Melissa Stark has been with Flagger Force for a decade and has developed a reputation as a team player who works diligently to help others achieve success. She’s just about seen it all and her tenured experience as a Flagger Force leader makes her the perfect candidate for the next Employee Spotlight.
Flagger Force: Hi Melissa, congratulations, and thanks for joining us! To start, can you share your current role with Flagger Force?
Melissa: I am one of two employee services (ES) supervisors.
Flagger Force: What made you interested in working here?
Melissa: Funny story! I had worked 17 years for a mortgage company. I had gone there as a temp for the front desk and was able to work my way up from receptionist to loan opener to loan processor to office sales assistant. That’s where I thought I was going to stay and retire from, but then the real-estate bubble burst back in 2008. My company shut down completely, and there were no jobs in my field. There was just nothing. It was kind of terrifying. I was unemployed for a little while and looking for a new fit and found Flagger Force, or Flagger Force found me.
Flagger Force: Tell us more.
Melissa: I was looking around trying to find a new good-fit for me and had my resume posted on a lot of job-finding websites. I actually got a call from Flagger Force. Steph Steffy contacted me because she’d reviewed my resume on Indeed. I did the Flagger phone interview and came in the next day for a live interview. So it was kind of a random and very fortunate.
Flagger Force: We’re glad you’re with us! What’s it like being an ES supervisor?
Melissa: It’s challenging, and I love it. The job is extremely changeable because you have to be so in tune with what’s the newest crisis, where you need to focus, what types of calls are coming in, but it’s never boring. I feel very fortunate in my position and with the group I work with. I have a great team that can come together in a heartbeat and do anything you ask of them.
Flagger Force: What do you love most about your position?
Melissa: Having the ability to influence the direction of the department. We ask, “What do we need to do to improve the service for our employees? What more can we do to help the retention processes?” I feel respected and productive when we make suggestions and see them put into place.
Flagger Force: Very empowering! As an ES supervisor, you are a critical contact for the field. How does that responsibility shape how you do your job?
Melissa: Some people feel they need to speak to a supervisor, which is great because then they get me. And I really enjoy that contact and the opportunity to maybe make a friend in the field. It’s been a huge challenge, ever since I’ve worked here, where field employees are afraid to call us—that “us against them” mentality that’s always existed. One of my biggest goals, when I’m dealing directly with those employees, is to turn that conversation around and let them know the intent of our policies and how we deal with things is to assist them and to let them know somebody’s got their back, and we’ll look out for them.
Flagger Force: Employee services are advocates and partners. You’ve been with Flagger Force a long time. How has the company evolved and challenged you to grow with it?
Melissa: You really have to kind of touch base on every aspect of things because when I started in 2010, it was a mom-and-pop operation still. I worked out of the Middletown branch, and that was, at that point, the corporate office. There was a total of three operation specialists, and we did everything. We were still using Excel spreadsheets. We were still taking a phone home on the weekend to be on call for all of the weekend activity; one person! I like to tell the story of one weekend, I was sitting at home, and there was a wind-shear storm in Baltimore. I was on call, and I was unable to get up from in front of the computer for about 18 hours.
Flagger Force: Wow! We’ve really grown in 10 years! How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your job?
Melissa: Well, there is no getting around it. It affects every aspect of what we’re doing. I’m very grateful to be in a position where I’m working and that’s the attitude I try to relay. The field and office have to navigate a whole world of, “Am I going to have to be off? How long is that going to be? Am I going to get paid? How am I going to pay my bills?” and it’s hard. But I have been very impressed with the way the company has responded. I think we’ve been very open to the idea, “We will do what we can to work with you so that we can all get through this and still be working if things ever go back to normal.”
Flagger Force: Do you think the field has the same impression?
Melissa: Yes and no. It’s certainly more challenging for the folks in the field. We can make certain concessions here in the office that can’t be made in the field. And they feel, rightfully so, that there are a whole lot more challenges to what they’re doing.
Flagger Force: What’s your approach to coaching the field, especially as you work closely with those who are having attendance issues?
Melissa: The first thing I tend to tell somebody—if they haven’t shown up on an assignment—is, “Hey, this is a required follow-up. I need to find out what happened so that we can make sure appropriate steps are taken. If discipline is required or if there is a misunderstanding or my information is wrong, I need to get it corrected.” You present it as an effort to get on the same page and I find it works very well. An employee will say, “Hey, I’m sorry. This is what happened.” or “Thank you for calling me and giving me the information.” I’m here to work with them and keep them on a good course.
Flagger Force: Employee services is known for its supportive, team-building atmosphere. Where do you think that comes from?
Melissa: I would say that we owe a lot to Maria Sauerwine, our manager, because she set about to put together a team that would be just that. We all support each other. We have a pages-long task list. And each task that we do has a couple of backups to the primary person. We are constantly cross-training and making sure that we have the capability of filling in when other people are out. You know that the people you work with have your back, and it creates an atmosphere where that becomes very valuable. We’re a family, and we’re very lucky to have that, but it has been a conscious intent to create.
Flagger Force: You’re part of a talented team. How do you think employees benefit from having the consolidated Operations Services Center?
Melissa: They get the same answer. In the past, we were known for “the answer to the question depends on who you ask.” Now we all have the same information to provide. There may be slight variances in interpretation and so on and so forth, but I think the biggest thing is that you have consistency of information.
Flagger Force: Consistency is key. Do you use the ITZ app in your job?
Melissa: Of course, I do. I’ll tell you that I’m no spring chicken, so let me be honest. When it first launched, I resisted it, but my team brought me into the fold. Now it’s a constant tool because ITZ allows us the time to read the posts and comments and figure out what’s going on. We can react to a large group with information rather than one at a time. It gives us access to a whole lot of information that we wouldn’t otherwise have and a way to connect.
Flagger Force: What are you passionate about?
Melissa: I am passionate about staying current. It’s very important to me to feel like I’m in touch with everything. I read voraciously. I find it absolutely necessary to watch the news. I’m not one that gets stressed out; I just want to feel informed. I believe that people need to be lifelong learners.
Flagger Force: Very admirable! When you’re not at Flagger Force, what are you doing?
Melissa: I am the mother of five and I have several grandchildren. I’m a bit of a homebody; I really am. Work is where I get my socialization. But outside of work, I take great satisfaction in home-based activities—I’m a gardener—I’m a home decorator—I’m a cooker. That’s my thing.
More about Melissa:
Who do you admire most?
Young women today who grow up knowing they can make their own decisions and are free to pursue what they want to pursue. I respect the integrity and bravery of young women today.
If you could meet anyone in history who would it be?
I don’t believe in wishes; I believe in reality. Who would I want to meet that’s alive? The Queen of England! That would be the lady to have tea with right there. Oh, the stories she could tell.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My father taught me to listen to other people and to create opinions that include the perspectives of others.
Describe yourself in one word.
What does being awarded the employee spotlight title mean for you?
I appreciate the recognition and greatly value the opportunity to give my opinions.