Michele Rohde joined the Office of Human Resources as the Payroll Services Manager on March 30, 2020, two weeks after staff were sent to work from home. We asked Michele about her experience getting onboarded and oriented to her new role at the start of the pandemic in Wisconsin, her background which prepared her for this role, and how she manages to stay so calm and level headed in spite of the triple storms of furlough (both rounds), unemployment processes, and single payroll in the last 14 months, in addition to getting to know her new team and the HRS Coordinators across campus.
What does your role entail in OHR?
My entire time with OHR has been during the pandemic, and I expect that my role will shift in the future. Much of what I do currently, however, is a result of the pandemic’s impact on campus. I’ve been focused on furlough, unemployment, special payroll processing, and supporting the OHR Payroll Team. The Single Payroll project is a large system-wide initiative that directly affects payroll for both the HRS Coordinators and our employees, so that has also been a major focus.
What prepared you for this role? What did you do before leading the OHR Payroll Team?
It will sound odd, but the way that I read a book relates well to working in Payroll at UW. I read in a quirky way, typically reading the first few chapters of a book and then the last few chapters. Then I decide if I want to see how we got there. I enjoy seeing how the development in a book arrives at the ending. Payroll is similar, information is entered at the beginning (Job Data, Person Data, Tax information, etc.) and payroll is the result. I enjoy figuring out how we went from the beginning work to payroll at the end—and troubleshooting when the ending doesn’t match what is expected.
I’ve also had the benefit of working at all levels at the UW, from department to division to campus level to UW System Administration. I started as a department payroll coordinator in SMPH over 18 years ago. Since then I’ve had roles at the division level as a payroll supervisor and UW HR manager. Prior to joining OHR, I was with UW Shared Services for six years as an “Affinity Group Lead,” which means I worked with all HRS modules on behalf of all campuses in the UW System. While at UW Shared Services, I was part of several system-wide initiatives and implementations, which has been very valuable. Because of each of these roles over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and see things from different perspectives.
What have been some of your formative educational experiences (formal or otherwise)?
I went to UW Stevens Point and majored in Sociology simply because I enjoyed it, although I worked in positions such as deputy court clerk for a municipal court before I began my career in payroll.
What’s been beneficial, and conversely challenging, about onboarding and working in a strictly virtual environment?
It’s been an unusual experience onboarding in a virtual environment. My initial in-person meeting at the office went really well, as did getting my computer set up and getting supplies. I think the most challenging part has been getting to know colleagues on a personal level. Virtual meetings don’t provide much opportunity for the short social get-to-know-you kind of conversations. I was fortunate that I’d worked with many colleagues previously.
Since the pandemic hit, the HR Community has had to navigate near-constant tumult and change. How do you manage to stay so calm in the course of your work, especially when managing processes for which change is near constant?
It’s an illusion! Seriously though, I allow myself to decompress outside of office hours, which helps me to stay focused and calm while in the thick of things during the workday.
Any advice for colleagues in Payroll and HR at large for navigating extraordinarily busy times coupled with frequent change?
My advice would be to hang in there and take it one step at a time. Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
What do you appreciate most about working within the UW System—and expect to appreciate at UW–Madison?
What I appreciate most about working for UW System are the opportunities. There’s always something new to learn; a new initiative to work on. Things are always changing and the next new thing is around the corner. (Although we might all agree that we’ve all seen many more “new things” than ever expected during the pandemic.)
If we were working in person, what’s something we could expect to see in your office?
One of my favorite vacation destinations is Disney World, so you’ll see some subtle and not-so-subtle Disney in my office. And post-it notes—I always have a pile of post-it notes of all sizes.
What do you do outside of work that brings you joy?
I enjoy spending time reading (see quirky reading habit above). Our children are now adults, and I love spending time with them. My husband and I recently decided to get back into RVing and purchased a travel trailer. We have plans to hit the road to see the country, in addition to weekend camping in Wisconsin.