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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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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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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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.

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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)

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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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The Precariousness of a #WorkHuman Journey

It’s just after 2 PM on Day 2 (and a-half) of Globoforce’s WorkHuman event in Austin and I just walked back over to the Convention Center from my hotel.

This hotel, which officially opened within the last several weeks, has a connecting skywalk that takes one from floor 2 of the hotel to floor 2 of the Convention Center. Very convenient.

This skywalk is a twisting, serpentine slab of concrete, perhaps 10 feet wide, that is suspended over a fairly bustling city street. There are no walls on this walkway; not even the illusion of a semi-comforting half-wall. Nope; this walkway is encased in what appears to be chicken wire. (OK; we all know it’s not actual chicken wire – it looks much sturdier and is actually bolted down but I have been much too afraid to actually get close enough to touch it and confirm this).

So every time I walk across this walkway I stay the straight and narrow right in the middle so as not to tempt the fates and end up having a strong gust of wind push me through the chicken wire. Yesterday as my friend Katee Van Horn and I made the journey we walked single file, lock-step behind each other, and didn’t even speak until we got safely to the other side.

And now, just a few short minutes ago, I stepped onto the walkway with a lady who was facing the seemingly benign treachery for the first time. She took one look, said “Oh hell no,” and reversed back into the hotel to find a safer land-based approach to the convention center.

I totally understood.

And then I got to wondering…was this event venue chosen for this one design element alone? Was the master plan to make ALL WorkHuman attendees take numerous uncomfortable, sweat-inducing, heart-palpitating journeys in unfamiliar terrain?

In numerous sessions we’ve been talking about being brave. We’re chatting about having difficult conversations at work with our leaders and team members and co-workers.

I think this march across the spiraling-death-bridge/walkway has been one giant metaphor for the organizational journey to being a more human-centered workplace. And a testing platform for HR leaders to see if they’re up to the challenge.

Well played Globoforce events team.  Well played.

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photo courtesy of Curbed Austin

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