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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Advocating for the Workplace Revolution

I can barely browse through LinkedIn or Facebook, open a magazine (remember those?), or attend a conference/event where the topic of the Future of Work is not being debated, dissected and regurgitated out as sound bites. We churn through conversations on automation, AI and machine learning, the gig economy, re-skilling and up-skilling of workers, income stagnation, and more. We discuss how work will be organized, what organizations will look like, and how people will interact with each other within organizations.

It’s the future and it’s quite revolutionary.

While there are numerous shifts happening, when my thoughts turn to the future of work I focus on a few key areas as an HR professional. These are also, in my opinion, the things every HR professional should be thinking about:

 

  • What jobs will exist in the future of work? In addition, which jobs will survive and which jobs will become obsolete?
  • How will we connect people and jobs/people and employment? There’s got to be a better way than what we’ve been doing up to this point.
  • What will individuals experience, day-to-day, while at work?
  • For that matter, how much of what people do will be done AT work (i.e. an actual physical location)?
  • How will the psychological contracts between employers and their employees change and evolve? Will the things we’ve come to expect, on either side, morph or vanish all together? There’s already been a general erosion, over the fairly recent past, in terms of guaranteed/lifetime employment and job security…so what is yet to come?
  • What is the occupational outlook? What jobs/occupations will see a decline and for what jobs/occupations will we see a rise? (hint: it’s the jobs that require empathy, humanity and judgment)
  • What skill sets will people need to have in this new world of work? How can we help existing employees adapt and develop the skills and competencies that will be in demand? How do we prepare students to be the next generation of workers?
  • For those jobs that will rise in demand how do we ensure that wages are sufficient enough to provide a living wage? Many of these jobs (teaching, care workers, service) have historically been low-paying so how can we ensure the transition to the future does not leave entire categories of employees behind.

Is there uncertainty? Absolutely. Is there a bit of apprehension by those tackling some of these issues? Certainly.

There’s also enthusiasm in the midst of the ambiguity and change and I, for one, am somewhat eager to get the proverbial show-on-the-road. Some business leaders are embracing the shift; we see this every time we hear about a company trying something new whether it be Holacracy (meh), unlimited PTO (I want some of that) or providing extended paid parental leave. Note: let me remind you how sad that we have to applaud the offering of parental leave at all, let alone paid leave. The US remains one of the only countries in the world (the other two are Oman and Papua New Guinea) that do not offer paid maternity leave nor are businesses required to do so.

I agree with my friend Laurie Ruettimann when she says #LetsFixWork. I can’t wait for the future.

Viva la revolution!  

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Looking for the BEST in Your New Hires

The hiring process can be tortuous.

Lengthy and cumbersome, the journey from completing an application to day-one-of-employment is often fraught with peril for both the applicant and the recruiting/HR team.  There are hundreds of steps with various decision points along the way; there’s an overabundance of judgment from the first time a recruiter’s eyeballs (or a robot’s algorithm) glance at the applicant’s resume all the way up until the final reference has been received and pre-placement drug results delivered.

Most HR professionals are pretty mindful of this; there’s lots of work being done to streamline the application and hiring process and an incredible amount of improvement being done in organizations large and small as they clean up onboarding. We’re doing a much better job, collectively, of ensuring there’s consistency and cohesion between the branding work being done by our TA teams and the onboarding conducted by the folks in human resources.

Yet we still have a bit of work to do once those happy-faced company newbies land in their cubicles, offices, and/or at their work stations.  Why? Because, with startling regularity, new hires are placed in a precarious situation akin to being stranded at the top of a ferris wheel; dangling with uncertainty before the basket starts to move again.

Oh sure; there are lots of nifty and innovative ways organizations are welcoming new hires and working to ensure their employment experience journey kicks off in high gear. They’re tracking and measuring and focused on ensuring alignment, meaning, value and purpose. This can be good stuff; I love when companies invest their time and resources into enabling and supporting a culture that values performance and satisfaction.

On the flip side however, over many years, I’ve observed the opposite phenomenon – a practice that is still very much alive.  It’s a combination of set-up-to-fail syndrome and confirmation bias; putting both of these together leads to managers (and organizations) unintentionally undermining the success of newly hired employees.

I like to call it “I’ll wait Until You Prove me Wrong” syndrome.

  • “The last 3 hires I made into this position couldn’t perform the job up to our standards; I’m sure Joe will be the same way.” (confirmation bias)
  • “Remember Sally who worked in Accounting? We gave her a bonus after 6 months and then she quit; we better not do that again.” (confirmation bias)
  • “I didn’t really get the greatest recommendation from Bob’s last manager; I better keep my eye on him.” (set-up-to-fail syndrome)

This syndrome manifests itself in numerous ways including one of the most time-honored traditions of most any onboarding process; the overview of company policies. Jan from HR, with great fanfare, hands over the Employee Policy Manual to Susie New Hire and goes through a highlight reel of “what not do do.” Right? Am I right?

And then, realizing that things are sounding just a bit too dire and legal, Jan launches into a review of the employee benefits available; after 90 days. After 6 months. After one year. This Is not just about Jan or the hiring manager; it’s the entire organization saying “We’ll wait until You Prove us Wrong.”

Let me count on just one hand a few of the ‘typical’ HR policies that may, possibly, signal you’re expecting the worst (not the best) from your employees/new hires:

  • “Probationary” (omg…don’t call it that!) periods
  • Progressive Discipline for every single/small infraction (reams and reams of paper)
  • Making employees “wait” to access PTO or Sick Leave (What? No one gets sick in their first 6 months of employment?)
  • Discipline for Attendance (with heightened penalties during the “probationary period” – omg…don’t call it that!)
  • “Proof” for Bereavement Leave (we do NOT trust you in your time of mourning!)

“But…but…but” (I hear you saying) “those types of policies ensure consistency and some may be for financial reasons. We need to be good stewards of the company’s assets!”

I’m not saying some aspects of those policies might not be appropriate for your industry, company or location; they may very well have been implemented for some well-thought out reasons. They worked for Sambla, a reliable financial services firm out in Finland, but apply these fundamental principles and adapt them to your organization as you see fit.

Then again….perhaps it’s time to ask yourself if they are serving a purpose. Was that Bereavement Policy developed 15 years ago after one employee suddenly had 6 grandmothers pass away within a 2 month period? Why not give employees access to paid sick leave in their first 180 days of employment? Would you rather Betty come to work with the flu or give her a few days off to recover at home even if she’s only worked for you for 4 months?

Are your practices and your policies designed to assume the WORST from people…or the BEST?

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BattleBots: Attraction, Retention and Employee Benefits

Yesterday, as is often the case, there was a good discussion in the HR Open Source Facebook Group. A group member posed a question stating she was looking for creative ideas as her company wants to offer additional benefits/perks beyond the basics (medical/dental/vision). Members of the community chimed in with all sorts of ideas including:

  • Pet insurance
  • Commuter benefits (i.e. train or bus pass)
  • Time off to volunteer
  • Birthday off
  • Wellness Days off (i.e. go and take care of preventative wellness appointments)
  • A book benefit (company pays for book on a professional development topic; the readers writes a review to share with co-workers)
  • Discount movie tickets, amusement park tickets, etc.
  • Onsite massages, oil changes, car washes, and teeth whitening
  • Student loan repayments
  • Milk Stork (ships milk home for breastfeeding moms who are traveling)

Nice.  Real nice.

Interestingly enough I recently had several conversations with business owners and HR leaders posing the exact opposite question:

“We need to save some money and are wondering which of our existing benefits we can eliminate without too much fuss from employees.”

Items potentially on their chopping blocks included:

  • Paid Time Off (PTO)
  • Holiday Pay
  • Employer provided Short Term and Long Term Disability coverage
  • Sick Days
  • Free coffee

Ah yes; the great divide.

Alpha Companies are taking the approach that we all like to think we can take; crafting a total rewards program that is designed to not only recruit and retain but also to delight, excite and energize. Does cost factor in to the equation? Of course it does; but there’s analysis (and sometimes just sheer gut-feel) that stuff like this is worth it.

Omega Companies, on the other hand, have decided to approach the design of their benefit offerings in the same manner in which they decide to purchase 2-ply vs. 1-ply toilet paper. Supply their staff with generic ball points or fancy liquid roller ball pens. Determine whether their pay will match or lag the market. (No leading the market with this group).

The Omega Companies simply want to push the limit by asking:

  • “How much can we take away before our current employees either stop performing or leave?”
  • “How little can we offer before our applicant pool dries up?”
  • “How much are we willing to risk that we won’t be able to innovate or grow revenue because we can’t even attract the people who will make that happen?”

And that’s …. OK. It’s the real world. Oh sure, in some cases there are business owners being assholes and treating people as disposable widgets in the great scheme of keeping the ginormous corporation humming along. In other instances there are challenges being faced in order to keep a business running in the first place; although, come to think of it, how is it that newly-minted start-ups and/or small businesses with, one would assume, less cash flow, seem to offer the best benefits around? Maybe it IS more about the a-hole factor….?

Alpha vs. Omega.

There’s an attraction/retention battle for you.

 

*****

Head on over to the HR Open Source site to check out the case studies, Sparks and other great content. And join us in the Facebook group referenced above; you’ll love it.

 

Image: Battlebots

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The Dangers Inherent in “Keeping Sweet” at Work

There’s a mantra, a commandment really, amongst certain religious fundamentalist groups that women and girls should always “keep sweet.” While the concept seems to have originated in polygamous/FLDS cults society, it has reached into other patriarchal groups. The phrase is designed to remind every girl and woman how she should conduct herself. Whether she is encountering life’s daily frustrations or something more harmful such as being forced into a marriage or encountering abuse, a ‘godly’ woman should maintain a smile on her face and acquiesce to the men-in-charge.

This, of course, has led to some horrible and harmful outcomes such as FLDS girls being forced into polygamist marriages at a young age. All because “the prophet” admonished them, over and over, to not show emotions or ask questions. The manifestation of this belief has been described as being “immune to gloom.”

Somewhat extreme I know; I’m willing to bet very few of you reading this consider yourself a member of a cult. I mean, it’s not like you’re with a bunch of pals sporting the same hairstyle, wearing matching Nikes and waiting to transport to the spaceship to join up with the Hale-Bopp Comet. Right?

Not to make light of a situation that took a tragic turn back in 1997, but that Heaven’s Gate group’s  “Procedures Book” read somewhat like an HR Policy Manual. Among other things the book “enforced a 7:22 vitamin intake time, the direction to shave with a razor, and the proper circumference for pancakes.”  As pointed out in this article, “these rules were implemented with the argument that they were training for the strict and disciplined life they would live on alien spacecraft. But in reality they kept members obedient and subservient to the group and its leader.” ……….I think I’ve worked for that company……..

Disregarding the rules for pancake circumference, which we can all agree crosses over into the realm of too much detail-obsession, we have to admit that some of these cultish behaviors sound eerily similar to the exhortations that infest a lot of organizations.

Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ask questions. Follow the directions. Keep a happy countenance. Keep a smile on your face.

Keep sweet.

*********

A few weeks ago I was having a miserable (OK…let’s call it shitty) day. I was swirling about in a mental twister; simultaneously tracking and worrying about home/family/work/to-do-lists/dogs/parents/chores/not-enough-hours-in-the-day. At one point I took a brief stretch and wandered out of HR to get some coffee. In order to get to the employee dining room I had to pass through the casino lobby and walk past the Valet Office which was chock-a-block full of patrons, visitors and employees.  But it’s a quick jaunt and I quickly arrived at the blessed coffee machine.

As I was filling up my mug (java!) an employee grabbing a Coke next to me asked “are you OK Miss Robin?”

“Oh no!,” I thought, as I quickly rearranged my face into the super friendly welcoming smile we’re accustomed to plastering on our faces in the hospitality industry.

“Oh sure. I’m fine!” I chirped.  *** Grin Grin Grin ***

And then I thought to myself, what load of fresh crap is this? I seriously think I need to pretend with an employee? Because I’m the head of HR or what?

“You know,” I said, as I let my countenance shift back into not-so-sweet-and-smiley-mode, “I’ve had a rough couple of days. I’m dealing with a sick dog, we’re slammed in HR, and I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I’m tired and just not feeling it today.” *** Shrug Shrug Shrug ***

“Sorry to hear that Miss Robin,” he responded. “It will get better.” (and then he gave me a hug)

**********

A few weeks after that I attended WorkHuman in Austin where, among other things, we discussed creating connections, exhibiting empathy, and finding ways to create a deeper sense of belonging for individuals at work. “Let people be themselves” was a phrase I heard uttered a gazillion times (and then I flashed back to my non-smiling-RBF hug at the coffee pot).

I spent a lot of time at the event thinking about the importance that ONE person can have in an organization. The symbolism of ONE act. The impact that ONE person can make when challenging the status quo.

I think when we talk about “working human” it’s moving it from the macro-enterprise-company level and being up-ended and inverted. Over the last four years at WorkHuman we’ve moved from talking about the “organizational change” and now discussing how ONE person, perhaps at the bottom or in the middle of the org structure, can be the catalyst for creating a more human-centric company.

By questioning and challenging those in authority.

By calling out institutional racism, sexism or other -isms.

By shining the light on destructive policies, programs or practices that destroy, rather than uplift.

By refusing to “keep sweet.”

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