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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And Thus, 2020, I Bid You Adieu

Today’s the day. Midnight will arrive, fireworks will be lit, and we’ll say farewell to 2020. 

Does it mean anything? Not really. As we discussed on Drive thru HR last week, January 1, 2021 won’t be much different than December 31, 2020. We’ll still be in the throes of a raging pandemic. There are several l-o-n-g weeks before the new administration takes over in Washington DC. Global issues of injustice and inequality won’t magically evaporate.

Yet, for some reason, I always get a sense of hope on the 1st of the year. It’s akin to the start of a new school year when I succumbed to feelings of dizzying happiness merely by stocking up on clean and shiny new folders and notebooks with hundreds of blank pages. 

And I, personally, feel the urge to get back on track in this coming year. Crack open those notebooks and fill them with, well, something. Anything. Because as I’m sitting here reflecting on “what I’ve done in 2020” I feel like I’ve wasted the entire year. My accomplishments appear incredibly marginal next to all those things I had hoped to do and never finished.

My 2020 accomplishments

  1. Survived a global pandemic
  2. Completed a deep clean and purge of closets, bookshelves, pantry and kitchen cabinets
  3. Managed Eddy von Schooling through onboarding and cultural assimilation

Things I Wanted to Do in 2020 but Never Did

  1. Far too many to list

I’m not complaining. Fortune was on the side of the Schooling family this year and we’ve done our small bit to assist those who have experienced tough times in 2020. As the saying goes here in the south…#blessed.

I am, however, disappointed in myself. Why have I not been able to shrug off the brain fog that has enveloped me for months? Why has 2020 been the year where I’ve been able to plan but then seemingly never execute? Why have I not learned to play the piano or bake bread? Why did I lose all joy in writing? Why have I been exhausted and tired and in bed, for months, no later than 10 PM, when I do absolutely nothing?  

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I do know that as of tomorrow – January 1st – I intend to turn to a fresh sheet of paper and start anew.

So welcome to 2021.

And GTFO 2020.

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Work in HR? It’s Time to FIGHT for Workers’ Rights.

There’s a peculiar mindset amongst far too many HR practitioners. Due to their fervent and often all-consuming desire to be considered “business partners,” they’ve adopted a capitalist perspective that places them somewhere on the spectrum between Scrooge McDuck, Rich Uncle Pennybags and Mr. Burns.

Attempting to be fiscally prudent and, as I’ve heard it described, to be “a steward of the company’s money,” manifests itself when they:

  • ‘fight’ every unemployment claim as if the very sustainability of the company depended upon victory 
  • craft policies that, if legal in the state/jurisdiction, ensure that departing employees will NOT be paid out any earned/accrued vacation/PTO balance
  • concoct convoluted job descriptions in order to mis-classify certain jobs as exempt (per the FLSA) so workers are not eligible for overtime pay even while the company expectation is that they toil away for 50 hours per week minimum
  • shelter workplace harassers and keep them in place by failing to investigate allegations of harassment especially when an employee bringing forth an issue is viewed as a “chronic complainer” 
  • turn a blind eye to both blatant and subtle discriminatory behavior whether it takes they form of systemic cultural traditions and norms or overt hiring “preferences” as articulated by managers … and other HR team members

And they valiantly fight, either of their own volition or because they believe their company’s CEO and CFO expect them to, any attempts to raise the mandated minimum wage, explore Medicare For All or de-couple healthcare in the US from the employment relationship.

This doesn’t shock me of course. As with most any type of meaningful change in the relationship between employers/employees over the course of our history in the US of A, it’s taken blood, sweat, death and – ultimately – legislation to provide protection to workers. Child Labor Reform. The Triangle Shirtwaist FireThe Civil Rights ActThe Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, including Title I covering employment, went into effect in July of 1990 – 30 years ago – and HR practitioners are still fighting against the very basic tenets of the law. The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 and there are still numerous HR practitioners who work to circumvent the protections afforded to their covered employees. 

These are the people running HR functions. They are often the first ones to talk about a desire to increase employee engagement or improve company culture. They are also, quite frankly, the ones who need to be reminded of what that “H” signifies and remember that Workers’ Rights are “human” rights.

The US Department of Labor clarifies there is not a definitive list of workers’ rights however the International Labor Organization (ILO) identifies what it calls “fundamental principles and rights at work”:

  • freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor;
  • effective abolition of child labor; and
  • elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The effective delivery of HR designed to ensure profitability and sustainability of the business is not at odds with the delivery of HR designed to promote or protect workers’ rights. The two can – and should – co-exist. 

It’s not about profit or people. It can easily be about profit and people. 

Work in HR? You say you’re all about the employee experience and engagement and “improving” your culture? Then you need to respect and promote Workers’ Rights before anything else.

After all…you’re a worker too. 

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Why You Got 99 (%) Problems in your Organization

If there’s one aspect of organizational dynamics that chaps my hide it’s the elitism that naturally surfaces due to the structural settings inherent in corporate hierarchies.

In our capitalist power-network we have several specific classes: the business-owning class, the self-employed and small-business owners, and the working-class. We can also certainly argue that there is another class consisting of highly trained professionals (physicians, lawyers, etc.) who, by virtue of intellect or specialization, have a place at the top of the power structure and remain in close proximity to the business-owning class.

Let’s face it though – in many organizations there are essentially two classes:

  • the big boys (and I have no problem referring to the elites in that gendered manner)
  • everybody else

Everybody else, of course, being the 99%. Those of us who are not the top dog.

But our tendency, as human beings, is to assert our own exceptionalism by scrambling and clawing our way to the pinnacle of some sort of mountain. It’s why here in my state of Louisiana, when yet another cringe-inducing report highlights our rank as 49th in something, Louisianians like to say “Hey! At least we’re not Mississippi!”  It’s why evil reigns in the world as our citizens – and politicians – successfully “other” people.  It’s why the unseen aspects of caste, as explored by Isabel Wilkerson in her masterful book (seriously; go read it), not only formed who we are as the USofA but continue to permeate our everyday lives.

And within our organizations we thrive on this shit. We memorialize the divisions. We idolize the few over the many. We glorify those who are sitting atop the mountain peak…and we install artificial barriers to prevent others from scaling the slope.

Far too many middle managers and HR leaders (glorified middle-managers), intoxicated by their amorphous organizational power, forget they are actually a member of the 99%. So rather than speaking truth to power or fighting the good fight, they bask in their ability to impose organizational constraints that serve little purpose other than shoring up their own unabashed desire to consider themselves part of the company’s 1% club.

We see this when they:

  • Implement attendance policies that promote flexibility for the elite and punish the masses for being 1 minute late to work
  • Have “leadership team” dinners, retreats and outings while wondering why the masses aren’t ecstatic (!) because Fred’s Ice Cream Truck will be coming to the parking lot for an hour on a summer Friday
  • Readily negotiate benefit offerings with the elite (“No problem Dave; we’ll give you 4 weeks of vacation on date of hire”) while lamenting the “excessive” use of sick/vacation time used by the masses
  • Enroll the elites in the “Wine of the Month” club while handing out company-branded water bottles to the plebes in the warehouse
  • Provide a super special parking lot (close to the building! Can’t let them get their expensive leather loafers wet!) that’s barely 25% full while the masses park far (far) away
  • Deploy seemingly arbitrary and capricious steps in the employee selection process including post=offer screening for recreational marijuana usage for *safety sensitive* positions even while Bob the SVP of Sales openly celebrates 420 day with reckless abandon

Gotcha. Corporations, business entities and governmental institutions are not democracies. Someone has to make the difficult decisions. We reward and recognize on merit, performance and other measurements that are commensurate with “value” to the organization. To the victors go the spoils.

But here’s a tip: if you’re in HR you best remember the 99%. Because YOU, my friend, are one of them.

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