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Human Resource Manager Receives Professional Excellence Award

Human Resources Manager Jessica Hanson has become the inaugural recipient of the HR Professional Excellence Award, presented by the Connecticut Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) for outstanding contributions in the field!

She humbly accepted the accolades this spring, during a tri-state conference at Mohegan Sun attended by 300 of her peers.

“Jessica is an awesome person and a well-deserving HR professional—not just within Ability Beyond, but in the broader business and human resources community,” said Maria Joy, management professional for the CT SHRM State Council.

Hanson said that she’s just doing her job. Yet for peers, colleagues, and her supervisor, Maren Milliard, the award is an appropriate testament to her efforts.

“From the start, you could tell that Jess had the critical thinking skills, competencies, and temperament to be an HR manager and key decision maker,” said Milliard, director of Human Resources at Ability Beyond. “Often in HR, you’re a complex problem solver. Jess can peel back the layers of the onion to make the best choices—advocating for the employee while understanding management’s perspective and looking through an organizational lens.”

Rising to the occasion

Hanson has a helium hand. “When something needs to get done,” she said, “my hand just goes up.”

That was the case in 2015, when Hanson—then a temp at Ability Beyond—accepted a promotion to Human Resources Generalist; and in 2018, when she took on the role of Human Resources Manager. She has continued rising to the occasion, guided by a growth mindset that helps her see challenges as opportunities. This mindset proved invaluable in March 2020, when COVID-19 upended life as we know it—and the world of human resources.

“It pushed me very far out of my comfort zone,” Hanson said. “If I’m totally honest—very, very, very, very far. And good things come when we stretch ourselves.”

In those early and frightfully uncertain days of the pandemic, Hanson joined HR professionals across the country in facing an unprecedented landscape where familiar employee policy gave way to a crisis response. Suddenly Hanson was part of the team developing COVID protocols—and collaborating across every department of the organization.

She worked with the nursing team to understand employee and client risk; the controller to order supplies for isolation kits; and the IT crew to help them understand what employees would need in a new digital system for tracking time and work. She even drove around the state delivering emergency items to group homes.

“The impact of COVID on Ability Beyond was immense, especially considering the nature of our direct care work,” Milliard said. “During those really challenging times, Jess stepped up in a huge way for the organization, helping to navigate a very complex situation that was evolving every day.”

Beyond her day job

To receive the HR Professional Excellence Award—sponsored by RAYMOND JAMES, financial and investment advisor—Hanson was first nominated by a peer and then selected by committee. Joy, of CT SHRM, said that community leadership and dedicated volunteerism set Hanson apart.

“There was a broad pool of potential recipients,” she said. “This wasn’t just for an executive-level person, or someone who has been in HR for 30 years. We wanted to recognize a human resources professional who made an impact within their organization, the business community, and the HR community at large.”

In addition to her work at Ability Beyond, Hanson volunteers as president of the SHRM Western Connecticut chapter, with 80 active members; serves on the Board of Directors for the CT SHRM State Council; and helps to plan the annual TriState SHRM conference where she received her award. Even through COVID, Hanson has led the Board of Directors who together kept the local chapter afloat, organizing programs, hosting speakers, and supporting folks’ progress toward certifications.

“Being a SHRM Volunteer Leader can sometimes feel like a job in itself,” Joy said. “We definitely appreciate her.”

Milliard said that Ability Beyond has also benefited from Hanson’s external leadership, enriching the Human Resources team with new connections, access to resources and exciting ideas, and insight into cutting-edge trends around hiring, retention, and employee relations.

Caring for the Careforce

Hanson has been passionate about human resources for decades, but said that joining the Ability Beyond team deepened her commitment.

“I look at it like, it’s my job to care for the people who care for the people,” she said. “That’s an honor, and I embrace the responsibility. The way we treat people can make or break their day—and they have hard jobs.”

The national turnover rate of 50% in health and human services proves the work is hard. Yet at Ability Beyond, HR professionals such as Hanson contribute to a uniquely strong careforce that consistently keeps turnover rates between 18% to 20%.

“Ability Beyond is truly a leader in our industry,” Milliard said. “We have an incredibly talented HR team dedicated to supporting our workforce and our mission, and Jess is a huge part of that.”

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