No Joke: Your HR Lady is the Funnest Person You (Don’t) Know

mom_jeans-1I’m going to let you in on a secret; those aloof stern-faced bureaucrats who work in your human resources department are, quite possibly, some of the most engaging and enjoyable people at your company.

I’m not kidding. They’re probably a lot of fun.

Naturally you scoff. It’s highly likely you’ve never witnessed your HR leader displaying much wit or wisecracking in the employee cafeteria. Greg in Sales has the reputation as the comic genius in the organization who can always be counted on to liven up any meeting or company party. Linda from the Employee Relations team? Not so much.

It’s a peculiar phenomenon that’s hard to understand unless you’ve toiled in a human resources department. Most every HR practitioner, when embarking upon her career, was indoctrinated trained by an older experienced HR professional. Much like my grandmother taught me to cook and bake (well, attempted to; I failed miserably), there’s usually a nice older HR lady in every HR department who teaches the ways-of-HR to the newbies under her care. She might be the HR leader or just the one who has hung on the longest at the organization but, especially if it’s a small or mid-sized HR shop, her HR practices are plucked from some Hot Tub Time Machine alternate universe.

Due to this unique-to-HR rite of passage we’ve spawned thousands of 32-year- old HR ladies who act like your 55-year-old mother. You know the type. She wears mom jeans on Casual Fridays. Every conversation she has with you, even in the bathroom for Christ’s sake, sounds like a lecture. She hounds you for forms and checklists and does everything short of rifling through your backpack (looking for notes or homework assignments!) when you walk in the door.

It’s really not her fault.

This whole situation is outlined very accurately, in my estimation, by Peter Cappelli over at HR Executive as he points out that (1) HR is charged with making people behave, and (2) HR often finds itself in a position of responsibility for an issue or task while often not possessing the authority to do anything about it. Some heavy burdens to bear.

This, gentle readers, is why HR ladies drink.

So here’s the deal; we often remind HR practitioners to be more approachable and get out in their organizations to connect with employees on a human and personal level. But it’s a two-way road; not a one-way thoroughfare.

If you work in any other part of the company, I encourage YOU to get to know your HR team. I’m serious here; no snark or smart-ass commentary intended. Pop in to the HR Department for a visit – not just to pick something up or because you “have to.” Linger at the communal coffee pot when Barb and Mark from HR are there chatting about their weekends. Invite them to join a group of co-workers at Happy Hour. (Note; they may not come because, well, HR bullshit. But trust me – they’ll appreciate the invitation and be incredibly flattered).

Yeah, I get it; your HR lady may seem detached and standoffish, but I promise you; she’s a lot of fun.

I am!

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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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Guess What HR? You Don’t “Hire & Fire”

MalcolmLife2If you work in human resources what follows is a pretty common exchange.

Random Guy You Just Met: “What do you do?”

You: “I work in human resources.”

RGYJM: “Oh. So you hire and fire.”

 

Right? Am I right? If I had a nickel…. well, you know the rest.

So how do you respond to RGYJM? I surely hope you don’t answer “Yup. That is, indeed, what I do.”

I’ve got a bit of news for you my dear HR professional (or HR student looking to enter human resources) – unless the candidate or employee in question is your direct report you are not the one hiring or firing.

So why does this continue to be the primary concept of HR in Joe Public’s brain? Why is this the automatic go-to-thought of the average dude on the street when he thinks about what his company’s HR lady does?

I mean really… this is what is said all the time. I’ve had this phrase tossed at me hundred – no…thousands – of times over the course of my professional career. Never once did a RGIJM say “Oh! So you’re a partner in strategy execution and are responsible for delivering results in all areas related to the human capital of the organization.”

Nope. Not once.

  • CEO of a local (large) insurance agency who I met at a networking event: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • Regional Manager of a national retail chain deployed to town for a start-up who I sat next to at a luncheon: “Oh. You hire and fire.”
  • My mother: “Oh. You hire and fire.”

Oh mom.

There are lots of reasons folks the world over seem to think HR hires and fires. It’s Jeff Goldblum/Dr. Ian Malcolm writing a manifesto on Chaos Theory in a weird alternate HR universe:

  • Company owner/CEO puts pompous HR goon in charge of all employee matters. This is often memorialized in job descriptions and company handbooks and, to a lesser extent, in SOPs.
  • Domineering HR practitioner assumes complete control over all actions and activities that should be in the domain of managers; it’s at this stage that Carol in HR decides she will be the one issuing PIPs to transgressing employees rather than letting that responsibility reside with the managers.
  • In an attempt to bring order back to their domains managers assert their rights and attempt to gain control of hiring, performance management, and terminations for their own staff members. Citing policies, regulations, and frightening edicts from various-and-assorted governmental agencies, Carol denies their request with a firm and final “no.” (note: ever mindful of the fact that she went into HR because she’s a ‘people-person,’ Carol presents this by saying “I’m here to help you. Let me assist.”).
  • Carol develops more convoluted and cumbersome processes designed to preserve her own job whilst simultaneously relegating managers to minion status.
  • Employees, managers and leaders began to believe that nothing related to hiring, compensation or culling-the-deadwood could ever be accomplished without the totalitarian rule of Carol and her crew.

And this is repeated over and over in organization after organization as people continue to ask (and try to answer) “what does HR do?”

Until and unless we break this cycle we will never – I repeat never – have someone think HR is a partner in strategy execution. Or change management. Or whatever. HR will forever be considered the “hire and fire” department.

Oh…and the “people who enroll us in our benefits” department.

But that’s a post for another day.

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Just Because You Can…Doesn’t Mean You Should

can openerWhen contemplating a course of action or implementing a new procedure/policy HR practitioners stand at a metaphorical crossroads.

In general the process begins with the question “can we do X?” which is a perfectly acceptable, and appropriate, place to start.  After all, as much as we may take umbrage at the relentless HR stereotype that we’re rule-enforcing bureaucrats who take great delight in policing every action there’s no denying that ensuring compliance and mitigating potential risk is an important part of what we do.

Yet…once it’s determined that “yes we CAN do X” it’s quite rare that the follow up question “but SHOULD we do X” is ever asked.

This doesn’t seem to rear its head in relation to matters that are fairly clear cut; wage and hour issues, EEO requirements and the like. Rather it pops up when there are nuanced decisions to be made or when one can opt to domore than is required.  You know… those times when one has the opportunity to enhance the employment experience and treat people like, well, people.

This has come to mind again after a number of recent conversations, discussions and consultations when business owners, HR colleagues and others have sought clarity on things such as:

  • Eliminating paid vacation and paid holidays for some (but not all) classifications of employees
  • Drastically alternating work schedules/work hours. Immediately. Like tomorrow.
  • Deciding that an internal applicant is not worthy of an interview because “we know we wouldn’t put him in that position anyway.”
  • Requiring an exempt employee to be on-site (8 AM to 5 PM) for the 40 hour Mon-Fri workweek even though a project deadline necessitated her working 16+ hours the previous weekend.  Not at the office Mon – Fri for full 40 hours? Just make sure missed work time is accompanied by a deduction from the PTO bank.
  • Charging employees’ time to their PTO bank for breaks needed to express milk
  • Opting to not disclose to an employee the reason for his termination

Ah yes.

Please…by all means…ask if you can. But don’t forget to wonder if you should.

 

“All The Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

Layin’ In The Sun,

Talkin’ ‘Bout The Things

They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Done…

But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas

All Ran Away And Hid

From One Little Did.”

Shel Silverstein

**********

this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse

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The Pace of Business. The Pace of HR.

Atlas Rockefeller CenterI grew up in Wisconsin. I spent my childhood and HS years in the Milwaukee suburbs, headed off to college in central Wisconsin, and then returned to live and work in Milwaukee. It’s a bustling city and I’ve found that unless you’re from the area or have reason to visit you generally don’t have any awareness that the MSA is quite so sizable. We moved at a brisk clip and took care of business; might be that whole Socialist and Germanic heritage. Or because we knew a beer was waiting at the end of the day. I dunno.

Thirteen years ago we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One hour up the I-10 from New Orleans (let’s face it, the most unique city in the USofA), Baton Rouge suffers from an identity crisis usually articulated as “we are NOT New Orleans!”

There are certainly many things to love here in the Red Stick; the food, the ever-present music, a fascinating history, and super friendly and welcoming people. We have gorgeous scenery, exotic wildlife, and LSU football … if that’s your thing. There are also characteristics that reside firmly in the negative column; a general aversion to anything progressive, the absolute worst traffic ever, an atrocious education system, and institutional racism and sexism that still snuggle companionably alongside the Sazeracs served to Tripp and Tiffany at the local country club or at the annual power-broker crawfish boils.

Oh…and we move slowly. V-E-R-Y slowly. And that, other than learning how to pronounce a whole new bunch of words, was the biggest area of acclimation for me.

Is it because of the heat? Any day now we’re destined to hit the upper 80’s/90’s and then resolutely remain there until October and, of course, our heat is like wrapping yourself in a wet woolen blanket. Do we take our time because we’ll break into a sweat if we pick up the pace?

Or is it, as some have postulated, because we believe in enjoying life? We like to stop and smell the roses (or magnolias)? We wonder “what’s the rush?” Laissez les bon temps rouler.

There’s something to be said for that.

Yet whenever I head out of town I notice the remarkable differences in how we not only “live” but also in how we “work.”

I spent part of last week in NYC with a colleague working with an HR team full of energized, super smart, young, and hip HR professionals. Well, certainly more hip than me. We rocked through a ton of content at a fast clip all day long and then, because unlike Baton Rouge there are things to do in NYC past 8 PM, we went out for drinks and festivities.

No moss growing under their feet.

And, it goes without saying, this team was not an anomaly.

I took a stroll through Grand Central Station, purposefully at commute time, to revel in the frenzied activity of harried suburbanites catching their trains. I sat at a table, mid-day, in Bryant Park to watch the go-go young investment bankers grab some Jamba Juice before continuing on with their important phone calls. While scoring some cocktails I chatted up a marketing dude (finance industry) at the bar; he was still in his suit (tie loosened) and had his computer bag at his feet…4 hours after the workday ended. He paused, mid-conversation, to take a 30 second phone call, send off a quick email (another 30 seconds), and then resumed our conversation.

That shit doesn’t happen in Baton Rouge.

Is that good…or bad? Certainly the desire for a certain lifestyle…fast pace vs. slow pace… boils down to personal preference. There are many individuals who purposefully choose to escape (isn’t that how it’s usually put?) so they leave DC or Chicago or pick-a-big-city and relocate to a less frenetic metro area or even a small town.

More power to ‘em.

I got to thinking though; does the speed at which the overall business community moves impact how HR moves? Does an HR team or an HR professional working in a sluggish environ become … well…sluggish? Can human resources professionals ideate and innovate and ACT when those around them are content to live by the mantra “don’t be in such a hurry; we’ll get there someday.”

What would Atlas do?

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