Masters of Fundamentals

GalleryIt can be incredibly seductive, living out in consultant land, to find a niche and focus on the sexy side of HR. Pulling out the buzzword bingo card HR and Recruiting pundits the world over pontificate about candidate personas, employee engagement, and optimization of this-that-and-everything. Culture this and strategy that.

This trickles down to the HR trenches of course. Unfortunately it leads to a sense of discontent amongst HR practitioners who are made to feel as if they’re missing out when their day-to-day seems only to be filled with employee data management (also known as data entry and filing) and the mailing out of ACA and COBRA notices.

There’s nobility, no matter what people tell you, in getting that stuff right.

Human resources practitioners must be masters of employment law, compensation, benefits, recruitment, employee relations and performance management. We draft handbooks, policies, job descriptions and job postings. We must be able to define the objectives of a performance management system, design and deliver the components, and train, guide and coach managers and employees on the process. We must demonstrate our competence whether conducting investigations, coaching managers or leading change initiatives.

And that’s just the baseline knowledge.

But…and here’s the key…we must handle all those things with a zero-defect error rate. Perfection. For it’s only when we get the basics down that we can effectively begin to discuss strategy and business alignment.

We must be proud of our experience, education and knowledge and apply human sensibility; in my estimation, common sense HR often simply calls for common sense solutions. And while we may think some of these HR basics are cut-and-dried or black-and-white, the sign of a great HR pro is remembering to not only ask “can” we do something…it also requires asking “should” we do something.

Working in human resources takes a lot of knowledge and a unique ability to apply it when the world seems to be crashing down; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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image: Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex”

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex (Season 1 keyart) – Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Perfecting the Nanny State: HR and Ethics

Prince_John_with_nannyThere are numerous assignments that human resources professionals either assume for themselves or have thrust upon them: driver of employee engagement, culture cheerleader, diversity leader, and wellness champion come to mind. Well intentioned perhaps but not necessarily well thought out.

Another undertaking that often resides in the HR Department is oversight of corporate ethics. “HR is the conscience of the organization” the thinking often goes. “They’ll make sure we hire people with integrity, and, through continual communication of our values and ideals, ensure operating with integrity stays at the forefront.”

Naturally the SHRM Competency Model includes “Drives the corporate ethical environment” as a behavior within Competency 7: Ethical Practice. At the executive level, per SHRM, this means every competent HR professional “Aligns all HR practices with ethics, laws, and standards” and “Sets the standard for being a role model of ethical behavior by consistently conforming to the highest ethical standards and practices.”

An HR professional recently shared a story with me; in the midst of a pressure-filled situation with a huge operational need (aka revenue generating) to get-some-stuff-done-RIGHT-NOW, an organizational leader suggested that HR cut some corners. Make some concessions. Downright lie. And encourage employees to lie.

The fearless HR professional calmly looked the leader squarely in the eye and said ”no.”
Easy? Not at all. But necessary.

Modeling behavior and operating with integrity as an individual practitioner or as a collective HR function is an absolute must-do. But this is not a one-person or one-department show.

HR professionals are not, as some might say, THE moral conscience of the company. But we are, most assuredly, the custodians and caretakers of ethics and integrity. We’re responsible for promoting ethical behavior from the leadership team and the C-Suite and reminding them they set the standards that trickle down throughout the company. When something’s rotten in the state of Denmark we must have the courage to challenge the behaviors and activities that erode and corrupt everything that is good.

Keep fighting the good fight my friends.

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image: wikimedia commons

Making Employee Benefits Sexy! #SHRM15

2015-Employee-Benefits-CoverIn the king-sized bed of core human resources accountabilities employee benefits nestles up alongside compensation and compliance in a ménage a trois of least sexy HR responsibilities. Snuggled together under a cozy fleece blanket these three are necessary to the effectiveness of a solid foundational HR program in every organization. But let’s face it; they’re not nearly as glamorous or exciting as talent acquisition, employee engagement, or learning & development. Even the battle-weary Labor Relations folks have a rough-and-tumble image that puts them higher on the hot-meter than the majority of Benefits Managers.

Yet every single HR professional must constantly be tuned in to the trends, costs, and shifting landscape that is employee benefits. So in the spirit of ensuring I stay up to date on the basics I recently read through SHRM’s 2015 Employee Benefit research report. I picked up a copy at last week’s SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition but you can also download the report here.

The report provides information about the types of benefits US employers offer and, as part of the research, the team explored over 300 types of benefits including health care and welfare benefits, preventive health and wellness benefits, retirement savings and planning benefits, leave benefits, flexible working benefits, professional and career development benefits, housing and relocation benefits, and even business travel benefits.

As pointed out in the Executive Summary: “Research has shown that many job seekers frequently place greater importance on health care coverage, flexible work schedules and other benefits rather than on their base salaries. Benefits plans should be viewed by HR professionals as a vital tool in their retention and recruitment strategies.”

But, as I have frequently wondered for many years, do HR professionals truly dive deep and understand the right benefit levers to attract the right talent? Are benefits managers nimble enough to put together the right package – and adjust it as needed – when faced with attraction or retention issues? Does anyone ever, really, ask the employees what benefits they want?

One of the most interesting charts in the report indicates the prevalence of different types of benefits. The majority of surveyed companies continue to offer, as would be expected, paid holidays (98%), AD&D coverage (85%), a 401(k) or similar DC plan (90%), and break-rooms/kitchenettes (90%). (note: only in the world of HR would someone actually consider a break-room a benefit. Then again, a high number of benefit marketing/collateral statements given to applicants/employees touts “direct deposit of paychecks” as a benefit, so…..)

On the low end of the spectrum, however, we see the availability of the following benefits:

  • On-ramping programs for parents re-entering the workforce (2%)
  • Access to backup to child care services (4%)
  • Babies at work (1% of employers offer/allow) (Bringing them to work, one would assume. Not birthing them).
  • Access to backup elder care services (1%)
  • Elder Care assisted living assessments (<1%)
  • Elder care in-home assessments (<1%)
  • Geriatric counseling (<1%)
  • On-ramping programs for family members dealing with elder care responsibilities (<1%)

There’s a higher prevalence of companies offering self defense training (4%) and pet health insurance (9%) than there are those assisting with elder care needs.

Are sexy and family friendly mutually exclusive?

As noted in the report There was a five-year decline in the percentage of organizations permitting employees to bring their child to work in an emergency and offering child care referral services and on-site parenting seminars. There were no statistically significant increases in the percentage of organizations offering family-friendly benefits over the last year.”

That’s a decline. With no significant increase. Huh.

So what types of benefits have been increased? According to the report the number of organizations offering general wellness programs has regularly increased over the last five years. Out go the Snickers bars in the vending machines to be replaced by high fiber low sugar bars and BAM – Janet the HR Director can say she’s implemented a wellness initiative! We all know that wellness sells to frazzled HR ladies as evidenced by the preponderance of “wellness” booths in the #SHRM15 Expo Hall last week as well as the long lines at Dr. Oz’s book signing.

You know what struck me though after reading through the report and glancing at the Executive Summary? It appears that not much has evolved in employee benefits since I started in my first HR Department 25 years ago. Oh sure, fewer organizations now offer defined benefit plans while they do get to offer Target Date funds (exciting!) in their defined contribution plans. But good grief… I think we offered more child care assistance and other family friendly options in the 90’s.

But never fear!!! 60% of surveyed companies still offer a service anniversary award.

And if service awards can still be considered a ‘benefit’ then by golly – I guess we have brought the sexy back.