HR leader profile: Laura Muir of Polaris Transportation Group

Director of HR at trucking company focuses on safety, engagement and community outreach

HR leader profile: Laura Muir of Polaris Transportation Group

The trucking industry has been in the spotlight of late, with many drivers unhappy about the federal government’s requirement for COVID-19 vaccines and protests planned across the country.

But as director of HR at Polaris Transportation, Laura Muir says that her employer is not facing challenges in that area. For one, the company has an “amazing” health and safety team that is very close to the driver base.

Secondly, the culture and leadership at Polaris make a difference, she says.

“I'm happy to say we are not in a situation that would cause us concern or loss of labour because everybody's done their due diligence, and ownership and executive team managers have all done their due diligence, to encourage the driver base to understand what the risks are of them not getting inoculated and coming up with solutions if they were put in a position for health reasons, or what have you, and really couldn't get inoculated to meet the regulatory deadline.”

While the company did not mandate vaccines, “when the time came, and we had to inquire and make sure that we did our due diligence and asked, everybody was,” says Muir.

The 300-employee company based in Mississauga, Ont. does both cross-border and international shipping, and has four verticals: transportation, global logistics solutions, warehouse facility and technology.

Having worked for several sectors such as pharmaceuticals and entertainment, Muir has really embraced the transportation industry.

“I thrive, personally, on those interactions, be it recruitment, a boots-to-the-ground environment,” she says. “It is not for the faint of heart by any way, shape or form, it's moving constantly because the trucks roll 24-7 and anything can happen at any given time. There are days where it's a true test of your strength in HR in terms of your resources, your knowledge, and also your stamina to some extent.”

But Muir is glad she made the move into HR a few years back, having started off with a degree in systems analysis and design, then moving into customer service and payroll, before settling into an HR role.

“There were points in times, especially when I was dealing with unions, where I was like, ‘I don't know if this is going to work for me’ because you get frustrated, you get emotionally involved; every termination, it's like a scar across your heart. But it does build a strength in you that I'm very happy to say, 20-something years into my career, that I'm finding in myself, [and] being able to pass that knowledge on, I'm glad I chose HR. I'm glad to be a practitioner and blessed to have had so many opportunities given to me.”

Safe and engaged

With the pandemic, a big priority has been on keeping everybody safe, while the trucking industry has never been busier, says Muir.

“While you're going through this exponential growth, [it’s about] making sure that the employees are taken care of, nobody's feeling stressed out… we just want to make sure the core fact of taking care of our people, that’s what our management’s focus is on.”

To that end, employee engagement is a big focus for Polaris, she says.

“We're getting a lot of employees calling in saying, ‘I feel challenged or stressed out… the kids are being schooled at home and I'm trying to get my work done; I'm on the phone with the customer and the dog’s got the squeaky toy in the mouth.’ It's been a long time of employees having to deal with that.. and drivers, they're scared going across the border.”

So part of the push is helping people to decompress, she says. Since workers can't go to a bar and have a beer after hours, for example, Polaris uses conference calls with hot chocolate and coffee instead.

“We talk about non-work-related things, just to kind of have that sounding board.”

Organizations that support personal wellbeing are seeing staff report higher mental health scores, according to a 2021 report from LifeWorks.

Community outreach

Another area that’s hugely important to Muir is community outreach, such as clothing drives and food drives for homeless shelters. Part of that passion comes from her father, who has been a huge contributor to her career, she says.

“He came from very humble beginnings, from the West Indies, as an indentured slave to North America, so I pride myself that I'm able to involve my community and help my community and be a beacon of what we can do within our communities. And it's not just the Caribbean community or Latino community, it's also Mississauga [and beyond].”

“Community outreach and grassroots is instrumental to Polaris, and I'm very glad to say that we plan to do more,” says Muir.

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