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.


Are you pushing the limits on your labor?


One of the first things I learned in Industrial Psychology was the breakdown and distribution of labor. I learned what it meant to have a full-time equivalent (FTE), part-time, temporary and per-diem/on-call staff. Each of these components serves a different and essential purpose to your workforce planning.  In fact, you cannot actually get any work done without first deciding what work needs to be done, how much time it takes to get the work done and how many people you will need to do it.

There has been a shift                     

Over ten years since my first Industrial Psychology class, I see labor distribution and allocation looking very different and even nonsensical.

Let’s take per diem staff for an example. Traditionally, per diems were used as workforce fillers. They were a subset of the workforce that you kept handy to cover peak times, special projects, surplus or leaves. Per-Diem staff did not have regular schedules and were often paid a higher hourly rate for their ability to be flexible and/or be called in at the last minute. They were just-in-time labor and we never treated them as anything but.

Fast forward to now, there is something very different going on with per-diems.  Not only are they expected to be flexible as they have always been – they are also working the equivalent of full-time hours on a consistent basis.

I worked in Healthcare for 8 years. Many of my friends and colleagues are still in that field. One friend in particular has repeatedly worked as a per-diem nurse for various facilities. As a per-diem nurse, she has been expected to be flexible with her scheduling. She has also worked upwards of 40-50 hours per week in these roles.

Here’s the breakdown of labor:

  • 32 hours of actual on-the-job labor
  • An additional 8-10 hours off the clock answering phone calls, emails, and charting because of the insurmountable workload.

This schedule is consistent and is also considered what they call fee-for-service which means she gets paid for individual services provided to a patient. The issue is she has worked all of the hours above and is paid infrequently due to minor errors like an incorrect year being listed on the final chart. She uses her own car for this mobile position and although she was offered cases in close proximity to her home they consistently assign her an hour or more from her designated area. Even the expenses like her gas and the like have not been paid.

Why do I share this?

This company is pushing the limits on her labor. It is not reasonable for anyone to be classified as per-diem and be working as much or more than a full-time equivalent on a consistent basis. You can cite any rule you can find to support this from DOL – it makes no sense.

Secondly, if you are going to implement a point-of-service model for paying a subset of your workforce, you need to pay when the service is rendered – not when you choose or even when you get paid. There is absolutely no ROI on her working, because every time she thinks she is getting paid there is an issue pushing her payment further and further into the realm of unreasonableness. To date she is still waiting to be paid for three weeks worth of work. She’s basically working for free. The bills wait for no one.

Last but not least (and this applies to FTE’s, part-time, temp and per diem), there are reasonable and unreasonable limits for off-the-clock labor.  One call for clarification on something is reasonable. An expectation of your employees being on email at all times and/or requiring after-hours calls is unreasonable. She receives calls and emails all times of the day and night and when she returns the phone calls there is no one there to receive it. This turns into hours of calls and returned calls and emails on a day when she isn’t officially on-the-clock.

I have witnessed the abuse of labor both as a practitioner and now as a consultant. Businesses have gotten really good at utilizing the loopholes in what DOL provides and they are using it against the workers. If you are a new business owner, established business owner or work in HR, here are some suggestions:

1) Work needs to start and end. Just because you have penchant for working excessive hours and wear that as a badge of honor- doesn’t mean others should do the same. Establish reasonable start times for work and encourage your employees to end at a designated time. The only purpose for extra hours of work is when there are tight deadlines and surplus. You should be training your people to be efficient. not over-worked zombies.

2) Respect your employees time off-the-clock. You many think your question or issue is pressing, but did you really take a moment to decide if it is more important than what your employee may be doing on their day off. No one wants to be disturbed at dinner, in the middle of family time or while out running errands. Be sure that your concerns are worth the interruption of their life.

3) Be careful how you are classifying your people. As I illustrated above, there are many abuses of per-diem staff going on. If you have that much of a need for additional assistance with getting work done, these workers need to be re-classified and offered all of the benefits, compensation and perks that come with part-time and full-time status. You will decrease your risk as the employer and appease the employee who will understand that you value their time and efforts.

Our job in HR is to be the moral compass for the organization among other things. Over-extending your workforce not only leads to turnover, but to absenteeism and wellness issues. It’s time we stop trying to cut corners and be good to the people that keep the business humming.


31 Days, 32 Revelations: Innovation Ego

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Series Introduction

Every year, I like to find a different way of celebrating my favorite day: my birthday. Since I am turning 32 next month (I know…awww…), I’ve decided to share 32 revelations I have had during the course of my life about everything from life in general to business. Think of it as daily inspiration for you and therapy for me. It is a challenge for me, because I don’t think I have ever published a post everyday in the entire existence of The Aristocracy of HR. Plus, I recognize that while I am fairly generous in sharing on social media and here, I have only just scraped the surface on sharing who I am when I’m not pontificating how HR and Business can do better. Let’s use the month of March to get to know one another better. I hope at the end of the month, you walk away with something you can use in your own life or business.

Day 15 of 31- Innovation Ego

I have heard through the grapevine that nothing being done now is either “unique” or “innovative”, but rather many regurgitated versions of someone else’s ideas. There is certainly evidence to suggest that lots of people go around poaching the work of others. However, for the people who are really dedicated to creating something new or give something old a new spin- you can’t deny them their innovation badge of honor. One idea spurs another idea and then another- that is kind of how innovation works.

Let’s be honest, we are influenced by a myriad of people, places, cultures, circumstances over the course of our lives. If you don’t think so you must have been rushed from your mother’s womb to a bubble in another dimension where no one exists; but then again even that experience would influence your view of the world. I believe we become a mosaic of our experiences. Some are hard-coded and other traits, thoughts and practices are things we select for ourselves-because it favors our trajectory in life and facilitates our survival. Let’s take Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung for instance. Freud was the founding father of psychoanalytic concepts in the early 1900’s until he became acquainted with Carl Jung. Carl Jung became a friend and a student of Freud until he endeavored to propose a slightly contrarian analysis and criticism of  Freudian precepts like the”oedipal complex”. Innovation ego of today would assert that Freud said all there was to say about the “oedipal complex” and that Jung was being duplicitous by merely tweaking already established concepts.

The reality is we received a far more refined proposition for the oedipal complex because Jung studied Freud’s concepts and found areas for improvement or better explanations for that behavior. Was Jung innovative- in my opinion yes. Was Freud innovative? For sure. He started it all, but even he had experiences and influences that led him to develop his theories.

Just because you have created something, said something profound or blazed a trail, does not make you the chief innovator for all eternity. The goal should be continuous improvement of all things as necessity requires it. If someone comes along and takes something you did and improves it-that is the completion of the cycle of innovation. By no means, should any founder or talent feel like someone isn’t studying your craft and finding cracks in it that they will someday improve.

From time to time, I’ve heard people say things like: “I wrote about that back in 2008 why is he or she writing about that now or we were talking about how to implement “x” in 2000 this has already been done.” I humbly pay homage to pioneers, because many things wouldn’t be possible without a few good men and women to blaze the trail. However, ego need not take over. Sometimes things need to be said again and again and maybe with a twist and a turn. Just maybe, that tenth or thousandth instance of discussing a topic or reinventing something is exactly what is needed for others to finally get it. So, next time you gurus, ninjas, experts get the gumption to turn your nose up at something you think is old, trite or lacks innovation ask yourself if it is your ego or if the cycle of innovation has been completed by someone adding a new slant or useful thought.


Czarina’s Lesson: There’s no place for ego in innovation.

Is Too Much Cross-Function Killing Your Business?

We have heard of and discussed the many jobs and/or industries that have been either lost or tremendously condensed since 2008. Let’s deal with the tremendously condensed jobs for a second. Due to the financial crisis of 2008, many businesses had to trim the headcount in their organizations. Essentially, the headcount was trimmed, but as expected the work didn’t go away. The result was lots of reorganization within companies and a redistribution of work in support of keeping business going as usual.

As an employee, you don’t want to be seen as not being a team player when asked if you can take on another job or function. It is usually proposed as something temporary and a great help to the organization. The problem is the redistribution continues in many companies and they keep batting their eyes and asking for more and as such employees are now doing the job of not one-but three people.

Boo-hoo-hoo you say…

Yes, it is great to get experience in different areas. It makes you more marketable. It allows you to contribute in many different ways. It may even lead to management seeing you in a new light and possibly considering you for a promotion. The  reality is that many are just stuck in a rut. There are no promotions coming their way that they know of. Are they marketable? Maybe to some company, but at the moment they are barely surviving each day trying to handle the multitude of work and demands that have come along with this hybrid role they are in. Contributing is an understatement, they are serving as staff member up to an including executive depending on the project and/or role they are focused on at the moment.

Consequently, sales may look good and dollar signs may make the CEO’s heart flutter, but there is major damage being done to the staff and business. Despite a society in love with doing the most, the truth is we can do only one thing well at a time. If one of your staff members is in charge of branding, recruiting, handling diversity and employee relations -how effective are they being? If they are effective, are they being compensated and rewarded appropriately for their efforts?

If they have been sold the typical- “we can’t raise your salary “bit, they are likely miserable, burnt out and searching for a new gig.

Consider this…

I did a job profile for someone to understand what they do and how they may be marketable within their industry. They happen to have a background in Accounting. However, due to downsizing this person not only handles accounts payable but handles receivables, does journal entries, can add and delete invoices all without any checks and balances. Her job is too cross-functional and she could be robbing the company blind- if she was not a standup citizen. This kind of job overlap with no checks and balances goes against every good accounting principle there is. The person that pays money shouldn’t also receive the money etc.

However, the owner of this business is gleaming, because the work gets done and he is saving on three salaries and maybe four when we consider her total compensation hasn’t been raised or adjusted since taking on this extra work.

I’m not suggesting that there be absolutely no cross-function. A healthy dose of cross-function or job sharing can be helpful in mitigating the impact of temporary or small permanent gaps. That said, anytime the extra work to be taken on amounts to more than 40% time equivalent it is time to hire another person.

Here are some tips to use in evaluating the potential for cross-function:

1) If you must downsize or terminate staff, evaluate the work they did and the time it took them to get it done before you start redistributing. Sometimes you will find unnecessary gaps in turnaround time for tasks and other times work is turned around within reasonable time limits.
2) If the people lost are tied to a significant amount of work, consider utilizing temp staff to pick up the slack even if it for just a few hours a week.
3) If your employees must become cross-functional, be sure there are no conflicts of interest from a legal or ethical standpoint between their current and new roles.
4) Keep communication open and honest. There are times when businesses have to cut back releasing burdens onto employees. If more work is coming and it is temporary, keep your employees informed about your timeline to resume normal operations.

Does this sound like your business? Let us help you put things in perspective? Contact us.

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