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Pandemic Changed the Scope and Scale of Human Resources

To Julie Mann, the challenge is simple: The company that can figure out flexible work environments and how to attract talent in a post-pandemic world is the company that’s going…

To Julie Mann, the challenge is simple: The company that can figure out flexible work environments and how to attract talent in a post-pandemic world is the company that’s going to win the future.

“Good talent is always going to grow businesses,” she said. “That’s what my business is all about.”

Her business is helping grow the Neogen Corp. , a global animal safety and food safety company working to protect the world’s food supply and one of Greater Lansing’s pace-setting job creators since its 1982 launch. It’s also where Mann is chief human resources officer.

In her role, she sees multiple needs merging into a single track: managing Neogen’s growth by bringing in a steady flow of high-talent recruits and moderating change on how and where we work. The latter was already evolving before the coronavirus outbreak put that shift into overdrive.

And that’s something anyone with a job should keep an eye on, regardless of job title.

“I know companies have a dedicated HR person, but everybody manages people in one way, shape or form,” Mann said. “I say to my team that this is a historical space for HR, because we are going to be reinventing and rethinking more things, in my opinion, than we’ve thought through in an HR function in a long time.

“We’re going to be thinking about how we recruit differently. We’re going to be thinking about how we deliver benefits differently. We’re going to be thinking about what different types of tools we use for retention differently than we ever have before,” she continued. “We’re going to be thinking about the workplace and the culture, and how do we have an environment that is diverse and inclusive.

“It’s all of those things that we already think about — I’m not saying we don’t think about those things; we think about each one of those every single day — but we’re thinking about them in such different blue-ocean ways because we need to start thinking differently,” Mann said.

According to Mann, Neogen employs about 1,100 people in the United States — 660 of those in mid-Michigan — and another 800 globally, growing headcount about 10% annually and with revenue doubling roughly every five years.

“Growth is something we’re used to, and we continue to plan to do,” she said.

That growth is likely to play out differently than before COVID-19 struck. Coming out of the pandemic, Mann expects to see remote and hybrid work stick around, along with virtual recruiting and virtual meetings. That’s going to change the dynamics of some common employee-and-employer situations. For example, remote work could have employers widening their horizons when looking for talent, she said.

“Because if I used to say I want to hire an HR manager, and I want them to work here in Michigan, I get talent pool X. If I say I want an HR manager, and I don’t care where they sit, now I’ve got the entire United States and maybe a bigger global footprint,” Mann said. “So, the number of candidates goes way up.”

And so does the competitiveness for the position.

The pandemic has also reordered priorities for some workers.

“We’re seeing a lot more turnover for life decisions, life-balance decisions, than we’ve seen before. People are making work decisions differently,” Mann said. “And for those who had the opportunity to try remote, some people are saying, ‘I don’t ever want to go back to the office.’ Now, that may or may not be with your current company, but they’ve learned that they have a new way they like to work.”

No matter how it plays out, it won’t be quite what it was before we got to know Zoom, Slack and all.

“The big question on everybody’s plate is, what does the next normal work look like?” Mann said. “And it’s going to be unique.”

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