The Fax Machine is Alive and Well. Thank You Very Much.

Every now and again, in any one of the myriad recruiting and/or HR technology Facebook groups to which I belong, someone will post “OMG; I was just asked for my fax number! We haven’t used a fax machine in the office for 15 years!” Numerous people chime in with increasing incredulity: “WTF? That’s crazy! Who faxes things anymore? Luddites!.” Scorn and disdain are heaped upon anyone who still has and dares to use a fax machine.

Let me break this down; not every organization is fully tech-enabled. Not every organization is one that has launched within the last 5 years ready-to-roll with new equipment and of-the-moment functionalities. There are quite a few ginormous entities, especially of the governmental variety, that have not been able to transition due to the financial costs of such an undertaking; the NHS, according to a report from June, still has 11,620 fax machines in operation.

There are also numerous people – job seekers, consumers, citizens relying on the services of those vast governmental entities – who need to send documents without the benefit of a home PC and/or scanner. Yes, there IS a continuing digital divide. (As a point of note, I’ll be doing a Tech Talk on this topic at September’s HR Technology Conference).

In my human resources department, while we scan and email with massive, sometimes overwhelming, frequency, we still send/receive 15-20 faxes each week:

Verifications of employment

  • Banks, credit unions and mortgage companies continue to send the VOE (good old Form 1005!) via fax; the loan processor has filled it out by hand and our Payroll team fills it out by hand and faxes it back.
  • Rental companies and landlords send VOEs, usually just verifying that Sally Sue does, in fact, continue to draw a regular paycheck before they hand over the keys to the apartment or house.
  • Want to buy a car? Yup; faxed verification.

Pre-placement Drug Testing

  • The occupational medical clinic we use for pre-employment, post-accident and workers’ comp testing and care requires pre-authorization. Post-accident and W/C cases are managed in-person but new hires are given directions via phone of where to report for pre-placement cup-filling peeing. Naturally, as you might guess, an HR team member must send that authorization form over via fax.

Employee Benefits

  • Employees participating in the Flexible Spending Account (FSA) plan need to substantiate certain expenses with a receipt. As noted above not everyone has a PC, let alone a scanner, at home so the next fastest option (beating snail mail by a country mile) is to send via fax. We have such a steady stream of employees coming to HR, receipts in hand, that we have pre-filled FAX COVER SHEETS so they can use the stone-age facsimile machine.
  • Heading out on leave covered by the FMLA or the Louisiana Fair Employment Practices Act? Returning to work with a properly filled out “release to RTW with no restrictions” form from your health care provider? Need to get the forms and information into the hands of the 3rd party administrator that handles all leave administration for our company? Don’t have a scanner at home? Bring it the HR Department and use the fax machine.

Our recruiting team does not accept resumes via fax; not that we don’t get asked this question with some regularity. We do not publicize our fax number; I have never had it included on my business card and when asked to supply it on a form under “contact information” I leave that field blank. Somehow though that damn number gets out into the world. My current working theory is that our internal phone list (with fax numbers!) has been printed and distributed all over town.

So please, my dear fellow recruiters and HR technology champions, cease with the ridicule and derision. I would love nothing more than to once and for all relegate the fax machine to the trash bin of office equipment memories where it can reside in peace with mucilage, floppy disks and the mimeograph machine.

In the meantime you can fax those papers over to 225-709-8702.

 

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image: Wikimedia Commons: University of Wisconsin Archives

“English professor Helen C. White works at a mimeograph machine. In addition to teaching English, White served as president of the American Association of University Women.”

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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.

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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Those Phantom Workplace Activities

You would think, in this day and age of transparency in the workplace and access to rapid-fire tech and communication tools that organizations would no longer be ready, willing and able to operate under a cloak of invisibility.

If you think that you would be wrong.

Over the last several months I have heard stories from both HR peers and folks who work in non-HR roles that brought to light some disastrous and bumbling maneuvers:

  • an executive leadership team decided there should be new service standards (retail environment) to which all staff must adhere. These new service standards were not only never properly defined (i.e. behaviors), the new expectations were never trickled down to employees. Awareness throughout the company only came about when employees began to be ‘disciplined’ for not performing to standards. Oh…did I mention there were scorecards being kept on employees to “rate” them on these behaviors which had neither been defined nor communicated?
  • ACME Corporation utilizes a focal point performance review cycle; still somewhat traditional (as many companies are by-the-way despite what the pundits tell us), employees receive an annual formal review. They are reviewed on the last 12 month’s performance, achievement of prior year goals is evaluated, and new goals are set for the upcoming year. Points are calculated (old school!) with heavy emphasis being given to goal accomplishment. One year, not that long ago, a new CEO joined the organization mid-year and, when performance review season rolled around, opted to “toss out” the existing goals that had been set during the last review cycle. Rather, when the process opened up at the end of the year (no doubt with heavy sighs of discontent all around since everyone despises these broken processes), the CEO instructed managers to evaluate employees on items other than the agreed upon goals set  during the previous cycle. News to all concerned. “We didn’t tell Bob he was going to be held accountable for an xx% increase in important-metric XYZ? Too bad; he should have made that improvement. No points for Bob!”

I was told about:

  • Company acquisition details that employees learned about via the internet or TV news stations rather than any one piece of communication coming from their own employer
  • Corporate shenanigans exposed publicly (i.e. SOX compliance stuff) yet never explained to employees
  • Head honchos (C-Suite) leaving the organization with nary a communique to the staff (unwashed masses?) within their span-of-control

Why does this sort of stuff go on?

Sometimes, as Executives and Leaders are sitting around a fancy mahogany table crafting the next great-step-in-the-company-history, they fail to take a look around the room and ask themselves “who else should be here?” …. “what could they add to the conversation?” ….“If they’re not here, what will they need to know …. and when?” ….”what could be the consequences if they aren’t here?” 

Sometimes, they just don’t care if they’re inviting ghosts and phantoms into the workplace.

Now that’s spooky.

 

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image via WikiMedia Commons

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