UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Human resource professionals have had to adapt quickly to the challenges and responsibilities that come with supporting both essential employees and those who are working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three Penn State World Campus alumni who work in HR will participate in a webinar titled “Remote Work: Before, During, and After the Pandemic” on October 7 at 8 p.m. (ET). The webinar is hosted by the Penn State School of Labor and Employment Relations’ Center for Workplace Performance (CWP) and the virtual chapter of the Labor and Employment Relations Association.

The panelists are graduates of the Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources and Employment Relations program and work in HR for national companies Netflix, Delta Air Lines, and Zippo Manufacturing Co. and Northern Lights Candles.  

Dr. Michael Edenhart-Pepe, professor of practice, will moderate a discussion with the panelists about working in the HR field before the pandemic, how they have managed resources and performance and addressed work/life balance and mental health challenges, and what they think the “new normal” in the HR field may look like.  

“Human resource departments must anticipate the needs of the business and the employees even more than before,” said Ayanna Anis, the director of human resources at Netflix. “We must use our voices much more than normal to make sure that we alert our workplaces to concerns on how employees are impacted by the pandemic.”  

Anis said her duties normally include organization design, culture, inclusion and diversity, and strategic planning. Since the start of the pandemic, Anis said, her responsibilities have expanded to include emergency responses, coaching business leaders on how to lead with empathy, steering employees toward employee assistance programs, and leading exercises on managing work.   

For David Needham, the HR manager for Delta Air Lines at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed his responsibilities in supporting airport customer service and cargo teams, but rather changed how he supports them through new resources and safety measures. Needham said that his Penn State degree gave him the tools he now needs to navigate the ever-changing pandemic.  

“My degree not only laid the groundwork for me to be successful in my daily growth and career development, but also prepared me to support my organization in this time of uncertainty,” said Needham.  

Bunny Comilla, the senior director of global human resources at Zippo Manufacturing Co. and Northern Lights Candles, said that she usually handles legal compliance, benefits and compensation, recruitment and staffing, handbook and policy development, and HR administration. Since the pandemic, Comilla’s HR team has led the organization with employment changes, remote work opportunities, and a special COVID committee to aid in returning to work.   

She said that the recent changes organizations have made have both advantages and disadvantages that may last beyond the pandemic.  

“There are definitely pros and cons, which we will discuss in greater detail during the upcoming webinar,” said Comilla. “For example, our organization faced many challenges with technology and resources, but it forced many to become more aggressive and able to work efficiently from home.”  

For those interested in pursuing higher education in human resources, the HRER master’s program offered through Penn State World Campus in partnership with the School of Labor and Employment Relations within the College of the Liberal Arts prepares students for upper-level positions in human resources and labor relations.   

The 33-credit program includes courses in labor and employment law, human behavior and organizational performance, ethical decision-making for HR practitioners, and more.  

Students also have the opportunity to choose one of seven concentrations that focus on benefits and compensation; labor and collective bargaining; employment and labor law; staffing, training, and development; ethics and leadership; international human resources and employment relations; or labor unions: organization and strategy.  

The HRER program is one of only 400 degrees worldwide that was recognized by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for aligning with its HR Curriculum Guidebook.  

With all the new responsibilities they’ve had to take on, Anis, Needham, and Comilla said they’re grateful for the education they received at Penn State World Campus.  

"The curriculum is so well-rounded that I find myself still being able to refer back to course material nine years later,” said Anis. “This program has been invaluable for my career.”