There’s So Much Work Yet to be Done – #BlackBlogsMatter

There was an alarming, sickening and, sadly, not surprising story that hit the news last week; a lawsuit has been filed against General Motors (GM) in which 8 workers outline allegations of racist behavior, threats and intimidation in the workplace. This ongoing behavior, over a lengthy span of time, included a workplace where bathrooms were declared for “whites only,” black supervisors were called “boy” and other words, nooses were hung, white employees had conversations about bringing guns to work, and a white subordinate yelled and raised a heavy metal clutch in a threatening manner to his black supervisor. The white employee was suspended for one day. One. Day.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission completed a nine-month-investigation last March and the commission’s director of regional operations said that she would rank this case amongst the worst cases her team has ever seen. The racist behavior and culture is seemingly so entrenched that incidents even continued while the commission was conducting its investigation.

The union (UAW) apparently did little to nothing. The UAW local president discounted that racism exists at the plant and holds the belief that “people are a little too sensitive these days.”

GM apparently did little to nothing. While they didn’t deny that these things took place, their defense was that they had taken appropriate action – such as holding mandatory meetings, closing the plant for a day to hold training for every shift, and placing an article about harassment in the employee magazine.

The human resources team apparently did little to nothing; they didn’t even get a mention in the article.

This is some messed up shit; and I believe every word.

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Not too many years ago (in this century as a matter of fact) the company I was working for inherited a new work group via assorted business dealings. There were close to 200 employees who moved over to our organization and, since they were doing the same work (as third party contractors to our client), the biggest change for them was getting used to a new company/owner.

The vast majority of these employees had been working at this particular work site for years; decades even. It was incredibly labor-intensive work in a challenging environment but they stuck with it while, seemingly, time stood still in this part of south Louisiana. It took the vast majority of our employees a bit of time to trust us; both the GM and I were transplanted “yankees” with our US corporate office based in the Midwest and our global HQ based in the UK. Our site, for a variety of reasons, was such an outlier within our organization that whenever we had gatherings of the several hundred HR team members, I was inevitably called upon to share some strange/weird human resources issue to both the delight and consternation of my peers.

And sometimes those HR tales were from the dark underbelly of the racist south:

  • The time an employee came to me, with a timid knock on my door, asking “Miss Robin can I talk to you about something? They’ve started to hang the nooses again in my work area and I don’t know what to do.”
  • The meeting when a manager told his staff (predominantly black team members) – “If you all don’t get this situation fixed I’m going to have to fix it for you. And remember I had a great-uncle who was a Nazi in the SS so we know how to get stuff done in my family.”
  • The situation we tried to navigate that relegated our employees (3rd party contractors) to dingy dirty bathrooms in “their sections” of the plant floor while the client’s employees (predominantly white) used a clean well-lit bathroom that was, actually, centrally located and easily accessible to everyone in the unit no matter the “section” in which they worked.
  • The moment when, sitting at our monthly meeting with the client to review operating costs and billing, their #2 guy said “I like to take a look at these financials to make sure you’re not going to try to Jew me.”

So reading the story about the goings-on at the GM Powertrain Plant? You bet I believe every word of it.

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But what do we do? Can one person, one manager, or one HR professional change this sort of entrenched and institutionalized racism?

“I don’t have the positional power to make changes,” I’ve heard HR professionals lament. “I can’t speak up and afford to lose my job,” I’ve heard from mid-level supervisors and managers.

I’ve also heard the following from HR “professionals:”

  • “we have to hire those people; we have an agreement with the local city council member,”
  • “I don’t really want to recruit from that school; you know who goes there”
  • “she’s a black girl but she’s really good”
  • “I’m not racist, but….”

Today. Still. IN THIS ERA.

What do we do?  What can YOU do? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • examine your own biases and prejudices – unpack the suitcase, review your history, and seek to understand why you believe-what-you-believe  
  • acknowledge and own your beliefs and actions
  • read, learn and do a bit of self-education about what it’s REALLY like, for a wide number of people, to live in these United States (and elsewhere for that matter)
  • don’t expect someone else to do the work for you
  • vow to change that which is toxic in yourself
  • don’t put the responsibility for change on those who are marginalized or being discriminated against
  • remove those who do harm to others, whether via ignorance or on purpose, from your life
  • promote equity and equality in all that you do
  • challenge and call out those who perpetuate and embolden racism and misogyny – whether that be on the job or on the street

We can work on this together. Because #BlackBlogsMatter more than ever.

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Follow the #BlackBlogsMatter hashtag and read about the 2019 challenge, covering the next 12 weeks , at Sarah Morgan’s site “The Buzz on HR”

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Work and Life and Everything In Between

My mother, who has dementia, has been living with us now for a week.  

A really really REALLYlong week.

Getting her to Louisiana was neither an easy task not did it occur in a particularly seamless fashion. Over the last month I made two emergency (last-minute) cross-country trips. While some of these travels took place in the friendly skies, there was also a 1,100 mile one-way road trip (with a dog). Fortunately, this afforded the opportunity for a stop at a Waffle House in Mississippi; mom’s very first Waffle House visit and she ordered, of course, a waffle. Next visit, if she doesn’t order it herself, I’m force-feeding her some smothered and covered hash browns. Get with the program mom!

This is but step one of dealing with my aging parents though; plans are also in motion to relocate my dad.

And I, already, am utterly exhausted.

I am also incredibly thankful, every single waking moment of every single day, that I work for an organization (Strio Consulting | Rocket Power) where (a) I am 100% remote and thus can work anywhere/anytime, and (b) we don’t put “rules” around our time off policies. As I recently wrote in the first edition of the employee handbook:“Time off is about the time you need and not about a quota.”

We believe in letting youtake care of you. We want you to take care of yours

Which, despite what every article in Fast Company would have you believe, is still pretty unusual. 

Of course, for years. it has been trendy, fashionable, and #FutureofWork’y for every workplace pundit, thought-leader and speaker-on-the-HR-circuit to lecture everyone else about the needs, wants and desires of employees for a flexible workplace. More often than not these pontifications center around “millennials want this” which, for some inexplicable reason, continues to be spewed forth and gobbled up by eager masses of HR ladies. (I guess anything with “Gen Y” still gets a whole bunch of clicks on the interwebs. Note to self: add #millenial to the SEO tags on this blog post). 

News flash: it’s never been a generational thing.

Listen…I just switched companies/jobs 3 months ago and, were I still working for my former employer, this would not be working out as smoothly as it is. Well, smoothly other than the fact that we had to discuss the year’s snowfall (remember: no snow: Louisiana) 12 times over the course of an hour yesterday.

But, at my previous employer, I would have:

  • had to get pre-approval for the TIME-OFF before scheduling a last-minute (“I need to book this flight NOW”) trip as opposed to booking it at 10 PM at night and then letting folks/TPTB know
  • used up 1/3 of my allotted PTO time for the entire calendar year (holidays included in that PTO balance) by the 2ndweek of January
  • not been able to do this at all because I cannot leave my mother alone in the house …… and I had no opportunity to work from home. We didn’t do it. We didn’t believe in it.  What would I have done? I think about this every single day
  • gone unpaid (after quickly blowing through that PTO balance) had I applied for leave under the FMLA to take care of my mother

The pooch would have been screwed.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with how we, as a society, allow our fellow human beings to handle life, family and health. 

Spending all these years in human resources I have, naturally, helped employees navigate child care, elder care and self-care issues. Sometimes the company I worked for cared and worked diligently to assist everyone no matter the circumstances or their position/level/job. Sometimes, and this was much more common, the company I worked for didn’t give a shit …. unless the employee happened to be the most senior-of-senior-executives. 

I vividly recall an employee, we’ll call her Kathy, who had no choice but to take unpaid FMLA to care for an ailing parent who had been sent home from the hospital. While out on her leave Kathy stayed in touch and one day, when she popped in for a visit to HR, she sat in a chair and sobbed. No income. No money to pay her medical/dental/vision plan contributions. No money to pay her utility bills or buy gas for her car. My heart hurt.

It’s for reasons like this that we need programs like those put forthby California Governor Gavin Newsom; his proposal expands California’s PFL so that it becomes the longest paidparental and family leave in the U.S. 

Let’s get our stuff together people of the U.S; this is a travesty.

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image: MaxPixel

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The Worst Places to Work Award

Chances are pretty good that the city in which you live has some sort of “Best Places to Work” Award.  Mine does.

Perhaps your company ponied up the $$ and applied for one of these awards; if you work in HR chances are you managed the entry including gathering reams of data and forcing (disguised as encouragement) your employees to complete surveys.  

Maybe you work for a company that has received this designation. In that case the following happened:

  • Your PR team wrote press releases. Lots of press releases.
  • Your senior executives bought a table (or two) at the awards luncheon. 
  • Your CEO was interviewed by a local business publication and spouted clichés such as “our employees are our most important asset,”and “we’re a very transparent organization with a high-level of trust.”
  • You held a company all-hands meeting, party or pub crawl (if you’re ‘fun’)  to “celebrate.”
  • Your Marketing and HR teams plastered the logo on every available page of the company website and incorporated “BPTW!” verbiage in every single piece of candidate collateral and messaging. (“This will ensure we win the war on talent!”exclaimed more than one hapless and/or clueless recruiter, hiring manager or senior leader.) 

As did the other 50 recipients in your city who also won the award.  

And pretty much everyone involved, let’s be frank, realizes this is a ginormous crock of crap. Winning an award as a “Great Place to Work” or “Top City Employer” or whatever other moniker is being used by the money-making entity that bestows these awards has zero validity as PROOF of a great employment experience. 

What I would like to do is invert the whole thing and present “Worst Places to Work” awards. Imagine this: instead of the same-old-companies-you-can-name in your city there was a fresh new list – every year – telling you the places NO ONE would conceivably want to work? Companies with harsh working conditions, below-market pay, oppressive rules, shitty work/life balance, and HR policies seemingly held over from 1955 would be called out. In addition to gathering current (and former!) employee feedback, the survey organizers could comb through court filings and EEOC or state civil rights complaints for data points.  

Naturally, companies won’t shell out bucks to pay for something that puts them on the naughty list; we’ll have to find a means to get this monetized but I think it’s a winning proposition. 

Publish THIS list in the local newspaper and, if nothing else, we might finally get some companies and leaders to change their ways.

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Your Company’s “Management Culture Number”

If there’s one word that every HR practitioner (and every employment attorney for that matter) would spend good money to have embroidered on a custom-made throw pillow to keep in their office it would be “document.”  Good grief how we love to talk about documentation.

  • Having a coaching session with Bob about his slovenly attire? Document.
  • Discussing Polly’s tendency towards tardiness every Monday morning? Document.
  • Making it crystal clear to Sean that his continued use of the “f” word in customer meetings is not appropriate? Document.

But mere documentation and note-taking won’t do of course. Every HR Department on earth has created its own form to use for the documentation process and, depending upon the style of the HR leader and the culture of the company, they’ve devised catchy names like:

  • Employee Counseling Form
  • Coaching Conversation Form
  • Corrective Action Report
  • Corrective Action Notice ( a.k.a. “CAN” )
  • Employee Warning Notice
  • Memorandum to Employee File
  • Record of Counseling
  • Employee Discipline Form
  • Progressive Discipline Form

Lots and lots of euphemisms devised by HR teams for a form that signifies “you’ve done something we don’t like so we’re going to write it on a piece of paper and put it in your permanent file!!”

And then, of course, there are increasing levels of severity for various infractions so the CAN may have checkboxes to distinguish whether this piece of paper being generated is a:

  • Counseling
  • Verbal Warning
  • Verbal Written Warning
  • Written Warning
  • Final Written Warning
  • Last and Final Written Warning

Having been duly instructed by their HR partners, supervisors and managers churn these forms out at a furious pace. “Uh oh; Susie didn’t hit the requisite number of minutes on the phone today in her call center position. I better ‘write her up!’ (note: if there is one phrase that sets my teeth on edge it’s “write him/her up.”)

In some organizations it is a cyclonic whirling maelstrom of paper as managers compete with each other to win the organizational Gold Medal for number of pieces of documentation generated. File folders overflow. Spreadsheets are overloaded.

If you work in HR though you can make a bit of a game out of it AND toss around some numbers that will delight and impress.  I give you an easy equation that will tell you a lot about the management culture/state of affairs at your organization:

 

Management Culture Number

total number of discipline notices (divided by) total number of employees = MCN

 

Let’s toss a few examples out, shall we? (Remember that CAN = Corrective Action Notice; I have to use that one because it is just too precious):

  • Company with 150 employees; 10 CANs = 0.067 MCN
  • Company with 1,000 employees; 200 CANs = 0.2 MCN
  • Company with 5,000 employees; 4,762 CANs = 0.95 MCN

Note: this doesn’t mean, in the last example, that 95% of the employees received some sort of documented discipline; it might be that 40% of employees had multiple instances of documentation.

You can easily run this number over any period of time; per week, month, quarter, or year. It’s a number that can tell you any manner of things:

  • Perhaps you’ve just instituted a policy outlining some type of new behavioral expectation and either employees don’t understand it or managers have not communicated the expectations clearly
  • You may have production or performance measures that are either unrealistic or easy to manipulate. Think about this in the context of a call-center (calls-per-hour) or a warehouse (pick-and-pack and throughput) where employees either have difficult targets to hit or, conversely, targets they can manipulate so that when production slacks it’s noticeable and leads to documentation.

Sometimes though an overabundance of documentation means that leaders are managing by pen and paper as opposed to managing by conversation.

Yup; that management culture number can explain a lot of things.

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Longing to Belong

I’ve recently found myself diving into multiple conversations, online and off, about “belonging” at work. I’ve been reading articles and news stories about the topic, veered off course in a twitter chat about Diversity & Inclusion yesterday, and have spent a bit of time gauging the climate at my own workplace by observing, asking questions and reviewing some of the norms embedded in our workplace DNA.

Here on the home front I’ve been looking at things like (1) do we let employees express their thoughts and opinions? (2) how are we recognizing people for their accomplishments? (3) do individuals feel valued – not just for their job performance but do they feel valued as unique contributors? (4) are we allowing people to use their special skills and talents in ways that make them “come alive” but also bring a positive impact to the business?

Then last night I read this article – Nearly half of LGBTQ Americans haven’t come out at work – and it’s pretty heartbreaking. In the survey cited in the article, 46% of LGBTQ workers say they are closeted at work and 31`% of LGBTQ workers say they have felt unhappy or depressed at work.  Per the survey, the top reason LGBTQ workers don’t report negative comments they hear about LGBTQ people to a supervisor or human resources is the belief that nothing would be done about it and they don’t want to hurt their relationships with coworkers.” (The full report, A Workplace Divided: Understanding the Climate for LGBTQ Workers Nationwide, can be found here.) 

I also, recently, had the chance to do an episode of WorkHuman Radio with my friends at Globoforce (you can find the link to the show and my related musings here). During the radio chat we talked about operating from a core belief that all people (employees) are entering your company with an innate desire to do their best work. Yet, in our organizational zeal to “win,” I find that we often set up so many roadblocks and obstacles that we demoralize and un-empower those same folks we say we want to “include.” I think there can be a shift though if we (1) Promote values of confidence, freedom, and trust in order to provide a safe environment for employees to learn, create, and collaborate (2) create a workplace that recognizes each employee’s unique contribution, even when their personalities or styles may be a bit quirky.

Yes; “belonging” at work has been consuming my mind. This post is pretty much just me thinking aloud because I’m continuously planning the next steps of the journey. It’s a trip we need to take.

People are longing to belong.

 

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