As HR manager at Schoolhouse, Colette Jamison has her finger on the pulse of the business and the workforce. She and the company share a guiding philosophy: Invest in employees and everything else will follow.
The Portland lighting and lifestyle goods company does everything from product design to manufacturing. In this landscape, over 10 nationalities are represented and seven languages are spoken. Jamison is a sounding board for this diverse staff, and too much communication is not possible.
About half the employees at Schoolhouse have email while the other half that works in the factory doesn’t. This means Jamison must employ myriad ways to communicate, including emails, bulletin board posts, standup meetings, virtual meetings, surveys and one-on-one talks.
Under Jamison’s leadership, dozens of initiatives focusing on worker retention have been implemented, including a parental leave program, which also helps new parents cope during pregnancy and post-birth; a communications workshop, teaching workers how to better interact with one another; and employee training programs.
From rolling out Schoolhouse’s employee handbook to ensuring timely performance reviews to implementing an online payroll system, Jamison supports staff throughout their entire employment and is committed to helping them thrive.
A longtime champion of health, Jamison has spearheaded a wellness program that includes meeting with individuals to help determine ways to relieve psychic or physical stress, such as ergonomically optimizing workstations.
To ensure compliance with state equity laws, Jamison devised a comparison framework for every job in the company, used when offering a promotion or providing a job description.
Wages and benefits are basic requirements to retain employees. But to make a worker happy, they have to be shown respect.
“Everyone brings something to the company. See them as individuals, celebrate their joys and be supportive when things are not going well. Have an open-door policy so they know they can always talk to you and do what you say you are going to do,” she said.
A human resources manager for 30 years, Jamison’s on-the-job experience and strong listening skills are shored up with professional qualifications, including knowledge of HR law and SPHR and SHRM-SCP certifications. Jamison has learned a lot, but transparency was the No. 1 lesson.
Early on when Covid hit, Schoolhouse was forced to announce layoffs — difficult under any circumstances.
“Be empathetic, but don’t give false hope. After I give the news, I do my best to find ways to help them through, whether that’s walking an individual through unemployment benefits, providing other insurance options, etc.,” Jamison said.
Schoolhouse had to set up departments to work remotely within the span of a week while simultaneously figuring out how to keep factory and shipping employees safe on-site. But as challenging as Covid has been, the changing landscape has brought a lot of positive growth. Lack of a commute has provided employees a better work-life balance, Zoom meetings have strengthened and streamlined communication, and increased flexibility has improved worker satisfaction and productivity.
“It has given us the chance to review our processes and systems, allowing us to be more nimble and effective,” Jamison said. She developed a weekly Healthy Habits newsletter to keep employees informed and supported and helped create a Covid response team that handles everything from social distancing policies to mask manufacturing.
But Jamison isn’t content to put protocols and initiatives in place and call it good. Still ahead, in 2021 she hopes to create an in-house ESL program and additional mentorship opportunities.