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

Zombie Human Resources; #DTHR Comes Back from the Dead

Podcasting is hot. It’s so hot that every person I know seems to have a podcast.

Sometimes it seems as if it’s gotten to the point where one of my dogs (I put my money on Mr. Crumples) is soon to announce that he’s starting up a podcast.

And in the HR/Talent space we’ve got our share including:

And, of course, there’s the original daily HR radio show Drive thru HR.

Now Drive thru HR never went away; over the last decade it has gone thru several permutations. Launched by founder/original host Bryan Wempen, it ran for a few years (every.day)with Bryan at the helm until William Tincup joined Bryan as co-host circa 2011 or so. The listenership continued to grow and several additional hosts took a spin behind the console include Crystal Miller Lay, Nisha Raghavan and Mike VanDervort.

Most recently though it’s been Mike managing the show as a solo host…until now.

Hmmmmmmm.

Tune in today when we announce some changes to Drive thru HR, Mike gets a new co-host, and we throw in some “HR Horror Stories” for a bit of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.