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This has got to STOP!

I realize I may be a bit late to the party on this one, but my thoughts and feelings about this issue have been percolating, brewing, festering, etc. for weeks now. I had been debating writing a post about the sordid history of Donald Trump and his many actual and alleged ‘interactions’ with women. In fact, I was planning on writing an entire post on Trump himself where I would dissect his leadership skills, and in particular, his track record when it comes to the issue of harassment. But then I decided, no, Trump isn’t the issue; this is much bigger than him (despite what he might think). This is a much larger societal issue as a whole.

trumpIn fact, this entire affair (pardon the pun) with Trump really caused me to reflect on my almost 20 year career in HR to see if perhaps I was as gripped in on the issue of (sexual) harassment as I should be. I decided that the answer to that is NO. I need to be better. We, as HR Pros need to be better. We as managers and leaders need to be better. Society needs to be better. Here is the thing, this is not something that should be laughed off, ignored, tolerated or put up with any capacity. Harassment IS a major issue in the workplace and in general. I have had many conversations with female colleagues and friends over this issue (especially in recent months) and it is SHOCKING what they have had to put up with in the workplace and in their careers. I am not going to write about the specifics that were shared, but suffice it to say, if I did, this would be an R-rated blog.

By the time (or even IF) something is brought forward as a “complaint”, there have probably been multiple instances of harassment that should have been reported, addressed etc.; so, by the time we as HR Pros are dealing with an issue, we better damn well take it seriously and address it properly! Here is what I have learned and what I think I know from my experience in dealing with workplace harassment and most importantly, from speaking with women I know who have had to deal with this issue:

  • (Sexual) Harassment is NEVER just locker room talk. There is no such thing. (Sexual) harassment is wrong, should never happen, and is NEVER done as a joke. It is about power and control – that much isn’t even up for debate.
  • It takes a ton of courage for a woman to bring forward a complaint about harassment. They have suffered in silence, dealing with the issue many, many times before they summoned the courage to log a formal complaint. They often debate and decide to not say anything as they fear the repercussions of bringing a harassment complaint forward are not worth it.
  • We need more from our profession, managers and leaders because ultimately, in terms of how workplaces are defined and how harassment is handled, comes down to a leadership issue.
  • As an HR Pro, I need to be better. I need to be better at understanding the extent, depth and pervasiveness of this issue. I need to be better at how I address it. Upon some serious self-reflection over the course of my career, I think I have been guilty of being too conservative on the consequences. As HR Pros, we (present company included) need to take a stronger stance and stop worrying so much about what the harasser ‘might’ do if the punishment is too strong (especially if that includes termination). Let’s start taking a stronger stance on this issue. In our roles, we have the power to do this. Let’s use this power to create better workplaces.

At the end of the day, I am going to commit to being more aware and more cognizant of this issue. I will be better. I will work harder to be better at what I do when it comes to addressing harassment. I will admit it – I am ignorant…but I am learning. Thank you Donald Trump for making me think more about this. (Can’t believe I just wrote that.) Now…who’s with me? As always I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Flickr.com


HR – Let’s fix these things!

One of my goals as an HR Professional and HR Leader is to continue to try and elevate not only the status of our profession, but also to try and guide and provide some perspective to our upcoming HR Pros. Part of the mission of The Armchair HR Manager is to dispel some of the myths and fallacy in thinking that HR Pros have about themselves and their profession. I have written many times about what it makes to be a good HR Pro and what good HR Pros should be doing and I find each time that I do, some HR Pro reaches out to thank me for the advice and information as it has typically provided them some fresh perspective on challenges they are facing. (Mission accomplished!)

Fix ItIn that context, I wanted to lay out some things that we can, and should be doing, as HR Pros that will not only help our organizations, but elevate the status of our profession – i.e. add VALUE. Some of these may be obvious, some are easy to do and some are hard. Some are quick fixes and some are longer term solutions. The degree of all of this will vary from organization to organization and HR Pro to HR Pro. My goal is help draw your attention to these items, help you feel like you are not alone in the “fight” to bring respect to HR and hopefully the list will bring some focus and clarity to your own HR role. To that extent, I present The Armchair HR Manager’s list of stuff that HR can and needs to fix:

  1. Onboarding – simply put, this is one of the greatest areas of opportunity for most companies. If you can do anything to help improve, fix and refine this process you should be doing it. Frankly, it is horrible to think that in many companies, employees still show up for their 1st day of work and managers aren’t ready for them, the new employee has no computer access or even a place to sit/work. This is typically capped off by the new employee going to lunch by themselves – uggh.
  2. Communication – another one of the big organizational pain points we can help fix. HR Pros should always be looking for ways to improve organizational communication. Use your hidden IT skills to develop an intranet or SharePoint site. Write a weekly “letter from the President” to update staff on high level organizational stuff. Anything you can do to increase and improve communication will go a long way to enhancing your company’s brand and the status of HR in general.h
  3. Forms – if you are one those companies that have paper forms for everything, than find a way to reduce, eliminate and move online anything that has to be filled out. Get your forms developed in Adobe format and have staff complete things online. No one, and I mean no one, likes to fill out hard copy forms. This may seem trivial, but it is a big improvement!
  4. Job ads – quite simply, they suck. Stop posting job descriptions. Start describing what the person in the job will do and how they will impact things. Focus on a performance profile and less about responsibilities and qualifications. Trust me; your hiring managers will thank you for it!
  5. Supervisor/employee relations – if you have a manager or managers in your company that are acting like a**holes, call them out on it. Speak to them, coach them, work with their manager but do whatever you can to keep the spotlight and heat on managers who treat their employees like crap. If they don’t change, push your organizational leaders hard to get rid of them – you don’t need these types of cancers in your company. Here is the thing, believe me when I tell your employees ALL know who the bad managers are and they are always wondering why you aren’t doing anything about it.
  6. Harassment in general – whether from managers or peers, I am still appalled by the amount of sexual harassment and harassment in general that occurs in today’s workplaces. Despite greater awareness, “mandatory” organizational training and court awards for damages, harassment is still a MAJOR workplace issue. I am disgusted by the stories I hear of how employees are being bullied (my managers and peers), are sexually harassed or harassed due to their gender, sexual orientation or for other means. I am blown away by how employees still think it is “ok” to make inappropriate comments, touch/grab or otherwise make contact with their fellow employees or simply partake in the use of sexual innuendos. Worst of all, companies still tend to turn a blind eye to these issues, or only “try” and deal with them once they become a formal complaint. Having policies is one thing, it is all about your ACTIONS. As HR Pros, we need to FIX THIS – NOW!
  7. Confidentiality – most of all, as HR Pros, you HAVE to maintain confidentiality in your dealings with staff. No one likes or trusts an HR Pro that can’t maintain confidentiality. The most valuable currency you have is trust – don’t break/lose it. If the problem is with your managers, see point #5 above – work the manager and their supervisor and make sure they understand the impact of their actions and then coach their supervisor on holding the blabber mouth manager accountable.

What about you? Are there any other fixes that HR can provide? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Workplace Investigations – Lessons Learned from Deflategate

I tried resisting the urge to capitalize on the sensationalism of the NFL’s “Deflategate” scandal but I couldn’t resist. It is an absolutely fascinating news and sports story, and as an HR Pro, the parallels between what is happening with the NFL and this investigation and what occurs in the workplace are just too obvious to ignore. If you want to know more than you ever need to know about the actualy NFL story, just Google “Deflategate; NFL, Wells Report.”

Football deflatedIf you can’t be bothered to read the thousands of articles on this, here are the salient points from my perspective (full disclosure – I am a diehard New England Patriots fan):

  • There was a complaint brought forward by a team in the NFL (National Football League), that another team (The New England Patriots) was cheating. The allegations were that the Patriots were using underinflated footballs (i.e. below the league mandated minimum PSI).
  • The league conducted a combination of a ‘sting’ operation and an all-out investigation into the matter which included interviewing league officials (from the game in question), New England Patriost support staff members (ball boys) and the quarterback of the Patriots, Tom Brady.
  • The league hired a (supposed) neutral third party investigator to investigate the alleged cheating. The investigator, (Ted Wells), after an almost 4 month investigation, wrote his report on the matter and determined that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots and their QB cheated.
  • Based on the report, the league heavily fined the Patriots organization, stripped them of two key draft picks (currency in the NFL) and suspended their quarterback/star employee, Tom Brady, for 4 games (25% of the upcoming season).
  • The entire situation has now turned into a circus as the Patriots are appealing the sanctions; Tom Brady is appealing the suspension (which is his right as a unionized employee under the CBA) and is also threatening to take legal action against the league for defamation of character (as he has outright denied any and all alleged cheating.) In general, the league and its Commissioner (Roger Goodell) are being scrutinized in some circles for acting so harshly on the inconsistencies of the report, their inconsistencies in handing out punishment to players in general and how they went about the entire investigatory process. Bottom line – the very fabric of the league is being questioned.

Now, whether you are a fan or not of the Patriots or football in general, there are a lot of lessons to be learned here by organizations and their HR folks. Similar situations can and do play out in the workplace like this all the time. Typically the complaints are for things like conduct issues – harassment/sexual harassment and code of conduct violations like theft, time theft, etc. Most times, HR is called in to get to the bottom of the situation and make a determination as to what happened. So, based on lessons learned from past experience AND from how the NFL and Ted Wells have handled things, here are some tips on how to handle your own (potential) workplace investigation:

  1. When conducting an investigation, make sure that the investigator is neutral. That is, if HR was involved initially with the matter, (i.e. dealt with previous conduct issues involving the parties in question) you should hire a 3rd party investigator to handle an official complaint, say, of harassment. The NFL used an investigator that they had used on a previous investigation (Bountygate) whose approach and the results thereof were questioned by many of the league’s players and owners.
  2. Be clear as to what the purpose and outcome is of the investigation. That is, it should be to determine if there was any wrong doing or any violation of a policy, human rights or labour law. The organization and its investigator need to be completely transparent in their objectives and approach. You can’t enter the investigation with a particular bias or slant in terms of the outcome you are looking for or are hoping for. The only outcome you are looking for is the truth which is hopefully based on facts.
  3. As it pertains to harassment investigations, you cannot overlook anything that the complainant or defendant brings up, whether before, during or after the investigation. That is, if someone identifies an additional piece of information that corroborates their story, or identifies a new “witness” to the events, the investigator has an obligation to meet with these identified employees and not overlook or throw out the ‘evidence.’
  4. As an investigator, it is acceptable to use words like “reasonable”, “probable”, and “lack of credibility” in your report. However, they must be linked to facts and findings that you have uncovered and not based on “gut feeling.” Additionally, you must maintain your credibility and objectivity by not “leading” witnesses and respondents. It is not your job to place doubt in their mind about what they remembered or have seen. It is ok to ask additional probing questions or if there are inconsistencies in their story, you can repeat what they said, tell them you are confused and then ask them to “help you understand” a bit better. Let them do the talking and you as the investigator do the listening.
  5. When it comes to workplace investigations, HR and/or the investigator, have to come to some sort of a conclusion, based on its investigation, whenever possible and practicable. If there is direct evidence (witnesses, video recording, and employee admittance) we can come to a probable conclusion of a violation. If there is conflicting information, conflicting witnesses, etc., we still may be able to come to a conclusion based on a balance of probabilities approach all of which must be based on key findings…not opinions.
  6. When it comes to potential punishment, we also have to keep in mind that Canadian law demands a more nuanced approach to the employer’s response vs. “zero tolerance.” This requires us to balance the conflicting interests of the complainant and respondent and come to a conclusion and recommendation.
  7. When looking at points #5 and #6, HR has to factor in things like the previous history of the complainant and the respondent. Has the complainant ever made false claims before? Has the respondent ever been disciplined for conduct and/or related issues before? What is the credibility and history like of the witnesses for both parties? What is the organizational culture like? Is there culpability on the company’s part? Has the company allowed a “relaxed” approach to its rules and how they have dealt with conduct issues? Has a particular supervisor been lax in managing issues similar to this? Have they created a poor work culture and the respondent/defendant is only partially to blame? In essence, is their joint culpability here?
  8. Based on the finding and recommendations in the report summary, is the discipline that is handed out consistent with what has been done in the past and/or does it align with organizational policies? All of these things need to be considered in order to maintain the credibility and integrity of the investigation, the investigator and the organizational reputation.

As you can tell by this list, workplace investigations are pretty tricky and must be handled with the utmost of care. Unless you work for a public organization, your investigations won’t be open to as much public scrutiny as the NFL’s are, that is, unless you are sued or a human rights complaint is filed against you. If this happens, your investigation has to pass the sniff test to make sure you followed points 1-8 above.

The NFL could have saved themselves a lot of current and future pain by following some of these points. They should have hired a different investigator, one who hadn’t handled a recent complaint against players. Instead of conducting a sting operation into the alleged rules violation, in other words, let’s try and catch them doing it and then investigate, they could have simply “coached” the team(s) and its player(s) on what the rules were and how to conduct themselves. Think about that for a minute, in the workplace, if a harassment complaint is brought forward, do we then try and catch the alleged harasser in the act before we investigate!? No, so why did the NFL act this way? At the very least, they should have investigated right away and concluded the investigation much sooner. In the workplace, taking 4 months to investigate a harassment complaint will never fly!

Finally, the league should have taken into consideration the player’s previous history (Tom Brady). That is, he has never been investigated and/or subject to any league discipline of any type before. There was no actual evidence found linking him to a rules violation so instead, the investigator placed their own interpretation on what they found instead of letting the evidence “talk” and drawing conclusions from the facts.

The final punishment was very inconsistent with what the league had done in similar matters in the past. This is an especially egregious mistake as the league had created its own culture issue of looking the other way in similar matters and/or coming down lightly on previous rule and conduct violators. Their prior history of serious public missteps in dealing with previous conduct/personal conduct issues may have been one reason for why their punishment deviated from past applications. In this case, the league has decided to treat this case of alleged rule violations similar to how they (finally) treated other previous conduct issues like domestic violence. The inconsistencies are appalling and if any business handled itself this way, it would find a series of scathing reviews on GlassDoor (at a minimum) and probably a host of Human Rights complaints and civil suits being launched against it. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of frankieleon/Flickr.com

Dealing with Bullying – Why school and work are the same

I have little tolerance for bullies. Whether at work or at my daughter’s school, I simply do not have much tolerance for bullying behaviour. Unfortunately, bullying still occurs far too often at schools and at work, and the parallels are uncanny. Both schools (including school boards) and workplaces have progressed over the past 10 years to developing and implementing various policies around bullying. Schools have anti-bullying campaigns, assemblies and days/weeks devoted to wearing pink in order to bring awareness to and stop bullying. Government departments and workplaces have implemented legislation and policies respectively to address bullying in the workplace. It is common now for many workplaces to have the words bullying captured in their harassment policies. I truly believe that schools and workplaces want to eliminate bullying of all varieties.

I do feel that schools and workplaces have made great strides in dealing with physical bullying. It is overt, tangible, fairly obvious and addressable. That is, if someone physical touches/harms etc. another student/worker, than the school/workplace brings that person into the principal’s office/HR’s office and addresses the physical bullying when it has been reported. They identify how the person’s actions violate the bullying policy and the student is either given detention, suspension or even expelled! The employee is given a verbal and/or written warning and/or even terminated. School boards and courts of law have also shown little tolerance towards proven physical bullying and have supported the schools/workplaces in their decisions in addressing this type of behaviour.

BullyingWhere I believe a lot of this falls short is the verbal/psychological aspects of bullying. Schools struggle mightily in this regard. As the father of a daughter who experiences verbal bullying at school, it is a constant battle to have this addressed. Responses vary from, “well, if we don’t hear it,” or “the alleged bully denies saying those things,” to “well we can’t act on something there is no proof of.” The same goes for the workplace. Many workplaces simply aren’t equipped to deal with bullying in the workplace. Let’s face it, the bullies are smart. They know what buttons to press, how to act in front of the right people and are quite adept at manipulating situations to make themselves look ‘innocent’ (or they even outright lie).

As HR pros, these are difficult situations to investigate and come to conclusions on. It has been my experience (and feeling) that many people that experience workplace bullying are reluctant to come forward to anyone about it. They simply deal with it in silence and eventually move on to another job/company. (How is that for your employer of choice campaign!?) Worse yet, they end up going on medical leave to deal with depression and anxiety, when at the end of the day, if companies acted more swiftly and strongly, bullying could be dealt with. Now, I am not giving legal advice as I am not qualified to do so; however, I feel that as HR pros if we provide the right framework, work with our managers on appropriate behaviours and how to address those behaviours that don’t align with our company values and policies, we can make great strides in this area. Additionally, I believe that if HR or an investigator conducts a proper investigation into alleged complaints of bullying, than we need to have the fortitude to make tough decisions (even on the balance of probabilities) about the continued employment of certain individuals.  Look at your exit interview data, employee survey data and your HR files. What is the data telling you? What are the subliminal messages in the information? You can then figure out if 1+1 = 2 (i.e. there is a problem) or if you get some other number.

In the same vein, I think our schools need to take an equally strong approach to addressing verbal bullying. I know my daughter is reluctant to come forward to tell the teacher about being bullied as she doesn’t want to be seen as a tattle tale. However, we continue to work with her to make sure she does in fact bring this to the teacher’s attention so that she has a positive school experience and that others who may be being bullied also benefit from her actions. Schools need to be tougher on verbal bullying and shift the burden of proof a bit. If a student(s) keep coming forward about the same person(s) bullying them day over day, perhaps the level of diligence needs to be raised? Keep a watchful eye on alleged offenders. Perhaps even a preventative discussion about what verbal bullying is would be in order? Perhaps during these assemblies and campaigns, we also focus on verbal elements of bullying and how it won’t be accepted – actions need to match words.

Stronger messages must be sent, because let’s face it, children know when they being bullies…and when they are being bullied, much like adults in the workplace do. Schools and workplaces need to come to grips with the fact that bullying can’t always be seen and they must be prepared to take the tough steps to address it. Otherwise, I feel all these wear pink days are simply for show as we really aren’t talking about all elements of bullying. So I am looking for HR pros, managers and educators to raise the level of commitment and response to verbal bullying. Let’s stop accepting gossip, rumour mongering, slander,  and personal attacks in our schools and workplaces.  I know I will continue to fight the fight. What about you? What has been your experience? Do you see the parallels between school and workplace bullying? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Workplace Incivility

One of my personal pet peeves at work is when co-workers and managers don’t treat each other with respect. Understanding that managers have a job to do and if they have employees who are not performing this needs to be addressed; however, it can always be done with respect. Regardless of the message, no matter how difficult, sensitive or critical it is, it can always be delivered in a respectful way so that the person receiving the message is allowed to maintain their dignity.

So having said that, my temperature always rises when I see and hear of incidents of workplace incivility. These run the gamut of things like employees treating admin staff as if they were somehow lesser people or lower on the proverbial food chain, employees doing an end around on another colleague in order to make their own project look better, or my personal favourite – the manager who berates their employee over the phone. Honestly, I will never understand why one person thinks that yelling at another is going to accomplish something. I really don’t get how a manager thinks that one of their employees is going to work better/harder/faster/smarter because they yell at them? After a few times the shock effect wears off and the employee becomes numb to the effect of the yelling anyway.

YellingI have also grown tired of the stories, and having seen in previous roles, employees and managers who “throw” documents at their staff and “tell” them to get them photocopied, distributed, etc. I have further grown increasingly impatient with managers who call out their employees in front of other employees at staff meetings. I am talking about the type of manager who seems to take pride in pointing out another person’s shortcomings and generally seems to relish embarrassing them in front of their peers. I am not sure what personal short comings they are trying to compensate for but I can sure take a guess.

At the end of the day, what can we do? Well for starters, if you are in HR, you have a professional obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment for the employees of your company. You should immediately address situations like these with the other person’s manager and gameplan a discussion with the instigator of the workplace incivility. Partner with their manager and have them identify the inappropriate conduct, reference the organizational values and the impact to the other person and request that the behavior not be repeated. This is one of the quickest ways to stamp out this behavior and change your company culture. Work with your CEO and make sure he/she is onside, vigorously coach your leadership team on proper communication and support of organizational values and then hold each other accountable for making the change. Most importantly, NEVER walk by or shrug off these incidents. If you have to, interject and ask to speak with the offending party in private so as to stop the behavior immediately.

It shouldn’t be hard to get your CEO onside to take a firm approach to these matters, even if they are initially apprehensive. One only has to look at the cost of turnover, disengagement, absenteeism and the direct costs of lawsuits stemming from a psychologically unsafe work environment to see the positive impact change in this area can make. Let’s all make a commitment to ourselves, our profession and our employers that we will not accept workplace incivility and will do our utmost to stamp it out whenever and wherever we see it.

What about you? Have you seen this type of behavior in your current or past workplaces? How did you address it? What challenges did you face? As always, I would love to hear from you.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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