I Refuse to Maintain the Status Quo

I dare say that most humans are creatures of habit and routine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in our hurly-burly lives it’s nice to rely on muscle-memory so we can drive the same daily route to the office or know that Friday evening will inevitably be comprised of pizza, pajamas and movies. The usual and ordinary tasks we have are pretty straightforward when we do them the way we’ve always done them.

Naturally this tendency to adhere to the tried-and-true carries over into our work life. Whether we’re cranking out TPS reports or processing journal entries we get into the flow and rhythm. This is also a good thing. People who take comfort in the unremarkable may find a sense of peace cranking through mundane tasks. And for those folks who chafe at “sameness” day-after-day, entering automatron mode allows them to churn through the repetitious soul-crushing chores that exist in every job.

Now envision a department filled with people simultaneously jogging on the procedural treadmill as they push out the same reports, take the same phone calls, and sit in the same meetings week after week. Picture rows upon rows of cubicles. Department after department. Floor upon floor. A humungous organization located in either a suburban office park or on a busy street in a bustling urban city center.

Certainly all those workers are providing some sort of value as they strive to meet organizational goals while, undoubtedly, participating in the latest Corporate (HR) program-of-the-month designed to simultaneously boost engagement, track OKRs, and determine annual compensation increases?

There may be a fancy new name to this program-of-the-month but, let’s be real –  it’s the same old state of affairs.

And when you’re part of an existing entity, whether that be your job/company or your personal life/family, there’s an incentive to maintain the status quo.

It’s easy.

It’s cozy.

It’s safe.

And while human resources professionals are particularly adept at (and quite fond of!) maintaining the status quo, we are not alone amongst our corporate brothers and sisters.  In the corporate setting we’re often more keenly focused on reducing risk rather than setting our sights on maximizing potential.

So we make the “safe” hire. We stick to the same procedures whilst also building additional steps and creating complexity for the most insignificant processes (“let’s have the SENIOR Director sign off for all office supply purchases too!”). We rely on last year’s numbers (and the year before and the year before that). We look backward (only) instead of looking forward. We research other companies’ ‘best practices’ instead of designing our own ‘NEXT practices.’

We stay on the hamster wheel.

I get it. I totally get it.

But as for me? I want to try new things. I don’t want to settle for merely doing what’s easy, comfortable and that-which-has-come-before.

I refuse to maintain the status quo.

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Ass in Chair, Inc.

Right now, as you’re reading this, people around the world are sitting in their offices. They have a desk, chair, phone and a computer with a monitor. Maybe two monitors if they either work in IT or are sufficiently high enough on the corporate food chain to get the requisition approved that uses valuable budget dollars to appropriate a second monitor.

The lucky ones have a cup of coffee, a can of Diet Coke or a packet of M&Ms within arm’s reach. Not everyone is afforded that luxury however; there are plenty of workplaces that don’t allow the worker bees to have any beverage or food at their desks. I’ve heard tales from one company in the UK that maintains such a policy although they do permit each employee to have a 500ml bottle of water. With an eye towards an aesthetically pleasing uniformity, all the bottles match.

Closer to home I’ve had conversations with numerous folks who are confined to a desk or cubicle with no ability to keep sustenance close at hand. The general corporate blather, usually passed on from HR, is (a) “we want you to relax and take a well-deserved break at lunch!” (wellness blah blah blah) or (b) “we want the facility to look nice when clients come to visit.” (even though no clients ever actually do come to visit).

I also continue to talk with an alarming number of people who, while perfectly content to head to the break room to grab an energy bar during the mid-afternoon slump, are rarely even afforded that opportunity. There are employees (start time 8 AM!) whose log-in at their workstation is immediately viewable by the department manager; they best be logged-in and ready to roll by 7:59 AM or discipline shall ensue!

  • Have to void your bladder? Sorry; you need to wait until break time at 10:15 AM.
  • Need to get to your doctor’s office by 4:30 PM because they close at 5 PM? Sorry; you’re expected to be at your desk until 4:30 PM. Unless you request and are approved for a full day of PTO you’re not going to be able to make that happen.
  • You want to take call from your kids when they get home safely from school in the afternoon? Sorry; no cell phone use is allowed at your desk. We require you to drop your phone off in the morning and you can retrieve it during breaks or at lunch time. (note: I wrote about a company doing this in 2013; 5 years later and I recently heard of a manager who is contemplating instituting this practice)
  • Christmas Eve and all of the customers, partners and 3rd party vendors you work with are off the grid? Sorry; this is not an official Holiday so you’re expected to be at your desk until the office closes at 5 PM. No; we will not be closing early.
  • What’s that you say? You can get your work done at home? You have a phone and an internet connection? Sorry; we don’t allow anyone to work from home and all employees must report to the office by 8 AM.

Welcome to Ass in Chair, Inc.

 

#culture101

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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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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.

 

**********

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. 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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