Your Mom Called (and she’s in HR)

HR mom

Many of us have fond opinions of mothers – whether those notions be based on personal experience or something fed to us via TV when we longed to be cozied up next to Claire Huxtable or Carol Brady at our own dinner table.  

The thought of “mother” brings to mind someone caring and nurturing. Someone who makes sure we take our vitamins, eat a good breakfast and do our homework. We like it when mom is cheerful, fun-loving and even downright silly.  And while mom may occasionally cramp our style, deep down we know that a good mother has to be stern and play the authoritarian when the situation warrants it.

  • “Put on a sweater, I’m cold.”
  • “No; I will not bring the homework you forgot to school. You should have put it in your backpack yourself.”
  • “I’m not going to tell you again.”
  • “I’m not running a taxi service.”
  • “Because I said so, that’s why!”

We love moms.

But we don’t want to work with them.

The HR Mom

Surveys regularly find that HR continues to be a female-dominated profession with representation hovering around 70% across the entirety of the HR workforce/profession. (and yes; approximately 65% are white). (Back in 2011, John Sumser let us know that HR is a 47-year- old white woman. She’s married, with kids and has pets that probably aren’t cats.”). 10 years later and all that appears to have happened is the average age has probably twitched up a bit.

And one of HR’s continuing problems is that there are lots of “moms” working in the field. NOT necessarily those who have children of their own but rather those who have decided they will ACT like a mother to the employees of their organization.

One would think that after decades (literally decades) of HR professionals desiring to be “strategic” and lamenting the fact that they are not taken seriously in their organizations, some of these mom-isms would disappear. But nope; there are regular chats, posts and discussions that could just as easily be taking place at the PTA meeting as in the HR office.

Over the last few months I have participated in discussions that provide lots of insight into how some HR practitioners feel the need to INSERT themselves into the types of situations that are either (a) placing HR in the role of caregiver and NOT strategic or business-critical in the least, or (b) reminiscent of an over-bearing and hovering mother intent on ‘”teaching a life lesson” to her offspring. To wit:

Topic: Companies providing menstrual products in employee restrooms.

  • Cossetting Mom: I keep supplies in my desk drawer in the HR office and employees who need a tampon or pad know they can come see me.
  • Harsh Mom: Nope. People need to be prepared for any emergency and make sure they bring their own supplies.

Topic: Workplace attire/dress codes

  • Cossetting Mom: I have pins and a sewing kit available and some clear nail polish if an employee needs to mend their pantyhose.
  • Harsh Mom: I expect people to dress professionally even while we’re working virtually; I wrote a dress code for Zoom meetings.

Topic: Attendance (sick, tardy, emergency)

  • Cossetting Mom: *** rare and almost non-existent ***
  • Harsh Mom 1: If someone’s start time is 9 AM, I expect them to be at work no later than 8:55 AM. They need to plan for bad traffic and potential road accidents; there’s no excuse. Time for a write-up and attendance points!
  • Harsh Mom 2: Sick? But they can go to shopping because another employee saw them at Walgreen’s? If they’re too sick to come to work, they’re too sick to go outside. I don’t believe they’re really sick.

Topic: Meetings/Parties/Events

  • Cossetting Mom: I need to come up with a theme, purchase and wrap gifts for employees, determine what games we can play, and coordinate the food for 100 employees.
  • Harsh Mom: No drinking, eating or vaping allowed while you’re on the 4 PM Zoom team call.

Topic: Morale and Culture

  • Cossetting Mom: I bake something every week to leave in the breakroom and we have candy for employees in the HR Department; they love coming to visit us!
  • Harsh Mom: When I want their opinion we ask for it with an engagement survey; random and anonymous employee complaints are not useful at all.

Sound familiar? If so it may be time to go to your room and think about what you did…

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When “Everyone” is an Online Celebrity

Six years ago, an eternity in HR years , there was a topic I presented via keynote and general sessions at several HR conferences around the country:  “Lessons from Hollywood: HR and Pop Culture.”

The gist of the content was that we, as HR professionals, are well-served when we realize how pop culture/”Hollywood” shapes the world of work, influence, organizational change and the entire HR agenda. Why is this important? Because human resources practitioners tend to become singularly focused on legislative or economic activities but fail (big time fail) to consider how OTHER factors impact the world of work.

So I discussed the need for constant environmental scanning (via the PESTEL model) and reminded my HR comrades to pay particular attention to pop culture – movies, music, literature, art, politics, design, fashion, consumer trends and even slang and memes – because those are the things that signal shifting or emerging ideas, perspective and attitudes.

Six years ago, signals could be easily picked up regarding things like gig work and the evolving definition of “family” and savvy HR leaders, even those in fly-over country, were picking up on the swiftly rolling tide.

Another trend I discussed was the rise of what I call “look at me (me! me! me!)” culture which was, admittedly, somewhat in its infancy circa 2015 when examples I refenced included the “discovery” of Justin Bieber and how Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton were launched into the influencer-sphere via their sex tapes.  While we had been living with reality TV for some time by then this was well before the omnipresence of Instagram influencers making serious bank by giving make-up tips or grifters of every stripe “monetizing” their YouTube channels by spewing crackpot conspiracy theories.

Yet, even then, we could see the rise of the concept that “everyone” can be a star.  

And in those somewhat-innocent days, the exhortation was for HR practitioners to take advantage of this shift. We began, in earnest, to plead with HR to think of how their employees could be evangelists and brand ambassadors. We promoted having a plan for employees to widely share company-branded content or job openings via their personal social media channels.

Oh sure – the rise of micro-celebrities led us down some dark paths as restaurant employees posted videos of themselves bathing in the kitchen sink. And every now and again there would be a clip or tweet posted by someone of a bit more nefarious nature that prefaced a somewhat-public termination from employment.

And for the last few weeks, as we’ve been inundated with a tsunami of self-posted pictures and videos of Americans surging at the US Capital, it became abundantly clear that FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE believe that EVERYONE ELSE wants to listen to/see their shit.  

We’ve moved well beyond duck-faced Instagram selfies and masturbatory humble-bragging on LinkedIn. We’ve surpassed the desire of seemingly everyone to start a podcast. It’s more than just one rando employee – and TikTok star!!! – posting paint-mixing videos.

I’m not surprised at all.

But if everyone is a self-appointed celebrity in 2021…who’s in the audience?  

*****

image: “All right Mr. Demille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

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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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Turnover, Retention and the Crusade to Assign “Responsibility”

Ask most any HR Leader “what’s your biggest pain point?” and I guarantee that retention/turnover will be up there amongst the top 3 answers. Quite often this answer is partnered up with its companion “recruiting/hiring” since, of course, they share space for all eternity on the organizational mobius strip. 

Depending upon one’s company, the responsibility for lowering turnover/increasing employee retention may be a shared goal (as it should be) or may belong to a specific department: usually HR. 

Which is crap.

When Stan in the Distribution Center resigns it’s not due to the interactions he had with Karen in the HR Department or Sherrie in Recruiting. (Recruiters are another group that tend to have their performance measured, inaccurately, on turnover numbers). It’s quite likely that Stan didn’t even resign because of his direct supervisor or department manager. Oh I know; every speaker at every HR conference for the last 2 decades has posted a slide with the seemingly profound words “people leave managers…not companies!” (And then they act like they are the first person to ever say this and all the attendees furiously scribble these seemingly transformative words in their notebooks). 

I detest that pablum statement. Are there horrible, toxic and downright inept managers out there that drive people away from organizations? Of course there are. But people do leave companies; I certainly have. People may have the best manager in the world BUT that manager’s hands may be tied by the company. 

People quit, resign, mentally check out, get fired and just plain stop-showing-up for a variety of reasons. And yes; while some people get fired for an egregious act wherein they may go out in a blaze of glory, there are sufficient numbers of people who are terminated for performance because, well, they just stopped trying or caring.

NONE OF THIS IS THE FAULT OF THE HR DEPARTMENT. Heck, I would argue, again, that quite a bit of it is not even the fault of the person’s manager.

The reasons why people leave their jobs can be classified, fairly simply, into either PUSH or PULL factors.

Push factors are those over which the organization has control. This includes factors such as overall company culture, pay and benefits, working conditions, trust (or lack of trust) in leadership, and opportunities (or lack thereof) for development or career progression. Push factors may also include the annoying co-worker in the next cubicle, the lack of up-to-date technology one has to do their job, and the company’s propensity to rule via death-by-a-thousand-cuts-HR-policies. 

Pull factors are those things that are outside of your organization (and outside of your control). These factors include family responsibilities (a move, family care issues), personal decisions (returning to school), commute and travel issues, and personal/family finances that necessitate a change.

Some may argue that the siren call of a competitor (they pay more! they have free snacks in the breakroom!) is a PULL factor. In the vast majority of cases I disagree; the number of regular employees (i.e. not top tech talent, the superstar marketing professional, etc.) who are recruited (sourced, called, woo’ed) for another job is pretty slim. But even if it does happen, there is some underlying PUSH factor that leads the person to go through an interview and application process beyond simple curiosity. 

They want to leave. And NOTHING you can do is going to get them to change their mind. 

So what IS the role of Human Resources?

HR’s responsibility is to recognize and understand the reasons why people leave the organization, identify the problem areas, and develop solutions to lesson the impact (financial and otherwise). This requires gathering data (exit interviews anyone?) and synthesizing it, appropriately, to provide some real multi-layered answers. 

There are areas, fully in the control of HR, where adjustments can be made:

  • Attraction and recruiting initiatives lay the foundation for retaining talent and HR/TA needs to get this shit right. The “employer brand” should be real and truthful; there should be no sugar-coating of what the day-to-day reality of working at the company is like. Never (ever) should applicants be promised one thing to get them in the door and then the organization delivers an employment experience that is entirely different  
  • HR, with some heavy-lifting from managers, manages the onboarding experience from the time-of-offer to a date well after the newbie employees start. HR should dive deep to ensure onboarding includes sufficient aspects of cultural assimilation, socialization and opportunities for relationship building (in addition to all the “how do you DO your actual job”) 
  • HR staff should work with managers, and equip them with the training, time and resources, so they can provide a high-feedback/high-touch work environment. Do some supervisor/manager training? Sure. But back that up with the time and money to let them do-what-you-hired-them-to-do.

In addition, there are certainly other areas where HR professionals can have an impact on some of the PUSH factors including offering pay and benefits that are competitive and at appropriate levels and ensuring development opportunities truly exist (and aren’t just paid lip service on the company career site). HR professionals should also do some soul-searching and find ways to ‘lighten up’ on the draconian, bureaucratic HR policies and procedures that provide much of the fodder for the “I hate HR” crowd. 

Easier said than done of course. Depending upon ones’ level in the organizational hierarchy (i.e. any layer below the CHRO) and/or the size of the organization it can be a downright futile exercise. Karen the HRBP covering a small region for an enterprise with 50,000 employees unfortunately doesn’t have much input into the drafting of the corporate HR policies or defining the compensation philosophy. (YET SHE IS STILL TOLD SHE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TURNOVER!) 

Here’s the deal though…

So often, when lectured by a CEO/Owner/Big Shot VP that she is responsible for lowering turnover, Karen in HR (as mentioned above) who is sitting out at a regional site and has no real power to make deep and abiding organizational changes, will do a bunch of “activities.” She’ll hand out water bottles with the company logo, order in pizza, and kick off an Employee of the Month award. 

But no one’s going to stay just because they might – one day – win the “Employee of the Month” award and receive a $25 gift card and their name on a plaque hung in the breakroom.

The Push/Pull factors are still there.

*********

How much do I like this diving into this topic? So much that I’ll be speaking about it at the Talent Success Conference in September. 

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Workin’ for a Livin’ – HR Style

Is work something we need to fix? Is work broken? Does work suck? Unfortunately, for far too many people, the answer is an overwhelming “yes.”

Earlier this year my friend Laurie Ruettimann launched the “Let’s Fix Work” podcast where she talks with guests about all things careers, leadership and the future of work.

A few months ago Laurie and I had a chat on “Let’s Fix Work” which you can listen to here. Or, if you’re sitting in your cubicle (at your sucky job!!!!!) and can’t jam out to a podcast because the boss and/or HR lady is cramping your style, here’s how Laurie recapped the conversation:

 

 

What does it take to get the title, ‘America’s HR Lady,’ from Laurie? Robin has been in the HR profession for a long time. During her two decades of HR experience, she worked across many fields: healthcare, academia, banking, gaming, and that’s just to name a few. In other words, she’s pretty much done it all. And when asked how to fix work, Robin’s first question was how we would fix HR.

Robin has a fantastic analogy on the state of work – it’s a hemophiliac who has fallen down too often and gotten too many bruises. Work might be broken, but it’s in the ER and needs urgent care if it’s going to be saved. Robin shares how she thinks we got there, based on her wide breadth of experience. She also dives into the power shift happening between job seekers, employees, and employers. The day of reckoning is at hand.

Robin admits that HR is certainly part of the problem of work being broken, and the reason she gives is that HR as a department isn’t really sure where to place itself in the conversation. It started out as being very insular, and over the years, things have improved. But not enough. While HR departments have come to understand business, the next step is for them to understand the world. And what does that mean exactly? Robin explains.

There’s also a fine line that many HR people must straddle: the needs of the employees and the needs of the business. Sound familiar? Robin says it’s a ‘cop out’ in many ways. Sure, there might be a bit of truth in it, but ultimately, being an advocate for both the business and the employees isn’t mutually exclusive. It’s not one or the other, and that’s where many HR people struggle.

You’ve heard it many times – employees are fighting HR to get something they need. So why should anyone care about HR? Robin reminds us all that HR isn’t a faceless mass out to get you. They are your co-workers and they are people, too. In fact, Robin’s experience with other HR people is that they got into it for the right reasons and with a good heart.

Recruiting is a huge part of human resources; it’s one of the happiest times for both HR and employee. But according to Robin, those good feelings don’t carry over. She offers the great idea of doing the same with employees as they navigate within the company, whether it’s handling health care, mediating disagreements, or even changing positions within the company. Ultimately, this little-by-little change is fueled by people caring for one another. And equally as important, HR people need to bring the stories of employee realities to leaders.

Laurie asks if she’s naïve for believing that if we fix ourselves, we wouldn’t need HR, and Robin’s reply is priceless. In truth, HR as we know it will always be there. It has to be to ensure things are done according to legal requirements. Even with the automation that is becoming far more common, and Robin talks about why humans will always be needed in human resources.

What is the future of HR? Robin sees it splitting into two separate departments or having two divisions within the same department: administration and people. The administration side deals with compliance, payroll, PTO, and the other dry things, while the people department works with employees to help them understand what’s happening, as well as growth and development.

Are businesses and their HR departments ready for the reckoning that is coming? In fact, Robin believes that HR, at least, is poised for the shift. So what positions are in danger? Is the generalist here to stay? What about the firefighter? Robin shares her thoughts on who had better be ready to adapt to new roles and dive into specialties in the near future.

So what does the future of HR look like? Robin has settled on a phrase: she is an advocate of the workplace revolution. It’s time to change – not only should you be an advocate and ally of the people who hired you, you should also be an advocate and ally to those who come to you with their work-related issues. It sounds simple, right? Robin reveals what it actually entails.

 

 

 

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