These days you can’t evade commentary on what HR should be doing and assuming responsibility for. The list is endless and maybe even unreasonable.
How organizations structure their HR departments differs based on an innumerable amount of variables. For starters, complexity of the organization, functional clarity and employee headcount are some of the more common variables that account for how HR gets structured within an organization.
The nature of work is changing and so Human Resources is also changing as a result. This means rethinking the way “the way we have always done things”. In shifting from the “Personnel Mindset” to present day HR, we must also realize and admit that some of the ways that we chose to operate never worked and as such will not be sustainable in the current business climate.
I’ve spoken a lot in the past about how we move forward as a discipline, but there is an elephant-in-the-room and it is about how we are structured. It doesn’t matter how many strategies, tips, or insights I or any other expert provides to you as an HR practitioner, if your HR department is so fat that it is bulging from all of the unnecessary sub-disciplines dragging it down from a both a functional and financial perspective – HR will be inert.
We can’t be all things to all people…
Perfection is impossible and while we are still collectively trying to get there – we miss the mark everytime, because some of our beloved sub-functions need go or need a makeover.
Here are three examples:
- Exhibit A: Payroll the odd HR stepchild. If you are a small to mid-size company, Payroll may be fine under HR. Still, I never understood how this was an HR function at all. I get that there is FLSA and other labor considerations that scream HR. Nevertheless, anytime a function is handling funds for an organization – I immediately think Finance. If you ask me, Payroll belongs under Finance with maybe a dotted-line reporting structure to HR because of the nature of their work. Why HR in many organizations remain responsible for this function is beyond me.
- Exhibit B: Very few employees trust Employee Relations/Conflict Mediation owned by the HR function. Let’s talk about transparency and HR’s “open door’ policies around employee complaints and disputes. I worked as a recruiter for many years. Transitioning to a Talent Management professional was easy, because I had so much practice being an ear for employee’s who didn’t trust HR let alone the conflict mediation/employee relations process.
Some of the concerns expressed over the years have been:
- ” The ER Specialists never listen to our side, they immediately jump to defend the managers and/or organization.”
- ” I told the HR Business Partner something in confidence about my work environment and now everyone in my department is treating me indifferently.”
- “I see my manager go to lunch with the ER Specialist all of the time, I could never go to her with my issue.”
When it comes to Employee Relations, it may make sense to have this be a standalone function separate from HR. HR needs to be aware of the volume complaints and may even partner with them on approach and resolution of larger organizational issues. Outside of that, you may find employees being a little more transparent with what’s going on when this is no longer under HR. Additionally, I like when functions that have a direct effect on Talent Management report directly to the CEO. It gives frequent ER and discrimination issues the visibility needed to stop them in their tracks.
3. Exhibit C: Diversity and Inclusion should be an organizational strategy not a slapped-together group in HR. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. Unless there is a true dedication to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment from the top, HR is where Diversity and Inclusion strategy goes to die. Why you may ask? Every organization I have been in has suffered a year or more of a meager HR budget. In almost every instance, the first function to have their funds tremendously cut, was the Diversity group followed by Learning & Development. I don’t think any organization can afford to defund or piece together a Diversity function lacking in both financial and strategic support in today’s social and political climate. In my humble opinion, this sub-function needs a direct-line to the CEO as well.
I could make the case for a few more functions to move based on company specifics. The point is: no one should be structuring HR as it has been for the past 30 years because that is what has been done. The focus and challenge for HR is to be lean and flexible. To be both means we need to take a hard look at what we have on our plate and start creating smaller, smart portions of HR so we are able to focus and add value where we are truly needed.
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.