaking research, and providing resources to educate the public. It stands as a testament to Carter’s foresight and determination to create a world where mental health is prioritized.

At the core of Carter’s advocacy was a relentless pursuit of accessibility to mental healthcare. She tirelessly championed policies that recognized mental health on par with physical health, dismantling obstacles that impede individuals from seeking the support they deserve. Her vision extended beyond borders, advocating for a global approach to mental health that transcends cultural boundaries.

A defining aspect of Carter’s impact was her courage in confronting the stigma surrounding mental health. Through personal stories and public discourse, she became a beacon of hope, normalizing conversations that were once deemed uncomfortable. Her ability to connect with people on a personal level inspired others to share their experiences and contribute to the ongoing dialogue.

Beyond the accolades and recognition, Carter’s legacy is one of empathy in action. Her work has not only shifted policies, but has also sown the seeds of understanding and compassion in communities worldwide. In a world where mental health is gaining the recognition it deserves, she stands as a pioneer, a visionary who dedicated much of her life to ensuring that no one feels alone in their mental-health journey.

As we reflect on her profound impact, we are reminded that the journey toward mental-health acceptance is ongoing. Her example serves as both a call to action and a source of inspiration for individuals, communities, and nations to continue the important work of fostering a world where mental health is a priority and compassion knows no bounds.

Our work at MiraVista is very much a reflection of Rosalynn Carter’s significant contributions and commitment as our daily efforts continue with a profound sense of purpose and dedication, directly contributing to improving mental-health awareness and access to services.

 

Kimberley Lee is chief of Creative Strategy and Development at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke.

Opinion

Editorial 2

 

It has become somewhat of a tradition at BusinessWest to make Veterans Day a time to put a hard focus on those who have served, and also how veterans have helped shape our region’s business community. And over the years, there have been some great stories to tell.

But there are few better than the one involving a relatively new venture called Easy Company Brewing (see story on page 4).

It involves two veterans, Jeff St. Jean and John DeVoie (the latter of Hot Table Fame), who have come together on a very unique enterprise that blends history, entrepreneurship, some great beer, and an admirable willingness to do something to help those who have served their country.

Easy Company Brewing was created to celebrate the service, and many accomplishments, of the fabled ‘band of brothers’ from the 101st Airborne Division, as captured in the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries.

DeVoie and St. Jean, who have both served with the 104th Tactical Fighter Group based at Barnes Airport in Westfield (St. Jean still does), have long been enamored with the story of Easy Company, and came up with an idea to brew beers that would honor those men while also raising money to support nonprofits that provide services to veterans.

Indeed, following the model of Newman’s Own, 100% of profits are donated to several different nonprofits that support veterans, such as the Tunnel to the Towers Foundation, which has several programs to support first responders and veterans, including a program to build mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured veterans and first responders, and another to provide mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses with young children.

Meanwhile, and this is the fun part, the beers being developed by the company follow the story of Easy Company, from their training in Georgia to the south of England, where they trained for D-Day; to the Normandy coast in France; and then to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

The company’s efforts are drawing considerable support from individuals and businesses, as well they should. This is a noble mission, and one that deserves the backing of all those who want to recognize and honor our country’s veterans and do their part to help them.

In a way, Easy Company Brewing is making every day Veterans Day, and that’s an attitude worth emulating — by our businesses, our nonprofits, everyone.

We salute their efforts and encourage them to carry on.

Opinion

Opinion

 

While significant progress has been made in downtown Springfield in recent years, several issues and challenges remain, and many of them come together at the corner of State and Main streets and other properties near that intersection.

Indeed, this is the site of several mostly vacant and underutilized buildings in the shadow of MGM Springfield that were a big part of the city’s past, but have become an eyesore in the present and a huge question mark for the future.

Last week, that future became much brighter when the city named a preferred developer for a project to redevelop the so-called Clock Tower Building at State and Main, the Colonial Block just south on Main Street, and a smaller office building on Stockbridge Street.

McCaffery Interests Inc. plans to create more than 90 market-rate apartments in the three buildings, a $68 million project that, if it comes to fruition, could go a long way toward addressing some of those issues alluded to earlier.

One of them is housing.

At the local, state, and federal levels, this is the word you hear most often, and with good reason. There is a huge need for housing, and especially market-rate housing, in almost every community in Western Mass., especially Springfield. And while an additional 90 units won’t solve the problem, they will certainly be a huge step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, this project will bring new life to properties that stand in stark contrast to the gleaming casino across Main Street and to the progress seen at other addresses, especially Court Square, where another huge mixed-use project focused on housing is taking shape.

As mentioned earlier, these properties have played a big role in the city’s past, as home to both residents and businesses of all kinds, but they have been left behind, if you will, by neglect and huge changes in the office market.

Indeed, there is a now what amounts to a glut of office space in Springfield and questions about what will become of that space. McCaffery Interests has put some ambitious plans on the table to answer that question for at least three properties.

While helping to address the housing crisis and bring new life to these once-proud properties, this project will also bring additional momentum to the efforts to revitalize downtown Springfield and likely trigger efforts to redevelop many other vacant or underutilized properties in that area.

As we’ve written many times, there are several ingredients to the success of any downtown. The first is people. The second is businesses to support and serve those people. And one brings more of the other. More people means more restaurants, retail, and other service businesses, and these businesses, in turn, attract more people.

The ambitious project to redevelop these three properties should help generate this kind of chain reaction of progress.

It’s another big step forward for Springfield.

Opinion

Opinion

By Philip Korman

 

The widespread flooding that hit our region in mid-July illuminates many truths: the vulnerability of many local farms, the hard reality of climate change, and the amazing response that is possible when the community, nonprofit and foundation partners, and government all step up and work together.

Current estimates are that more than 100 local farms were affected by the floods and that they lost a combined $15 million in crops — but long-term effects are still being counted. The flooding came on the heels of two freezes that damaged peach, blueberry, and apple crops, and was followed by continued heavy rains that deluged even non-flooded fields. As our climate changes, these extreme weather events will become more common.

The response — from the generosity of individual donors to the speed with which our state government has acted — has been stunning. The governor signed a supplemental budget that includes $20 million in disaster relief to cover crop losses. The Emergency Farm Fund at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is offering no-interest loans up to $25,000 to affected farms, and a recent disaster declaration will make low-interest federal loans available too.

What is missing is money to cover all the other losses that farms have suffered, including the destruction of property and equipment. The new Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund can help fill this gap, and it has set an ambitious fundraising goal of $5 million to quickly get grants to farms.

Farmers are resilient, and they are adapting to their new reality — but they will need continued support and a robust emergency-response system as the climate changes. You can support them, as always, by buying local, and you can help build up the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund now so it’s there in the future. Learn more at buylocalfood.org/helpfloodedfarms.

 

Philip Korman is executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

Opinion

Opinion

By Claire Morenon, Margaret Christie, and Phil Korman

 

On July 10, heavy rains led to widespread flooding alongside small rivers and creeks throughout our region. The next day, the Connecticut River overflowed its banks to levels not seen since Hurricane Irene in 2011.

This flooding event was fast in some ways — the fields at Natural Roots Farm in Conway, along the South River, filled with water as farmers and their draft horses worked to save their deluged chickens and equipment. And it was slow in others, as farmers watched and waited more than 24 hours to see how high the Connecticut River would rise.

Heavy rain has continued to fall, making some fields that didn’t flood too wet to access for farmwork and increasing the likelihood of plant diseases that thrive in wet conditions.

Flooding is catastrophic for farms in many ways, and the timing of this flood is especially damaging. Floodwaters sweep away plants, livestock, equipment, and topsoil. Plants that survive generally can’t be harvested and eaten because floodwater is often contaminated with road runoff, sewage overflow, and other contaminants. Any edible part of a plant that contacts flood water or flooded soil can’t be sold or donated.

A flood in early July has huge financial implications for the farms that were flooded: they have devoted immense time and money to growing and maintaining crops which are now unsalable, and they may not be able to plant and harvest new crops before the growing season is over.

Flooding impacted farms of all kinds: small startups, some of them operated by immigrant and refugee farmers; long-standing, diverse vegetable operations that sell directly to consumers through farm stands and CSAs; and large wholesale operations that supply supermarkets and corner stores across the state. Farms of all sizes donate produce, too, so food pantries and food banks are also impacted.

The response to this disaster has been swift. Farmers have donated produce and young plants to flooded farms. Community members have contributed generously, and volunteers have turned out to help clean up mud and debris. State and federal elected leaders came to see the damage and hear directly from farmers. Local legislators, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, UMass Cooperative Extension, and nonprofits that focus on food and farms worked quickly and cooperatively to tally losses, address immediate needs, and plan for a more comprehensive response to this and future climate-related disasters.

Gov. Maura Healey also announced the launch of the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund (see story on page 64), a public/private initiative that offers a place to donate, a source of grants for impacted farms statewide, and the beginnings of a safety net for future climate-change events. In addition, advocates are hopeful that state legislators will include a farm disaster fund in their supplemental budget.

Farmers are resilient and adaptable. Farming has always been a weather-dependent, narrow-margin occupation. But the weather extremes of our changing climate are bigger and more damaging than the everyday unpredictability of New England weather.

This flood is the third weather event this year to bring widespread losses to local farms: peach buds were killed in February in a weekend cold snap during an otherwise warm winter, and a late frost in May greatly reduced blueberry and apple harvests. These events match climate-change predictions for our region, which include wild temperature fluctuations, increased precipitation, and higher summer temperatures.

Local farmers have already begun to adjust their growing practices to increase resilience in the face of these changes. But to survive, they need more help. This must include more funding for research into climate-adapted farming practices, more financial support for farmers in making those changes, and a more robust emergency-response system.

Climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent. Recent flooding and freezes show the devastation these events can cause — and the response that’s possible. Farms saw an outpouring of community support, and Massachusetts has begun to build the capacity for the larger response that will get us through this disaster and the ones to come.

Right now, funds are desperately needed. Go to buylocalfood.org to donate to the new Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund, individual farm fundraisers, and CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund, which provides no-interest farm loans. And don’t forget that using your grocery dollars to buy local food offers a two-part benefit: investing in local farms while enjoying summer’s bounty.

 

Claire Morenon is communications manager, Margaret Christie special projects manager, and Philip Korman executive director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).

 

Opinion

Opinion

By Joseph Kietner and Randal Brown

 

Through stormwater-management improvements to large parking areas, business owners can improve drainage, enhance the appeal and look of properties, and help to reduce contaminated storm flows to local rivers, streams, and lakes in the Pioneer Valley.

We, along with our colleagues in the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee, a regional coalition of 19 municipalities and UMass Amherst that is staffed by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, recommend that business and commercial property owners with large parking areas consider making improvements and retrofits to improve how storm flows are collected and treated.

There are two primary options for consideration when thinking about parking-lot stormwater improvements:

1. Retrofit or replace existing catch basins with deep sump hooded catch basins. In most parking lots, a curb and gutter system directs rainfall into catch basins, which are essentially boxes below ground that connect to the storm sewer system. Deep sump hooded catch basins are designed to capture sand and other sediment, litter, and floatables, including oil and grease. The four- to six-foot-deep sump provides an area for sediments to settle.

By capturing sediment and other pollutants, deep sump hooded catch basins can improve stormwater quality compared to older catch basins that do not have sumps or hoods. A study conducted in New York City demonstrated that deep sump hooded catch basins increased the capture of floatables (trash and oil and grease) by 70% to 80% over regular catch basins without hoods, and greatly extended the cleaning interval without a decrease in performance.

2. Retrofit the parking lot with vegetated areas where soil and plants can soak up rainfall. Vegetated areas in parking lots can be designed to receive and soak up flows. Any overflow from these areas can then be directed to existing parking-lot catch basins. Not only do such retrofits improve water quality, but trees and other plants along with soils can help reduce the superheating effects of large paved areas during summer months. Such facilities also make properties more visually attractive.

If your property is located in a municipality with a stormwater enterprise fund or stormwater utility fee, improvements may also be eligible for stormwater fee credits. Check with your local public works department.

To make stormwater improvements easier, the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Waterstone Engineering, have developed a library of green infrastructure stormwater-control design templates that can be sized to specific drainage areas. This library of design templates serves as an important tool. In addition to maintenance guidance, it includes key information on sizing, estimated cost, and pollutant loading reduction for each type of facility. See www.thinkblueconnecticutriver.org for more information.

 

Joseph Kietner is chair of the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee and Stormwater coordinator for the city of Westfield, and Randal Brown is vice chair of the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee and Public Works director for the town of Southwick.

Opinion

Opinion

By Dawn Forbes DiStefano

The Bermuda Triangle. Yawning. Dark matter. Pyramid alignment. These are just a few of the many unexplained mysteries that have perplexed experts for centuries.

Here in Western Mass., early-education and care providers have our very own unsolved mystery: how is it that our region, which is among the poorest in the Commonwealth, receives a fraction of what our peers in other parts of the state receive to provide programs and services to our highest-need populations, even when the costs are relatively the same?

According to the CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), Hampden County has the highest SVI rate in the entire Commonwealth. Oddly enough, we have sustained the lowest subsidy rate for decades.

For example, providers who care for income-eligible toddlers in Boston are reimbursed at a rate of $85.90 per day. That same level of care in Springfield receives a reimbursement of $61.16.

At the root of the mystery is the system upon which the rates are set. For years, we have relied on a flawed market-rate study that does not account for regional nuances that impact the actual cost of care in our region, causing huge disparities from one region to another.

But that is not where the mystery lies. The real enigma is, how have we allowed this to go on for so long, even after realizing the indisputable flaws in our system? This is the question we have been asking for years.

Let me say, I truly believe we are heading in the direction of adjusting our reimbursement system in a way that will better reflect the needs of all children and families. Our current administration is aware and ready to implement change. Last fall, we witnessed for the first time the collection and dissemination of regional data on the true cost of providing care. For some regions, this exposed a staggering difference between today’s rate and a more accurate account of expenses.

However, there remains a great deal of work to do, even though our most recent rate increases reflected an approximate 10% increase. While I’m grateful for the additional funding, it is not enough, and it’s far from equitable. Some regions would stand to earn a rate that exceeds the current estimated cost of providing care and early learning, while Square One and providers throughout Western Mass. fall short, yet again.

Our most recent rate changes maintain the same inequitable rate structure, with our region still receiving the lowest rate in the Commonwealth and only 88% of true cost. Other regions would exceed the estimated cost of care by more than 130%. How can we continue to ignore the cries for help in the most vulnerable area of our state?

The solution is not complicated. We need a rate increase that allows for higher investment in our state’s most vulnerable areas. Standard percentage increases without sufficient additional investment in your most vulnerable regions is the definition of inequitable. The regions with children with the highest needs for food, early learning, and high-quality mental health supports should receive a rate that, at minimum, meets the estimated cost of care.

Mystery solved.

 

Dawn Forbes DiStefano is president and CEO of Square One.

Opinion

Opinion

By Rick Sullivan

 

The Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative (WMAC), founded by the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) in partnership with Baystate Health, provides comprehensive, systemic, and locally led solutions to regional women- and minority- owned businesses and workforce challenges. The WMAC was initiated to propel hiring and career pathways for BIPOC and marginalized populations.

The WMAC has successfully established multi-year targets to increase local procurement opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses, and are developing an ‘Anchor-ready accelerator’ that will cultivate a resilient local supplier pipeline for targeted goods and services. The accelerator will provide wrap-around services and resources to prepare and scale vendors for contracts with Anchor institutions.

WMAC institutions seek to address inequities that have resulted from historic patterns of disinvestment and bias related to neighborhood, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status in Western Mass. These institutions have more than 18,000 employees, with nearly 3,000 residing in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Western Mass.

Collectively, Anchor Collaborative institutions currently spend more than $2 billion in goods and services and have committed to annually increasing the percentage of spending toward local and diverse businesses. Bridging the gap between Anchor institutions and the local community is a key ingredient to successful and positive economic impact.

The Anchor Collaborative aims to foster equitable communities and strong local economies, pilot career-pathway programs, align support for entry-level and low-wage employees from disadvantaged neighborhoods, cultivate jobs and promote healthier employees and residents, and leverage each institution’s purchasing and hiring power

The WMAC chooses smaller businesses that have historically not had the opportunity to enter supply chains, or get capitalized, underwritten, etc. It coordinates workforce-development strategies with Springfield WORKS, an EDC community initiative, to create training opportunities for career pathways to living-wage jobs. WMAC institutions provide a mentorship role to smaller businesses to allow them to scale up and help them grow. Big Y has been an influential leader in this initiative, supporting local greenhouses and farmers. It even offers a reusable food-wrap product, Z-Wrap, on its shelves.

Data will be regularly collected and analyzed to set effective targets and monitor progress. The goal is to design an internal process that allows for accessible professional development and growth, leading to promotions and careers within each institution. We aim to enhance our impact and drive regional economic equity and financial vitality for our communities.

 

Rick Sullivan is president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council;
www.westernmassedc.com

Opinion

Opinion

By Pam Thornton

 

The way that we work has changed over the past several years, and as a result of that shift, our mindset around rewards and recognition for employees also needs to change. We are facing a major rebalancing resulting from the severe economic and social shifts that have emerged.

Gartner reports that one of the top five priorities for 2023 is prioritizing the ‘employee experience, with almost 50% of HR leaders making this a major focus. A well-thought-out ‘total rewards’ strategy can have a big impact on attracting and retaining talent and overall employee experience.

Being a human-resources professional is a harder job than it ever has been before. Developing and using skills to influence how organizations shape their employee experience and human-capital strategies is a critical leadership role and one that cannot be done in the HR department alone. The answer is a holistic approach to total rewards that truly engages employees and includes every member of the organization.

There are five critical components in a total rewards strategy to consider when creating better employee engagement: compensation, benefits, recognition, well-being, and development.

It’s important to evaluate the compensation system you have in place. Do you have a system that is linked to organizational goals and individual competencies? Is your incentive and rewards system doing what it is designed to do? Do the benefits you offer resonate with your employees? Are they using them? An evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall strategy is critical, and the only way to really get the answers to these questions is to ask your employees and include them in the assessment and development of a truly effective total rewards program.

Well-being is all-encompassing and means something different to every individual, which makes this one of the hardest things for us to wrap our arms around. Flexible work practices, mental-health resources, financial-wellness solutions, and expanded caregiver-support options are just some of the building blocks that should be explored when creating your strategy. Offer solutions that give employees what they need and balance the business priorities of the organization. Thinking creatively to achieve the right mix is the ultimate goal.

The final and probably the most important component of a total rewards strategy is development. Developing your own skills and the skills of your workforce should be an ongoing journey that everyone participates in.

If we don’t put our life mask on first, we may not be able to help others. “Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar,” author and leadership expert Orrin Woodward said. Leaders, please be students and use what you’ve learned to inspire, model, and teach.

We have an opportunity to re-engineer the traditional employment experience. Not all organizations are created equal, and we don’t have an endless fountain of resources, but we all collectively need to put the effort in to assess and adjust our total rewards strategy to leverage what we’ve got.

 

Pam Thornton is director of Strategic HR Services at the Employers Assoc. of the Northeast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Editorial

 

Three years.

It seems like much longer than that, obviously. That’s because the pandemic years, at least the first two, seemed like dog years, each of them four or five years rolled into one.

That’s why so many people who were on the fence decided to retire, including a large percentage of the region’s college presidents and a good number of its nurses. Who could blame them? It was a difficult and, in many ways, exhausting time.

But as we’re set to mark the three-year anniversary of the day when everyone packed up their computer and went home (March 24 seems to be the consensus day), we have to say there is certainly some credence to that old saying — the one about how what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

We’ve said that before in regard to the pandemic and its aftermath, but it bears repeating.

First, though, we need to note that this pandemic did kill a lot of businesses in this region, many, if not most of them, in the retail and hospitality fields — businesses that saw people stop coming to their door and simply couldn’t adjust to that changing landscape.

Which brings us back to those that could adopt and did survive. They are better are off for it, and they are now even better able to withstand change, even rapid, profound change that alters how business is done forever. These businesses have learned to communicate better, to find new and often better ways of doing things, to work together to solve real problems.

Over the past three years, we’ve told countless stories about companies and nonprofits and how they battled through COVID. They are all different, but there are many similarities. Mostly, they involve people looking at a very difficult situation and simply getting creative.

They couldn’t do things the way they always did them, so they had to find other ways. They had to dig deep, overcome adversity, and create solutions. That’s what being in crisis mode — which is what colleges, hospitals, and, yes, many other kinds of businesses were in for at least two full years — is all about.

The challenge, and the opportunity, for businesses now is to continue to apply those lessons and maintain that spirit of problem solving and finding new ways of doing things even when the pandemic is essentially over. And from what we’ve observed, there seems to be a good bit of this going on.

Companies are not going back to the way they did things, because that doesn’t make sense anymore — be it with regard to technology, remote work, hours of doing business, recruiting talent from outside the 413 … all of these things and more. Instead, they are shedding that ‘this is how we’ve done it, so this is how we’ll continue to do it’ mentality.

And they are certainly the better for it.

Looking back, this is what the most successful businesses came away with from the pandemic — an understanding of not just how imaginative and resourceful they can be, but of how imaginative and resourceful they must continue to be moving forward.

 

Opinion

Opinion

By Meredith Wise

DEI Initiatives are very much in our conversations. However, the HR Trends 2023 survey by McLean & Co. show that actions on these initiatives have stalled for the second year in a row.

This study highlights human-resources priorities and challenges, comparing current-year results to prior years. In 2021, DEI efforts jumped from eighth place in 2020 to fourth place largely due to national and global conversations and actions around equity and social justice. In 2022, these efforts fell to fifth place, and this year they have dropped to sixth on the HR priority list.

In our work helping companies develop roadmaps for DEI, a handful of key areas are lacking: dedicated time to focus on DEI, leadership support, training, and resources.

According to the study, governance, leadership buy-in, strategic discussions, and data collection are the common roadblocks to moving DEI efforts forward. Actions and planning can refocus your organization’s initiatives.

Leadership: Senior leaders should model DEI behaviors in all their interactions and communications. Training alone will not move your goals along. Moving beyond awareness training to competency learning opportunities will help elevate the support from leadership. The data in the study demonstrated that the 40% of organizations that leverage competency-based training are more likely to be high-performing in DEI compared to those leveraging awareness-based training.

Communications: DEI-related topics and performance should be woven into regular communication cadences from leaders and HR functions. Active communication and discussions about initiatives, actions, and challenges need to happen.

Formal DEI Strategy: Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated they did not have a formal or documented DEI strategy.This percentage has remained stable over the past three years. Policies and practices document how DEI programs will operate in the organization. These policies should address how DEI considerations are integrated, including the employee experience, performance management, recruiting, retention, advancement, compensation, and more.

Data: Understanding that time is at a premium for HR teams and professionals, initiatives in 2023 may best be focused on data collection and analysis. This data will shape strategy, demonstrate gaps and urgency to the organization, and allow for informed decisions on a formal strategy and governance.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; however, with a combination of leadership support, resources, and a dedicated team, organizations will more likely become high performing versus those without this focus.

According to the study, recruiting is once again the number-one priority on HR professionals’ minds for the third year in a row. Although DEI has fallen further down the list, this work does not exist in a silo — maintaining momentum on DEI efforts will support other priorities, including talent attraction and retention.

It’s also good news that embedding DEI into organizational culture and processes does not require a degree in advanced physics. All that’s needed to operationalize DEI is the right commitment, planning, and structure.

 

Meredith Wise is president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By John Henderson

Over the past three years, organizations have learned how to be more agile and nimble to survive the pandemic. With each passing phase of the pandemic, leaders needed to learn how to be ‘in the moment.’ Successful leaders are the ones who are very self-aware of their behaviors and actions in the workplace and how they impact those they lead and those they work for. Self-aware leaders understand their strengths, shortcomings, abilities, and limitations.

As I have read many lists of what skills and attributes a leader needs to be successful, the lists haven’t changed drastically from year to year:

• Great leaders help their employees grow. They are effective in developing, delegating, and directing their employees. They recognize what each individual needs to be successful and know how to adapt to help each person grow.

• They make their team feel valued. Leaders who include, not exclude, their direct reports in decision making when appropriate show they value and care for the employee. When employees feel valued, they have a sense that they belong on the team and in the organization. A sense of belonging is the ‘B’ in DEIB. Diversity is representation, equity is recognizing, inclusion is action, and belonging is a feeling.

• They are empathetic while holding people accountable. Leaders need to be skilled at finding the right balance between empathy and accountability. Learning to relate to others with understanding and empathy is crucial, and so is being able to maintain standards of accountability where business still gets done.

• They prioritize — every day. Great leaders get things done, and they get the most important things done first. Understanding the difference between what is urgent and what is merely important is a sign of a good leader. Managing your time and the time of your employees will make a more successful and enjoyable workplace.

I am always honored to be asked to help a team in their professional development. It’s an amazing feeling when you hear them sharing their own insights and challenges to leading people. I know that, when they return to their workplace, they will focus on being in the moment to lead people for success.

 

John Henderson is director of Learning & Development at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By MissionSquare Research Institute

 

State and local governments, along with other public-service organizations, faced yet another challenging year. Recent research by MissionSquare Research Institute highlights key strategies to become public-service employers of choice in 2023.

1. Communicate the full value of benefits. The wages advertised for a position represent only a small portion of the full value of a job’s financial and other benefits. Public-service jobs often include more than traditional benefits like health insurance, pensions, and deferred compensation. Benefits also can include paid leave, life insurance, flexible scheduling, and student loan or housing assistance, not to mention greater job stability in the public sector.

2. Customize recruitment appeals. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are important to many jurisdictions’ recruitment and retention efforts. Each position’s recruitment plan may include new audiences, active partnerships with outside agencies, and outreach that communicates in ways that best resonate with audiences. Tailor campaigns to appeal to candidates with different benefit focuses depending on their life stages or economic circumstances.

3. Maintain retirement plan funding. While 2021 data showed steady funding for retirement plans, 2022 brought significant economic volatility impacting individual finances and worker anxiety. The first mission for plan sponsors is to weather volatility and commit to maintaining actuarially determined contributions. Full funding of retirement plans supports the dual goals of long-term fiscal stability and leveraging retirement plans to serve as effective workforce recruitment and retention tools.

4. Restructure the workforce. The recession and Great Resignation have been significant disrupters to the public workforce status quo, offering opportunities to rethink future staffing models. Workforce restructurings anticipated in 2023 and beyond stem not only from the pandemic and economic changes; they are also tied to evolving technologies touching every field from customer service to accounting to transportation. And while automation may not fully replace certain jobs, it is certain to contribute to job restructurings, the need to update job descriptions, and the consideration of part-time or temporary staffing models.

5. Take a holistic view. The pandemic normalized the idea that it is okay for workers not to be OK. Now, there’s a focus on worker mental health and burnout as real concerns that employers must take seriously. And as persistent inflation leads to consideration of compensation changes, it will no longer be enough to point to cost-of-living adjustments. Rather, employers should lean into difficult conversations with team members about their financial stress, workload, health, or childcare issues.

6. Prioritize data-driven decision making. The Institute’s recent DEI survey found a majority of governments identified workforce DEI as a priority, yet about a quarter are not tracking DEI results. Institute research also found 85% of governments are performing exit interviews, but just 37% are performing employee-satisfaction surveys, while only 11% are conducting stay interviews. Public-service workforce management cannot be viewed as something that is only managed at budget time or at the end of a worker’s career. Instead, it requires timely analysis of recruitment results, regular check-ins with existing staff, and strategic action on the data collected to avoid preventable staffing or retention problems.

Opinion

Opinion

By Rick Sullivan

Over the past decade, the city of Springfield has made many advancements towards the goal of job formation and opportunity. We have continued the trend of job development, now with an added focus on technology. In an effort to bring the Pioneer Valley’s largest city into the forefront of the cyber realm, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) has been facilitating the development of this industry over the years, which has successfully led to a new, on-the-ground investment project, now spearheaded by Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), with an emphasis on careers in technology.

Located at Union Station directly in downtown, this state-of-the-art technology center will offer education and hands-on job training to individuals looking to seek careers in the tech field. This initiative provides an opportunity to grow and develop a workforce that will ensure long-term job stability and meet the ever-growing cyber needs of community businesses.

Four components will drive this project and allow the community at large to not only benefit, but contribute to its success in meaningful ways:

• Educational offerings: Colleges and universities in the region such as STCC, Bay Path University, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, Elms College, and Springfield College will provide training opportunities to students, leading to jobs in the future.

• Municipality involvement: Technology experts are always in demand and rarely available within governmental sectors. This program will provide access to trained and skilled individuals, ready for hire.

• Military support: Westover and Barnes Air Force bases have already expressed interest in being able to train their workforce in the ever-growing field of technology. Both employers plan to support and hire from within the program.

• Small-business benefits: Manufacturing and other sectors are constantly seeking individuals with cyber certification. This new center will provide the much-needed resources to bring cutting-edge technologies to local businesses.

This project has significant state financial backing, having just received its first $1.5 million in grant funding. The design stage of the project has begun, and the center is slated to be open and accepting participants during the fall of 2023. This center is an essential economic-development strategy to modernize and innovate the business infrastructure. We expect to see substantial growth in the cyber-industry arena, benefiting the financial and economic vitality of the region.

For more information on this project and its progress, visit www.westernmassedc.com.

 

Rick Sullivan is president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council.

 

Opinion

Opinion

By Allison Ebner

 

I get it. There is a lot on the plates of HR professionals and leaders in today’s organizations. From managing the continual COVID issues and absences to creating a sustainable compensation program to managing basic civility and respect in our organizations — the challenges just keep coming. But what if there was a culture and retention trick or ‘hack’ that we can use to help us build employee engagement, manage expectations, and help us build a high-performance team? Let’s take a cue from the neuroscientists that study human behavior for a living.

More specifically, they research motivation and what drives people to think and behave in a certain way. This research allows us to ‘peek under the hood’ of the human brain and help us understand how to pull the right levers that influence the behavior of our employees. Imagine the things we can accomplish if we could get everyone behaving the way we want them to!

So, what’s the key to unlocking the mystery? It turns out that why we work determines how well we work. Let that sink in for a minute. In the 1980s, professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester concluded that there are six main reasons why people work.

Lindsay McGreggor and Neel Doshi adapted that thought process for the modern workplace in their book Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Motivation. In fact, they break the six reasons into the following: play, purpose, potential, emotions, economics, and inertia or apathy. The first three of these motives tend to increase and enhance performance, while the other three motives hurt performance. They even have a name for all of this: ToMo, which stands for total motivation.

Their theory talks about adaptive performance as an extension of tactical performance. Tactical performance is about whether you can build the widget, write the code, or do the transactional thing. Adaptive performance is about asking people to transcend their knowledge and skills and adapt to a changing situation to achieve an outcome.

And here’s why this is important: the tools we’ve been using to motivate people don’t work anymore. You’re all seeing this in your own organizations, right? Aggressive and bottom-line-only-focused managers and leaders are actually driving people out of organizations in huge numbers. If we want to change performance outcomes, we’ll need to find a way to optimize the purpose, play, and potential ToMo in our employees.

What are some of the ways you can optimize the right ToMo in your organization? Here are just a few: well-designed roles and job descriptions, offering individual career ladders and paths, creating a sense of community and transparency, developing leaders who balance accountability and empathy, and redesigning your feedback and performance-management processes.

 

Allison Ebner is director of Membership & Partnerships at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Opinion

Opinion

By Valerie Boudreau

 

It seems like people are talking at each other more than listening to each other these days. Think about how many emails, text messages, voice mails, and other interruptive, one-way communications we send and receive — there’s a lot more talking than active listening going on.

The ability to listen effectively is not only a critical communication skill, but also a strong leadership skill. Active listening allows employees, customers, and co-workers to feel that their ideas, thoughts and perspectives are heard, accepted, and understood.

To become a better listener, you need to understand what is involved in effective communication and develop the techniques to sit quietly and listen — a feat of true discipline and self-control! You must ignore your own needs and focus solely on the person speaking. Here are a few keys to active listening:

• Focus on the person and the message. Focus your entire attention on the speaker, and listen without judging or trying to come back with a response before they’re halfway through speaking. Look at the speaker’s body language in addition to their words.

• Communicate your attention. Use your body language and gestures to let the speaker know you are locked into what they’re saying. Face them directly and make eye contact. Sit or stand in an open position. Smile and nod occasionally.

• Acknowledge what the person is saying. From time to time, use “uh-huh” or “I see” to indicate you are following what the person is saying. This indicates that you are actively listening and following them, not necessarily that you agree with them.

• Don’t interrupt. Interrupting shows impatience and disrespect, especially if you interrupt with an argument rather than a question. It frustrates the speaker and limits your understanding of the message. Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.

• Build rapport. Engage with the speaker by asking questions or reflecting back what you have heard. For example, say, “what I’m hearing you say is…” or “I’m not sure I understand…” This demonstrates that you are paying attention and will allow you to gain more information.

• Be authentic in your response. Your job as the listener is to gain information, perspective, and understanding. Be candid, open, and honest when responding to the speaker, but do so in a respectful manner. If there is conflict or disagreement, focus your response on the issue rather than the person.

As leaders, to make the best decisions for our organizations, we need as much information and as many different perspectives as possible. Active listening encourages people to proactively share information, ideas, thoughts, and perspectives because they know they will be heard and respected.

 

Valerie Boudreau leads the Learning & Development team at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog.

Opinion

Opinion

By Mark Adams

 

When it comes to dress codes and attire, companies for years have developed policy standards rooted in conveying a clean, conservative, and/or professional look. In so doing, employees had to conform to a singular vision or appearance. Whether defined expressly or otherwise, hairstyles have been a part of such stereotypes and visions, which has consequently left many minority applicants and/or employees on the sidelines when it came to being hired or promoted into certain positions despite being otherwise qualified to perform those roles.

Enter the CROWN Act legislation. CROWN is short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair and is designed to break down some of the stereotypical barriers that certain minority groups were facing when being considered for employment.

To date, 17 states have adopted CROWN Act legislation, with Massachusetts being the latest to sign such measures into law. Other states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. Federally, Congress has contemplated a CROWN Act measure; this measure has been referred to the Senate for further consideration.

What is its significance? For states that have adopted these measures, it makes it unlawful to discriminate based on “natural or protective hairstyles.” Examples of these hairstyles include hair that is tightly coiled or curled, or worn in locks, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots, or afros.

For employers that are operating in a state that has enacted CROWN Act legislation, what should you do?

First, review your company policies to see if there is any express language prohibiting such hairstyles in the workplace. Policies that I have seen in handbooks that I have reviewed where the topic of hairstyles has been addressed have included such policies as dress code, hygiene, personal appearance, and professionalism.

If you are a multi-state employer that operates in states where CROWN Act legislation both has and has not been adopted, be careful with your handbook policy and structure. If your handbook is distributed across all your locations, it may be easier administratively to adjust your policy across the board to ensure compliance. (While, conceivably, another path could be to carve out your dress code or other policies and treat them as state-specific addenda or supplements that coincide with the different state requirements, such a practice may prove to be more cumbersome to sustain over time.)

Then there is the subject of managerial and supervisory actions and practices. For instance, have managers and supervisors chosen not to hire an applicant in the past over concerns about hairstyles? Passed over an employee for a promotion? Is it a topic of conversation addressed in interviews? Has the topic been broached in performance reviews or in disciplinary writeups? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then further discussion with management is advised to change practices (whether attributable to express or unconscious bias) moving forward.

As CROWN Act legislation continues to get adopted nationwide, companies may need to change their ways and let their hair down. Choosing otherwise could lead to discriminatory consequences and litigation down the road.

 

Mark Adams is director of Compliance at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

Daily News

From the day he took the helm with the fledgling Springfield Thunderbirds hockey team, Nate Costa, now the president of the franchise, talked about the importance of winning to the ultimate success of a team.

Opinion

Indeed, Costa, who came to Springfield following management roles with several minor league sports operations, often spoke about the importance of presentation and the overall experience when it came to how well a team could capture the hearts and minds of a region or community — and thrive financially. But ultimately, he said there is no real substitute for winning. A team can have endless promotions, bring in big names as guests, and offer special prices on hot dogs and beer, he implied, but in the end, it would have to win to really break through.

The events of the past few several months, and especially the past few weeks, have proven Costa right.

As the Thunderbirds made their way to the Calder Cup finals against the Chicago Wolves, the team moved to a new and much higher level in terms of visibility and presence, for lack of a better term, in the Greater Springfield area. While T-Birds ultimately lost the series, four games to one, including the last three at home, it was a clear winner on every other level.

Let’s start with the games themselves. The downtown area was electric on game nights. Some fans would arrive an hour or two before the game started. There was some tailgating in some of the parking lots and larger crowds in many of the area restaurants.

The weekend games that closed out the series were sell-outs, and there were high levels of energy in the MassMutual Center.

Overall, the Thunderbirds were front of mind for the past month or so as they progressed in the playoffs to the finals. They were the lead story on local sports pages and the local news shows, but there was more than that.

People were talking about them — at the office, in coffee shops, and at the many events that have been staged in the region over the past several months as the long-awaited return to normalcy from the pandemic has moved to a different level. And they are still talking about them.

And while people were talking about this team, they were reminiscing about championship teams from 30 and 50 years ago. Hockey, for at least a little while, became king.

The best news is that interest in the T-Birds has moved well beyond talk. Season-ticket sales are far ahead of the pace for previous years, and they, as everyone knows, are one of the key cornerstones to success. More corporate support is certain to follow.

While the Thunderbirds have always had a presence in Springfield and the region, they have now officially arrived. And this bodes extremely well for a city that will need this team to play a big role in its full recovery from the pandemic and ongoing efforts to make downtown a place to not only work, but live.

The T-Birds did not bring home the Calder Cup in 2022. But they may have succeeded in an even bigger game, if one can call it that.

They have broken through and truly captured the attention of the region. That makes them big winners.

Opinion

Opinion

By Alane Burgess

 

Social media platforms have become an essential part of life for the estimated 3 billion people around the world who log on daily. They keep us connected with family and friends, provide access to all types of information and the opportunity to build professional contacts to name a few of their popular usages.

Their presence in our lives is something that has been celebrated annually on World Social Media Day, June 30, since 2010. This represents a time period during which social media platforms have expanded in use across the globe as well as in this country. According to the Pew Research Center, such platforms are now used by seven in 10 Americans. In 2005, only 5% of Americans did, a figure that grew to 50% by 2011, and stands today at 72% of the public, according to the center’s research.

The use of social media can have a downside as well, as other surveys of users have reported.

Ongoing studies across the globe indicate that these platforms impact some users negatively, lowering self-esteem, disrupting sleep patterns, and raising issues of addictive behavior in their compulsive use.

It’s no secret that people bully and harass others online or that how one sees oneself can take a hit when viewing what others post — or boast — online about how they look or what they have.

We are all vulnerable to disappointment that can put us at risk for mental health concerns when it comes to social media and expectations. Are we seeking validation for our feelings and comments, supportive comparisons for our lifestyle and new friends? Are we using it as a substitute for in-person engagement or even professional behavioral health counseling?

What I suggest to my clients is to consider how much time they spend daily on social media platforms and how it impacts their mood. Studies suggest links between increased symptoms of general anxiety and depression among users of multiple social media platforms.

I also stress that visiting social media is not a fix for loneliness, but an indication it is time for more focus on off-line activities for the benefit of our emotional wellness and physical health.

The Pew Research Center data shows YouTube and Facebook as the most widely-used online platforms with Americans across age, educational and income levels, with Instagram, Pinterest and Linkedin also popular.

Visiting and posting on them and others can be both fun and helpful as part of our daily or weekly routines. It is, however, as we celebrate this World Social Media Day June 30, important to be aware of their role and impact in our lives and to know when it is time for a digital detox. It is good to step away from such interaction for a day or two to know that we can and, if not, evaluate why.

 

Alane Burgess is the Clinic Director of the Mental Health Association’s BestLife Emotional Health & Wellness Center in Springfield; [email protected].

Opinion

Opinion

By Mark Adams

 

For many employers, arbitration agreements have been a valuable tool for resolving employment disputes. They allow cases to be handled outside the court system without the costs associated with prolonged discovery schedules and complex procedural rules, and, most importantly, without a public record that would allow for public access to those proceedings. All told, arbitration cases are cheaper and faster for all concerned.

Not just employers appreciate the value of arbitration agreements. Congress recognized their benefit when it enacted the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), recognizing the right of parties to be able to freely enter into contracts to resolve their disagreements. In Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court stated “as a matter of federal law, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration.” Title VII claims, Age Discrimination in Employment Act claims, and Fair Labor Standards Act claims are just some of the many forms of disputes that can be compelled to be resolved through an arbitration agreement.

Yet, despite this long-standing national policy, arbitration agreements can have their limits. Some state fair-employment-practice agencies do not recognize their enforcement when it comes to cases that can come within their jurisdiction. For example, when it comes to discrimination claims arising under its Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has the wherewithal to move forward with a discrimination complaint on its own accord in the public’s interest.

Now, Congress has passed and President Biden has signed into law the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021” to prohibit employers from compelling employees to resolve sexual-harassment and sexual-assault disputes through the use of an pre-dispute arbitration agreement. While the act takes effect immediately and applies to such agreements that exist, it does not apply to cases that are already pending. Rather, the act applies to claims that accrue on or after the law’s enactment.

While the motivations for the law’s passage are fairly clear (the rise of the #MeToo movement and the need for greater awareness on such cases), it does raise the question of whether future legislative initiatives may be forthcoming to create additional carveouts in the interest of workplace transparency. In fact, there is an interim final rule that has been promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in implementing procedures for the handling of retaliation complaints under the Taxpayer First Act (TFA), which does exactly that. The rule (which is currently under comment until May 6) states that “no pre-dispute arbitration agreement is valid or enforceable if the agreement requires arbitration of a dispute arising under the TFA anti-retaliation provision.”

That is not to say pre-dispute arbitration agreements are dead. Far from it. After all, they also serve to resolve other disputes that may not have legal consequences at all. However, what may be next? Pay equity and transparency claims? Other forms of federal discrimination? Only time will tell. However, with the growing demand for greater transparency comes the potential for additional erosion of the longstanding policy favoring arbitration agreements in the future.

 

Mark Adams is director of Compliance at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared at eane.org.

Opinion

Putting MassSave Changes in Perspective

By Robert Rio

Massachusetts recently updated its flagship Mass Save energy efficiency program. The changes will affect businesses in areas served by an investor-owned electric or gas utility — companies such as Eversource, National Grid and UNITIL.

The changes took effect on Jan. 1. Massachusetts reviews its energy efficiency programs every three years. 

What will the changes mean to your company? Many commercial and industrial (C&I) programs will continue, some with modifications.   

Greenhouse-gas reductions are now counted in the calculations to determine energy savings 

A 2021 Massachusetts law mandated economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions beginning 2030. As a result, the new energy efficiency programs include the social value of carbon in the cost-effectiveness analysis calculations for most measures.

The result is that previously marginally cost-effective programs may now be eligible for programs when the benefits of greenhouse-gas reductions are included. The new three-year plan is expected to reduce the equivalent of 845,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas by 2030, equal to the emissions from about 180,000 cars. 

New emphasis on heat-pump technology 

Reducing greenhouse gases will eventually require a switch from fossil fuels to electric options for building heating, water heating and some industrial processes. The new plan will emphasize electric heat-pump technology for commercial and industrial customers, particularly for smaller businesses where residential-sized options may work.

Larger companies may have a tougher time electrifying, but electrification may still make sense in areas of your facility, particularly if you are served by delivered fossil fuels such as oil and propane.  

Most lighting rebates are eliminated

Since its inception, Mass Save has offered rebates for energy efficient lighting. Now that such lighting is often required by code and ubiquitous, rebates are not allowed, except when new lighting is paired with controllable technologies.  

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is no longer eligible for rebates  

Combined Heat and Power systems produce electricity and recover the exhaust heat to produce heating, cooling, and process steam for manufacturing and other uses.

Many businesses have installed combined heat and power to manage their energy costs and ensure reliability. AIM has long supported this effort. The new greenhouse-gas law makes natural gas and other fossil fuels ineligible for rebates. AIM has long supported CHP and disagrees with the elimination of incentives for Combined Heat and Power.

Electricity and natural-gas costs will rise 

The Mass Save program is primarily funded by a surcharge on a customer’s electric and gas bills.

In the previous three-year plan (2019-2021), the total costs (gas and electric) were about $1.1 billion for commercial and industrial customers, representing about 40% of the total program costs. Rebates are generally sector specific, so money collected from commercial and industrial customers is mostly returned to those customers.

The new program will see commercial and industrial sector costs rise to about $1.56 billion dollars over three years. The impact on company energy bills will vary, but the increase will have a measurable impact on overall energy costs. More information will be available as programs are rolled out.

 

Robert Rio is senior vice president and counsel of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts; [email protected] 

Opinion

Opinion

By Kimberley Lee

 

The death of Peter Robbins resonated with me. He was tapped to be the first voice of Charlie Brown as a child actor in the early 1960s when Charles Schultz began to adapt his popular “Peanuts” cartoon strip for TV and movies.

I grew up with these shows, and so did my children, but it was not just nostalgia that made me take notice of Robbins’s death. His family announced on Jan. 25 that the 65-year-old Robbins had died the week before by suicide. He had long struggled with both mental-health and substance-use disorders.

MHA, the Mental Health Assoc., is the organization I work for, whose behavioral-health outreach clinic and residential programs have long offered support and treatment to individuals with such dual diagnoses. It was especially disheartening to read how the life of Robbins, associated through the 1970s with a character that brought much entertainment to the screen, ended.

The cartoon strip itself was sometimes subtitled “Good ol’ Charlie Brown,” and the world Schultz created was a self-contained one about childhood. Its ups, downs, and misplaced crushes were depicted by characters who were very animated, even in print. No adults are featured, but the characters struggle with plenty of personal issues that often follow into adulthood. Some, like Lucy, can be bossy; some are a bit vain, like curly-haired Freida; and some are self-absorbed, like Schroeder on his piano. Everyone is just trying to fit in or fit into who they are, including Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle, who often retreats into his own world on top of his doghouse or into his imagination, where he fights the Red Baron as the Flying Ace. There is also Pig-Pen, who tells Sally, Charlie Brown’s younger sister, he doesn’t appreciate that name he has been tagged with because of his appearance, but neither does he like the rain to wash away that appearance from a day of playing in the dirt.

They are a complicated bunch, defying stereotypes in their own ways of being and thinking and friendships across neighborhoods and interests.

Schultz, who died in 2000, wondered if his characters would resonate through time, and they do, as Charlie Brown embodies a little bit of all of us emotionally as he navigates this world of personalities. And, of course, should he need advice, there is Lucy, who sets up a Psychiatric Help booth, where she gives her version of professional help for five cents. It is a world in which the timeless troubles and alienations of childhood are on display, but also one in which the characters cope and carry on with their pursuits and come together.

I grew up with all the animated specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and, again, so did my children. Each time these classic movies aired, those 30 minutes provided an opportunity for us to be together as a family, to make a connection, to embrace each other emotionally.

In our house, emotional connectedness happens in other ways as well. For example, once a week, my husband and I pull our girls together (now that they are in college, this is done remotely), we all unplug, and we just simply and sincerely ask them, “how are you?” And not just physically, but emotionally. Their answers have been honest and transparent and emotional at times.

It gave them, at an early age, a green light to talk openly about how they feel from a mental-health perspective, and there was no stigma, no shame, no hesitancy in doing this.

We all know that challenges to mental health start young, and the sooner we address them, the better the outcome.

 

Kimberley Lee is vice president of Resource Development & Branding for the Mental Health Assoc.

 

Opinion

Opinion

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.

Opinion

Editorial

 

When you talk with people in business about COVID-19, and especially those early days, in March 2020, when the state and the country were shutting down, many will share a similar story that goes something like this:

“When we packed up our computers and went home, we thought it would be for a few weeks or maybe a few months, and then we’d be back — it would be over, and we’d be back to normal.”

Such thinking was certainly understandable. None of us had been through a pandemic before, and this is what we thought: we’ll stay home for a few weeks, hunker down, and then this will pass.

It didn’t take long to realize that those thoughts were unrealistic and perhaps naive. We soon came to grips with the fact that we had a longer wait for ‘normal.’ Much longer.

Nearly two years later, we’re still waiting, and the unfortunate truth is that this is still a long way from being over. Unfortunate, because we all desperately want and need for it to be over, and it isn’t.

“When we packed up our computers and went home, we thought it would be for a few weeks or maybe a few months, and then we’d be back — it would be over, and we’d be back to normal.”

These days, quite a few conversations begin with “I can’t believe we’re still talking about this,” or “I can’t believe we’re talking about this again.”

What we’re talking about are COVID cases rising, long lines for testing, and hospitals being pushed to and then beyond their limits. And in the business world, what we’re talking about, again, are postponed events, canceled business meetings, people avoiding restaurants and movie theaters, colleges not sure if they’ll be able to open their doors when the semester break ends in a few weeks, and area school systems not sure if they’re going to be able to open their doors and stay open, leaving parents wondering what they will do if they don’t.

Yes, we’re still talking about these things, or talking about them again. The COVID fight continues, and the end is nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, a workforce crisis continues, inflation is no longer talked about as ‘transitory,’ production and supply-chain issues persist, and the many businesses that stayed afloat with the help of government lifelines like PPP and the employee-retention credit will not have that net underneath them in 2022.

So why is there is so much optimism about the year ahead, as revealed in our special Economic Outlook section, starting on page 15? Maybe people are thinking that things simply must get better in 2022. Or that COVID has to finally run its course and will now cease controlling our lives.

Perhaps, but there are other reasons. We especially feel a sense that the region did, indeed, catch a glimpse of a post-COVID world in 2021, and it was a very encouraging experience.

It was a brief window, to be sure, and it came roughly between Memorial Day and just before Labor Day. The state had lifted virtually all of its restrictions on businesses, and people started doing things they hadn’t done in a while — like put their masks aside, go to a restaurant, gather as a family, go on a summer vacation, stage a Chamber After 5, or gather for a retirement party.

As noted, it was a brief window, and by the time the Big E staged its return and BusinessWest feted its 40 Under Forty class at the Log Cabin (both in late September), there was plenty of apprehension about a variant called Delta.

Now, there’s far more apprehension about another variant called Omicron, and there are serious questions, and trepidation, about what the first few weeks, or even the first few quarters, of 2022 will be like.

But amidst all that, there is a prevailing sense of optimism that we can finally see a lot more of what we saw during that brief window in the year ahead. We sense that the ingredients may finally in place for actually getting to that proverbial ‘other side’ of the pandemic.

We’re not there yet, and there are some rough weeks and perhaps months ahead, but the signs are there.

Opinion

Opinion

By Olivia Bernstein

More than 4 million youth and young adults experience homelessness annually in this country. It is estimated that at least 700,000 are not part of a family or accompanied by a parent or guardian. Risk factors include family conflict, a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity, substance use, and school problems.

MHA is among the organizations that recently launched initiatives to address this issue in Massachusetts, where it is said that, on any given day, nearly 500 unaccompanied young people, ages 18 to 24, experience homelessness.

Federal grant money received through our work with the Continuums of Care in Hampden County and the Three County Continuum of Care administered by Community Action of Pioneer Valley (CAPV), which serves Hampshire, Berkshire, and Franklin counties, is funding two MHA projects over a 24-month period that support the needs of homeless youth.

One provides permanent supportive housing for eight beds annually in Springfield, as well as eight in Greenfield, and includes subsidies so participants pay only one-third of their income for rent.

The other, referred to as a Housing Navigation and Rapid Re-housing program, helps youth and young adults navigate services to obtain housing. The program covers rental and related expenses for up to two years for six beds annually.

These projects represent a more comprehensive approach to youth homelessness that provides ongoing rental and individualized case-management support.

In its pioneering report, “More Than Housing, Give Us Homes,” CAPV called youth homelessness a “crisis in our region,” and through $1.96 million in federal funds, it and its partners received a jump start toward ending the crisis. Guiding principles include prioritizing “evidence-based, low-barrier practices, such as housing first, trauma-informed care, and positive youth development.”

As one of CAPV’s partners, MHA couldn’t agree more. This is a population just starting out in life and in need of support, including subsidized housing that is in short supply in the area; services tailored to individualized needs, which may include access to behavioral-health resources; learning life skills such as budgeting; and pursuing employment or educational opportunities.

These youth and young adults, 18 to 24, have experienced more than anyone should have to in their young lives. Some of them have been out on the street or in shelters or exited foster care at 18 with no place to go. Some of them are in unsafe situations and at risk of harm. They may be living with a family member or couch surfing in an unsafe place, and many we serve identify as LGBTQ+. They may not feel accepted by their family or have family relationships that they don’t feel are safe.

MHA is seeing early success in its work with youth involved in both projects. It is, for some, their first time involved with social services, but all are eager to move into the next stage of their lives, which includes more independence and access to housing. Some are continuing a college education, others are seeking employment in their chosen field, and some are in recovery programs.

These young people have shown they are resilient and, like all of us, deserving of a place to call home. We see homelessness all over this country, but it is a huge systemic injustice that anyone should have to live out on the street.

 

Olivia Bernstein is clinical director of Homeless Services at MHA.

Opinion

Opinion

By Allison Ebner

 

I read an article recently about Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who started the business with about $5,000. The recent acquisition of Spanx by Blackstone now positions the company’s value at about $1.2 billion — a staggering transformation. To reward her employees for helping her create this amazing company, Blakely gave each of her 500 employees two first-class airline tickets to a destination of their choice and $10,000 in spending money for their trip.

So how did a woman with barely any means accomplish this phenomenal business venture? There are quite a few strategies and decisions that contributed to her success, but one of the biggest things that stood out to me was the message I saw on the careers page on its website. Here it is, in part:

“We are a high-growth, digital company with an iconic brand that earned its reputation for over 20 years by delivering amazing products and staying true to our greater mission of supporting and elevating women. We don’t believe ‘pain is beauty,’ and we don’t believe ‘business is war.’ We run our business with kindness, empathy, intuition, creativity, integrity … and fun. We don’t believe you have to act serious to be taken seriously. We dream big, think forward, and give back. We challenge the status quo, aim high, and celebrate our ‘oops’ moments. We test and learn and we aren’t afraid of failure. We think like entrepreneurs in everything we do, and we look for people who are self-starters, kind, creative, and out-of-the box-thinkers. If this sounds like you, join us! And help us make the world a better place … one butt at a time.”

Spanx has an excellent track record of being an employer of choice with great retention numbers and pathways for advancement across the organization. So, what helps them drive a robust and engaging company culture? They follow some of the same principles that many other successful organizations employ to create a great employee experience:

• Build trust. In fact, start with trust and go from there. Don’t make new employees earn trust. Start from a place where they have your trust, and manage the relationship from there.

• Empower your employees to make decisions. Don’t create a culture of micromanaging. Allow team members to make decisions, collaborate, and generate new ideas.

• Set clear, transparent goals. Your employees need to know the big picture and their role in that path to success. Work with them to set clear goals and expectations. Train your managers to have coaching conversations regularly, not just once a year at their annual performance review. Set goals, coach, redirect, and repeat.

• Show appreciation — especially now. If your company has successfully navigated this pandemic, at least some of that success is due to the work and dedication of your staff. Be sure to say ‘thank you’ and celebrate the wins with your entire team.

• Invest in their well-being. A paycheck is great, but you have to do more. Take a genuine interest in your people. Offer wellness resources and train managers and leaders to show empathy with accountability.

• Allow freedom to make mistakes. Don’t punish the team for failures. Bold moves lead to big successes. If your team is afraid of making mistakes, you’ll miss the big moments of greatness.

Not sure where your company stands on the journey to create a thriving company culture? That’s OK. Grab your leadership team and review the key elements of a successful strategy listed above. You may also want to consider asking your employees for their feedback through an employee-engagement survey. Whether your company is trying to improve communication between individuals and teams, gauge morale after a merger or downsizing, or obtain feedback on programs and policies, a customized employee-engagement survey gathers employee feedback via a core set of questions, options for narrative responses, and special areas of focus. Results typically come with a detailed analysis of results, management debriefs, and a clear action plan that will help you address some of your biggest areas for improvement.

 

Allison Ebner is director of member services at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast; [email protected]. This article first appeared on EANE’s blog.

Opinion

Opinion

By Pam Thornton

 

Organizational leaders are ready to pull their hair out over the challenges they are fighting to recruit and retain talent today. The best recruitment strategy always includes having a strong retention plan. We know what can happen when we take our eye off the ball … ouch!

By the end of 2022, we expect more than half of all employees in the U.S. to be looking for a new job. Employers are really going to need to assess the value they bring to the reasons why their employees stay.

Gallup has provided us with the 12 most important factors that employees evaluate as they consider staying put or testing out opportunities with a new employer. They are:

• I know what is expected of me at work;

• I have the equipment I need to do my work right;

• I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day at work;

• I’ve received recognition or praise for doing good work in the last week;

• My supervisor seems to care about me as a person;

• There is someone at work that encourages my development;

• At work, my opinions seem to count;

• The mission of my organization makes me feel my job is important;

• My co-workers are committed to doing quality work;

• I have a best friend at work;

• In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress; and

• In the last year, I’ve had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

All of this comes down to our culture and level of engagement. Do you know how your employees would respond to these statements? If you aren’t sure, now is the time to find out. Here are a few ways to increase engagement with our employees:

• Encourage managers to define and discuss the expectations with each employee they supervise on a regular basis.

• Remember that employees use tangible and intangible resources to do their work well. Ask employees what would make it easier to perform their tasks. You might find out you don’t really need the fancy new software, but you do need the entire team to be trained on how to use what is already in place with consistency and efficiency.

• Encourage managers to ‘connect the dots’ with the talents and interests their employees demonstrate and even share in social conversations. Those elements of interest and excitement might be just what is missing from their job description today. Giving employees tasks that are a natural fit will increase productivity all the way around.

• Learn which employees like which types of recognition — and give it! Workplace recognition provides a sense of value and accomplishment. It also shows other employees what success in your organization looks like.

• Challenge employees, but give them the tools for success. Create learning opportunities and ask employees what they are learning as they go, and give them the opportunity to demonstrate it. Talk with them about their short-term and long-term growth goals with an open mind about where those goals align with today’s and tomorrow’s needs within your organization.

We all know that compensation and benefits are the lure that can attract someone to your organization, but it’s your culture that can keep the top talent you’ve already won. Keep the lines of communication open, and you might just find that some of the talent you have been trying to recruit is already on your payroll.

 

Pam Thornton is director of Strategic HR Services at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog.

Opinion

Editorial

 

The proposal to create a data center on aggregated land in the northwest corner of Westfield is big in every respect.

Big as in the pricetag — $2.7 billion, almost three times larger than the MGM Springfield project — and also big in terms of the number of buildings (10), the number of square feet (upward of 2 million), the amount of energy that will be used, the number of total jobs it will create … the list goes on.

Where this project (see story on page 6) also comes up big is in the realm of opportunity. Just how big an opportunity we don’t know yet, but there is certainly potential for this project to be perhaps merely the first such facility to serve the needs of the sector known as Big Data.

Granted, sites like the one in Westfield, which can check a wide array of boxes pertaining to everything from power to fiber to highway access, are extremely rare. But this region does hold the potential to be more of a player in the world’s quest for data and ways to store and provide it, and this project might be a catalyst for more development down the road.

Before we get to that, let’s address the Westfield project itself. In many ways, it seems like the perfect development initiative for the city and the region. It is proposed for industrially zoned land that is difficult to develop and has gone begging for a new use for decades now.

Most of the other proposed uses involve large amounts of truck traffic (warehouses) or power production, neither of which sit well with residents. The data center would be almost invisible to the community and would provide needed jobs, tax revenue, and potential support businesses.

It would be like the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke on a much, much larger scale.

This is the kind of development the region has been looking for. Granted, the number of jobs involved is not as high as some would like, especially when we’re talking about a development that will be spread out over about 90 acres of a 155-acre parcel. But these are the proverbial good jobs at good wages — starting salaries will be in the $85,000 to $100,000 range — that all communities have been looking for, those that are better in most all ways than those in distribution, retail, and tourism and hospitality.

And the best part about all this is that the jobs will be in a relatively new and emerging sector, one with almost unlimited growth potential. Not every region or every community has a chance to break into this sector, but the 413 now does.

There aren’t enough suitable parcels to create several centers like the one proposed for Westfield. In fact, this could be one of a kind — and would be one of the largest such facilities in the country. But there is potential for smaller-scale facilities given this region’s abundance of land, relatively inexpensive power (especially communities with their own utilities, such as Holyoke and Westfield), comparatively low cost of living, and many institutions of higher learning, several of which offer cybersecurity and related programs.

The Westfield project still has a number of hurdles to clear. While it has some momentum and many likable qualities, projects on this scale do not come together easily.

But if it does come to fruition, it could open the door to more. Maybe much more.

It might be the start of something big.

Opinion

Editorial

 

As the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic winds down, another battle — yes, we can call it that — is emerging on just how the state should spend more than $5 billion in federal stimulus money coming it’s way.

Actually, there are different fronts to this conflict, the first being a large disagreement over who should control this windfall, with both Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature believing that they know, better than the other, how this money should be allocated.

We’re not sure either is fully qualified, but that’s another matter.

Let’s get back to the money — $5.3 billion of it, to be exact. This is the state’s share of the proceeds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). It is, indeed, a windfall, a rare opportunity to take money with no real strings attached to it and put it to some good.

So, naturally, there has to be disagreement over who should control the money and how it should be spent — should we really expect anything else? We hope these differences of opinion can be worked out quickly (probably not, but we can hope), and that the state can commence allocating this money in ways that will create opportunity and address long-standing problems. It appears likely that the proceeds will be divided in some way, with the governor controlling a large portion and the Legislature deciding how to spend what’s left.

Already, the governor has indicated several priorities, including everything from the housing crisis to battling opioid addiction; from infrastructure work to funding the state’s announced vaccine lottery sweepstakes.

While these are worthy causes, to be sure (although we certainly believe there are better ways to spend $6.5 million than a lottery), money needs to be set aside to help the businesses of this state, many of which are still battling to fully recover from the pandemic. While many business sectors are starting to rebound, especially the hospitality industry after a brutal 15 months of stagnancy and then several levels of reopening, many individual businesses are struggling to get all the way back.

One big obstacle is workforce. Companies across all sectors are struggling to find good help, and an infusion of funds into training programs would certainly help address the ongoing labor shortages. As economic-development leaders have said for years, the problem isn’t necessarily with the numbers of people in the workforce, but the skills they possess.

Meanwhile, we share the business community’s disappointment that the governor remains opposed to allocating some of the money from the American Rescue Plan to pay for the huge deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance fund caused by the deep and very sudden job losses during the pandemic; more than 30 states have already committed to using some ARP funds for this purpose.

Baker has instead signed legislation that spreads the hike in the so-called solvency assessment over 20 years and covers $7 billion in unemployment payments tied to pandemic-related job losses.

We don’t believe that simply spreading the payments over 20 years is a real solution to this problem. The pain remains — it’s just dispersed over two decades instead of all at once. While the payments will be smaller, they will still be a burden to businesses that are, as we noted, still struggling to fully recover from the pandemic and don’t need to pay for a problem that was not of their doing.

When it comes to the ARP windfall, the phrase ‘good problem to have’ certainly comes to mind. Indeed, deciding how to allocate $5.3 billion is a test for which there are few truly wrong answers.

But it is incumbent on the governor and the Legislature to come up with the best answers, and some of these involve a business community that is far from out of the woods when it comes to this pandemic and the many challenges that remain.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

 

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and the Commonwealth’s business community join with our fellow citizens in celebrating the first official state observance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the day in 1865 — June 19 — that the last enslaved people held in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom, two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The day is both an historical observance and an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of African-Americans here in Massachusetts and throughout the nation. It is also a reminder of an event largely ignored by history texts, much like the Tulsa massacre that took place 100 years ago.

AIM — as an organization committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion — regards the day as a symbol of the importance of creating an economy that provides opportunity for all the citizens of Massachusetts.

“The Juneteenth holiday is a long-overdue teaching moment about the contributions and history of a people who were instrumental in building the country. Reminders of what has kept us apart are necessary to forming bonds that bring us together moving forward,” said Donna Latson Gittens, founder of MORE Advertising in Watertown and a member of the AIM Executive Committee.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill last July making June 19 a limited-scope holiday, analogous to Patriots’ Day, Presidents’ Day, and Martin Luther King Day. Private employers may elect to observe the day but are not required to do so. Creation of the state holiday came amid a national racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd and several other black people during encounters with police.

Employers plan to mark Juneteenth in various ways.

AIM member National Grid announced that all of its U.S. employees, including 6,336 employees in Massachusetts, would be given the Friday before Juneteenth off as “a symbol of our dedication to honoring black Americans who have suffered the impacts of racism throughout U.S. history,” according to Natalie Edwards, the company’s chief diversity officer.

The company encouraged its workers to use the time off as “a day of reflection and to celebrate black communities, particularly in the neighborhoods where they live and work.”

AIM members New Balance, Foley Hoag, Boston University, Harvard University, and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries have also instituted Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Other members, such as Fidelity Investments and Santander Bank, are conducting or sponsoring online events to discuss diversity and financial issues in communities of color.

When Baker signed the law last July, it was in recognition of “the continued need to ensure racial freedom and equality,” he said. “Juneteenth is a chance for us all to reflect on this country’s painful history of slavery and the systemic impact that racial injustice continues to have today. It is also an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the goal of creating a more equal and just society.”

 

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

By George O’Brien

 

Andy Yee

Andy Yee

Andy Yee, who passed away late last month, was the true definition of a serial entrepreneur. Even though he had a number of businesses, especially restaurants within the Bean Group, he was always looking for that next challenge, that next opportunity.

He took on each project with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm that was as inspiring as it was contagious. And many of his undertakings were not just business ventures — they were game changers in our local communities, difficult yet successful efforts to save institutions such as the Student Prince in downtown Springfield and the White Hut in West Springfield from being relegated to the past tense.

In 2015, BusinessWest named Yee and several of his business partners, including Peter Pan Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly and Kevin and Michael Vann, as Difference Makers for their efforts to save the Student Prince. And that title certainly fit him. He was a difference maker as a business owner and entrepreneur, as a family man, and as a leader in the community.

“He was a difference maker as a business owner and entrepreneur, as a family man, and as a leader in the community.”

The Student Prince was struggling when Yee and Picknelly stepped forward. Theirs was a business proposition, to be sure, but it was much more than that. It was an effort to save something that had become a part of the fabric of the city and of the region. It was more about community than it was about dollars and cents — although Yee, a very smart businessperson, was also focused on the dollars and cents as well.

The same was true with the White Hut in West Springfield — a different kind of restaurant, to be sure, but with a very similar brand of emotional attachment. Today, both establishments live on, and Yee is a huge reason why.

As a business writer who interviewed him dozens of times over the past two decades, I was always struck by how energetic he was, how hands-on he was in every endeavor he became involved with, and how he always had one eye on the present and the other on the future, trying to anticipate what was to come and be ready for it.

That is the essence of a leader, and that’s another word that fits Yee like a glove.

His latest endeavor is a restaurant project in Court Square in Springfield, another landmark that needed someone to step forward and give it a new direction, a new future. Yee was part of a large team doing just that.

We sincerely hope this project moves forward. It will be difficult without his leadership, his enthusiasm, and his ability to get the tough projects done. It will be a fitting tribute — yet another one — to how he had the ability to not only open a business, but change a community for the better — and make a huge difference.

He will be missed.

Opinion

Opinion

By Sandra Doran

Work has always been a women’s issue. Whether we work or not, the types of jobs we do, how much we are paid, and how far we can advance, it’s all shaped by our experiences as women, and this, in turn, shapes the central mission at Bay Path University. Therefore, it has been hard to see how deeply the pandemic has thwarted working women. In January, the National Women’s Law Center calculated the percentage of women working at 57%, the lowest it has been since 1988.

As the conversation grows louder, and the issues more pressing, this is our moment to seize, for making changes that are long overdue. At Bay Path, we’re doubling down on our commitment to preparing women for the career world, but the pandemic has confirmed it’s high time that businesses, organizations, and policymakers get on board with preparing the career world for women. Here are a few places to start.

• Support mothers. Over the last 30 years, childcare costs have increased by 70%, while real median wages have increased by a scant 7%. The cost of childcare in the U.S. and the allegiance to traditional gender roles still forces women into the slow lane of career growth and pushes many to take the off-ramp. Taking time away from one’s career puts women at risk of re-entering the labor market at a lower entry point than when they left, a scenario that underlies our persistent wage gap. The experiences of mothers during the pandemic has led to renewed calls for subsidized childcare, something every other industrialized country in the world offers. At the same time, the nearly universal pivot to remote work arrangements should inspire us all to develop schedules and create resources that expand the flexibility we can offer.

• Expand access to degrees for more women. It’s never been more important for women to get their degrees. It still holds true that women with bachelor’s degrees will earn $630,000 more over the course of their careers than high-school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more. Most women who left the workforce exited the hospitality, health-services, and retail sectors, where the majority of jobs do not require a degree and the majority of workers don’t have one. Due to their disproportionate representation in these sectors, fewer black and Hispanic women are working now than any other demographic. Creating access to degrees and providing the support to help women complete them can have a transformational impact on the types of jobs women fill and the amount of money they earn.

• Put more women in charge of more companies. Today, there are actually fewer women in rising management roles than there were in 2019, even though having more women in leadership roles isn’t just good for women, it’s better for business. Although men and women start in roughly the same positions, by age 30 to 44, 36% of men become supervisors or managers, compared to 30% of women. By age 45 and older, 12% of men ascend to an executive-level role, while only 6% of women do. A Harvard Business School study found that having women represent 30% of corporate leadership leads to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm. Researchers attributed this to “increased skill diversity within top management,” which translates to an ability to encourage better employee performance and stronger recruitment, promotion, and retention of talent (the women who otherwise would have left due to gender discrimination).

• Shift the ways we define ‘women’s work’ and what it’s worth. In 2017, 64.2% of mothers were the primary or co-breadwinners for their families. Our jobs are central to supporting our families and ourselves, yet they are routinely undervalued and underpaid (see teachers, 76% women; social workers, 83% women; and healthcare workers, 85% women). Questions to consider: if more men entered these fields, as they did with computer programming, a skill once tied to women’s secretarial roles, would wages go up? If they did, would more men opt to enter these fields? This chicken-egg scenario inevitably leads to the same takeaway: these critical roles need higher pay to truly represent their value to our society.

We’re living in remarkable times, when we’re not just dreaming of change, we’re demanding it — for our daughters, sisters, friends, co-workers, and, obviously, our students. Women’s employment isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic rates until 2024 (men will get there in 2023), and the road back can’t be paved only with good intentions. A recovery won’t do — what we really need is a reimagining.

Sandra Doran is president of Bay Path University.

Opinion

Opinion

By Nancy Creed

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the state of emergency in Massachusetts, we continue to take steps on our path forward.

Last week, legislators reached agreement on a COVID-19 package to support our business community as it begins to recover from the pandemic. The package would include two items that the Springfield Regional Chamber has been aggressively advocating for: unemployment-insurance rate relief and tax relief from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds.

The agreement calls for a freeze in the unemployment insurance (UI) rate at the current Schedule E rate for 2021 and 2022, limiting the increases employers will see. Without passage, employers could see the unemployment insurance rates increase from an average of $539 to $866 per employee. This legislation would hold the average UI rates to $635 per employee in 2021 and $665 per employee in 2022.

The agreement would also exclude PPP loan amounts forgiven in 2020 from taxable gross income for those small businesses that are organized as pass-through entities. While Congress excluded these loans from federal taxation, without legislative action, these loans would have been taxed as income at the state level.

The agreement would also guarantee paid leave to employees who are sick with COVID-19, required to quarantine, or need to take time off to get the vaccine. As well, it will allow for state borrowing, through a temporary employer assessment, to ensure the solvency of the UI trust fund, which is projected to have a $5 billion deficit by the end of 2022, triggering higher increases in unemployment-insurance rates to remain solvent.

We applaud the Legislature for recognizing the long-term economic impact this pandemic has had on our employer community and to take these steps to support its recovery.

The federal government also recently took action, with the Senate approving a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. One item your chamber supports in this package is the state and local aid to help our region’s cities and towns as they deal with their own economic hardships resulting from the pandemic. As specific details around this aid remain to be seen, we will continue to watch this closely, as we believe this funding is critical to the fiscal health and stability of our communities.

The CDC has also issued much anticipated guidance for individuals who are fully vaccinated. As of last week, more than 715,000 people in Massachusetts have been fully vaccinated, ranking Massachusetts first among states with 5 million people or more for total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered. Massachusetts is currently in phase 2 of its vaccination plan, with teachers becoming eligible last week.

We have been through the wringer, and we know we have a ways to go, but these are all significant steps on our road to recovery and, we hope, the first of many more to come.

Stay safe and stay well. We can — and will — get through this together.

 

Nancy Creed is president of the Springfield Regional Chamber.