Cherita Hobbs and the more than 300 others who make up the Johns Hopkins University Human Resources team want you to know they are here for you.
"We want staff to be happy at work," says Hobbs, who is executive director of HR Employee and Labor Relations. "We want them to feel good about what they do. And we want them to always feel that the culture of the university embraces them."
Human Resources is a crucial JHU component tasked with nurturing and supporting university staff and establishing a harmonious workplace environment. It does this by creating and managing employee benefits, establishing good employee and labor relations practices, resolving job-related conflicts, and clarifying salary/payroll and leave issues, among others. It also engages in the areas of talent acquisition, work-life balance, training and development, and job performance evaluation, and ensuring that JHU complies with labor laws. And high on the list as well: promoting staff well-being, whether it's arranging departmental exercise programs, helping navigate child care coverage, reminding employees of discounts and perks, or organizing on-site activities for their schools/divisions.
Yet some employees may not understand how HR works—or that it can work for them. Hobbs encourages staff to contact their division's HR representative to talk about their concerns or questions. "Employee and labor relations initiatives, and HR's role, are about creating a workplace where staff feel valued, heard, and supported, which ultimately contributes to their well-being, job satisfaction, and overall success at JHU," Hobbs says.
Employees should feel free to come to HR to discuss workplace matters that affect them, Hobb says, especially if they need to talk about "how well they are performing in their jobs and understanding their goals and expectations, and in their ability to be successful at building relationships with their supervisors."
Hobbs stresses that the HR representatives are happy to answer any questions you might have about medical leave or any HR programs the university offers its staff. This means explaining eligibility, deadlines, and how the different programs and procedures work, and the steps employees need to take to complete them. "We understand that these sometimes can be confusing, or complicated, and we are here to help," she says. "No question is too unimportant or insignificant. This is what we do. Our job is to help staff navigate through everything that is available to them."
There are a number of different approaches available to employees, depending upon the specific issues.
HR realizes that not everyone feels comfortable voicing their concerns in person, especially when the issue might involve sensitive or potentially unlawful behavior, so the department established Speak 2 Us, a confidential hotline and repository that Hobbs describes as "one of the most beneficial processes we've implemented."
Speak 2 Us (call 844-SPEAK2US or 844-773-2528 or make a report online at johnshopkinsspeak2us.com) allows employees to anonymously report serious concerns about illegal or unethical practices in the workplace that may include such issues as privacy or patient care violations; employment concerns; billing, fraud, waste, or other abuses; workplace violence; faculty, student, or staff misconduct; policy violations; or possible criminal behavior. Every report is taken seriously and investigated, Hobbs says.
"The main thing to get across is that staff have found this system very helpful," she says. "It allows staff to speak openly about compliance issues, like not adhering to masking requirements during the height of COVID, for example, or policy violations, such as not adhering to the appropriate leave policies—not letting people take time off under the family medical leave requirements, which allows employees to take time off to care for themselves or family members, or not sending in the proper paperwork. They can report these concerns anonymously, and then HR has the responsibility to investigate and bring closure to the cases.
"We take all matters affecting our staff very seriously and work hard to conduct a thorough review and to complete a fair and proper investigation, if one is needed," she continues. "Whatever the issue, people should not hesitate to bring it to us."
In that regard, she says that staff can bring workplace issues to central HR or to their divisional representatives, whichever outlet is more convenient. "All HR offices have an open-door policy, so you are welcome and encouraged to either call or visit," Hobbs says. "And let's not forget email. We have a central employee/labor relations mailbox, firstname.lastname@example.org, where you can send us any issue that's on your mind, and we will review it and—if appropriate—send it to the right office."
HR staff also take proactive steps to support the employees in their divisions. For instance, the Bloomberg School of Public Health recently centralized its HR team to better serve faculty, staff, and students, ensuring that there is dedicated support for the academic departments and administrative units, as well as specialists who handle visa and immigration requests and the timely processing of pay for student workers. "We have set a clear vision for HR to be a strategic partner within BSPH's operation," says Cynthia Payne, director of Human Resources for BSPH, "and over the next year our goal is to provide continued efficiencies in all aspects of HR."
The Krieger School of Arts and Sciences also made changes to the way that HR functions, in order to become more strategic partners within the school. "We needed to break down silos within the HR team," says Janna Chavis, director of Human Resources for KSAS. The school's HR team is now divided into two key areas—HR Client Services and HR Operations and Compliance—to deliver a high level of customer-focused support across all aspects of human resources operations and administration. Adds Chavis, "I'm excited about what's to come for KSAS Human Resources and the many opportunities ahead to better serve our faculty, staff, and student employees."
Meredith Stewart, the university's interim vice president for human resources, says that these changes within the divisional HR teams "aim to create a better overall customer service experience for our workforce.
"Although we are a very decentralized institution," she continues, "our HR staff have the common goal of providing support throughout the employee life cycle."
HR staff also are tasked with helping to create an engaging work environment for employees. This includes developing programming and coordinating events that foster connection.
Recently, the university's new Team-Building Fund has come into play, with numerous activities being organized across the university. Among them:
- Peabody employees volunteered with local nonprofit Art With a Heart.
- JHU Press built bikes to donate to the university's holiday Adopt-a-Family program (and shared coffee and pastries in the a.m., followed by an all-staff lunch).
- Public Health went on Top Golf, Orioles, and bowling outings; held retreats; and shared team lunches.
- Arts & Sciences celebrated the end of the spring semester and then put wellness to work in the fall semester.
- Engineering gathered for lunch on the Wyman Quad with games and music.
- Nursing capped off its annual State of the School address by holding a volunteering/community activism afternoon.
"We care about you," Hobbs says to all employees. "You can reach out to us at any time with questions, concerns, issues, or suggestions. Or just drop by and say hi."