HIRING AND RETAINING EMPLOYEES IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 BY B R A N D E E G R U E N E R | P H O T O G R A P H Y BY C O R N E L L WAT S O N
en D’Agostino and her family packed up their home in the Washington, D.C., area in February so that she could start her new job as the vice president of talent acquisition at RTI International in Research Triangle Park. Her husband, Avery Macierowski, planned to search for a new job. Their 20-month-old daughter, Cora Macierowski, was enrolled in a day care in Chapel Hill. One month later, Cora wasn’t in day care anymore, Macierowski became a stay-at-home dad, and D’Agostino was looking for prenatal care during a pandemic. In this strange new world, D’Agostino’s employer played a part in recommending doctors and babysitters, helping her strategize time off and maternity leave, and keeping her connected with a community of other employees. “The challenge whenever you move to a new place is creating a new support system of friends and neighbors,” D’Agostino said in early September. “The employee community [at RTI] is pretty awesome, and people are very generous with their time and support. Even just today, my team threw me and another expecting mom a great 122
Amanda Scherle, who leads packaging at Fullsteam, with a pallet of her finished work that is ready for refrigeration.
virtual baby shower with wacky baby games and fun virtual backgrounds.” Employees had to adjust to the new normal of working during a pandemic. Those operating from home had to adapt to a disconnected world of Zoom meetings. Those whose jobs required going into work had to weigh the possibility of exposure to the COVID-19 virus against the benefits of staying employed. And working parents had challenges with managing child care and virtual schooling while trying to stay productive. Durham employers had to do their best to be accommodating and flexible so that they can keep employees on board and hire more talent when necessary. Jobs began to return this summer; though local unemployment was still high at 7.9% in July, about 19,000 jobs had returned to the DurhamChapel Hill region since the labor market bottomed out in April. Hiring talent happens to be the focus of D’Agostino’s job. With the exception of essential workers like janitors, security and scientists who use the labs, the RTI campus was not scheduled to open before Jan. 7 at the earliest. Even then, management was not requiring anyone to return. In the meantime, they have hired about 150 people in