Remaking the Association Workplace
Staff Well-Being

The Building Blocks of a Great Place to Work

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The American Society of Clinical Oncology has had flexible schedules and results-oriented work in place since before the pandemic. The policies are the foundation for staff well-being and success in accomplishing ASCO’s mission.

If the culture at the American Society of Clinical Oncology were to be given a meme catchphrase, it would likely be “They understood the assignment.” Started by the TikTok crowd, the phrase generally conveys the idea of going above and beyond expectations.

“We really strive to create what we hope is an exceptional place to work,” said Paula B. King, SHRM-SCP, chief human resources officer and vice president at ASCO. “We call our way of working ‘ASCO works.’ It has some tenets to it: It’s about how we interact with our colleagues, our members, our donors, our stakeholders. We make an effort to be cohesive, intentional, inclusive, action-oriented, empowered, trustworthy, and accountable for everything that we do.”

Those core values come together in an approach to association management that prioritizes autonomy, flexibility, and feedback, with the goal of helping staff do their best work for the ASCO community.

Pandemic-Ready Workplace

Even before the pandemic, ASCO staff could work wherever they needed—including at home—to get work done. When COVID-19 hit, the organization had the tools in place to support fully remote work and help staff transition to it with ease, King said.

“Our technology was in place to help us achieve that balance. Our employees already knew how to connect from home and were able to do so well ahead of the pandemic,” she said.

Unlike many other organizations, ASCO has not required employees to return to the office as the pandemic eased. The office is open, but whether an employee comes in depends on the kind of work they need to do.

“We all understand our way of working,” King said. “What’s important is how we are providing support to our customers, which are our members, our donors, our stakeholders. We leave it to our managers or supervisors, our employees, to handle their work in the best way that meets our members’ needs.”

“We make an effort to be cohesive, intentional, inclusive, action-oriented, empowered, trustworthy, and accountable for everything that we do.” — Paula B. King, SHRM-SCP, American Society of Clinical Oncology

This commitment to autonomy and flexibility empowers employees to better balance work with other aspects of their lives. And that doesn’t mean the office is a ghost town, said Dina L. Michels, JD, chief operating officer, chief legal officer, and executive vice president.

“We’ve left it up to people [to decide whether to come in], and what we find is people are steadily in greater numbers coming back to the office,” Michels said. “You’ll see quite a few more people there, and that’s been gradually increasing and gone well. People have been happy to see one another.”

Adaptability Matters

While ASCO’s policies are working well to meet the needs of employees and the organization, King says ASCO leadership continues to listen to staff input about their work environment and well-being.

“We do solicit feedback on a number of things,” King said, “We tend to continuously ask people what they’re thinking and what their ideas may be. So I think people feel comfortable speaking up or suggesting ideas.”

She noted that ASCO conducts regular surveys to get a read on staff needs. Leadership also surveys employees if specific changes are being considered. For example, plans to renovate parts of the office call for a revamped staff lounge, and employees are being asked ifor feedback.

ASCO also surveyed staff who were returning to the office about safety measures after legal requirements to wear masks in indoor spaces were removed.

“We asked our staff, Are you comfortable [without masks], or would you like to see everyone in the office continue to wear masks?” King said. “We ended up deciding to continue to require masks in the office because that’s what our staff felt more comfortable with.”

Finally, King notes that creating a great place to work—one that is responsive to staff needs so they can be responsive to member needs—isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it process. The most important aspect of ASCO’s culture, she says, is its willingness to adapt in order to achieve its goals.

“In delivering on our mission and plan, even in light of the pandemic, we are an organization that is able to adapt and remain open to new ideas,” King said. “This is the way it is right now. How do we best succeed in this environment? I do encourage other organizations to be open and able to adapt, embrace new ideas and creative thinking, and seek out a diversity of ideas.”

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now.

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