“I hate dealing with Joe; he never remembers anything I tell him.” (“Oh… you didn’t know that Joe has hearing loss in his left ear?”)
“Jane always looks so mad; she’s just unpleasant to deal with.” (“I guess you hadn’t heard; Jane’s husband has terminal cancer.”)
“Carmen is pretty rude. Do you know she’s the only team member who didn’t come to the baby shower the team hosted for me?” (“Maybe you didn’t know this but Carmen had a miscarriage last year; she finds it difficult to attend baby showers.”)
Ah yes. Who among us doesn’t jump to conclusions based on an interaction (or several) with another person? We use mental shorthand to quickly categorize someone’s behavior and then we toss Joe, Jane and Carmen into one of the filing cabinets in our brain that we’ve labeled –“the difficult one” – the unfriendly one” – “the bitch.” Task completed, they’re neatly labeled, and we decide that’s all we need to know about them.
But in the workplace further problems arise when we neglect to review and examine those categorizations down the road. When a manager, co-worker or (heaven forbid) an HR professional keeps an employee in one of those file drawers and doesn’t attempt to gather more data or develop greater understanding.
I’ve known people who’ve worked together for over a decade who still rely on initial cataloging (and assumptions) from 2010. This is disappointing amongst peers but downright damaging and destructive when it occurs with managers or HR practitioners. (“Oh; I’m not interested in Susie for this internal opening. I interviewed her when she applied 3 years ago and she wasn’t a fit.”)
Shorthand is a dying skill. Mental shorthand needs to follow.
Last week a video was posted of a customer’s drive thru experience at a Popeye’s here in Louisiana. It captures one of the most joyous service experiences ever; even without considering the customer also got to leave with some delicious chicken.
Ms. Cynthia (just “keepin it real over here!”) needs to be promoted to the customer service hall of fame.
But Ms. Cynthia’s exuberant spirit and warmth (I just want her to envelop me in a hug!), while registering at a 15 on a 10-point scale, is fairly representative of what I often experience in service interactions. Whether at the gas station, grocery store or a restaurant there’s a natural human element to the simplest transactions. At the corner gas station the patrons and store clerks always catch up – “how’s your daddy doing Mr. Jimmy?”. A quick trip to grab some snacks and adults beverages on game day often includes a discussion about plans – ”now you have fun today baby! Who dat!” A trip for an oil change will lead to a group discussion amongst the mechanics and customers in the waiting room about everyone’s favorite seasonings, preferred ingredients (artichokes always a plus IMO), and methodologies for a crawfish boil.
When we moved to Louisiana I was initially taken aback at how interactions seemed to be on a whole new level here. I was accustomed to “midwest nice” which was all about efficiency and (stern) politeness. Were people friendly in the midwest?” Yes. Was it customary to help others? Absolutely. Was it ingrained to apologize (“Whoops! Sorry!”) when one happened to bump into a fellow citizen in a crowd? You betcha. But the “niceness,” I decided, felt different here.
And I become more cognizant of it whenever I return home after a trip to the land of my birth.
I recently spent a week in Wisconsin and experienced surly staff at a restaurant when I went to pick up dinner. (After I had to practically climb over rude patrons sitting at the bar to even reach the server and get her attention). I found myself being the only person in the checkout line at the grocery store who said “hello” to the cashier who then, after not making eye contact, mumbled a reluctant “oh… hey” before glancing back down at the conveyor belt.
Do I have shitty customer service experiences close to home? Of course I do; I run into my share of sullen service workers. But, in general, I give them a modicum of grace and don’t question why they are cranky. At all.
But the Ms. Cynthia’s of the world? They do exist and we need to celebrate them
I spent the last week in Milwaukee, WI with my daughter (thankful yet again for my 100% work-from-anywhere company!). She lives exactly 5 blocks north of the hospital at which I was born. That 38-bed hospital is long-closed although the building, originally built by a lumber baron and listed on the historic register, still stands.
Talk about a “we’ve come full circle” moment.
This trip, beyond providing me with the opportunity to indulge in Wisconsin delicacies like walleye, cheese curd and czarnina at Polonez, (so so good; I simply refuse to think about the duck’s blood part) really put me in a contemplative mood about the different places I have lived in my life. Not so much “where” I have lived (Wisconsin vs. Louisiana) but more so the types of environs in which I have found myself. I realized my life has been split fairly neatly into thirds:
one-third of my life in the suburbs
one-third of my life in a city
one-third of my life in a town
For the bulk of my childhood my family lived in a pastoral (at that time) suburb of the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area. We had big yards, wide streets, and minimal traffic. We took the school bus every day and my best friends lived, on average, 5 – 10 miles away from me in their own suburban idyll. Across the street from my family’s home were several empty lots overgrown with shrubs and trees in which the neighborhood kids carved out a baseball field (I generally was relegated to the outfield) as well as a few hide-aways (under those canopies of trees) where we experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana (pilfered from the supplies of parents and siblings). To travel anywhere outside the immediate confines of our neighborhood required either a car or, for us kids before we had driver’s licenses, a bicycle. I truly don’t remember actually “walking” anywhere except for strolling through a few back yards as the short cut to my friend Lisa’s house down the street.
The Big City
When I returned in my early 20’s, post college in small-town Wisconsin, I settled in an apartment in the city of Milwaukee. Suddenly I had sidewalks and streetlights and a bus stop right outside my front door. Across the street was not only a grocery store but an actual by-God department store! I could walk to my hairdresser’s salon (4 blocks), my bank (6 blocks), the corner store to pick up a Sunday paper (2 blocks), innumerable restaurants, and my auto mechanic (3 blocks) if I needed to drop-off/pick-up my car for an oil change. I lived in the city (with a few address changes) for close to 20 years and while, obviously, used my car, I always enjoyed being able to head out down the sidewalk to take care of a few errands or walk to a friend’s house.
Technically, Baton Rouge, LA where I currently live, is a city. Yet, with a population just slightly over 225,000 people it “feels,” to me anyway, like a small town. Our downtown, at just over 1 square mile is the very definition of a commuter destination; workers (the vast majority state government or the businesses that support them), drive in from far flung parishes in the morning and then head back out as the sun sets. Of course there’s plenty to do in BR of if one is willing to get in the car and traverse the sprawling metropolitan area while battling with the nation’s 4th worst traffic according to February 2022 rankings. Oy.
And while we live “in” the city in a centrally located neighborhood (with sidewalks! and streetlights!) we go everywhere by car. We may walk around the block but there is no way to take a stroll to the grocery store or a restaurant or even a coffee shop. I could just as well live 30 miles out in the country.
So I realized, while spending the week in my daughter’s top floor apartment just several blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan, that I miss – and actually crave – the hustle and bustle.
It was energizing to be surrounded by people whenever I wanted; even an elevator ride downstairs to check the mail was an adventure. (And after doing some back-of-the-envelope #HRmath I figured out the population density within a 2 block radius of her building alone far exceeds the approximately 3,400 people (1,428 households) in my neighborhood.)
It was delightful just to take a walk up the street, shopping list in hand, to grab some groceries. To a store where, accustomed to walkable customers, the cashiers automatically asked if I wanted to double bag heavy items for carrying. I was able to walk to the store, complete my errand, and return home in less time than it takes me to navigate an automobile trip to make groceries in Baton Rouge.
I found it thrilling to order from a restaurant and, instead of relying on Waitr delivery, taking a 5-minute stroll to pick it up myself. Naturally I felt it was my duty to uphold the Milwaukee Fish Fry tradition.
Was it loud? A bit. But I crave some noise when settling into bed at night. In the big city I simply found myself heading into slumberville to the sounds of street traffic and patrons at the corner pub rather than nodding off to my “Distant Thunder” sleep app.
Was it inconvenient? A bit. It does require more planning to maneuver purchases or packages from the parking garage (or the street) as opposed to pulling into one’s garage and just carting items into the house in a few trips. And I literally cannot fathom the thought of my dogs having to go down an elevator and out for regular walks as opposed to their existing life which consists of their doggy=please of “please open the door and let us out to run around the yard and bark and do-our-business whenever we want!”
Was it sensory overload? A bit. The lights were, well…BRIGHT; I found myself fervently wishing for some black-out shades at night.
Did I love it? Yes.
It was fully immersive. I found myself back in the city of my birth and in close approximation to a previous way of living. Would I live in the big city again? At this stage in my life? I don’t know. I’ve grown accustomed to quiet at night (and in the morning) with wandering neighborhood cats and the occasional possum showing up in the back yard. I know I will never get overnight (let alone same day) Amazon delivery which, quite frankly, I can easily do without. All things considered I imagine I am destined to stay in “The Town.”
The very first Carnival of HR ran 15 years ago this week (February 21, 2007) when Suzanne Lucas kicked off our long-running tradition with this post.
In the intervening years there have been hundreds of Carnivals as various people took on the role of Ringmaster: Alison Green (aka @AskAManager) in 2008; Shauna Griffis from 2009 -2016; Robin Schooling (hey that’s me!) from 2016 – 2021; and John Baldino (2022 – beyond!).
There have been numerous shifts in the online HR community since the halycon (and experimental) early days of HR professionals getting on social media, participating in Twitter chats (RIP weekly Thursday night #HRHappyHour) and creating blogs left and right. (check out The Unofficial (and totally non-scientific) History of HR Blogging written for the 10 year anniversary of the HR Carnival).
Is ”blogging” as we knew it, dead? Maybe. But it’s been supplanted with newsletters (so.many.newsletters), podcasts, and “live” events on LinkedIn and Facebook. And that’s a GREAT thing…because those of us working in/around HR have a LOT to say. And now we have increasingly more ways of getting our message out into the world.
HR professionals are raised (trained? taught?) to view labor unions as the enemy. Unions are the Moriarty to our Sherlock Holmes. The Hans Gruber to our John McClane. The Ursula to our Ariel.
But unions served a historically important role fighting for many of the workplace norms we now take for granted. Early organizing efforts advanced women’s rights and gender equality while the voices of the labor movement brought awareness (and change) to dangerous and unsafe working conditions.
Occasionally I wonder if HR professionals should exercise their collective voice and form a union; after all a group of organized workers is, at its most elemental, dedicated to furthering the economic and social interests of workers.
And if we do so I have decided we can call it the HRPWU – “Human Resources Professional Workers Union.”
If HRPWU came into existence there would be no more dependence upon “the world’s largest professional HR association” (also known as they place where one gives money but has no voice) as the place for peers to gather. Rather, with HRPWU, members could elect their own officers, determine their own goals for the profession, set their own dues and choose the rules by which the union operates. Banding together, HRPWU members could negotiate, on behalf of HR workers everywhere, better working conditions and wage equity. HRPWU could promote better work/life integration and working hours flexibility; no more of this 60+ hour per week crap that many HR professionals find themselves sucked into against their will. I also envision a GROUP collective bargaining process; negotiating with ALL employers across the board for appropriate pay, benefits, health and safety policies and practices (including access to mental health resources) and workplace equity and justice.
As a bonus, being represented by HRPWU, Human Resources professionals could, once and for all, be assured a seat at the (bargaining) table.
Talk about making an investment into the future of HR…