Over the last year, many leaders have been wondering when business will get back to “normal.”

But now the fact that a large portion of the population have yet to get vaccinated and the resurgence of Covid-19 through the Delta variant have many leaders wondering what’s next and what their workplaces will look like next month and in years to come.

This week’s guest, Steve Peglar, says that although the new normal is a moving target, there are things that business leaders can do to maintain an agile and productive workforce.

In this thirty-minute episode, the speakers talk about returning to the office, questions about mandatory vaccines, symptoms screening, and other illness related protocols, as well as what diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives look like in a remote environment.


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Steve Peglar

Steve Peglar, SPHR, PI, SHRM-SCP, is Senior Vice President with The WhitneySmith Company, a 32-year-old Fort Worth, Texas-based human resources consulting firm. He currently leads the firm’s Austin, Texas office. Mr. Peglar has over twenty-five years of strategic and tactical human resources experience and has worked with a wide variety of industries including services, manufacturing, banking & finance, energy, nonprofits, defense & federal contracting, architectural & engineering services, municipal governments, education, telecommunications, and more.

Mr. Peglar holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee. He also maintains the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation from the HR Certification Institute, the Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) designation from the Society for Human Resources Management and is licensed as a Private Investigator with the Texas Commission on Private Security. He is also a certified practitioner of the Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator (MBTI) and True Colors personality profile systems, and a trained analyst in the Predictive Index (PI) workplace profile. He is a frequent author and contributor to local, regional, and national online business publications, and speaks regularly to business groups on a variety of HR issues and topics.

Mr. Peglar’s areas of professional expertise include employee relations, HR strategy, policy development, HR legal compliance, internal investigations, EEO, compensation, performance management, training & organizational development, workplace surveys, organizational culture, executive coaching, organizational design, federal contractor compliance, expert witness testimony, international HR, workplace benefits, HR technology, and safety.

Mr. Peglar is active in the community and works with a variety of nonprofit service organizations, currently serving on the boards of directors of Community Healthcare of Texas (Board Chair) and
the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Central Area Council (Board Chair). Previous board service includes the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth (Chairman
of the Board of Directors &Board of Trustees), Susan G. Komen Foundation of Greater Fort Worth, Boy Scouts of America Longhorn Council, the YMCA, and Fort Worth HR Management Association.
He is a member of the Austin HR Association and is a founding member of Career Solutions Workshops. He is also a graduate of the 2014 Leadership Fort Worth Class.


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Steve Peglar: One real negative that’s come out of this is that there’s been some real positives in terms of productivity. And that kind of thing and surprises like that from the remote work experiment, but there’s been some negatives. And one of the big negatives is burnout.

People are burned out and people, the workloads, a lot of times didn’t let up but adapting to a remote work environment, you just have to do things a little differently than you did when you were in an office.

[intro music]

Mike Coffey: Good morning, HR.

I’m Mike Coffey and this is the podcast where I talk to business leaders about bringing people together to create value for shareholders, customers and the community.

Please follow, rate and review. Good Morning, HR on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Facebook at Good Morning, HR Podcast.

Over the last year, many leaders have been wondering when business will get back to normal, but now the fact that a large portion of the population have yet to get vaccinated and the resurgence of COVID-19 through the Delta variant, have many leaders wondering what’s next and what their workplaces will look like next month and in the year to come.

My guest today says that although the new normal is a moving target, there are many things that business leaders can do to maintain an agile and productive workforce.

Steve Peglar is Senior Vice President of the WhitneySmith Company and is an HR consultant based in Austin with more than 25 years of strategic and tactical human resources experience in all sorts of industries, both public and private.

He’s also my social media doppelganger. Facebook often suggests his name when I go to tag myself in a photo. You’re just a really handsome fellow, Steve.

Welcome to Good Morning, HR.

Steve Peglar: Glad to be here.

Mike Coffey: Let’s start with your own pandemic workplace experience. What changed for you personally, professionally since March of last year?

Steve Peglar: Well, Mike, a lot has changed for me. I actually relocated from Fort Worth to Austin in the middle of a pandemic. I’m living proof that remote work can work and can work very effectively.

So, the story behind that is that my wife landed her dream job down here in Austin, right in the middle of the pandemic. And of course, I have got to tag along. So, we up and moved last summer.

And my firm had obviously been working remotely since it all started last March and had been very, very effectively managing the whole process. We’d been very productive individually. Actually, I really think we were more productive working remotely than we had been in the office team environment before in a lot of ways.

And that’s my personal opinion but I really didn’t miss a beat when I moved to Austin and was able to serve my clients just as effectively as I had before, in sort of a new world that we were all operating in. Fortunately, we have the technology to do it now. I’m not so sure this would’ve worked out just five years ago but anyway, that’s my story.

Mike Coffey: Yeah. And if you can’t live in Fort Worth, Austin is like a second best. It’s like Fort Worth with three times the traffic. So, it’s not too bad. Good music.

Steve Peglar: Yeah.

Mike Coffey: So, on the professional side, you talk to as many employers probably as I do in all kinds of industries every day.

What are you hearing from them? What’s the consensus about whether they’re ready to return to workplaces full time or part-time or hybrid? What are employers telling you?

Steve Peglar: Well, it’s a real moving target. It seemed like about a month ago that we were just about to have all this behind us. And most of my clients had either already brought people back to the office, most of the people back to the office or were planning to in the very near future. And a lot of people are throwing on the brakes on that.

With the Delta variant, people are definitely more freaked out now. And so, we’re getting a lot of questions about changing plans and how to implement a rapid change in plans and return to work. And then of course, we have the vaccine controversies and that kind of thing.

And it is absolutely not settling down. It’s getting, unfortunately in a lot of ways, more complicated than ever. And it’s been complicated for a while, as you know, going back to March of 2020.

Mike Coffey: Yeah. Not only do we have Delta variant, we’ve also got some sort of surge with RSV out there and that’s a whole nother illness that we don’t have a vaccine for. That seems to be affecting a lot of people and we’re not even in flu season yet. And so, when kids go back to school and all of that, it’s going to be an interesting a few months.

What are you telling clients as they come to you and say, “Okay. We’ve got these concerns. We’ve got these employees with these concerns but we’re trying to decide if people more productive in house.” You said you were. You felt like WhitneySmith Company just as productive with everybody remote.

And certainly, we feel that way at Imperative. By all our measures, our productivity is higher but what are you telling clients as they began to try to figure that out?

Steve Peglar: Well, there’s a lot to talk about with regard to that topic.

Not every job is or was or will be set up to do remotely. If you’re manufacturing a product, chances are, you’re not going to be able to do that at home versus having to be in a facility to do that. So, we’ve always known that. That’s always been an issue, but they’ve identified probably 60% of all jobs can be done at least partially remotely and that was going into the pandemic. And I think we’ve now seen that it could be more than that.

The whole concept of remote work, it is really here to stay. We’re seeing quite a bit of resistance actually among employee groups to going back to the office because the genie’s really kind of out of the bottle. We’ve all sort of proven that this is doable on some level. There’s advantages and disadvantages.

And we can talk about those but for the most part, for a company to successfully argue that, “Gosh. We did this for a while. We need everybody back now.” They could certainly do that. That’s a company’s right to demand that or to request that. But a big problem is that again, people know… They’ve seen the other side and frankly, a lot of people like this new remote option, if there is one.

And so, what I believe is going to happen and what experts out there are saying based on research and what my clients are showing me is that this is here to stay in some fashion. And it’s probably going to be in some sort of hybrid format.

Mike Coffey: Okay. So, you’re talking to employers. That’s short-term stuff about what they’re going to do about COVID and returning to the workplace. I keep saying returning to work. It’s not like we weren’t all working extra over the last 18 months but returning to the workplace.

But what do you think the future of work is going to be like now that we’ve figured out that some of these jobs can be done remote at least some percentage of the time? What do you think the demands of employees? Demands of employers? How do you think that’s going to shake out to change how we work at least for white collar jobs?

Steve Peglar: Again, just the dynamic involving the hybrid environment, which I believe is going to be around for a very long time, probably permanently.

The technology that we are using now, it’s just going to improve. And as I’ve said at the outset, I don’t think we could have done this five years ago, very successfully. So, I don’t know what that would’ve looked like but going forward, the technology that we’re able to use to communicate, which is at the center of organizational health is good communication internally. It’s only going to get better.

And I found that just during this past year and a half, my ability to communicate with my team, just using the technology that’s available now is excellent. And that’s only going to improve. So, further out and looking out long-term, I really believe that’s only going to get better.

And again, communication is at the core of organizational health. So, these open channels of communication that we’ve got to have in every organization, that’s only going to get better or at least the ability to do that is going to get better.

As far as how employers may manage a workforce into the future, the whole COVID event is a defining moment in the workplace, certainly and obviously in all of our lives but in just how we get work done. We’re not going to go back to thinking the way we thought before.

And so, what the distant future looks like, I can’t predict it but things have changed permanently and our outlook has changed permanently whether we like it or not. And so, I threw a lot of information at you there but hopefully that answers your question.

Mike Coffey: Well, back when you and I were starting our careers a few years ago, there was a really popular concept of management by walking around. And I think we’ve spent a good part of our careers trying to talk employers out of that process and out of that being your primary employee management tool.

But I think there’s going to be a lot of organizations that aren’t ready to give that up or a lot of managers who’ve relied on that crutch rather than using other tools to manage their employees. What would you say to a manager who’s who says, “If I can’t see my employees, how do I know that they’re productive?”

Steve Peglar: Well, I think that relates directly to the idea of trust. The bottom line to the success of this whole experiment we’re in is trust.

And I would argue if you feel that you need to see your employees to know if they’re working, I get it that it’s a newer concept and a newer idea and dynamic but it’s something that relates directly to trust. And if you don’t trust your employees, I would ask why you hired them in the first place.

Mike Coffey: “Because they were the cheapest thing I could find.”

Steve Peglar: They were the cheapest thing. And I know you’ve been doing this for a while. You’re probably not meeting with your people every day or maybe every week. I’m not sure but obviously, you’ve got a great organization that’s working. And so, your folks must be doing something right. And you’re not seeing them every day. So, you’re living proof of that and our firm is too.

And it comes down to trust. And the whole management by walking around, sure. But the first thing that pops in my mind when you use that phrase is micromanagement and nobody likes that. And it relates back to the whole topic of communication and the technology we have.

You want to be able to communicate with your team if they’re working remotely and the more communication you have, the more effective that everything’s going to be. And so, you could probably micromanage somebody remotely, too. So, really, you don’t have to be in the same room. Trust your employees. That’s what I tell my clients.

Mike Coffey: And it’s a balance between what you were talking about before. Clear communication, two-way communication on a consistent basis and trusting your employees when you don’t have them face-to-face in person or on Zoom.

My senior team and I, for years and years, have had a 90-minute meeting every Friday where we go through key metrics and discuss challenges we’re facing and resolve issues. We’re doing that via Zoom, and we haven’t missed a beat. But I know if they’re doing that, and I have a one-to-one with each of them during the week where we can talk about their personal performance or any challenges personally related their role that they’re facing, and we knock those out.

And I think as a leader, that’s my role which is to make sure that they’re effective and that they’ve got what they need to do their job. And so, that’s 90 minutes plus an hour for each one. Two and a half hours out of 40 plus each week. I have to trust them to get everything else done but I’ve got great metrics and systems in place. So, I know that we’ve got high accountability and I know that they’re getting things done and they’re meeting our commitments.

So, I think building those systems where you can measure performance and you know you’re on track.

Steve Peglar: Exactly. Well, not everybody has that though. You do but you’re probably in the minority, unfortunately. So, more people that could do that, you’d have more effective organizations.

Mike Coffey: And I think also, and you may have a different opinion, but recognizing that during COVID, but also even post COVID if we ever get to something like that, in fact I published a blog article or Texas SHRM talking about how we made the stop using the term manager and managing employees.

You can manage a process, you can manage a piece of code, you can manage things to get a predictable outcome but when you’re talking about people, people are messy and you’re never going to manage people. You may try to change behavior, you may incentivize but those outcomes are not predictable. And I think we need to get back to that idea of managers as coaches and facilitators.

Steve Peglar: And I actually rarely use the term manager anymore. I use the term leader and for that reason, really. And I agree with you a hundred percent.

Mike Coffey: I used to say the term hiring manager was usually an oxymoron because they wouldn’t ever get around to hiring somebody. And once they did, they would never actually manage them.

And we had the wrong person in the wrong job too often. And I think that’s really becoming apparent. And in this world where to getting really engaged employees, you’ve got to be able to have the right people to lead them.

Steve Peglar: And some of the more cutting-edge organizational design structures, they’re flat organizations and you really don’t even have somebody in that old manager role. And I would argue everybody can be a leader or should be a leader in some fashion but using that term…

The more that I think about it, that may be something down the road that we don’t use that term anymore but we’re not there yet. We’re not there yet. You’re either an individual contributor or you’re a manager in a lot places.

[commercial break music]

Mike Coffey: And let’s take a quick break.

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If you’re an HRCI or SHRM certified professional, this episode of Good Morning, HR has been pre-approved for one half hour of re-certification credit. To obtain the re-certification information, visit www.goodmorninghr.com and click on Recert Credits. Then select episode three and enter the keyword, PEGLAR. P-E-G-L-A-R.

Next Thursday, August 26th, I’ll be hosting a webinar entitled Strategy, Execution and The Art of Saying No. This webinar is approved for one professional development credit for SHRM certified professionals and one hour of business re-certification credit for HRCI certified professionals. You can register for this free webinar at www.imperativeinfo.com.

And if you’re listening to this program after August 26, you can still watch the recorded webinar on our website for credit. Again, that’s at www.imperativeinfo.com And now back to my conversation with Steve Peglar.

Mike Coffey: On the COVID front, I’m sure you’re getting them. I’m getting questions. To ensure a safe workplace, should we be mandating that all our employees who are returning to the workplace be vaccinated? What’s your take on that?

Steve Peglar: Well, first of all, I’m not an attorney but the legal experts are saying that you can require that. And I personally would if I were in the position to mandate that. I have some clients that are. I have a lot of clients that aren’t. A lot of clients that probably want to and they realize how controversial all that is for whatever reason. I don’t quite understand why it’s so controversial, but it is.

And so, what I try to tell clients is, “Look, you have a duty under the OSHA general duty clause, that kind of thing, where you have to have provide a safe workplace for your employees, period.” So, vaccines are scientifically proven to work and that’s what I believe. And if it’s my organization, I can require it as a condition of employment that you’re vaccinated but you don’t have to do that.

Other organizations certainly don’t have to do that, but you got to keep your people safe. And earlier on in the pandemic before… And yes, I’ve gotten these kinds of questions since this all started. Early on, there was a lot of… It was all about, “Do you have hand sanitizer at the front desk? Does everyone wear a mask? Are you social distancing?” There was all those other things. All the other protocols before we ever had a vaccine. So, they had to do that then. That was the best practice we had at the time.

Well, now I would consider the best practice an actual vaccination and you could require it. Yes, you can. But it’s up to you, whether or not you do that. And then once you do require it, how are you going to prove it? I’ve got clients that are asking to see vaccination cards and you can do that as long as you don’t really ask any more questions beyond that fact.

So, employers have leeway. It’s just there’s just a lot of confusion out there about this.

Mike Coffey: So, give everybody an ADA HIPAA type reminder about… If you get a copy of somebody’s vaccination card, should you just throw that in the employee file?

Steve Peglar: No. We’ve recommended for years, pre-COVID that ideally, you have a whole separate file with any sort of confidential information like that. And as far as HIPAA and I’m certainly no HIPAA expert, but if you have access to protected medical and protected health information as an employer, you’ve got to make sure that’s actually protected.

So, no. Don’t throw it in the personnel file.

Mike Coffey: Yeah. And what about other screening? Are you seeing many employers continue to do some sort of symptom screening as people enter the workplace or any other kinds of protocols like that? I know some counties are requiring and have gone back to mask mandates. I think Travis County where you’re at has done that.

Steve Peglar: Yeah, that’s true. And the symptom screening, I don’t hear nearly as much about that. And frankly, I haven’t gone out and visited as many clients naturally as I used to. Even earlier on in the pandemic, I was seeing what people were doing a little more, but some people still do it, and others don’t. But again, the bottom line is doing whatever you can to keep a safe workplace.

Mike Coffey: And beyond the pandemic, I think we’re seeing other changes in the workplaces as well. Everything that happened after George Floyd’s murder last May 25th, has brought a lot of awareness to workplaces about DEI issues and the importance of being more than just performative in how we address those issues. What do you think the workplace is going to look like on that front going forward?

Steve Peglar: That’s a good question. At my firm, we obviously noticed all this last year when it was really ramping up and we’ve done diversity training for years, but everything went to the next level during this past year.

We actually created a really deep dive program for diversity and equity and inclusion. It incorporated things that may not have been in there before like anti-racism, specific anti-racism training. So, it’s really, really ramped up.

It’s interesting because there’s obviously no shortage of HR topics or issues that are popping up all the time. That whole dynamic really kind of settled down for a while and now it’s back. I’ve had more inquiries lately into, “What can you do for us in terms of DEI training and program implementation?” More so lately than I had in the previous three or four months.

I don’t know why. It’s a good. I’m glad to hear that. And I don’t know what’s behind that, necessarily, but it has cycled a little bit. But I think moving forward, that is a topic that’s going to be at the forefront in general for the foreseeable future and it should.

Mike Coffey: Yeah, and I think a lot of employers during COVID, we were aware of that and all that was going on with BLM protests and the conversation around all of those things in the workplace, but we weren’t hiring people there as much during the… Certainly, my background check backlog back then was pretty light. We weren’t hiring as many people, so it wasn’t something we were thinking about.

And as ever, we waited and now we’re hiring a crap ton of people and we’re all running around trying to find candidates. And at the same time, we’re thinking, “Oh yeah. We should be doing something to make sure we’re being more equitable and fair in how we recruit and select employees.” And now we’re driving down the highway trying to change the tires on the car and trying to figure some of that out.

Steve Peglar: Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Coffey: I’m sure you’re seeing most of your employers hiring a lot more than they were a while back.

Steve Peglar: Yeah. Nobody was hiring for a long time. It depends on the industry. It depends on the organization but that has really ramped up and the folks that do recruiting in our firm are a lot busier now than I believe they were, last fall.

Mike Coffey: And I’m reading that well into the future, this is going to be an issue/challenge. Getting the right talent on board is going to be harder and harder just because of the demographics of the number of available workers. It seems to be continuing to decline.

Steve Peglar: Right. And a lot of this and really, probably you and a lot of people listening to this have probably heard about the anticipated turnover tsunami that’s coming out of the post-COVID world. And it’s true. It’s really happening.

And so, we’re seeing a lot of people moving on. We’re seeing organizations trying to backfill those roles and one real negative that’s come out of this. There’s been some real positives in terms of productivity and that kind of thing, surprises like that from the remote work experiment. But there’s been some negatives and one of the big negatives is burnout.

People are burned out and people, the workloads, a lot of times didn’t let up but adapting to a remote work environment, you just have to do things a little differently than you did when you’re in an office. And a lot of times, it takes more energy. It takes a different thought process, a different work style and as a result, cumulatively, here we are with a lot of people really burned out and looking for something else. You’ve got people dropping out of the workforce.

So, all the stories that you’re hearing out there and probably have heard, I’ve seen it play out with my clients. So, it’s true stuff.

Mike Coffey: What is the advice you’re giving clients who are experiencing that with former employees who just have said, “I’m not coming back.” I think a lot of people have found that maybe they’ve got a pretty good lifestyle, especially with a couple living on one income or something. We’ve got a lot of advantages here. What advice are you giving employers as they’re facing those kinds of issues?

Steve Peglar: Well, the HR buzzword of engagement and retention. Those buzzwords have been around pre-COVID. They were really hot a few years ago and they’re hotter more than ever.

So, what can you do to make sure your best people don’t leave? The answer is going to be different for everybody, but you really need to be thinking about that. And how do you retain people? There’s a lot of different ways to do that. And it just depends on who your workforce is, what are the demographics of it, what’s your industry, what are the jobs that are within your organization?

So, there’s a lot of different things to think about there but retention and employee engagement. People are really getting disengaged and probably have been disengaged for a while. So, those aren’t good things. And as far as finding new people to fill roles, good luck. Good luck. It’s not easy.

Mike Coffey: And I’ve said for a long time that money is the ticket to entry as an employer. You’ve got to be able to pay your people fairly but that’s not what keeps somebody on board in your organization or it’s going to cause them to leave.

If they’re being adequately compensated, it’s all the other issues. When they leave, they’re leaving a manager or they’re leaving a team or they’re leaving for work that they think is more meaningful and fulfilling. But just throwing money at this problem, I don’t think is going to give an employer an advantage in the next few years.

Steve Peglar: Well, I would agree. And the technical term, I think for compensation, if you’re an organizational psychologist is… I believe the term is, money and compensation. It’s a hygiene issue. It’s like if you get to a certain level of pay, that’s great, but beyond that has diminishing returns.

So, there are other motivators called satisfiers, I believe is the term, that really, the intrinsic worth of the job, the challenge, the professional growth and all that stuff. Really, you got to pay somebody a certain… Everybody’s got a bottom dollar and you usually need to go above that if you want to attract and retain somebody. But really, if you want to keep them and if you really want to retain them, it’s got to be a lot more than just the money.

Mike Coffey: Well, there’s a ton more to explore here and I’m sure we’ll dig deeper in future episodes, but that’s all the time we have this week. Thanks for joining us today.

Steve Peglar: Thanks for having me.

Mike Coffey: And thank you for listening. You can find previous episodes, show notes and contact info for Steve at www.goodmorninghr.com or on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. And don’t forget to follow us wherever you get your podcasts.

Rob Upchurch is our technical producer and Imperative’s marketing coordinator. Katy Bautista keeps the trains running on time. And I’m Mike Coffey. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I could be of service to you, professionally or personally. I’ll see you next week and until then, be well and keep your chin up.