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

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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

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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.

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Jurassic World: Candidates Loose in the Theme Park

jurassic-world-chris-pratt-dinosaur-whispererAmidst all the information we read and see about the death of the resume and candidates being able to apply with the one-click sharing of a social profile here in Jurassic the real World job seekers encounter some decidedly archaic practices.

A friend recently alerted me to an organization’s career site and encouraged me to click the “Apply Online” button.
Doing so brought up a non-fillable 4 page PDF that needed to be printed out and completed with a pen. Or a typewriter I imagine; if anyone can actually find a typewriter in 2015.

I decided it might be fun to test this out to see if, perhaps, it might be a shorter or more pleasant process than some of the actual online applications with which employers torture applicants.

It was not.

Once I moved past the basics (name, address, phone, email address) I was asked for:

  • Spouse’s name
  • Spouse’s Employer and Occupation
  • If I own my home or rent
  • The year and make of my car
  • If I financed my education and, if so, what percent
  • Hobbies, interests and sports
  • My current (employer-provided) benefits and how much I contribute to the cost
  • How many scheduled days of work (not vacation) I have missed in the past 2 years
  • My educational goals for the next 5 years
  • 3 things I would change at my current job
  • My greatest strength
  • My greatest weakness
  • The primary reason I’ve accepted positions in the past and what must be offered to motivate a career change
  • 3 adjectives that describe me   –    (1) Annoyed (2) With (3) This
  • Words-per-minute speeds for typing, shorthand and 10-Key
  • Other companies with whom I have interviewed (space for five)
  • Other resumes I have mailed (space for five)

Whew.

Look, I’m not trying to shame this particular company. Well…maybe a little; although you notice I’m not naming names. I will, however, let you know that this team of recruiters touts its specialized and comprehensive recruiting and screening process. For, believe it or not, technical positions.

But this, my friends, is the reality for numerous job seekers in small towns and big cities the world over.

When I get to contemplating such things I wonder why some organizations and recruiting teams continue to operate in such a manner?

Are they not paying any attention to research, insight and trends to get an understanding of how job seekers expect to apply for jobs in the year 2015? Do they not realize there are numerous inexpensive and easy to use cloud-based Applicant Tracking Systems in the market that will allow them to ditch the PDF application form? Do they honestly think it’s wise to gather, on an ‘official’ document, a candidate’s marital status? Do they even worry about the potentially stellar candidates who are dropping off as soon as they click “Apply Online” and are faced with this monstrosity of an application?

Do they just…not care?

So many questions. So many mysteries.

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The Most Boring Answers to the Question “What Does HR Do?”

bored at workI was poking around the internet recently and, as inevitably happens, I fell down a rabbit hole. It started with a review of numerous HR job postings which are always amusing; is there seriously a human being out there who craves the job title Human Resources Point Person?  Then I began to gather the various and myriad answers supplied by business advisors, consultants, and lawyers when they respond to the query “why do we need an HR staff? What will they do?”

So, because I care, I have brought together some of the absolutely most BORING “things that HR people do.”

  • implement absence management (sickness) programs to control costs
  • keep internal HR policies and employee handbooks up to date
  • provide the necessary supporting paperwork for the recruitment process
  • enter employee data into the payroll system
  • order computers
  • manage employee lockers
  • prepare documents for local authorities
  • compile and type reports from employment records
  • record supervisory reports on ability (…what does this even mean????)

As one author on Inc. so lovingly pointed out “people often confuse the terms office manager and HR manager.” Well…yeah. If that’s the kind of stuff HR does.

But…let’s hold on a minute.

I have, over the course of my illustrious HR career, done every one of those things. With the exception of “record supervisory reports on ability” Seriously…wtf is that?

Granted, the “compiling and typing of reports from employment records” was circa 1991 when, believe it or not, we had stacks of paper and used typewriters to put #HRData into some sort of format pretty enough to distribute to the C-Suite. Yup; as an exempt HR professional I stored data in Lotus 1-2-3. ran some additional manual calculations, and then prepared monthly, quarterly and annual reports on an honest-to-baby-Jesus typewriter.

I’ve ordered computers and managed locker inventory (across a campus no less) while holding a Director role. Locker inventory was actually somewhat entertaining. On an annual basis, after posting notices stating “unclaimed and unassigned lockers, even if they have locks, will be opened by the HR/Security Department on xx date,” my team got to go on a locker opening adventure. Wielding bolt cutters in a 21st century nod to Carrie Nation we descended upon both the women’s and men’s locker rooms in a maniacal pre-menopausal cleaning frenzy. Smelly shoes, half-used sticks of deodorant, crusty dinner plates and many (many!) bags of weed were recovered and relegated to the trash bins.

Fun times.

Boring? Perhaps. Was it changing the world of work? Was it innovative and disruptive and generating calculable ROI? Probably not. But it had to be done so I rallied the troops and we did it.

And the next day I still sat in the weekly Executive Leadership team meeting. I still attended the quarterly meetings of the Board of Directors and sat on the Board’s Personnel Committee. I still had P & L responsibility and financial objectives I had to meet in alignment with the numerous people/talent related goals outlined in the strategic plan for which I was accountable not only to the CEO but also to the Board.

Were we, as an HR team, agile, data-driven and business integrated? You bet.

Sometimes though, especially in small/mid-sized businesses, shit just needs to get done. Sometimes she who sports the moniker “HR Manager” still has to do the “Office Manager” duties.

Is it necessary? It often is.

Is it boring? Never.

Plus you may get to flush a huge bag of herbal refreshment down the toilet. High fun times indeed.

 

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