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.

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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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The Not-So Magical Place Where HR Policies are Born

Most everyone, I imagine, is somewhat familiar with the Cabbage Patch Dolls, and perhaps, to a lesser degree, the origin story that accompanied them (as explained on Wikipedia):

Xavier Roberts was a ten-year-old boy who discovered the Cabbage Patch Kids by following a BunnyBee behind a waterfall into a magical Cabbage Patch, where he found the Cabbage Patch babies being born. To help them find good homes he built BabyLand General in Cleveland, Georgia where the Cabbage Patch Kids could live and play until they were adopted.

BunnyBees are bee-like creatures with rabbit ears they use as wings. They pollinate cabbages with their magic crystals to make Cabbage Patch babies.

Colonel Casey is a large stork who oversees Babyland General Hospital. He’s the narrator of the Cabbage Patch Kids’ story.

Otis Lee is the leader of the gang of Cabbage Patch Kids that befriended Xavier.

(This discovery legend would be reproduced on every Cabbage Patch Kids product from 1983 onward.)

Aw; cute! The whole mythology with the stork, the cabbage leaves and the pollinating bees (no birds?) is full of saccharine sweetness and innocent enough to appeal to both the targeted tots and their great grandmas who buy the dolls,

Not everything in this world though has such a pure and virtuous evolution story. Take, for instance, the origins of company policies; HR or otherwise.

Certainly most companies have multitudinous policies; there are Company Policies written and disseminated by the fine folks in Accounting (A/P and A/R), Purchasing, Safety, IT, Security and even Marketing (“don’t talk to the media unless you are an authorized representative!”).

There is, however, a special place of honor (or a special place in hell) reserved for human resources policies. These are the directives everyone is referring to when they say “it’s against company policy.”  Oh sure, your Director of Accounting may have issued a 12 page Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Policy but who, other than the rest of the accounting nerds, really knows what’s in it?

But the HR Dress Code Policy? Policy #G1-325.17? Section C, paragraph (1), subsection (a)? You can be damn sure everyone can quote it section, line and verse.

Why, I sometimes get to wondering, are human resources professionals so in love with writing, revising and adding more and more pages to the already lengthy manuals that grace our corporate offices?  (“This shall be my magnum opus,” Pam whispered breathlessly as she put the finishing touches on the 2018 revision of Acme Corporation’s Handbook for Associates).

Yes of course there are legitimate and necessary reasons to issue policies:

  • Provide guidance
  • Outline expectations
  • Ensure consistent practices
  • Maintain legal compliance (truth is, there are some items you just must issue in written or electronic form and gather acknowledgment signatures verifying dissemination) and/or CYA

There are also really dreadful and unnecessary reasons to issue (or create new) HR policies:

  • One employee did something bad, stupid or inexcusable and so an entire policy is crafted
  • A weird once-in-a-millenium event occurs (the work week ends on Leap Day which also coincides with Mardi Gras Day and time/payroll processing will be adjusted) so a “when this occurs” bullet point/sub paragraph is added to an existing policy
  • There is an overwhelming desire to create a laundry list of every possible unforeseen employee transgression that “might” lead to termination
  • An HR practitioner/leader feels the need to prove how necessary her job is by writing policy after policy after policy so she enters job-preservation mode and cranks them out by the bucketful
  • An HR practitioner/leader secretly enjoys the moniker “HR police” even though he regularly complains to everybody how bad he feels when everyone considers him the “HR Police”

Yes; you need policies. Good HR policies provide a foundation for you to outline behavior and expectations as well as communicate rights and responsibilities for your staff. Well written policies educate and clarify.

Not every policy of yours has originated in a tranquil cabbage patch filled with bees and butterflies.  Those bad policies, whether they be poorly written or just plain superfluous, need to go.

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Lookin’ for HR Love in All the Wrong Places

Just a few short weeks ago the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition rolled into New Orleans; with the volunteers and vendors and attendees there were 20,000’ish folks at this HR love fest.

I enjoyed the big show; I always do. And, excepting the usual number of Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys who have since felt the need to weigh in on various SHRM hosted message boards and communities about the “cold session rooms” and “the vastness of the convention center” and “the awful box lunches” (hey – you try to feed 15,000+ people lunch), so did the vast majority of the attendees.

As is usually the case the HR themed swag was flying off the shelves in the SHRM store. Frankly, I don’t get it; I just can’t see myself walking around town wearing an “I Love HR” shirt or displaying an “I Love HR” lamp on my desk (note: this lamp is so popular, the store has it on back order. I’m not kidding). Apparently though I’m in the minority as the SHRM store has been carrying this stuff for many years now and the desires of Linda, Betty, and Bob to buy these professional-themed career-loving-masturbatory tchotkes remains high.

Now, I would certainly hope that if one is working in human resources one loves it. Or, at the very least, doesn’t hate it.  However I’ve yet to see anyone wearing an “I love Internal Audit” tshirt. I have never walked into the office of a marketing professional to come face-to-face with a stuffed teddy bear emblazoned with “I <3 Marketing.” No IT guy/gal I’ve worked with has ever twirled an “IT 4ever” keychain on their fingers as we’ve walked out to a parking lot together at the end of the work day.

It’s a nice thing, as Whitney Houston once sang, to remember that “Learning to love yourself, It is the greatest love of all,” but is this need to continually espouse professional self-love due to the fact that we are still (STILL!) recovering from the “I Hate HR” diatribes that began well over a decade ago? Are we collectively so insecure that we’re doing the professional equivalent of reminding each other that “You is Kind. You is Smart. You is important?”

Because, once those tens of thousands of human resources practitioners walked out the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center they probably got reminded that there’s not a whole lot of lovin’ coming from people outside of our little enclave. Here are some comments from a recent article on Yahoo entitled “A Woman Who’s Spent over a Decade in HR Shares the No. 1 Sign it’s Time to Quit Your Job,” that includes insight/interview with Toni Thompson, Head of HR and Talent for The Muse.  (note: at the time I’m writing this, there were 370 comments on the article. Not a single comment was positive about human resources).

  •  HR is a dinosaur concept that needs to go away. I laugh when an HR person calls themselves a professional
  •  HR departments are a joke ow that they are filled with SJW stooges. People become HR because they fail at math and accounting.
  • When will people realize that 99.9% of HR “professionals” exhibit sociopathic behaviors mainly due to the fact that it is the easiest profession to step into and you have to lie and create fantasies in order to give the appearance you are contributing. You don’t need a high IQ, you can hide behind others and find someone to blame just so you can keep your job. Most companies are better off with HR administrators only to take care of paperwork, benefits, etc. The minute an HR wannabe shows up the dynamics change and their goal becomes how do I find controversy in order to prove I bring value. Absolutely useless profession.
  •  Most HR people are totally incompetent. They cannot think outside the box and rarely fact check anything.
  •  People in HR are imbeciles trying justify there jobs as truly the most important. News flash, not so much.
  •  NEVER let HR run your company- They are called Human Resources- NOTHING more! They will run a company into the ground if you let them- They are little more than social workers.
  • One time I told a boss something the HR lady said, my boss’s reply, “She’s Human Resources, she’s paid to lie!”
  •  HR is there only to protect upper management, not an employee. Policy interpretations will always go in favor of management, and If employees think that HR is on their side, they are in for a very rude awakening at some point.
  •  Hate it when some HR person is in on the interview process asking dumb questions. They know nothing beyond a couple of buzzwords.
  •  HR people are either sociopaths or psychopaths for the most part. No empathy. Stay away from them, don’t trust them. They are under no requirement to be confidential no matter what they say. They are there to keep management out of legal trouble, not to help employees .
  •  HR departments are the worst thing that has happened to big companies ever. There is NO PERSONAL contact most of the time. You submit an application and you may or may not get a response either way. COLD COLD COLD. I know some very good people who have not even gotten an interview or response. A damn computer decides if the person is worth pursuing. TERRIBLE. If I owned a big or medium company, HR would be gone. Assuming you wanted good people and bright employees. No one can really tell anything about someone without a face to face. PERIOD
  •  HR is a blood-sucking parasite to employees and they will do anything to anyone to make the owners or boss happy
  •  This article is useless because HR is useless.
  •  Rule No 1 don’t trust HR.

Wow. This sort of stuff makes me sad. And I know…comments on any article show the seamy underbelly of humanity, but I still think it’s worthwhile to read them and see what people are saying.

It begs the question of course…is there anything wrong with wanting to feel valued, worthy and loved? Of course not.  But you know how we’ll know when LOVE for HR is a real thing?

When our employees, leaders and applicants wear those “I Love HR” t-shirts.

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