Repeat After Me: Just Don’t Be a Richard

I’ve had numerous conversations over the last several months that have given me pause as an HR professional.  Wait, let me amend that. Conversations that have given me pause as a business professional.

These conversations were with employees, managers and leaders who work in fly-over country for salt-of-the-earth, middle America, un-sexy companies in non-glamorous industries.  Insurance companies, manufacturing plants, and hospitals. Restaurants, transportation providers, call-centers and governmental entities.

You know…real jobs with real people; not the “world of work” we’re fed via the glossy pages of Fast Company magazine and its brethren.

This, my friends, is the world where punitive attendance polices still exist (as opposed to flexible work/life integration practices) and performance management programs cozily snuggle up next to forced rankings. A place where business owners and/or organizational leaders still feel it’s A-OK to suggest that a female candidate can be paid less because “she’s probably not the primary bread-winner for the family.”  A reality where not everyone has access to Slack or Dropbox or, believe it or not, even a mobile device with WIFI capability. This, of course, means that work schedules are posted on a bulletin board and employees take a bus across town to physically visit the workplace to check their schedule for the next week. And, in a perverted distortion of humanity, if they can’t physically view their schedule (or get hold of anyone via telephone) and thus miss a scheduled shift, they are then penalized via that draconian attendance policy. Full circle in a Kafkaesque world.

These are the workplaces that are veritable orgies of old-school management practices overlaid with a slick (and false) veneer of culture, values, and sexy branding. The sort of places that win a “Best Places to Work” award conferred by the Chamber of Commerce, local media conglomerate, or a third-party Rewards and Recognition vendor that paid big bucks to ‘sponsor’ the awards.

Workplaces where, sometimes, the managers/leaders still operate as if they’re running a Dickensian workhouse. Why? Sometimes it’s due to… 

  • Narcissistic love of power – “I’m in charge and I make the rules” (Waah ha ha!!)
  • Managers who developed their personal style of management at the knee of a mentor (raised up in the 70’s) and are too afraid or too lazy to adjust at this stage of the game
  • The ingrained belief that “everyone is out to screw us” (most often evidenced in business owners as opposed to leaders in an enterprise organization or governmental entity)
  • Stereotypes
  • Prejudices
  • Privilege

When will the day arrive when more workers can reap the benefits of our “new way of working?” Will we ever bridge the digital divide and find a way for everyone to benefit from the use of technology? What about workplace flexibility and the ability to take sick leave and not be ostracized for giving birth or having surgery or spending time with an ill family member? I think we can look back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (106 years ago) and see vast improvements…but there are still locks on the doors.  Those barricades, placed on the doors by owners and managers, are now preventing people from opportunity and freedom of another kind.

Workplace freedom.

Note: this post, and its title, was inspired by a recent conversation with a business owner who said that her company’s policy around unlimited vacation for employees is “take off whatever time you need, just don’t be a dick about it.”  

Simple. Easy. Common sense.  


image: via tshirt hub


A Tale of Disengagement: The Marginalized Employee

A friend of mine is frustrated at work. Frustrated enough to adopt the mantra “I’m learning to not even care.” (as he so succinctly put it). 

And he is, by nature, a very caring person. 

He cares about his customers, his company, and his performance.  He continues to focus on results and doing the best job he can.  But his joy, delight and mojo has left the building.  The energy – the effort! – he’s always put forth has been dialed down a few several many notches.

We can pontificate all we want about ‘attitude’ being a personal choice.  We can exhort people to show up at work and put their nose to the grindstone.  But we can’t, and we know it, make people give a shit.  And then, when they don’t give a shit, we absolutely cannot wonder “why.” 

But we do. We still aimlessly meander down the leadership trail in our pointless journey; doling out surveys, studying reports and lamenting the lack of employee engagement. Which, by the way, we have neglected to even DEFINE.

Naturally we look internally and pat ourselves on the back for doing it right (“damn straight Mr. CEO! We’re most assuredly doing all we can!”) and therefore decide it must be that individual.  That lazy employee.  That person who just shows up to collect a paycheck.  “We’ll never change that person”, we decide.

And deep down we know that’s the biggest crock ever.  But we’re afraid, more often than not, to take a real hard look at how things really are in our companies.  Am I right?

My friend?  A perfect example of how an organization can make someone a statistic and cause an individual to become yet another disengaged employee.  A few  of the recent happenings at his company:

  • A command and control management culture has returned after a brief hiatus (once upon a time some C-suite dude heard that, you know, command-and-control was ‘dead,’ but then…they somehow managed to bring it back to life).  Orders once again come trickling down from on high – through layers of management – and employees are expected to execute.  No input, no discussion and no questioning.
  • My pal, as are many others at his organization, is effectively out of the loop.  Business decisions and organizational strategies – even those which directly impact how he does his job – are not shared.  He operates in a vacuum. A giant corporate soul-sucking Dyson.  It may be the fancy kind with the patented cyclone technology, but it’s certainly not a vacuum with desirable features.
  • His position, one that is absolutely critical to success in the organization, has been relegated to the sidelines.  “Do as you’re told until we tell you to do differently.  That information is on a need-to-know basis.  And you don’t need to know.”




So when he says “I’m learning to not even care,” it’s because that’s what he’s being taught.

Not exactly what’s meant by learning and performanceis it?


this post is a re-run/re-work of one of the most (still) searched/linked/googled/found posts on the HRSchoolhouse (my old original site). I think it’s worth a re-run. I’m also re-running the picture/image from that original 2013 post because I just freakin’ LOVE this picture of the kitty with the vacuum cleaner.  


Will They Stay or Will They Go?

SHORT STAY 3You know what’s a hot buzzword lately? Stay interviews. The stay interview is nothing new but it does seem to be gaining traction – at least as a topic for conference sessions and general chit chat amongst business leaders and HR folks; I myself have had 3 very different conversations within the last few weeks.

I reccently shared my thoughts with the folks over at Small Business Trends (go check it out) where we discussed both the purpose and the format of stay interviews and also tossed out some sample questions to ask employees when you’re trying to determine if they intend to hang out with you for a bit longer. Questions like:


  • “What keeps you here?”
  • “What do you like most about your job and work in our organization?”
  • “What motivates you to do your best work, and how can I support you in that?”
  • “What is it about working here that you wouldn’t miss if you went elsewhere?”

Should managers be having these conversations with employees on a regular basis? Of course they should. Do we have to turn everything into a formal HR process? Of course not. The thought of assigning yet another form or checklist to the oversight of the HR overlords makes my eyes twitch.

This resides firmly in the domain of people management…you know…with the managers. Maybe they could gather this information by, oh I don’t know, having actual human conversation with their staff? Amazing! What a novel concept!

I’m a fan of “stay interviews” (although I refuse to call them that); certainly much better than what most of us do now which is saving up these questions to ask Joe Employee when he’s already decided to “exit.”



Branded a Loser: Vintage Candidate Experience?

offending_stewardesses-211x300Ah yes the ’70s.  Post the introduction of the Pill.  Post Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The era of Title IX and the (failed) attempt to get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified by the states in order to become part of the US Constitution.  Those pesky second-wave feminists were busy.

And in a decade when air travel was still viewed as a glamorous experience complete with ashtrays, cocktails in stemware and people who dressed up for a trip to the airport (I’m looking at you guy-in-sweat-stained-unbuttoned-shirt with a bag from McDonalds’s that sat next to me on a recent flight) the fine folks at Eastern Airlines apparently settled on a way to make sure their consumer brand (especially for the male business traveler) matched their employer brand.  Their solution? Shame not just their job candidates but all women.

“Presenting the Losers” (picture above)

The copy reads:

“Pretty good, aren’t they?  We admit it.  And they’re probably good enough to get a job practically anywhere they want.

But not as Eastern Airline stewardesses.

We pass up around 19 girls, before we get one that qualifies.  If looks were everything, it wouldn’t be tough.  Sure, we want them to be pretty…don’t you?  That’s why we look at her face, her make-up, her complexion, her figure, her weight, her legs, her grooming, her nails and her hair.

But we don’t stop there.  We talk.  And we listen.  We listen to her voice, her speech.  We judge her personality, her maturity, her intelligence, her intentions, her enthusiasm, her resiliency and her stamina.

We don’t want a stewardess to be impatient with a question you may have, or careless in serving your dinner, or unconcerned about your needs.

So we try to eliminate these problems by taking a lot more time and passing up a lot more girls.

It may make our job a little harder.  But it makes your flying a lot easier.”


How nice.  They actually ‘talked and listened’ during the selection process rather than just judging hair, nails and bust-waist-hip ratio. And check it out 1970’s job candidates – if you were fortunate enough to pass phase 1 (the ugly screen) Eastern Airlines kindly laid out the job competencies right there in the advertisement: patiencepersonality, maturity, intelligence, intentions, enthusiasm, resiliency and stamina. 

After your trip to the beauty parlor and the make-up counter you might have had enough time to think about answers for the moment you were actually deigned worthy enough to enter into conversation about actual skills and abilities.



This post originally ran over at the HR Schoolhouse in 2014. Thanks to my friend Trish McFarlane for reminding me about it yesterday which led to my re-running it from the archives. 


It’s Not a Party ’til the HR Lady is Slathered in Butter

NCI_butterA few months ago I made a move that was, let’s face it, the opposite of what every-other-HR-professional in the world seems to have on their career-to-do-list. I left my life as an HR consultant and went back in house to lead an HR department once again.

I missed being an HR lady.

I missed being part of a team. I missed setting long term goals and objectives and having the internal influence and resources to get things done. I missed being affiliated with an organization. Confession time; I found it challenging to talk about “me” (which, let’s face it is what one is selling as a consultant) because I always felt I sounded like a braggadocious egotist. Even though I had the credentials, credibility, and achievements to back up the “me” talk, it felt awkward and uncomfortable. Does that make sense?

But I also missed heading into the office every day. Really. Even though here in Baton Rouge it means a daily craptfest of traffic woes I missed hopping in my car each morning. I missed chatting with people at the coffee pot, grabbing a quick conversational moment in the ladies room, and being physically together with coworkers. Really. While every other person in the world seems focused on finding ways they can get their work done from home or the local coffee shop, I have to admit I enjoy being all together in one environment. I totally got Marissa Mayer.

This new job of mine is in the entertainment/hospitality industry. A casino as a matter of fact (which any google search of my name will let you know). We are, obviously, in the business of providing fun. We’re busiest when everyone else is not busy and looking for stuff to do; nights, weekends, holidays. 10 PM. Midnight. 2 AM. Holidays.

Naturally, as one might imagine, New Year’s Eve is one of the most frantic days of the year; there are special events, dinners, parties, music, and champagne toasts. Thousands of people stop in for a spot of fun and festivities.

It was all hands on deck of course so I worked that evening. I bussed tables and rolled silverware. I helped a few lost patrons find their way back to the Valet office. I hustled around the dining room to pass out utensils so our diners could crack open their lobsters.

I served a few drinks (non-alcoholic only; I don’t yet have the liquor license that allows me to pass out the good stuff) and wiped down some bathroom counters. I took a stroll through the gaming floor to say “hello” but also to pick up stray papers and pieces of refuse.

By the end of the night I was exhausted. I also had an absolute blast.

Teamwork at its finest. Exactly what I wanted when I went back to join an organization; a place where we all work together to make sure the biggest night of the year is a roaring success.

Those lobsters though. Thousands of lobsters served as part of the New Year’s Eve dinner. Lobsters which, naturally, require melted butter.

At one stage during the evening, as I was moving through a back hallway near the kitchen I heard Chef A yelling across the kitchen to Chef B: “hey…someone get a mop out here and clean this floor. The HR Lady almost fell on this butter.”

It’s good to be back.


thanks to my friend Kelly Blokdijk for the blog post title

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