“Conference” HR vs. Real-World HR

For many years now I’ve lived simultaneously in two separate and distinct HR worlds. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world attending and/or speaking at events and conferences focused on HR, Recruiting, Technology and the Future of Work. I’ve also continued to meet and work with human resources professionals and businesses that, to put it mildly, operate much as they did circa 1993.

I love the fact that I have a world-wide community of friends and colleagues who are on the cutting-edge; people doing smart and innovative work who drive conversations about change and HR’s role in meeting workforce needs in the 21st century. I also appreciate how I get to discuss and observe (and fix) the day-to-day realities of running a people operations function in this day and age. These interactions include working with HR professionals from small companies to large enterprises and (here’s the not-so-secret-dirty-little-secret) many of them feel somewhat chagrined they’re not rocking and rolling with ALL the bells and whistles they believe are expected of a modern HR team. Oh sure, some of that is based on a reluctance (or fear) to change or innovate but quite often it’s due to budget, priorities, type of industry or the desires of the company CEO/Owner.

Now one of the reasons we (the collective we) like to attend conferences is to gather ideas; I’m certainly a firm believer that one can hear the most crazy, outrageous and disruptive idea, strip it down to its essence, and get some take-away that can be applicable back in your HR shop.

However, and here’s the part I find amusing, there is often SUCH a disconnect between the content delivered at events (onstage, whitepapers, podcasts, etc.) and what the typical HR professional discusses that it may appear we are operating in 2 entirely different professions.

What does this look like?

Conference HR: ”Implementing broad workplace flexibility will improve business performance and increase employee engagement, commitment and retention!” Real World HR: “Our attendance policy issues points; if an employee has 2 tardies (clocking in more than 1 minute late) in 90 days we start progressive discipline. Are we being too lenient?”

Conference HR: “Strategic use of advanced people analytics and large data sets means your HR Team can improve overall business performance!” Real World HR: “At the end of each month I run a report for the leadership team showing hires, terms and transfers; they seem to like it”

Conference HR: “The gig economy provides flexibility for businesses and workers!” Real World HR: “Can I change a W2 employee into a 1099 Independent Contractor? My CEO wants to save money on benefits.”

Conference HR: “The use of AI and augmented intelligence will provide for proactive hiring and better determine candidate fit and future performance!” Real World HR: “Does anybody else work for a company that doesn’t have an ATS or HRIS system? If so, how do you track data? Excel?”

Conference HR: “To nurture a culture of communication and transparency at all-hands meetings make sure to revisit business goals and discuss results and strategy!” Real World HR: “The topics we cover at every all-hands meeting are safety training and the attendance policy requirements. Oh; and we remind everyone to turn in their timecards.”

Conference HR: “The resume is dead; you can source candidates online and find everything you need to know!” Real World HR: “I refuse to consider an applicant’s resume unless they’ve followed directions and included a cover letter.”

Conference HR: “The Future of Work is NOW!” Real World HR: “Someone is smearing feces on the walls of the men’s restroom and we’re unsure how to go about investigating this…”

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Walking Towards Futility: A Wellness Fail

It seems there is nothing that brings HR professionals as much joy as rolling out tortuous physical activities for unwitting employees in the name of “Wellness.” There are companies that, in the quest to promote healthy lifestyles (aka “lower health care premiums”) have mandated everything from Jazzercise to rock climbing to participating in a local 5k run/walk for their employees. And yes…mandated; meaning they’ve tied participation in such activities to performance appraisals and salary reviews.

I once worked for an organization that, to be fair, was very transparent about why it ran and supported a wellness program; to save money. Health insurance costs were forever rising at a seemingly exorbitant rate and, as the company had a self-insured medical plan, this meant each month the checks cut from the company checkbook were growing ever larger. In addition, those expenses that had not sufficiently budgeted for came right out of the end of year calculation for the bonuses paid to leaders. In other words, a few medical catastrophes spread across the employee population (or their covered dependents) might mean that VP Bob wouldn’t be able to buy his vacation home in the mountains.

Sad.

So, with lowering costs as the primary reason, the company launched a Wellness Program a number of years ago. It’s important to note that when a company labels such an initiative a “program,” you have your first clue it has nothing to do with truly caring about people’s health, financial stability or mental and emotional wellness. And this program, like many before and since, had all the hallmarks of failure including making participation a chore (“track your meals and turn in this checklist!”) and running multiple “Biggest Loser” contests which are just about the worst activity to run from both a legal and health standpoint.

There was also, as you may imagine, quite a bit of employee shaming that ran rampant. One of the HR zealots told me, with quite a bit of pride, that he saw it as his DUTY to promote healthy eating. He would wander through the employee lunchroom, on a regular basis, and stop and have discussions with employees about their meal choices: “Sandy! Do you really want to eat that leftover friend chicken? A better choice would be a healthy salad with some lentils and a vinaigrette dressing!”  (inner monologue from Sandy in Accounting: ‘get out of my life crazy HR dude.’)

At one stage, amongst this backdrop of ill-informed and ill-placed intentions, it was dictated from those-on-high that additional physical activities were needed in order to ‘get everyone healthy.’  The answer, determined by an avid runner sitting up high on the org chart, was to institute walking activities! This was to include:

  • Setting up an obstacle course in the company parking lot so employees could head outside during their 10-minute breaks and 30-minute meal time to ‘get in a few steps’
  • Running a Couch-to-5k challenge
  • Awarding points, on the employee’s annual performance evaluation, if they participated in one of several chosen Run/Walks on a Saturday morning

OK, you may think, those aren’t so bad (well, other than the tie-in to a job performance review). But here’s the deal:

This was not a 9-to-5 organization; people weren’t cooped up in an office and sitting at desks all day and thus eager to ‘stretch their legs’ at lunch time.

  • The majority of employees worked evening shifts or overnight so talking a walk in the parking lot would have meant strolling around, in the dark, at 11 PM or 2 AM.
  • The nature of the work meant that most everyone’s job included STANDING ON THEIR FEET and/or WALKING for the duration of their shift; by the time meal time came all they wanted to do was sink into a chair for a few blessed minutes.
  • This was in south Louisiana. In the summer. With heat, humidity and mosquitos as big as your fist.

But running a couch-to-5k challenge? What’s wrong with that? Well, when the average hourly wage is just over $12 per hour it’s a bit much to expect someone to purchase appropriate footwear ($150? $200?) and pay the entrance fees for a 5k.

As for those somewhat-mandated Run/Walks and 5ks, well, all of them (I mean all of them) occur on Saturday mornings; usually kicking off between 7 AM and 9 AM. On a day, and a time, when the vast majority of employees were either just getting off shift after working all night, or, sleeping because they had worked until 3 AM.

Oh yes…there were many wellness fails at this organization:

There was no consideration of the fact that in a multi-gendered workforce that spanned ages 18 to 80, individuals would have not only varying physical abilities but also differing metabolisms.

Activities and plans were formulated by leaders with lots of disposable income and disposable time. Their prism of privilege meant they never gave any thought to the fact that employees had multiple jobs to make ends meet or ate white bread and processed-lunch-meat sandwiches because they couldn’t afford to purchase fresh fruit with granola when their take home pay for the week was $300.

This stuff drives me crazy.

Pass me the quinoa please.

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For a recent conversation “Calling BS on Wellness Programs” – check out this episode of New Yawk HR where we also offer some helpful (hopefully) tips.

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Global Human Capital Trends Report – 2019

Last week Deloitte released the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report. It’s always a must read for me and I strongly encourage other HR leaders and those involved in the talent/people space to take a look. Last year, Deloitte described the rise of the social enterprise and this year’s report outlines how the factors and pressures that have driven the social enterprise not only continue but are growing more acute.

A few tidbits from this year’s report:

  • 86% of respondents believe they must reinvent their ability to learn
  • 84% of respondents reports they need to rethink their workforce experience to improve productivity, and
  • 80% believe they must develop leaders in a different fashion

Deloitte outlined a set of five principles to frame the “human focus” for the social enterprise; describing them as benchmarks against one can measure actions and business decisions that could affect people:

  • Purpose and meaning
  • Ethics and Fairness
  • Growth and passion
  • Collaboration and personal relationships
  • Transparency and openness

These five design principles define the “why” of reinvention and the 2019 Human Capital Trends, listed below, are divided into 3 categories:

Future of the workforce

  • The alternative workforce
  • From jobs to superjobs
  • Leadership for the 21st century

Future of the organization

  • From employee experience to human experience
  • Organizational performance
  • Rewards

Future of HR

  • Accessing talent
  • Learning in the flow of life
  • Talent mobility
  • HR cloud

This is a great resource for HR and organizational leaders; you can download the report here.

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Watching this year over year as I do?  Here are Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends from the last 3 years:  

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2018

  1. The Symphonic C-Suite: Teams Leading Teams
  2. The Workforce Ecosystem: Managing Beyond the Enterprise
  3. New Rewards: Personalized, Agile and Holistic
  4. From Careers to Experiences: New Pathways
  5. The Longevity Dividend: Work in an Era of 100-Year Lives
  6. Citizenship and Social Impact: Society Holds the Mirror
  7. Well-Being: A Strategy and a Responsibility
  8. AI, Robotics, and Automation: Put Humans in the Loop
  9. The Hyper-Connected Workplace: Will Productivity Reign?
  10. People Data: How Far is Too Far?

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2017

  1. The organization of the future
  2. Careers and learning
  3. Talent acquisition
  4. The employee experience
  5. Performance management
  6. Leadership disrupted
  7. Digital HR
  8. People analytics
  9. Diversity & inclusion
  10. The future of work

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2016 Organizational design

  1. Organizational design
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture
  4. Engagement
  5. Learning
  6. Design Thinking
  7. Changing the skills of the HR organization
  8. People Analytics
  9. Digital HR
  10. Workforce management

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