It’s Not Them. It’s Us.

HR playlist

I’m sitting here at the 5+-month mark since my state first implemented #StayAtHome orders. Since then, as has occurred across the globe, we’ve moved into new phases (“woo hoo! restaurants and hair salons are open!”) and then dialed back when people, looking to get their party on, packed newly opened bars well above the allowed capacity (“boo! bars are now closed!”).  We now have a statewide mask mandate in place which, as should not surprise anyone, is being contested with legal injunctions because we now live in a world where things designed to promote good health and courtesy/concern for our fellow citizens has become ridiculously politicized.

HR practitioners, for the most part, view their pandemic practices and policies as non-political. What I’ve noticed however is a whiff (perhaps even a strong stench) of extreme pro-business ideology creeping into numerous HR/business deliberations and responses. Lots and lots of actions that, by their very essence, come across as extremely anti-employee.

This is not to make light of the real challenges that HR professionals have faced during 2020; they’ve had to move quickly into uncharted territory and amass a huge volume of new knowledge. That being said however, there are many who have quickly reverted back to their typical and traditional mindset – spinning a golden oldies playlist at an event when the partygoers have changed.

Amongst the songs being sung (over and over and over) by HR practitioners I regularly hear these Top 10 hits: 

  • Games People Play – “Our employees are claiming they have COVID19 symptoms/exposure just to get out of coming to work.”
  • Money Money Money – “No one wants to work for us because they’re making more money with expanded unemployment payments.”
  • Baby Come Back – “We’ve required all employees to return to the office; even those who were successfully working from home.”
  • Face Time is the Best Time – “No; we’re not going to consider remote work moving forward.” 
  • The Schoolhouse Blues – “Despite schools remaining closed for in-person classes we need everyone back to the office.”
  • We’re Getting Screwed – “Our employees are taking advantage of us/Covid19/ ** the situation **”

Yes; some people are crap. Yes; some people will do whatever they can to not-come-to-work. Yes; some people will spin fantastical stories or attempt to find work-arounds. 

But when we work in HR we need to approach every day and every situation with the mindset that people are inherently good and operating with the best intentions. We must avoid using sweeping generalizations that categorize our employees (OUR employees; the ones we decided were good enough to come work for us) as people whose only goal is to engage in battle with the company.

I get it; there are daily changes to safe-opening guidelines from the CDC and/or state and local entities. Our leaders and managers are demanding we fill open positions and we’re struggling with applicant flow. We’re still managing the complexities of the FFCRA in the US. 

Yet we need to navigate all these things with a modicum of grace and a measure of humanity.  We need to understand that:

  • People are fearful of this virus and do get tested if they’ve had exposure or symptoms; the only reward they get for this, in many situations, is a lower paycheck due to “unpaid” LOA.
  • If people are making more on unemployment, perhaps it’s time to take a long-hard look at the company’s compensation/wages and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Why are people being forced to return-to-the office when they’ve successfully been working from home? Why are butts-in-chairs in one building so critical?  
  • Parents (or other family members) are struggling with a lot of uncertainty around sending their children to school OR they’re faced with the need to oversee remote learning. What about providing assistance rather than forcing them to make a difficult decision? 

So let’s change up the playlist and find some new music. (I hear those K-pop stans have some suggestions…..). 

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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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Group Narcissism and HR Self-Love

hypnotizing self-love

Have you ever strolled into the office of your CFO and seen an office tchotke on their bookshelf spouting the phrase “I <heart> Accounting?”  I haven’t.

How many Supply Chain Managers do you see posting on LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook something along the line of “I LOVE my job!!!!” along with heart emojis? Probably very few.

Yet, I’m willing to wager, there’s an HR professional in your life who you have observed:

  • wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “You can’t spell HERO without HR!” or
  • posting on the-social-media-network-of-their-choice “I love what I do!” or
  • having a pre-orgasmic meltdown at the mere anticipation of heading to the SHRM Annual Conference and listening to motivational speakers

Never have I seen a profession so in need of collective self-love and affirmation. If Tony Robbins, Marie Kondo, Stephen Covey and Oprah somehow magically had a baby, that enfant charlatan would be viewed as a GIFT by a wide audience of human resources practitioners.

It’s as if HR is a child raised in a home where parental approval was seemingly only awarded on the basis of obedient performance and achievement. Upon reaching maturity this upbringing has led to a craving for demonstrative affection, love and positive reinforcement (the kind that’s only given when something is done that pleases the parent) and therefore leads HR professionals to participate in an ongoing search for external validation for the duration of their careers.  

We see this obedience and desire-to-please in the manner in which many HR folks carry out their duties;

  • they (or their CEO) believe that HR staff must continuously have a smile (!!!) plastered on their face when walking through the office
  • they put more effort into planning parties (yes they do) and ordering the right swag for employees than they do routing out systemic organizational issues of racism or bias
  • they consider their “worth” to be determined by how well they cheerlead and rally the troops – “C’mon everyone! This ‘mandatory’ team bowling event is going to be SUPER fun!”
  • they believe that posting a quote from Brene Brown on LinkedIn and adding #LoveMyJob (along with 15 other hashtags) is meaningful employer branding  

This “rah rah HR is the greatest!” behaviorism surfaces regularly in world of HR blogging and on #HRTwitter. The platitudes and pablum are often on display within the #HRcommunity or, most glaringly, in any SHRM-affiliated hashtag convo. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and HR is the center of the universe. In numerous online conversational circles, HR folks are forever wearing a halo (the mashup of a supernova and a celestial angel) and the discussion of any shortcomings is never brought forth from the darkness. They’re indulging – in the wide-open they are! – in a mutually pleasuring group masturbation session.  

That’s some Manchurian Candidate HR sleeper-agent shit. Universities and SHRM certification courses and Fred Pryor Seminars (for the Receptionists and Office Managers who have suddenly found themselves in HR) are littering the globe with brainwashed HR practitioners who are unable to push back on the inane demands from their CEOs lest they risk losing their ‘parents’ approval (and thus the accompanying love and affection). Rather, as if acting under a hypnotic spell, this platoon of HR practitioners go forth into the world with a mission to maintain the status quo and color within the lines as they steadfastly refuse to enter into any conversations that may be critical of either their profession or their demeanor.

It’s akin, in some ways, to the reckoning we’re having in the US about our history and our country.

Protesting against injustice, questioning long-held traditions and pointing out flaws, shortcomings and failures doesn’t mean we don’t “love” something – it actually means the opposite.

We love it enough to want its survival.

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A Few Considerations for Remote “Team Engagement”

remote work from home

Even as we grapple, globally, with the containment and fight of the pandemic, there are many lovely things happening as a result of the ‘Rona. One thing I’ve noticed is how my neighbors on Nextdoor are less passive-aggressive and actually being, well, neighborly! No doubt you’ve seen (or maybe even participated in) activities like:  

  • Group sing alongs in places ranging from balconies in Italy to neighborhoods in Philadelphia
  • Teddy Bear Hunts for the kids in the neighborhood
  • Kids writing letters/drawing pictures to send to residents in nursing homes

On the work front, of course, the deployment of numerous cubicle-dwellers to a new #WorkFromHome arrangement has resulted in:

  • Thousands upon thousands of blog posts and articles about how to “work from home”
  • Massive growth and usage for Zoom’s teleconferencing software and Microsoft’s cloud-computing solutions
  • Lots of snacking and day-drinking

There’s also been a lot of scrambling, by managers of these newly virtual workers, to find ways to maintain a sense of camaraderie and connection for their teams. Tips and hints are shared across social media channels as managers and HR leaders promote holding:

  • Group coffee chats and Happy Hours 
  • Scavenger Hunts (in the house)
  • Game night with trivia, bingo or “two truths and a lie
  • Group lunch gatherings 

The efforts to do these things are lovely and it’s wonderful that managers realize the importance of the human-to-human connection. However, a word of warning is in order.

Just as no one wants to have to be at the office (building) for extended hours, no one wants to have to be at the virtual office for hours on end. Even in the best of times it’s often a challenge for those who WFH to shut-it-down and draw a distinction between work time/home-time. And now, during this strange-new time when people have been sent to WFH, often with no preparation or planning, it’s more challenging than ever. I fear that for many the pressure to be “always available” is already strong, even while emanating from a place of good intentions, and will only increase as our #StayAtHome situation lingers. 

So here are a few tips for managers and HR leaders:

  • Rather than institute a group lunch (“let’s all bring our sandwich and get on a Zoom call together!”), allow your team members to take a REAL lunch break so they can get up from their work station. Encourage them to walk around the block, play with their dog, do a few stretching exercises, or take a power nap. 
  • Happy Hour is fun; for some. Just as when you gather for an in-person Happy Hour, not everyone may want to attend…and that’s….OK.  Make it acceptable for your team members to bow out, no explanations necessary.

Keeping your team connected is more important than ever…but a little team-distancing, just like social distancing, is OK.

*****

Note: the great folks at Workhuman have made their Life-Events and Conversations Products available to all organizations in response to COVID-19 crisis. Check it out here.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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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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