As a little girl, if you had asked Simone Mercer what she was going to be when she grew up, the answer was instant – a veterinarian. However, life had a different plan for the Ramea native and instead of helping animals, her career path took her in the direction of helping people.
After more than a decade working as a Labour Market Development Officer (LMDO) with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, you can now find Simone championing CNA’s workplace culture.
“Like my job now at CNA, the LMDO job was a new position. I loved the freedom to grow it and the opportunities it offered. When I started in 2008, social media was in its infancy, so I designed a social media training plan that highlighted how employers could use it as a recruitment tool and I got to share it across the province,” she recalls.
“I also wrote a guide on how to plan job fairs, virtually or in-person, and that guide is still used today. And even though those things were fun, my favourite part of the job was getting to meet employers, chatting with them about their human resource concerns, and helping them overcome them. While I enjoyed my job as LMDO, it did eventually plateau. After a few years the job had a set structure and the opportunities to develop were not the same and I felt like I wanted something more.”
That something more landed her at College of the North Atlantic. As CNA’s new Manager of Organizational Culture & Engagement, Simone is focused on bridging the gap between employee recruitment and retention – although she never expected to end up in this field.
“Organizational culture was never a phrase I was familiar with, but without knowing it, I have been working towards this career path for a very long time. My whole life I have worked in employment services, either as an Employment Services Manager helping job seekers find work, or as a LMDO whose focus was on helping employers find workers,” Simone explained.
“Recruitment has been the focal point for much of my career. However, it always frustrated me that so much focus was on recruitment, but never on retention, which is of equal importance and often overlooked. I never saw the point in pushing recruitment without encouraging employers to be responsive to their employees’ needs while meeting business goals. And without realizing it, I landed in the field of organizational culture, and I couldn’t be happier.”
The timing of the job posting couldn’t have been more ideal, as Simone had just finished her Master of Public Relations from Mount Saint Vincent University and her new position at CNA aligns perfectly with that education.
“I was a nerdy kid that grew into a nerdy adult. A lot of people say that, but I really was! I spent my weekdays studying and my weekends reading novels. I graduated valedictorian, I have never played a sport in my life, and I had my first drink of alcohol when it was legal,” she says with a chuckle.
“I had always planned to go to grad school and the plan was to start much earlier than I did. As it so happened, I had a job offer right after I graduated with my undergraduate degree in Sociology from Memorial University, and when you have student loans it is hard to turn down a job offer. So, I took the job (at a Regional Economic Development Board) and planned to go back to school later. But life happens and the gap was much longer than I anticipated.”
When she finally was ready to go back to school, Simone decided that she needed it to be something that she could have fun with since she was so far along in her career.
“I had not anticipated a drastic career change at that time. I explored many programs, and I kept circling back to the Master of Public Relations program because it had an air of flexibility about it that appealed to me, and it was completely online. I applied to only that program and was quite excited when I was accepted,” she says.
“The program went above and beyond my expectations. I was able to complete the course load while working and chose my own research direction, which was of course, the importance of employee retention while examining the best practices.”
Her research covered virtual engagement, technostress, flexible work arrangements, and onboarding. When she graduated, she was awarded the Kappa Gamma Pi designation for outstanding academic performance, and her research was recognized by the Atlantic Schools of Business Conference.
“As for what (from the Master program) I use in my day-to-day life – everything! I feel like the job description at CNA was written based on my research. It was very aligned, and I cannot explain to you how excited I was to see a position of this nature posted, and in Stephenville at that.”
Small changes lead to big changes
As the Manager of Organizational Culture and Engagement, Simone is responsible for ensuring that day-to-day operations align with CNAs mission, vision, and values.
“I see this position as a liaison for employees to ensure that culture initiatives are engaging, collaborative, and are designed to attract and retain staff members. Right now, my focus is largely on flex work arrangements – which everyone is very excited about – onboarding and service recognition.”
Even though on paper her position at CNA is very different than her previous LMDO job, she feels like they are very aligned and that they support each other.
“My focus was largely on helping employers recruit either locally or internationally. However, a large part of my job was meeting with employers one-on-one where we would discuss their human resources concerns, and this always allowed me to focus more on retention efforts and encourage more of a focus in that area,” she explains.
“Recruitment and retention, in my mind, exist in tandem. By developing organizational culture and fostering employee engagement, CNA will hopefully be successful in retaining existing employees and be more appealing to job seekers.”
While Simone has been at the college for less than a year, she says she is loving the job, has zero regrets about joining CNA and cannot wait to see how her job will evolve.
“My favourite thing so far is the actual work! I find the job super interesting. I am enjoying what I do, and the people I meet every day. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that.”
To do her job well, she is hoping people will reach out.
“I want to get to know everyone. I want to be a person that anyone can reach out to if they have an idea. I want to develop partnerships and I want my work to reflect what CNA employees need to succeed. I am very excited about this job, but to do it correctly I cannot do it alone, so the more people I know and work with, the better,” Simone says.
“Call me! If anything I have said interests you in any way, reach out for a chat. I do plan on visiting the campuses soon, but if you want to meet before then, please email, Skype, or call. I’m always up for meeting new people and I would love to hear what you have to say.”
So, what can you expect to see from Simone during her time at CNA?
“I would like to make some processes better by listening to people and putting ideas into action. Small changes lead to big changes and I would love to look back one day and say, ‘we did that,’ knowing that I had a role to play in it.”