Stephanie Knotts – Specialist Staffing Group
Stephanie Knotts didn’t set out on a path to work in human resources, but a fortuitous turn almost 20 years ago led her to a career in HR that’s also provided her the chance to be a business partner at Specialist Staffing Group.
As vice president of HR for the company, Knotts leads a team of eight who support 500 employees working at the Houston headquarters and offices in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Diego and Austin, Texas.
Those employees, in turn, provide permanent staffing and W-2 contract workers to companies in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, sectors.
But the personnel Specialist Staffing Group provides for its customers isn’t her focus—ensuring that the company is an employer of choice by providing a diverse, inclusive workplace with benefits and initiatives that value employees is how she spends her workday.
“At the heart of it, we’re a sales organization,” Knotts says. “But employees want a company to care about them as people, too.”
As part of a British-based organization, Specialist Staffing Group’s brands include Computer Futures, Progressive, Real Staffing, Huxley and Madison Black. Knotts says the company currently provides clients with about 1,700 contract workers alone.
She was recruited to join the company a decade ago as the company’s first HR professional in the U.S. and was allowed to build the HR team. However, Knotts says the past several years have brought about changes in HR policies and outlook that were hard to imagine before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After shifting to remote work as the pandemic began, Specialist Staffing Group employees currently work a hybrid schedule. Knotts says the company believes on-site work is important to promote collaboration, provide coaching, and develop a work community.
“Our goal is to meet our employees where they are mentally and physically. This requires a specific effort from us to find the right combination for the health and growth of our business,” Knotts says.
Knotts says many new initiatives and benefits have been launched and implemented to address employee health and wellness, supported by organizations such as Lockton, an independent insurance brokerage. She has also focused on introducing new diversity and inclusion programs, such as her and her team helping create employee resource groups for women, African Americans, LGBTQIA+, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Latinx, veterans and parents.
Additionally, the HR team has helped implement mental health awareness initiatives that help managers spot and assist employees with stress and anxiety difficulties at work or home. The training is complemented by counseling services, webinars and online content for employees facing issues.
Knotts says the mental health benefits are matched by efforts to promote physical health. The Thrive program features events such as wellness challenges and competitions. Wellness Wednesdays encourage employees to wear athletic and workout apparel and participate in exercises, including walking or yoga.
Specialist Staffing Group has also increased employee engagement by adding book and supper clubs. Employees can also learn more about managing their personal finances through a financial health and literacy webinar series developed by Knotts and her team.
She says additional programming creates a need for new policies. For instance, a leave policy for family caregivers has been introduced. The parental leave policy has been updated and expanded to include fathers and mothers. The paid time off policy was amended to help employees observe cultural and religious holidays that aren’t designated as days off. Specialist Staffing Group also has a new sabbatical policy for employees who have reached the five or 10-year mark in tenure.
Knotts, who began building her HR team about a year after starting with the company, says she leads one that reflects Specialist Staffing Group’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. She adds a measure of her team’s success in its relationships and work is that it has twice won company team of the year honors as voted on by sales staff, and she’s also won manager of the year and vice president of the year honors.
“I need my team to be driven and positive in its outlook and relationships,” Knotts says. “But it’s crucial to have a diverse team to provide different perspectives.”
A rewarding ‘accident’
Born and raised in Central Texas, Knotts earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Texas State University in 2004 After she moved to Houston, she was approached by a friend who was a recruiter to take a short-term job at Schlumberger, a tech company working in the energy industry.
An anticipated seven-month assignment that began in November 2005 became a full-time opportunity in HR beginning in May 2006. As Knotts grew into her personnel role at Schlumberger, she also completed her MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2010.
In December of that year, Knotts became a corporate HR generalist for ENGlobal, a specialty engineering services firm in the energy sector.
After joining Specialist Staffing Group, she was named HR director for the Americas in July 2017 and to her current position in July 2019.
Knotts and her husband, Travis, are Houston-area residents who enjoy their two dogs and spending time with family at their beach house in nearby Galveston. They also travel when they can, including a recent vacation in the Virgin Islands.
Building the culture at Specialist Staffing Group is a work in progress—and very rewarding as Knotts came to an HR career by accident.
“I love building relationships and hiring and developing individuals,” Knotts says. “An important part of that is my love of having a diverse team because of the additional perspectives everyone can offer.”
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