Work in HR? It’s Time to FIGHT for Workers’ Rights.

There’s a peculiar mindset amongst far too many HR practitioners. Due to their fervent and often all-consuming desire to be considered “business partners,” they’ve adopted a capitalist perspective that places them somewhere on the spectrum between Scrooge McDuck, Rich Uncle Pennybags and Mr. Burns.

Attempting to be fiscally prudent and, as I’ve heard it described, to be “a steward of the company’s money,” manifests itself when they:

  • ‘fight’ every unemployment claim as if the very sustainability of the company depended upon victory 
  • craft policies that, if legal in the state/jurisdiction, ensure that departing employees will NOT be paid out any earned/accrued vacation/PTO balance
  • concoct convoluted job descriptions in order to mis-classify certain jobs as exempt (per the FLSA) so workers are not eligible for overtime pay even while the company expectation is that they toil away for 50 hours per week minimum
  • shelter workplace harassers and keep them in place by failing to investigate allegations of harassment especially when an employee bringing forth an issue is viewed as a “chronic complainer” 
  • turn a blind eye to both blatant and subtle discriminatory behavior whether it takes they form of systemic cultural traditions and norms or overt hiring “preferences” as articulated by managers … and other HR team members

And they valiantly fight, either of their own volition or because they believe their company’s CEO and CFO expect them to, any attempts to raise the mandated minimum wage, explore Medicare For All or de-couple healthcare in the US from the employment relationship.

This doesn’t shock me of course. As with most any type of meaningful change in the relationship between employers/employees over the course of our history in the US of A, it’s taken blood, sweat, death and – ultimately – legislation to provide protection to workers. Child Labor Reform. The Triangle Shirtwaist FireThe Civil Rights ActThe Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, including Title I covering employment, went into effect in July of 1990 – 30 years ago – and HR practitioners are still fighting against the very basic tenets of the law. The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 and there are still numerous HR practitioners who work to circumvent the protections afforded to their covered employees. 

These are the people running HR functions. They are often the first ones to talk about a desire to increase employee engagement or improve company culture. They are also, quite frankly, the ones who need to be reminded of what that “H” signifies and remember that Workers’ Rights are “human” rights.

The US Department of Labor clarifies there is not a definitive list of workers’ rights however the International Labor Organization (ILO) identifies what it calls “fundamental principles and rights at work”:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
  • effective abolition of child labor; and
  • elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The effective delivery of HR designed to ensure profitability and sustainability of the business is not at odds with the delivery of HR designed to promote or protect workers’ rights. The two can – and should – co-exist. 

It’s not about profit or people. It can easily be about profit and people. 

Work in HR? You say you’re all about the employee experience and engagement and “improving” your culture? Then you need to respect and promote Workers’ Rights before anything else.

After all…you’re a worker too. 

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The Importance of Using the “Write” Language

write-up

“I’m going to issue a write-up.”

“He should be written up.”

“Her manager is going to give her a write up.”

“HR must be present when a manager gives an employee a write-up.”

“Should I write-up this employee?”

“The employee refused to sign the write-up.” 

“Write-ups don’t work; our employees are still doing the same thing.” 

***** 

I can barely begin to tell you how I abhor this list. These articulations, as captured above, have recently appeared in various and assorted Facebook groups where HR practitioners gather. And while HR folks are accused (and sometimes guilty) of any number of bone-headed maneuvers, the language used by many around employee performance is one move that’s in serious need of adjustment. 

“Write up” (used as both a verb and a noun) is up there in my top 5 most-hated-phrases-uttered-by-HR-people. 

It’s lazy. It’s infantilizing. And it reduces the manager/employee relationship to one of parent & child. Or school principal and pupil. Or lord-of-the-manor and servant. The use of this phrase communicates everything wrong with an organization’s culture, its views on performance management and the employee experience.

It has to go.

I implore you HR – stop being the master of the one-note samba (“write up!”) and sing a different tune. 

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Racism: When HR is Part of the Problem

HR professionals are the architects of the employee experience. They’re the ones responsible for ensuring their workplaces are free from unlawful discrimination and racism. They’re charged with nurturing a culture that promotes diversity, inclusion and equity.  In challenging times, when people are confused and hurting and taking to the streets to protest for issues of basic human rights, employees rely on their HR team to communicate and reassure.

Numerous HR professionals are excellent at doing these things.

Others are doomed to fail miserably. 

Why? Because, unfortunately, there are far too many HR practitioners who themselves exhibit a profound lack of either understanding or care and who, to put it bluntly, are racists themselves.

Over the last several years alone I have heard the following

  • “I treat everyone the same; I don’t see color.” – OK; we can work with this one to some degree via education and conversation. Unfortunately, it was followed up (by the white, privileged HR Director) with “there is no such thing as white privilege.”
  • A local HR Director was interested in serving on a board of directors. When discussing roles and committees, including D&I, she explicitly stated, “I don’t believe in diversity; that’s all made up.”  
  • “This is a fun place. And none of ‘those people’ come here.” – spoken by an HR leader/SHRM leader to an out-of-town (white) guest who had traveled to speak at a state SHRM event.
  • “I’m not prejudiced; we had a Black housekeeper who practically raised me. She was like part of the family” – in the category of things that are Southern and problematic; see “The Help”
  • When discussing the hiring process at her company an HR practitioner said “Well, you know she’s Black so guess the only people she will ever hire?” 
  • “I don’t go to that store in that part of town; it’s too “dark” there if you know what I mean.” HR Director, 2020

Oh these HR folks aren’t using the n-word in public but they’re awfully good at using code words and euphemisms like “them” and “those people.” They realize they’re crossing a line though; you can tell that when they ‘whisper’ the offending word. 

And, of course, lots of racist white people figure they can read-the-room. They’re out having a few cocktails with HR peers or sitting at a table with other white people at a SHRM meeting and they assume everyone thinks the same as they do. There’s no holding back. They open the door on their ugly souls. 

So what to do? 

  • We must, if we work in HR, call out our HR colleagues when they say things that are hurtful, inappropriate and racist. 
  • We must continue to elevate the voices and contributions of our BIPOC colleagues EVERY DAY; not just on ‘certain days’ of the year. 

We can do better.

We have to do better. 

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A New Normal (?) for the Employee Performance Review

Facebook has announced, via an internal memo, that Mark Zuckerberg sent to employees earlier this week, they would be paying a $1,000 bonus to every employee to help during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, Zuckerberg also said the company will pay contractors in full even if they are unable to do their work from home.

In addition, the company said it would give all employees an “exceeds” rating for their first six-month review of 2020. At Facebook, as at other companies, these ratings tie directly to bonuses and, according to reports, could result in all full-time employees earning significant bonuses.

Kudos to Facebook; of course they have the money so can afford to do this. But it’s still affirming to see employers (of all sizes) that are doing what they can from a financial support perspective at this unprecedented time.  

To me however the most interesting aspect of this is the use of the performance review to “get cash in hand” to employees. While getting managers to do 9-Box grids and “performance feedback sessions” is the absolute last thing HR professionals are focusing on right-this-moment, it DOES raise questions for when we come out the other end of this.

Among other things, this maneuver brought to mind:

  • When the performance review is directly tied to compensation (and, apparently the only mechanism for determining bonus level) we now have a company outright acknowledging that ratings can be ‘manipulated’ to give an employee a desired raise or bonus.
  • In HR we have worked diligently over the years to fight manager bias (calibration meetings!). We’ve created convoluted programs and valiantly messaged to employees that everything is “fair.” Now, however, they can say “see! It IS easy to adjust the rating to give me a raise!” (or withhold one….)
  • Will 2020 be the year when no employee – at any company – around the world – has an official/documented performance review?  Who is going to have time for that crap? Companies are in survival mode right now and will be for the remainder of the year.
  • Will the evaluation of job performance shift towards the best-it-could-be out of necessity? Right now we have managers providing continuous, immediate, face-to-face (or camera to camera) feedback. No need for forms, checklists and laborious processes.
  • What creative finagling will HR professionals have to go through to adjust their 2020 performance review process one we hit the end of the year?   

The business exercise of annual (or quarterly or semi-annual) performance reviews is not, nor should it be, what we’re thinking about right now. But we will.

Maybe this really will be the death of the performance review.

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Tips for Your Virtual Happy Hour #workfromhome

We’ve been doing virtual team Happy Hours at Peridus Group since WELL before virtual team Happy Hours became the new normal. Now, with numerous people working from home for the first time, they’re finding ways to socially interact from a safe distance. Replicating the joie de vivre that results when a co-worker says “let’s pop down to the pub after work” is an easy way to maintain one’s sanity and promote a sense of normalcy. 

In the interest of helping our fellow humans, here are a few of our top tips guaranteed to make your HH rock: 

  • Unless you’re doing your home-office/remote-workin’ from your kitchen (and thus with ready access to the refrigerator), make sure to bring the entire bottle of wine (or liquor and mixers) to your home office. That way, when it’s time to pour a fresh one, you don’t even have to step away from the festivities!
  • Put someone in charge of music; assign a walk-in tune to each team member and play it when they enter the chat room. My preferred walk on tune is “SexyBack” by JT.

  • A fun game to play is “let me show you my neighborhood/backyard/favorite restaurant down the street.” Give someone screen sharing capabilities, pull up Google Maps, and take a virtual tour of BFE!

  • Props and costumes add a certain pizzazz to any Happy Hour. We have one team member who occasionally dons a tiara and another that we like to make put on her super-hero cape. Lots of LOLZ!
  • Give new hires a thrill when they realize the invite to “drink alcohol on the clock” comes from the HR lady! (actual quote” “wow! I never worked anywhere where HR planned and coordinated the Happy Hour!”) 
  • Play a game together – live! For our virtual holiday party this past December (eons ago…), I created a holiday trivia quiz (somewhat NSFW) using Kahoot. Everyone downloaded the app and we played together (20 seconds per question!) with the ability to watch the leaderboard while sipping our adult beverage of choice.

Raising my glass to everyone – stay safe, wash your hands and CHEERS!

Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash

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