Fogelman’s new HR exec Leah Jensen on strategic approaches to the evolving office workplace

This article was originally published by Memphis Business Journal. 

Leah Jensen — the former COO of the Memphis Zoo — is returning to Memphis to become SVP of human resources for Fogelman Properties.

Jensen will be based out of Memphis and work on recruitment, training, and retention efforts.

Jensen has an extensive background in HR. After leaving the Zoo in early 2020, Jensen and her family moved to Dublin, Ireland.

During her time away from Memphis, she worked for the Bank of Ireland as a graduate program recruiter and as an HR operations manager at fashion label Vera Bradley.

While at Vera Bradley, Jensen learned the importance of working and listening to each employee. She shared a story about being asked for feedback on her first day, as well as every employee receiving a hand-signed birthday card with a crisp $50 bill.

That inspired her to look for another family-owned company for her next move.

“When I was interviewing [with Fogelman], and I heard some of those same sentiments and intentionality around preserving the story of why we’re here and why we do what we do, it made my decision easy,” Jensen said.

Fogelman Properties already has many employees returning to the office on their own accord, Jensen said, while others still work remotely.

“We have the Atlanta office and the Memphis office, there’s just an energy being around the team,” Jensen said. “Everybody genuinely wants to be around each other. Although coming back and reintegrating into that space, I would say there’s probably a great deal of flexibility, but almost everybody has come back.”

Jensen noted that companies are more willing to work in a collaborative way with individual workers in a post-pandemic work environment. And, while there will always be a place for blanket policies, companies are much more likely to make arrangements with employees.

“As an HR practitioner, you will always have policies and procedures. Some are black and white, but [HR] has evolved into living in the gray, where it’s never a one-size-fits-all,” Jensen said. “It’s very important to have all of the facts to be able to make the best decision for all parties. And I think that has been an evolution of HR.”

Jensen said remote and hybrid work may stick around because, for some workers, it just makes sense. For example, some Fogelman employees oversee an area of properties, and living closer to that area is more ideal.

The strategic approach for HR is having open and honest communications with each employee to help nail the “moving target” that is workplace solutions.

“With hybrid work, the question is, does it make sense?” Jensen said. “’Does it make sense for me to drive all the way into work today? Does it not make sense, based on what is on the calendar?’ I think it looks much different today than it might have in the past.”