HR & Society: HR Can’t Fix Human Flaws

HR Can't Fix Human Flaws

HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.

Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?

Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?

Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.

I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.

The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.

Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.

Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.

If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself.  Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.

Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:

  • Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
  • Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
  • Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
  • Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
  • *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?

Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.

 

There’s Nothing Kush-y About Marijuana Legalization: What Businesses Need To Know

Image courtesy of Flickr.com.

Marijuana Legalization has been a topic that evaded me until recently. I had no real interest in it. That was until I started watching a channel called Viceland on my Amazon TV. There is this very interesting show called ‘Weediquette’. The show is hosted by Krishna Andavolu and chronicles him visiting not only U.S. states that have legalized marijuana – but families and businesses affected by the changing landscape of medical and recreational use of marijuana globally.

While the general approach is to focus on how your state is handling the legalization of marijuana – I believe it is beneficial to understand the larger story of how marijuana legalization is being navigated by the average citizen. If you are knowledgeable about how it affects citizens on the whole in your state – it is likely to inform you of how it could or maybe influencing your employees.

To date, there are 25 states in the U.S. that have legalized medical marijuana use and just four states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana use. According to Governing.com, the four states where marijuana has been legalized for both recreational and medical use is: Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and Washington.

What makes the legalization of marijuana particularly difficult is the following:

1) Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

2) Much of the state legislation is so vague that it is hard to understand what is permissible and what is not.

3) Safety concerns and increased employer liability for undetected and undisclosed marijuana use.

This isn’t the first time HR practitioners have had to lead in the face of legislative uncertainty. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make our jobs easier.

My colleagues at Assurex Global have been kind enough to share the infographic below with me. It outlines the state of marijuana legalization and what you should know and be doing to safeguard your organizations.

 

Infographic via Assurex Global.

Infographic via Assurex Global.

Is Your Employee Relations in the Toliet?

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Courtesy of Flickr.com

The HR lesson for this week is about a man who worked for a company for 15+ years and may have let a little toilet paper get between him and his job. I am open to other points of view on his behavior since I am clear on how I would have approached this situation. Let’s just say his performance with this company was impeccable. He was respected by his peers. More importantly, he did his job. This employee noticed that the company would throw away the unused toilet paper in the men’s bathroom whether completely used or not. He found the company to be wasteful in throwing away this toilet paper daily, so he asked one of the janitors to keep them for him. The janitor obliged and one day as he was exiting the bathroom with said toilet paper he was spotted by someone in HR.

What did HR do?

Next thing he knows he is whisked into a meeting with 7-10 people letting him know that they were aware of his theft of the toilet paper. They went on to express their disappointment and the leniency they exhibited by not having him charged for fraud. In the end, they fired this employee and flushed the 15+ years of service down the toilet.

If I take my HR hat off for a bit and examine this, I find myself perplexed by their hasty decision. I also say to myself, why was this grounds for termination? All he did was take toilet paper doomed for the trash off of their hands. I don’t disagree that in this context the toilet paper was company property. However,  I question whether termination was too harsh given this person’s record.

Sometimes it isn’t the blatant infractions of rules or policies that stump us as employee relations professionals; but rather the oddball, infrequent ER issues that crop up.

Here are some of my thoughts around how you might approach this issue:

  • The employee never had any performance issues prior to this incident. I would rather warn this person that this particular behavior is not permitted and issue a warning rather than to lose an otherwise great employee.
  • Did this incident harm anyone, infringe on someone’s civil rights, cost the company money, and tarnish the company’s reputation? If the answer is “no” all around, it  can probably be dealt with internally; without idol threats of legal action or immediate termination.
  • The warning would have been issued with the knowledge that the next time he was found taking this it could result in a write-up or up to termination. Remember that thing called progressive discipline? Yeah that.
  • Less is more in an initial employee relations meeting. It is both intimidating and unnecessary to have 7-10 people in the room at that time.
  • Maybe this is an opportunity for us to look at ourselves from an organizational standpoint. Is throwing unused toilet paper out a waste? I would say so. Perhaps there is room for us to look at better ways of managing this “company asset” going forward.

There are difficult employee relations issues that require swift and even harsh punishment. This one was not one of those instances in my book. Part of being a good great HR professional is having a keen sense of discernment for the organizational situations you encounter and being able to make a sound decisions that match the impact of the problem.

Why Self-Auditing Matters

Courtesy of Flickr.com

Courtesy of Flickr.com

 

For you among the crowd that have been involved with audits whereby an infraction was found and you had to pay up- it cuts deep. It stings even worse when in hindsight you recognize that you weren’t proactive and missed something that has now cost the company money. The ultimate question from the top will always be:  “how did this happen?” How will you answer: “I don’t know”, “I’m sorry”, “It was a mistake”. Mistakes happen. However, when your mistakes are preventable and they cost your company money that could have been used for other endeavors-HR is going to take some heat and rightfully so.

Take a small to mid-size business (SMB) for instance. You are a business that makes a specific coating for tanks used by the US Military and your federal contract is worth 2.5 million dollars. You have other clients too and they keep you solvent, but this federal contract keeps you afloat. Now consider this: you have not run a pay equity analysis in a few years. As such, one of your mid-level employees has just had a compensation discussion with their boss that turned ugly and in return alerts both OFCCP and DOL of discriminatory compensation actions. You (HR) receive a notice from DOL asking for your entire compensation history for the past three years. Their review of females and minorities corroborate the narrative supplied by your employee- which leads to an onsite audit. Over the course of a year, they find there are plentiful pay equity violations that result in a fine of $700,000. Ouch! Fines of this magnitude can sink a business or at a minimum leave an indelible wound.

Do you remember the Astra-Zeneca DOL Settlement of 2011? Women were found to make at least $1,700 less than their male counterparts doing the same job at AZ. 124 women were awarded a $250,000 settlement. In return, AZ promised to review pay practices and fix any problems.

Could Self-Audits have helped Astra-Zeneca?

Yes. Had they been reviewing their compensation policies and practices regularly they would have seen issues warranting attention and revision before this became a class-action lawsuit. Self-auditing or mock audits can save you and the company from hefty fines, awkward conversations and/or having to close your doors.

Here are some tips on implementing self-auditing as a practice:

  • Depending on how often you can expect to be audited by outside agencies, set up an internal audit schedule.
  • Create an internal audit team to review your practice against your policy and procedures. Where possible, it is ideal to have someone outside the group being audited conduct the audit for objectivity purposes and for a fresh pair of eyes.
  • Summarize findings and create a threats and opportunities analysis to see where you need to improve. “Threats’ in this context would be items that are inconsistent with your policy and violate the law. “Opportunities” are areas where you do well in complying with policy, but there is potential for violating the law.
  • Get your team involved. Ask them to conduct their own random spot checks. This holds everyone accountable for the consistency of following procedure and allows you to get ahead of potential issues.
  • Train your team on communication during an audit. Saying the wrong thing or too much during an audit can be detrimental your success. Ensuring that each of your team members understands what to expect and how to respond can be helpful for when they are faced with a real auditor.

When it comes to your business, ignorance isn’t bliss. Don’t be afraid to self-audit. It is far better for you or your peers internally to point out your faults than any regulatory agency. Become informed about where your fall short and tighten up your practices. You will thank yourself and the executive team will thank you for saving their money.

Why Focusing on Internal Equity Isn’t a Compensation Strategy?

 

 

is_not_3Outside of my love for both Recruitment and Talent Management lies a fascination with Compensation Strategy. It is the window of opportunity that every company has to compete for talent. Not every company can deal the same cards. Some will lag the market, some will lead and others will mirror the market. Even more fascinating is this sentiment that a person’s worth in an organization should be marginalized by the salaries of others- a.k.a. internal equity.

If you are unaware of internal equity, here is the breakdown in a story: you are courting a new Accountant from the outside. You already have six other accountants company-wide with varying levels of knowledge, skills, abilities and tenure. You ask the new Accountant for their salary requirements; but before you oblige their wish list- you check the salary spread across the six individuals you currently employ. In doing so, you find that the lowest paid Accountant gets $65,000 per year and the highest paid Accountant gets $85,000. Your rockstar Accountant candidate is making $85,000 plus a $10,000 per year bonus. To make him whole he is looking for $93,000- 96,000 per year. Despite your salary range of $63,800- $94,000, you decide to offer $87,000 because you would hate to disturb your internal equity among Accountants.

Here’s the issue with this strategy:

1) You are likely to either have your candidate decline your offer to move onto greener pastures or  he will counteroffer and you get to play that game.

2) This person has an MBA, CPA and has worked at KPMG for over 15 years. You only have one other CPA on staff and they don’t possess the 15 years of experience at a big firm or an MBA. How can you offer him less when he is more qualified?

3) Depending on whether your ranges lag, lead or mimic the market, you may spend a long time trying to make this candidate whole- which may become old and eventually push the candidate to seek new opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to look at internal equity to give me a barometer for how people are situated salary-wise in the organization. Additionally, it helps you to make equitable decisions regarding both internal and external candidates. However, I have seen companies use it to drive their compensation strategy. It isn’t a strategy at all. If someone meets and/or exceeds the functional and strategic needs of your organization, you may have to bust the internal bubble once in a while.

It is foolhardy to believe that every hire will conform to the confines of your salary structures. The key is to make the right compensation decisions and burst that internal equity bubble only when it makes the most sense. However, inconsistent compensation practices whereby certain employees are paid more and unqualified or under-performing- will undoubtedly undermine any aspirations or hopes you have for a fairly compensated workforce. More often than not, I see under-performers that are better compensated than those who perform at or above their pay grade.

What does that say for internal equity?

If you truly care about a transparent and fair payment system, you have to start with the premise that every  person regardless of race, gender, ethnicity etc. is worth the value they provide to the organization. Salary is just one piece of the puzzle, how else can you leverage rewards, benefits etc. to improve your overall offering. I understand the reasons why internal equity is needed, but as a strategy it is stifling and only as good as your overall compensation practices.

“Pregnancy” is not a bad word

Image Courtesy of “Think Progress”

After being pregnant three times over the past seven years, I have seen, heard, and endured things that have both shocked me and made me angry. For starters, there are far too many employers that are still treating pregnancy as if it is a cardinal sin and a complete undoing to their business. Having children whether as an older more tenured employee or an early careerist is a life decision that need not be vetted or agreed with by an employer. Certainly, there are the usual considerations of the inevitable impact of having children depending on where you are in your career; but they are just that- considerations.

Consider this instead:

*The U.S. is one of only 4 countries that doesn’t offer paid leave to new mothers — the others are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.

*Having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells” in the U.S. — when income dips below what’s needed for basic living expenses.

When you are notified by an employee that they are pregnant, they haven’t just given you their resignation simultaneously. Pregnant women are not only capable of continuing their duties (unless sickness and or the physical nature of their job interfere), but they are worthy of having your support as an employer.

As a new business owner, I would like to impart some food-for thought for dealing with pregnancy in general and pregnant employees:

  1. Stop saying dumb things to your pregnant employees. If you are hesitant to say what you’re thinking or you are unsure; do yourself a favor and be quiet.
  2. Be kind. In as much as pregnant women are willing and capable, a little compassion can go a long way.  Ask them how they are feeling. If they are struggling during the first trimester or beyond; allow some leniency. It’s that whole do onto others philosophy.
  3. Did you also know?  *51% of new mothers lack any paid leave so some take unpaid leave, some quit, some even lose their jobs. If you can help it, get out of this third-world mentality that exists in the US and offer your female employees a dose of relief in the way of a paid maternity leave, the ability to phase-back to work, short-term disability etc.
  4. While said employee is on leave, do your best to refrain from contacting her regarding work related things or anything in general. Maternity leave is supposed to be a time for healing, bonding, and family. Respect the employee’s time.
  5. Lastly, if there are concerns about adequate time and the like- communicate your concern, but don’t over communicate. There are dr.’s appointments, unforeseen sicknesses, etc. Again, if this is a good employee do your best to work through these hurdles. In business, there are always workarounds whether you want to openly admit it or not).
  6. Don’t forget your male employees. They are becoming dads too and may need your support as well.

Pregnant women are not second-class citizens. You do not have to fundamentally agree with the act of childbearing or its timing but you do have an obligation to respect the decision and support your employees as best you can.

Every year Working Mother.com compiles a list of the best 100 companies for the working mother. One of their requirements for application acceptance is that they offer at least one week of paid family leave or they must be on their way to implementing some sort of paid maternity leave. The list is great and proof that nothing I said here is pie-in-the-sky. Check the list of companies out here.

Here’s a wacky bonus tip: don’t touch your pregnant employee unless you ask. I once had a manager push in my protruding belly button because she thought it was odd and cute. Please stop doing these things. It doesn’t bode well for anyone involved.

What are some innovative arrangements or policies you have implemented to support your pregnant or even new mother employees?

*Statistics from MomRising.org- http://www.momsrising.org/issues_and_resources/maternity

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