Work and Life and Everything In Between

My mother, who has dementia, has been living with us now for a week.  

A really really REALLYlong week.

Getting her to Louisiana was neither an easy task not did it occur in a particularly seamless fashion. Over the last month I made two emergency (last-minute) cross-country trips. While some of these travels took place in the friendly skies, there was also a 1,100 mile one-way road trip (with a dog). Fortunately, this afforded the opportunity for a stop at a Waffle House in Mississippi; mom’s very first Waffle House visit and she ordered, of course, a waffle. Next visit, if she doesn’t order it herself, I’m force-feeding her some smothered and covered hash browns. Get with the program mom!

This is but step one of dealing with my aging parents though; plans are also in motion to relocate my dad.

And I, already, am utterly exhausted.

I am also incredibly thankful, every single waking moment of every single day, that I work for an organization (Strio Consulting | Rocket Power) where (a) I am 100% remote and thus can work anywhere/anytime, and (b) we don’t put “rules” around our time off policies. As I recently wrote in the first edition of the employee handbook:“Time off is about the time you need and not about a quota.”

We believe in letting youtake care of you. We want you to take care of yours

Which, despite what every article in Fast Company would have you believe, is still pretty unusual. 

Of course, for years. it has been trendy, fashionable, and #FutureofWork’y for every workplace pundit, thought-leader and speaker-on-the-HR-circuit to lecture everyone else about the needs, wants and desires of employees for a flexible workplace. More often than not these pontifications center around “millennials want this” which, for some inexplicable reason, continues to be spewed forth and gobbled up by eager masses of HR ladies. (I guess anything with “Gen Y” still gets a whole bunch of clicks on the interwebs. Note to self: add #millenial to the SEO tags on this blog post). 

News flash: it’s never been a generational thing.

Listen…I just switched companies/jobs 3 months ago and, were I still working for my former employer, this would not be working out as smoothly as it is. Well, smoothly other than the fact that we had to discuss the year’s snowfall (remember: no snow: Louisiana) 12 times over the course of an hour yesterday.

But, at my previous employer, I would have:

  • had to get pre-approval for the TIME-OFF before scheduling a last-minute (“I need to book this flight NOW”) trip as opposed to booking it at 10 PM at night and then letting folks/TPTB know
  • used up 1/3 of my allotted PTO time for the entire calendar year (holidays included in that PTO balance) by the 2ndweek of January
  • not been able to do this at all because I cannot leave my mother alone in the house …… and I had no opportunity to work from home. We didn’t do it. We didn’t believe in it.  What would I have done? I think about this every single day
  • gone unpaid (after quickly blowing through that PTO balance) had I applied for leave under the FMLA to take care of my mother

The pooch would have been screwed.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with how we, as a society, allow our fellow human beings to handle life, family and health. 

Spending all these years in human resources I have, naturally, helped employees navigate child care, elder care and self-care issues. Sometimes the company I worked for cared and worked diligently to assist everyone no matter the circumstances or their position/level/job. Sometimes, and this was much more common, the company I worked for didn’t give a shit …. unless the employee happened to be the most senior-of-senior-executives. 

I vividly recall an employee, we’ll call her Kathy, who had no choice but to take unpaid FMLA to care for an ailing parent who had been sent home from the hospital. While out on her leave Kathy stayed in touch and one day, when she popped in for a visit to HR, she sat in a chair and sobbed. No income. No money to pay her medical/dental/vision plan contributions. No money to pay her utility bills or buy gas for her car. My heart hurt.

It’s for reasons like this that we need programs like those put forthby California Governor Gavin Newsom; his proposal expands California’s PFL so that it becomes the longest paidparental and family leave in the U.S. 

Let’s get our stuff together people of the U.S; this is a travesty.

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image: MaxPixel

The Worst Places to Work Award

Chances are pretty good that the city in which you live has some sort of “Best Places to Work” Award.  Mine does.

Perhaps your company ponied up the $$ and applied for one of these awards; if you work in HR chances are you managed the entry including gathering reams of data and forcing (disguised as encouragement) your employees to complete surveys.  

Maybe you work for a company that has received this designation. In that case the following happened:

  • Your PR team wrote press releases. Lots of press releases.
  • Your senior executives bought a table (or two) at the awards luncheon. 
  • Your CEO was interviewed by a local business publication and spouted clichés such as “our employees are our most important asset,”and “we’re a very transparent organization with a high-level of trust.”
  • You held a company all-hands meeting, party or pub crawl (if you’re ‘fun’)  to “celebrate.”
  • Your Marketing and HR teams plastered the logo on every available page of the company website and incorporated “BPTW!” verbiage in every single piece of candidate collateral and messaging. (“This will ensure we win the war on talent!”exclaimed more than one hapless and/or clueless recruiter, hiring manager or senior leader.) 

As did the other 50 recipients in your city who also won the award.  

And pretty much everyone involved, let’s be frank, realizes this is a ginormous crock of crap. Winning an award as a “Great Place to Work” or “Top City Employer” or whatever other moniker is being used by the money-making entity that bestows these awards has zero validity as PROOF of a great employment experience. 

What I would like to do is invert the whole thing and present “Worst Places to Work” awards. Imagine this: instead of the same-old-companies-you-can-name in your city there was a fresh new list – every year – telling you the places NO ONE would conceivably want to work? Companies with harsh working conditions, below-market pay, oppressive rules, shitty work/life balance, and HR policies seemingly held over from 1955 would be called out. In addition to gathering current (and former!) employee feedback, the survey organizers could comb through court filings and EEOC or state civil rights complaints for data points.  

Naturally, companies won’t shell out bucks to pay for something that puts them on the naughty list; we’ll have to find a means to get this monetized but I think it’s a winning proposition. 

Publish THIS list in the local newspaper and, if nothing else, we might finally get some companies and leaders to change their ways.

Employee Relations: Why Such a Bad Rap?

Once upon a time, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, we heralded the birth of the Personnel HR profession.  Industrial Relations begat Labor Relations with its accompanying cliché: a smoke-filled room laden with labor bosses and cigar-chomping industrialists hammering out a collective bargaining agreement.

As our profession matured we began to use the phrase Employee Relations in order to provide differentiation from the Labor Relations connotation (unionized workforce) and provide us with a term to use when referring to the management of the employment relationship in a non-unionized workforce.

Yet, even as Employee Relations matured into young adulthood and then into a comfortable middle-age, a number of organizations continued to “relate” to their employees as if they were still huddled around that bargaining table with overflowing ashtrays at the ready. The mindset that people are resources widgets – product in/product out – and can be expected to work according to bullet points, mandates and according to a rigid set of parameters just never left the room.

And therein lies the tension; it’s this area of human resources that puts the thought, in the minds of many, that HR is nothing more than the enforcer of draconian policies and creator of byzantine processes.

It’s quite sad actually; ER is one of the foundational – and necessary – building blocks of what we do.  From within this area flow organizational expectations, support for employee rights (and responsibilities), and safeguarding the workplace for those who may be vulnerable if working for unscrupulous or downright evil people.

On the surface, however, Employee Relations is nowhere near as sexy and glamorous as some other functional HR disciplines; Recruiters get all the flash and sizzle, Compensation pros get to deal with incentive program design, and even the Risk Management/Safety folks get to oversee cool stuff like immunization programs.

Take a glance at most any Employee Relations Specialist job description and you’ll find words and phrases like “enforce,” “work-related problems,” “investigate,” “inspect,” “administer and interpret” and “grievance.”   Ugh.  Certainly no one wants to go into HR and be faced with those sorts of responsibilities; do they? After all, there’s not one single mention of “candidate experience” or “employer branding” anywhere………

But it’s important.  Just not snazzy sounding.

Employee Relations merely needs to be – and can be – glammed up a bit. Much as Madonna continues (still!) to reinvent herself after decades in the industry, so too can this important cornerstone of the HR profession.

Does it need a name change?  Not really; it didn’t really ‘take’ when Madonna tried to get everyone to call her Madge.   Rather – we need to adopt a new mind-set, adjust our attitude and get a new PR strategy.   The role of the ER professional should be one that’s proactive not reactive.  It’s a job that requires one to realize that what one can do does not necessarily mean it’s what one should do.  And it’s critical that the focus be on providing information – not punishment.

So I want every HR practitioner to let the vast amounts of knowledge around related laws, regulations and directives filter through two parts of their own cognitive realization before the words – when rendering a decision – come dripping out of their mouth;

PART 1: keep in mind the unique values, mission and culture of their particular organization

PART 2: keep in mind their own status as a human being

Plus it’s 2018.  Y’all haven’t been allowed to smoke cigars in the Board Room for decades.

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this post is a blast from the past: it originally ran over at the HR Schoolhouse