Q&A with Coughlan Home’s Andrea Laws

Coughlan Home’s manager of human resources talks employee assistance programs, ‘quiet rooms’ and showing appreciation.

Q. What top challenges do you face in your role?

A. Throughout my 15 years in human resources, I’ve found the biggest challenge was encouraging younger generations to begin planning for their retirement. I try to provide scenarios that will resonate with them and show them that planning early can allow them to have a more enjoyable and stress-free retirement (well, there will always be some stress) by not having financial worries.

Q. What new programs or initiatives are you looking to implement?

A. Currently, I’m reviewing options for an employee assistance program. Mental health — and the awareness of it — is something we all face and potentially struggle with daily, even more now with the pandemic.

Read: How to support employees’ mental health during coronavirus

Offering an EAP to employees and their immediate family members will provide some expert re sources. I strive to be that go-to person when my employees need some assistance, whether within the workplace or outside. [But] my knowledge isn’t vast for all topics, so it’s nice to have those resources that are confidential and free.

Q. What programs do you consider the most successful or that you’re most proud of?

A. In one of my previous roles, I implemented a “quiet room.” I noticed and received feedback that a population of our employees were engaging in religious activities in stairways and basements during their breaks.

Career crib sheet

April 2020 — Present
Human resources manager, Coughlan Homes

March 2018 — January 2020
HR manager, Altrom Group Inc. (a division of Genuine Parts Co.)

November 2010 — February 2018
Senior HR generalist, Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.

September 2005 — November 2010
HR, Exelixis Inc.

After researching other companies’ practices, surveying employees and working with the health and safety team to ensure the room was safe (i.e., determining number of occupants, exit routes, no locks, etc.), I was able to pilot the “quiet room.” We used that name because employees had diverse backgrounds and not everyone would use the area for religious purposes. By labelling it that way, we were able to include all employees since it was open for meditation and reflection.

Q. What key HR issues do you expect in the coming year?

A. COVID-19 will be a huge issue for the rest of 2020 and likely into 2021. As the province, country and world move through this uncharted time, we’re learning to operate under a new normal.

Read: Coronavirus pandemic means ‘new normal’ for employers, employees

We’ve implemented several health and safety protocols to help do our part in keeping our workforce and community safe while flattening the curve. However, as we move into a new school year and cold and flu season, we’ll see a lot of challenges in differentiating between the two.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A. I have a young son who keeps me very busy, but I also enjoy reading, going for a walk, shopping or watching a good movie.

Q. What’s your favourite employee benefit and why?

A. I find all employee benefits are beneficial in retention and employee morale, but my favourite benefit is anything that shows appreciation to the team. Things like corporate discounts, onsite food services or recognition programs show employees they’re valued and make all the difference in the world.

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.