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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Are You Working?

Dear Evil HR Lady:

I have a question. I am currently looking for work and have been on a handful of interviews. I have been asked a couple of times if I am currently working which I am not. What is the purpose of this question? I can speculate, but I am just wondering from an hr perspective what is behind it.

Love the site btw.


Dear Chris,

I can only speculate and tell you why I ask the question and what I am looking for. If the answer to, "Are you currently employed?" is no, I'll follow up with, "Why did you leave your last job?" If the answer is yes, I'll follow up with, "Why are you looking to leave your current job?"

Essentially, I'm looking to see what your issues are and what your motivation is to be looking for a job. I personally am very cautious about hiring someone who voluntarily left a job without another one lined up--unless there is a good reason. Was it to increase your education? Great. Was it to stay home with your young children? Great. Was it to travel Europe for a summer? I am so jealous, but I wonder how long you are going to stay with me before taking off again. I recommend the "once in a life time" response in conjunction with that trip.

But, if it's "my manager was a jerk" I'm very nervous. This may be true, but I will not be inclined to offer you employment. And keep in mind this is a very small world and your jerk manager could be my college roommate. (Not likely, by the way, as my college roomates don't live anywhere near me, but you understand the principle involved here.)

For the record, I've had so much experience laying people off that someone who was laid off from their last job doesn't even make me bat an eyelash.

People who have quit multiple jobs without new ones make me very nervous. People who currently have jobs but have been in them for less than 2 years make me nervous. People who were fired for cause make me very nervous.

It's not a secret code question. It tells me a lot about you. So, out of curiousity, why aren't you currently working?


Evil HR Lady



The real cast is now on and it's purple. And waterproof! This means we can still go swimming and not worry about it getting wet at Disney World.

The Offspring is quite happy with all the attention she is getting for this broken arm. I'm afraid she'll want to do it again.
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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Carnival of HR Reminder

Next Wednesday is Carnival time. Get your submissions to at about dot com!

The May 2nd Carnival will be hosted by Susan Heathfield at About: Human Resources.

The May 16th Carnival will be hosted by Carmen Van Kerckhove at Race in the Workplace.

The May 30th Carnival will be hosted by Deb Owens at 8 Hours & a Lunch.

The June 13th Carnvial will be hosted by Gautam Ghosh at A Management Consultant's Blog.

The June 27th Carnival will be hosted by Kris Dunn at The HR Capitalist.

The July 11th Carnival will be hosted by Lisa Rosendahl at HR Thoughts.

The August 22nd Carnival will be hosted by Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership.

Let me know if any of the rest of you wish to host. Think of the fame and glory that will come your way! You can even put it on your resume: Hosted Carnival of Human Resources. Think of the number of job offers you can get with that!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Pleas Chek Yur Spellin

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Annually my company's HR lady requests us to review and acknowledge reviewing all documents pertaining to corporate policies. She does this without informing us which documents have actually changed forcing us to re-read the same documents every year. It takes days to re-read the documents. My question follows; Do all HR professionals use this ploy to force others to proof read the error ridden gibberish they produce? And how could I apply this proof-read concept onto others for my peer code reviews.

Bitter? Party of one?

I agree that your HR lady is unprofessional. Sending out things that are error ridden is inexcusable. (Although I won't mention that just yesterday someone called me about a general release I had written that said they needed to "executive" the release rather than "execute." Darn non-omniscient spell checker!)

Is she the one who made this policy or does she carry it out? Even though we HR types seem to love paper more than life itself, it's rarely HR that decides such things need to happen. It's usually finance or legal that comes up with the idea that everyone needs to sign off on the Code of Conduct every year. HR has to carry it out and we get blamed for wasting time.

Even so, she should be professional.

Refrain from the urge to fill the documents with red pencil marks. That will just make her angry. Although I do give you permission to tell your staff that they are never to send out something without proper proof-reading.

Now, I'm really scared I've made a spelling or grammatical error in this post. I spell checked on Microsoft Word, and I hope that is enough.


Evil HR Lady

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Boom! Again

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Diagnosis: Buckle Fracture. 1.5 weeks before leaving for Disney World. Poor Offspring. It happened while she was (theoretically) watching television. I was cleaning the bathroom.

Lesson from this? I should not do housework.

How Old Are You?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
First, may I just say that I really enjoy reading your blog. It's always funny and informative. Back in college I was an Evil HR Lady Intern for a Fortune 500 company and I actually really enjoyed it but have gone on to a different profession which leads me to my question about my current position ( I'm wishing that someone had clarified this for me during my internship of evil but, so it goes, I was too busy filing resumes to ask all the astute questions)...

So I've just begun a new job and I'm quite young to have my position. Since the first day that I've started my position I've been asked with some regularity "how old are you?" While I can tell that some of the question askers are just being friendly and curious and are often hoping to then begin telling stories about "back when they started" at our current employer, I sense that others are seeking to gather information about me in not wholly neutral and/or friendly ways.

First question: I've been trying to parry all questions about my age since I recognize that disclosing my age may undermine my authority in some respects. I do this nicely by not directly answering questions and responding to age querries with comments like "well, I've had six years of experience doing the particular job I've been hired to do" or, slightly more irreverently, "oh, I'm ancient but I'm a disciple of vitamins, veggies, and botox". Am I doing the right thing to not directly mention my age? Do these sound like appropriate answers to you if I didn't want to disclose my age or do I sound like I'm being sneaky and unhelpful? What about those who I sense have ulterior motives (e.g. trying to use my age as evidence of a lack of experience)? Any ideas how I should respond to them? Or do you think I should let everyone know my age so that these questions don't get asked any more?

Second, (okay, this is more of a comment) I'm just really weirded out by the number of people who have asked me how old I am. I'm just trying to keep my nose down and do my job but I feel like once I have more seniority it may be a good idea to perhaps raise the issue that questions regarding age, marital status, etc. are somewhat complicated and troublesome. I don't really want my company to get sued for violating any HR confidentiality practices. Should my employer be reminding employees that there are certain questions that they should not ask during the interview process and, more broadly, once new employees are hired? Does the confidentiality of the interview situation apply to all current employees of an organization?

Thanks for your help.

Not sooo young

Dear Youthful One,

Ahh, to have youth instead of just beauty. Or, umm, yeah. First, from a legal standpoint, your age only counts as a protected class if you are over 40, which you are not. From an annoyance standpoint, you've got a case.

I like your responses. I, being more obnoxious than you are, would start answering, "I'll be 62 next week. Can't wait until the grandkids come to visit!" or "I'm 15 and a half. Dad's going to start giving me driving lessons next month!" But, that's why I'm an evil HR Lady and you were only an evil HR Intern.

As I said, your age does not put you in a protected class, but if you find you are being discriminatd against you may wish to take it up to HR. My bet is that the reason your co-workers repeatedly ask you how old you are is because you are doing a fabulous job. If you were acting like they expected a dorky 22 year old to act they wouldn't keep asking. But, because you are performing at a level that seems out of character for your perceived age, they keep asking.

It's bothersome, but I would try to ignore it as best as possible.

While technically, you probably shouldn't go around asking your co-workers and underlings questions that you wouldn't ask in an interview, that's what real life is all about. "Hey, I need Friday off for Good Friday" or, "we're going to my mother-in-law's for Passover" is part of daily conversation, although it reveals your religion. Someone may have a picture of their spouse or partner in their cube. You may have to leave a meeting early to go take some insulin or get something to eat if you are diabetic. You wouldn't bring any of these things up in an interview, but it would be hard to hide them day to day.

And I'm not saying that you should. Your co-workers should all be adults and we should all be able to handle anything about you, as long as you are working hard.

The longer you are there and the more you prove yourself, the less frequent the questions should be. But, remember that co-workers are frequently like mothers. "Why aren't you married?" will change, once you get married, to "When are you and Bill going to have a baby?" and (trust me on this one) once you have a baby the question will be, "So, Offspring is almost 4. Aren't you about ready to have another baby?"

It's life. It's annoying, but there it is!

And all too soon no one will as you your age because you'll look old like me.

Evil HR Lady

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Procastination Pays Off

I got the e-mail below on March 29. Somehow, it didn't register in my brain so I didn't respond. Here's the e-mail:

Hi there - love the blog!

The situation is as follows:

Smart, single, long-time employee at management level evades meetings with, but texts senseless messages at odd hours to, his nominal boss. I say nominal because he loves to deal with the boss's boss - and go drinking and partying with that guy. The senior manager agrees the guy doesn't seem to be working much, but wants them all to get along, and give the junior manager more chances. There are lots of strange messages left at the office or at home, when middle is usually available on his cell. This has been going on for a year or so. Middle manager accidentally discovered that junior has quite a debt load, but he is well paid and unencumbered by wife/child/mortgage etc. His erratic behaviour (missed meetings, late arrivals, argumentative and hostile conversations, lack of follow up on business objectives etc.) coupled with the odd finances leads to suspicions about drug use, or maybe gambling. Just where is this money going?

Question: does middle manager wait for junior to implode? Or does he say something to HR? Senior manager will not listen as this is now his favourite drinking buddy and he has never fired anyone, ever (ok, the company has lots of issues, but middle/junior are my focus.) Implosion would get junior out of the company, especially if he started stealing to meet his habit. Middle manager could hire/promote a new person, and start anew.

Any ideas?


Frustrated by-stander

Great question and oops on my part for not noticing. I e-mailed the author back and asked if she still wanted an answer, since it had been so long. Here is the response:

Dear Evil,

Timing is everything! Whilst middle waited for junior to implode (and he was working on it) some of junior's reports staged a coup. They met with HR (in this case, HR is represented by tres cool smart jock type who does not play politics.) They all threatened to quit as they could not deal with the erratic behaviour, and one of them reported a cash stream that mysteriously ballooned after junior handed over the control - to the tune of serious money. In short, middle did not have to go toe-to-toe with the big boss to get this guy fired. They are likely to support him through rehab and hold some sort of job for him, but the stealing is not going to make that easy.

Any comments would be welcomed, as there will be a big post-mortem on this: why it took the line staff to call his bluff etc. when higher-ups could see it, or at least parts of it.

So, that particular problem was solved, but it was solved in entirely the wrong way. Not that Junior's reports did anything wrong. Good for them--somebody needed to deal with it--but they shouldn't have to.

Why do higher-ups ignore problems? The same reason I sometimes pretend I don't notice the offspring eating in the family room. It's against the rules and she shouldn't do it, but sometimes I am just too lazy. Of course, managers are also scared. What if they guy freaks out? He's already proven himself unstable--plus he's buddy buddy with the head honcho. They are taking a huge risk in doing something.

Of course, it's exactly situations like this that we pay managers to handle. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't be in management.

As for the big boss--he needs to cultivate a company culture where people can come to him with problems without getting in trouble. The fact that the problem employee was good friends with the big boss shouldn't insulate him. And, ultimately it didn't.

The fact that problems got solved by the underlings taking matters into their own hands means that there was a misperception among middle management on how senior management would react.

The first thing I would look at is communication in your company/department. And then a good hard look at culture--is merit what matters, or is it knowing the right person? Are your managers trained to deal with such things or are they promoted because they were good at "doing" and just thrown into managing? (That's how most companies do it, by the way.

I'm glad junior got help. And I apologize for procastinating. But, hey, why do today what I can put off until tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why Are We Doing That?

I drive past a school on my way to work. The school zone lights flash and the speed limit is 15. This is good. I prefer not to have any small children run over. However, during spring break, the school was not open. Still, the lights flashed and we drivers dutifully tooled along at 15 mph.

I started to think about why we were doing that. But, that was the wrong question. We drivers were going 15 mph because it was the law. We had to. The real question was why the sign was still flashing?

Well, because it's programmed for Monday-Friday during the school year. That's why. No one changed it, just because school wasn't in session.

The next week at work we (meaning my department) spent 2 full days (9 people at a time) stuffing envelopes that contained individualized information for each manager. Back in the dark ages, this was the only way the managers could get this particular tidbit of information. But now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, this exact same information is available to each manager who bothers to log on and enter their password.

Why were we stuffing envelopes? Because we do every year at this time. Like the flashing school lights, they should have been turned off when the situation changed. But they weren't. We've always done it, so dang it, we're going to keep doing it!

And we tool along at 15 mph rather than saying, "Hey, circumstances have changed. No one is going to get run over! My car is capable of going 45 mph, let's do it!"

What is your company still doing that they really should give up?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sick and Tired

Dear Evil HR Lady,

We have a problem with staff taking their sick time as soon as they earn it. This leaves us with reduced staff coverage in several departments and problems. What suggestions do you have to reward a team or staff for not taking their sick time as soon as they earn it.

Thank you

Sick of Sick Time

Dear Sick,

Well, this is a problem. What happens when they really do get sick? Do they come in to work and spread germs or do they get "extra" sick time to compensate?

I think the answer to this question is highly dependent on the type of work your employees do. I, technically, have unlimited sick time. (3 days requires a doctor's note and on day 4 you have to be on short term disability.) However, I still have to get the work done. This means, that even if I feel terrible, I'm working on my laptop at home. Everyone with a laptop does the same thing. Sick, healthy, it doesn't matter. Work has to get done. Therefore, while we may have some abuse of sick time, there isn't much.

However, if your workers are factory workers, the line won't wait for them to get back. Therefore, taking a sick day has no "work" consequences for your employees. It may hurt overall productivity, but you're going to be hard pressed to convince people that their one "extra" day is going to affect things overall. And that person's extra day won't--it's everybody doing it that is the problem.

You need to change worker's motivation. You can do this in positive or negative ways. A positive way: Reward workers for unused sick time. Can you pay out unused sick days at the end of the year? Government employees frequently have this perk.

Another positive way: Instead of a straight payout for unused sick days, give a bonus to the whole workforce that is based on productivity. As part of your calculation, sick time would be used. If the bonus is good enough and sick time is a big enough chunk, you'll get peer pressure to only stay home when you are really sick. (I have yet to see anyone want their co-worker around when said co-worker is puking.)

A negative way: Reduce vacation time and lump sick and vacation time together into one "Paid Time Off" lump. Then, it won't matter to you whether they are taking time off to go skiing or because they are puking.

Another negative way: Require a doctor's note for any sick time. This adds an undue burden on your employees, though. Even with health insurance, doctor visits cost the employee (and the company) money. Plus, most illnesses (even the ones where you feel terrible) don't require a doctor visit.

As much as I hate to say it, you may be offering too many sick days. If people feel they can take them as extra vacation, then they either like gambling with the flu or know they will be given time off anyway when they are really sick.

Is morale at the office so low people can't stand to be there? That's another cause of absenteeism. Work on making your employees happier and they won't be looking for as many excuses to stay away.

Good luck and I hope you feel better soon.

Evil HR Lady

Carnival of the Insanities

Carnival of the Insanities is up over at Dr. Sanity's blog. Go read it and see that there are insane things outside of HR as well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This

Washington Post Headline today:
IRS Commissioner Named to Lead Red Cross

I know nothing about Mark W. Everson, but since the Red Cross is supposed to help people and the IRS is, well, not supposed to help people, it definitely is a career change for him.

Of course, both organizations are quite skilled at drawing blood. I just hope the Red Cross doesn't start requiring 6 page forms in order to make a donation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Carnival of Human Resources #5

Welcome to the 5th Carnival of Human Resources. Word has gotten out about our thrilling rides and freak show! We welcome all HR, Business, Training and related blog posts. The next Carnival will be May 2 and will be hosted by Susan Heathfield at About Human Resources.

Send your submissions directly to her (humanresources dot guide at about dot com) and put “Carnival” in the subject so she doesn’t miss it. One submission per blogger please.

First up is The New Business World with Tips for Preventing Workplace Violence. Unfortunately, this is something we all need.

Deb Owens at 8 Hours & a Lunch writes about the importance of knowing your business in Being There. It’s amazing how things change when you understand what is going on.

Rowan Manahan at Fortify Your Oasis tells us about a Corporate Creed/Mission Statement/Value Statement and in so doing humorously warns us about misplaced creed priorities.

Life Coach Hueina Su at Intensive Care for the Nuturer’s Soul gives us 7 Keys to Avoid Burnout. Our jobs are just one part of our—and our employees—lives.

Charles H. Green at Trusted Advisor takes us over to the animal pavilion with The Sacred Cow of Retention. “Lets take on a sacred cow. Or at least a venerated goat.” Heh.

Jack Yoest at Reasoned Audacity talks about Looking for a Job With Tattoos. That is, he does not have a tattoo, nor does a job he’s offering have one, but you may not get one (a job, that is) if you do (have a tattoo). Or at least the job you want.

Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership talks (surprisingly!) about Leadership Can be Learned—but Not in the Classroom. Well, that is not great news for those of us who aspire to teach leadership with a power point presentation.

And on the leadership theme, Susan M. Heathfield at About: Human Resources, tells us about Delegation as a Leadership Style. An excellent approach to leadership, which is why I have delegated the next Carnival to her.

Wayne Turmel at Management Issues confesses that after taking every personality known to mankind that he is an ENFP-Lion-Otter-Hybrid. At least he is secure in knowing that he at least has a personality. I’ve met a few people without them.

Gautam Ghosh at A Management Consultant’s Blog tells us that SHRM Has Come Calling in India. Cool.

Carmen Van Kerckhove at Race in the Workplace writes about a conversation that was just wrong in As All American as Apple Pie. Mmm, pie.

Apu at Cubically Challenged reminds us about the Cost of Order Servicing. Everything seems to have its costs and we would be wise to remember that.

Finally, the Evil HR Lady speaks about severance costs at Why Severance. Some days, I’d really like to take a package.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the HR Carnival. See you next time at Susan's!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

When Making it Confidential Defeats the Purpose

I got a call. An employee was to be laid off and given a severance package. She was within a few months of reaching retirement, so instead of giving her severance pay the plan was to "bridge" her until she reached retirement. This means we continue to pay her as if she is an active employee, but she doesn't come into work.

Fine. This is standard and happens all the time. No big deal. Understand that part? This is within policy and happens all the time. In fact, it's so common that no one cares one wit.

Except, her manager was hyper paranoid and wanted this term to be kept confidential. We assured her that all terminations were confidential.

That was not good enough. Because she would still be on payroll, she would still hit headcount. The person in her department who handled headcount would be aware that this person wasn't a "voluntary" retirement. This was unacceptable.

We assured her that the headcount guy wouldn't care. He's seen it before and will see it again. He doesn't care.

Not good enough. We had to move her to a different cost center so no one would know this person's situation.

Now, remember, the whole idea was to keep this confidential, right? In a normal term, the following people would have known: The HR person responsible, the data entry person, legal and department headcount coordinator. That's it.

Because it was "super confidential" the following people had to know in order to keep it hidden:
  • HR
  • Data entry supervisor--because we couldn't send the term through normal channels
  • Data entry--because someone has to do the work
  • Organizational Management manager--because she had to be moved to a new cost center
  • Finance person 1--because we needed a new cost center for her
  • Finance person 2--the above's manager because he had to approve the exception
  • HR's headcount coordinator--because she had to know why someone was showing up on a previously unused cost center
  • Multiple people in legal--because of the exception on costs, approval had to be obtained from the higher ups
  • Payroll--because the system couldn't automatically pay her because of her new cost center wasn't designed for payroll costs
  • Finance persons 3, 4, and 5--to explain the cost center change. (They called us asking why.)

    Oh, and the department heacount coordinator? Found out anyway--because of all the questions generated by handling this outside of normal process.

    It could have been a normal term and no one would have discussed a single thing about it. But, by making it confidential, twice as many people needed to be involved. Everyone had to hear a long explanation and the term became a topic of discussion, rather than routine business. Why is this term so special? (It wasn't) Did she do something really wrong? (No. She volunteered for the package) Her term code says job elimination? Was it really a job elimination? (Yes, again she volunteered) It must not have been because it was so special. (It was, just a hyper paranoid manager.) Aargh!

    How's that for Confidential?
  • Carnival Reminder!

    Submissions are due April 18 (that's tomorrow!)by noon Eastern time. Send them to evilhrlady at hotmail dot com!

    Happy Ferris Wheel Riding!

    Is Your Work Place Prepared?

    Thirty-two people were killed, along with a gunman, and at least 15 injured in two shooting attacks at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on Monday during three hours of horror and chaos on this sprawling campus.

    I know it's technically the responsibility of Security, but HR is expected to deal with people who are "troubled." Is your work place prepared to handle a deranged employee or customer? Are you?

    I hope our security department is prepared. I know I'm not.

    When to Quit

    Note: I wrote a brilliant answer to this yesterday and then accidentally deleted it. So, if this answer isn't quite up to brilliant, know that it should have been.

    Dear Evil HR Lady,

    Love the name, but that's not the reason i'm writing.

    The writing is on the wall and it's time to leave my company. I've worked for a small real estate office for almost a year now. When I started out, I was their marketing person and a [great] one at that. I was praised for setting a new standard of the job.

    Six months into it I took a new position with the company and started assisting the agents by procuring new sales. This was some what of a difficult transition b/c there was NO training for my new job. When I say no training, i mean no training. I was given a phone and a list of people to call. No one EVER sat down with me and went over how to talk to people and close the deal.

    I had my 90 day review and they set goals for me. This was great, but I received little to no direction on how to achieve these new goals. In the review I said it would be helpful to have weekly meetings with the agents and to have one of them sit down with me and make some phone calls so I could get some feedback. This never happened.

    A month ago, I had another "review" in which I was flat out yelled at and given even more "goals." These new goals were unrealistic, even according to some of the other agents in the office.

    Getting reviewed all the time and being told you suck at your job isn't alot of fun, especially when you've always had good reviews in every job and have never been fired. So, I started looking for a new job and am waiting to hear back from some people.

    Today, I was presented with a "final written notice" (I never received a first written notice) saying I have two weeks to produce two appointments for my agent. I asked why I never received any training for this position and why management never stepped in and help set up meetings with my agent. I was told this was my responsibility.

    This was all kind of a shock to me, the office manager didn't even know about it. The owner totally went behind her back and contacted ADP total source, our outsourced HR company.

    I spoke with the agent I work under and he was very supportive and admitted he hadn't been giving my leads the attention he should have because he has been busy with some big deals. The agent says he'll help me get my two appointments and start sitting down with me more to go over things.

    This is all great, but getting a final written notice is pretty serious. I already met my goal for the two weeks so I'm not worried about that. BUT, I don't think this is ever going to stop. I think he's just going to keep adding more and more goals until he can fire me.

    I don't have my new job lined up yet and it could take a month or so. I have money saved up so I'm not really worried about that part.

    So my questions.... Do I just leave on my own before I have my new job lined up? So that I don't have a termination or have to explain a termination to a prospective employer. When do I leave, do I do it before my 2 week probationary period is up? Do I give a two week notice? Or do I just peace out?

    I feel pretty comfortable that they wouldn't can me within my two week notice if I gave one. And it would buy me some time without having to dive into my savings.


    Thanks in advance,


    Dear Chris,

    To answer the question you did ask, there are only rare instances where you should quit a job before you have a new one lined up. They are
  • your current job is causing you such physical, mental or emotional distress that your health is in danger
  • you don't need a job and you are just working for the thrill of staff meetings. (Hey, sometimes you get free donuts)
  • .

    Other than that, you should wait until you have a new job offer before quitting the old one. First of all, it frequently takes longer than you assume it will to find a new job. Hiring processes are slow and painful. It takes time.

    Second, it is easier to find a job when you have a job. Think about it. If you come in to interview with me, I'm going to ask, "Why did you leave your last job without a new one lined up?"

    What are you going to say to that? There's no good answer. "My boss didn't give me the training that I needed"? I'm not hiring you then, because it's your responsibility to follow up to get the training you need. "I wanted to branch out into other areas of real estate"? I suspect this is a lie because you quit without having a new job. I know there were problems at the last job.

    The problem with having problems is that since I don't know you and I don't know your former boss I can't easily identify if your boss truly was the problem or if you were the problem. (This is also why I don't care for references. Unless I know the people I'm talking to, why should I believe them?)

    Now, this does not mean you are not hireable if you've quit without a new job. It just means you are going to have to be much more convincing. Getting a job is difficult enough without additional burdens.

    And now, on to the questions you didn't ask. Getting training should be part of your manager's responsibility. But, it's not. It's yours. Managers are busy working and not developing employees. They hired you because they wanted you to do the job. In your next job, make sure you jump in and ask questions and say, quite clearly, "I do not know how to do this task. Who would you recommend I work with on this?"

    Managers truly do want you to succeed. You are so much easier to deal with if you are productive. But, you have to show that you want to succeed. Note what happened when you went to the salesperson you were supposed to be working with. He jumped in to help you. He was probably so busy he didn't realize you needed the help.

    Your management does sound fairly wimpy when it comes to dealing with employees. Going around the office manager and calling in HR is not my first choice. (Of course, my first choice is that HR should be sent large baskets of pastries and exotic hot chocolates, but I might have a bias there.)

    Good luck on your job search. Stick this job out until you have a new one. Then jump into the new one with both feet, ask questions, get training (but don't be obnoxious about it--there is a fine line here), and do a great job.

    Evil HR Lady

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Why Severance?

    Dear Evil HR Lady,

    I just read a snippet in one of our trade publications about a company where "total 2006 revenues slipped 7.7% to $73 million and severance expenses from 43 people hit the "cost" line" and I got to wondering about why companies pay severance. Do they have to? Is it a courtesy gesture? And the same goes for pensions... why do some people get them and some people not? How come I don't get a pension if I work for my company for 30 years?


    Can I get a package, please?

    Dear Package Seeker,

    Companies pay severance because it's cheaper than being sued for wrongful termination. In almost all cases (in the United States) employees are "at will," which means you can be fired--or you can quit--at any time for cause or no cause.

    Predictably, people do not like to be fired, even if it's a "layoff" and they are assured that they did "nothing wrong." Giving them severance helps keep down the desire to sue. Most companies require you to sign a "General Release" in exchange for this money. This is a document where you agree that the company doesn't owe you anything else and that you won't sue them.

    Companies would prefer not to have to give out this money, but even one lawsuit can be very expensive as well as being a public relations nightmare. If you are in any protected class (minority, female, over 40, etc) getting you to go away happily is their biggest concern.

    Another reason for severance is to compensate for non-compete clauses. If I require you to sign a non-compete clause that keeps you from working for a year, I may offer you severance in exchange. This gets you to sign, and again, not sue.

    So, should you sue when you are laid off? The answer is almost overwhelmingly no. If you are offered a package, take it. The chances of you winning more than you were originally offered, after taking out your lawyer's fees, is surprisingly small, in my experience. But, if you really feel you were discriminated against, contact a reputable labor and employment lawyer (hint: they never advertise on daytime t.v.).

    As for pension, it depends on your company's pension plan. I would imagine that after a certain period of time you will be "vested" in your company's plan. For my company, it's 5 years. After I've logged 5 years, I'm guarenteed a pension. I can't access it until I'm 55 and if I've only been here 5 years, it will be pathetically small, but it will be there. (Given that the pension plan doesn't go bankrupt in the meantime.)

    Not all companies have pensions and maybe your company's plan is limited to people above a certain salary level, although I would find that strange. (Doesn't mean it isn't true, just strange.)

    Hopefully, this answers everything.

    Evil HR Lady

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Carnival of HR--Update

    First of all, a friendly reminder. The next Carnival of Human Resources will be held Wednesday, April 18. Send your HR, business, training or similar post to evilhrlady at hotmail dot com.

    And our little carnival is branching out! I've gotten seven volunteers to host and, of course, I've said absolutely.

    The May 2nd Carnival will be hosted by Susan Heathfield at About: Human Resources.

    The May 16th Carnival will be hosted by Carmen Van Kerckhove at Race in the Workplace.

    The May 30th Carnival will be hosted by Deb Owens at 8 Hours & a Lunch.

    The June 13th Carnvial will be hosted by Gautam Ghosh at A Management Consultant's Blog.

    The June 27th Carnival will be hosted by Kris Dunn at The HR Capitalist.

    The July 11th Carnival will be hosted by Lisa Rosendahl at HR Thoughts.

    The August 22nd Carnival will be hosted by Wally Bock at Three Star Leadership.

    Let me know if any of the rest of you wish to host. Think of the fame and glory that will come your way! You can even put it on your resume: Hosted Carnival of Human Resources. Think of the number of job offers you can get with that!

    Do You Want a New Job?

    Your Job Satisfaction Level: 73%

    Your job is pretty good, even if it always doesn't seem like it.
    You have a lot less stress than most people, and your work environment is definitely above average.
    So if you love what you're doing, keep doing it. It doesn't get a lot better than this.
    But if you're in a dead end job, you may want to move on. Because if you're not advancing, it's just not worth it.

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Too Much Information

    I am glad I don't work for the Civil Service in India.
    Women civil servants in India have expressed shock at new appraisal rules which require them to reveal details of their menstrual cycles.

    I think "expressed shock" is putting it mildly.

    And you thought navigating US employment rules was tough!

    Circuit City's Mistake

    By now, I'm sure you've all heard Circuit City's plan to layoff highly paid workers and replace them with lower paid people. They are getting a great deal of bad press for this--as they should.

    But their reason for getting bad press is all wrong. Layoffs are rarely nice to the employee. (I did have one lady jump up and down for joy when told she was getting a package. She had to be stopped from running gleefully down the hall, as others were not as excited as she.) Nevertheless, they are part of a free market economy and can ultimately make sense for business.

    But, this isn't about cutting a bloated workforce. It's about cutting an overpaid workforce.

    Eve Tahmincioglu at MSN writes:
    How they ended up earning the above-market wages is a puzzler, because Circuit City’s managers presumably approved the pay levels.

    I asked Babb if store managers were just too generous in compensating their workers, and after a long pause he said: “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”

    I'm going to make an educated guess here. (For the record, I worked in retail HR for a while. Part of my job was to analyze the pay and benefits of our competitors to make sure we were paying more.) I bet they give standard raises on a schedule. Starting wage is X, at six months you get X+$0.50, at a year you get another raise. A lot of retail stores run increases on their hourly workforce like this.

    Why? Because turnover is high and they are trying to lower turnover by giving you a reason to stay. Managers are probably dinged by high turnover and the employees know that if they slog through for another 6 months they'll get another raise. If they defect to the competitor, they'll have to start back at the bottom of the pay scale.

    It works, to some extent. But here is where the problem lies; longevity is being rewarded, not increased value to the company.

    If you know you will get an increase just by showing up for the next 180 days, why should you gain any additional knowledge? Likewise, a store manager knows that everyone gets the same raise, so why should he devote his time to training and developing?

    This is Evil HR Lady's rule for retail: If your "highly paid" hourly workers do not bring more value to your company than your "lowly paid" hourly workers, the problem is with management, training, and compensation structures.

    Okay, it's not the type of rule you'll seen done up in counted cross stitch in someone's office. But the problem isn't with the workers. Why does your compensation structure allow for increases for someone who has not provided increased value? What motivation does the employee have when they are not paid or promoted based on their results, only their longevity? Why have you not trained and educated your workforce so that the longer they are there, the more knowledge they have? The average salesperson with 5 years of experience should be able to far outsell the newbie.

    Every time I've been in Circuit City, the sales person has been young and geeky. Those young and geeky types are there to gain experience and to help pay for college. The pay structure doesn't induce them to stay--they know they'll make more money elsewhere. The people who do stay are the ones who know they won't make more money elsewhere. Therefore, the perverse problem of paying for longevity is that it promotes the Peter Principle.

    I'm a fan of Paying for Performance. Yes, I know that requires more work on management's part. But, shouldn't management's responsibility be to the company and not to their own laziness? The truth is, if you paid for performance, you'd have a better performing work force and managers could have time to develop and evaluate rather than solving customer complaints.

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    A Really Great and Terrible Question

    Dear Evil HR Lady,

    At my college, we've been using a standard interview question for several years now: "Is there anything in your past that would be embarrassing to the college if it became public after you were hired here?" I mentioned that on my blog, and got verbally pistol-whipped in the comments by people suggesting that this is way too broad, probably illegal, and presumably Orwellian.

    Admittedly, it's broader than "have you ever been convicted of a felony?," but that's because I'd also want to know about certain misdemeanors, sexual harassment charges, etc.

    Is this question too broad? If it is, is there another version that would pass muster in court but still tell us what we'd need to know?


    Dean Dad

    Dear Dean Dad,

    What an absolutely lovely question. (As a reminder to all my readers, I am NOT a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet.) I think it's brilliant, but I'm afraid, professionally, I'd have to advise against it. (Although I'm tempted to use it myself.)

    Why? Not because the question itself would be illegal, it's that what do you do with the information they give you? What if I answered, "I was arrested for indecent exposure when I ran naked through the 2004 Democratic Convention. I was protesting boring candidates!" Now, you can guess that I not only have a clothing problem (of legitimate concern to your college) and that I didn't support the Democratic candidate. Now, I don't get the job because having seen me in my interview suit, you have no desire to see me streak across campus. (I'm fine from the neck up and knees down, but everything else should be covered at all times.) But, I say you didn't hire me because we all know colleges are run by liberals and I clearly don't have those views. You are in the awkward position of having to defend why you didn't consider information you obviously knew.

    Of course, it's very easy to end up with information you don't want to know. A candidate's list of publications? Christianity Today, Working Mother, Guns and Ammo, or The Open Closet? Now you know or have reason to know additional things about my political views, sexual orientation, parental status, religion and views on the 2nd amendment. The burden of proof is going to end up falling on you to prove that you DIDN'T discriminate.

    You mentioned you wanted to know about "certain misdemeanors, sexual harrassment charges" etc. Misdemeanors you can ask about--I would have that and felonies--on your application that everyone fills out. (Don't make the common mistake of not having your professional candidates fill out an application. Everyone gets an application--the same one--whether they are applying for a job in the cafeteria or as a professor.)

    Charges, however, can be problematic. You cannot consider an arrest someone had--only a conviction. Harrassment doesn't usually fall under criminal law, though, so there would rarely be a "conviction," so to speak. Instead? "Why did you leave [previous job]?" Or "if I called your previous boss for a reference, what would she say?"

    Like I said, I think it's a brilliant question. It elicits answers you couldn't get otherwise. And while I don't think it's patently illegal (remember--I'm not a lawyer, and my lawyer brother comes to me for HR advice, so he's worthless in this category), it has the potential to cause you problems. An EEO complaint (as one of your commentors threatened he would do) can cause headaches you don't want or need.

    Of course, I think everybody should just grow up and not go crying to the government when they are offended. But, then again, I blog anonymously so that no one goes crying to my boss.

    I'd love to hear some of the responses.

    Note: For some reason the comments have disappeared from this post. I apologize for that, but I don't know how to get them back.

    Note 2: It looks like I fixed it!

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    You Want A Raise?

    Well, don't come crying to me because I can see everyone's salaries and I know you make waaay more money than you are actually worth. Oh wait, did I just write that? Sorry, the employee relations side of me just slipped out.

    Okay, it's not true for everyone (just the people who are most annoying). But, if you really want a raise, Penelope Trunk gives you 5 suggestions.
    1. Understand your boss's perspective.
    2. Expand your job duties.
    3. Consistently over-deliver.
    4. Get a mentor.
    5. Think in non-financial terms.

    She of course, gives lots of detail and my favorite piece of advice: "A hallmark of a superstar is they know how to toot their horn with out being annoying."

    Now, get out of my office and go get yourself a raise!

    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    Carnival of Human Resources

    Welcome to the 4th Carnival of HR! We're traveling far and wide this time around, with all sorts of exotic,HR advice and insight.

    First up, Ishita Bardhan talks about emotions in the workplace.
    Then my manager told me to be professional in whatever you do. "Don’t bring emotions into the workplace”. I asked .. How? He told me: “When you are angry and want to respond to the nasty emails, write back a note with all the feelings you want but don’t send it. Save it in your draft and go have a cup of coffee. Come back, reopen the draft item, re read the mail and then send it”

    Rowan Manahan identifies insanity in the workplace:
    “And you keep doing this?”
    “Even though it’s, let's see, what's the word? ... Moronic? Cretinous? ... and ultimately may hamper your future success and security?”
    (very small voice) “Yes”
    “I’m sorry - I couldn’t hear you there …”
    “Well then you’re crazy, aren’t you?”

    Deb Owen disagrees and argues:
    people aren't stupid.

    let's stop assuming they are and begin with the assumption that they can see more clearly than we think they can. that's one of the first mistakes i see management make. it's much better to admit problems and start attacking them, than to try to tell people something is blue when they can see very well that it is red.

    Fortunately, Abhilasha Krishnan can help resolve this conflict (which doesn't really exist, I just made it up):
    HR can be seen as playing much the same role as a psychologist/ counselor in a society. As society evolves and becomes more complex, the human issues involved also become more convoluted and individuals find it harder to deal with these complexities on their own.

    And if counseling doesn't work, Wally Bock is here to identify another problem.
    This kind of "sell the idiot on our company" approach is doomed to frustrating and expensive failure. A third of the candidates polled said they were looking for a new job within six months of landing the last one. That could be because they were "sold" on joining the company.

    If your "selling" generates that kind of turnover, it's going to cost you big time. Various estimates put the cost of replacing a person at two to three times annual salary.

    And to keep your costs down, and keep your best people Kris Dunn writes about a novel paying for performance approach:
    If you are in a Fortune 500 company or simply have standardized your comp plan, you likely have a Merit Matrix to reinforce this type of reward system. If so, does your plan include taking money away from those who don't meet the performance goals you have outlined? I didn't think so - but Publix (yes, the service-oriented supermarket) has.

    And just what type of employee do you want to put into this pay for performance scene? Anna Farmery tells us about the ideal employee:
  • One brain that is beautifully balanced between logic, futuristic, empathy and rational. Even more it chooses automatically the right part of the brain to use.
  • A small mouth and 27 ears to listen to customers without butting in.
  • One soul that lives and breaths the values in everything it does.
  • Telescopic eyes that sees right into the future

  • Ummm, she's got high expections. And speaking of high, let's go to Tibet, with Mabel and Harry's 10 Lessons from Tibetan Monks:
    1. When you lose, don't lose the lesson
    2. Follow the 3 R's: Respect for self, respect for others, responsibility for all your actions.
    3. Spend some time alone each day.

    Gautam Ghosh reminds us that even as we're trying to help others manage, we need to manage HR--especially our own career ladders.
    A career ladder for HR professionals that zig and zag through the various functions would also go a long way in sensiting them that there are no "more important" and "less important" functions within HR. In fact there should be two or three mandatory stints for HR professionals out of HR too, in functions that are client facing (like marketing and sales), vendor facing (like procurement and supply chain) and operations.

    And finally, to round out the carnival, a bit of satire from well, me:
    [Mexican Restaurant] admits that they do not monitor the gender of everyone who walks in their door. This is unacceptable. How do we know if we are not discriminating if we don't count and categorize everyone who walks in?

    I hope everyone has a blast at this week's carnival. Next one is in 2 weeks, April 18. Send your submissions to EvilHRLady at hotmail dot com! Any HR, business, training or similar submission is welcome! Remember, we're a family friendly carnival (lots of kids rides, after all), so no bad words!

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    One Size Fits All

    The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating article on Respirators. (Subscripton required, sorry). These are the respirators you and I might refer to as "gas masks."

    Seems the average American face has changed a great deal over the past 50 or so years. Our faces are fatter (no surprise, she writes while eating Smoothie Flavored Skittles), and longer then they used to be. Additionally, people who wear these respirators vary greatly--age, gender, race, etc. So, new masks need to be designed and tested and approved.

    No problem, right?


    By law, all employer-supplied respirators, as these products are known, must be certified by NIOSH that they create an airtight fit on a broad range of faces.

    It's the one-size-fits-all requirement. Why on earth would we have that? (Ahh, government at work.) If Bob and Carol and Jose and Xian and Fiona all have to wear a respirator day in and day out, why should Bob (a 6'4" 300 pound Jamaican) have a mask that also fits Fiona (a 5'2" female of Irish descent)? Who would think that even makes sense? Bob should get a mask that fits him and Fiona, Carol, Jose and Xian should all get ones that fit them.

    Except they'd be out of compliance.

    Granted, one that fits most people is a real advantage in an emergency situation. But, a mask that is worn regularly as part of a job should come in a variety of sizes. Right? Right.

    So, let me ask you--how are your pay and benefits plans structured? One size fits all? Are Bob, Carol, Jose, Xian and Fiona all given the same options? Xian has small children and would prefer the option to work at home if they are sick. Jose has no problem working 60 hours a week (he's exempt, so no overtime costs), but when he wants to vacation, he wants to vacation. Can he have 3 weeks instead of 2? Bob is a very healthy single guy with no children. He would prefer a Health Savings Account to an expensive PPO.

    I know, I know, these are a pain to manage. And a bigger pain to explain to all employees. But, doesn't it make sense to at least try?

    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

    Let's say you're conducting an interview--perhaps just a phone screen at this point--for someone for a senior position. A very senior position. Let's just say the conversation goes something like this:

    Recruiter: Tell me about how you make decisions.
    Candidate: Well, I gather the facts and then I go home and talk it over with my wife. She's my top advisor.
    Recruiter: Excuse me, but can you elaborate on that?
    Candidate: I also invite her to my executive team meetings.
    Recruiter: Is your wife also a [insert profession]?
    Candidate: No, she's [something irrelevant]. But I trust her judgment.
    Recruiter: Thank you so much for your time, we'll be in touch. Click.

    Right? Wouldn't you immediately label such a candidate as "whacky"? Who does that? I mean, really.

    A good spouse can help you in your career--no doubt about that. But, even the most supportive and brilliant spouses shouldn't be brought into your executive team meetings unless it's a family owned business.

    So, why do we put up with the "bringing in the spouse" in politics? Rudy Giuliani said he'd do it.
    Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told ABC News's Barbara Walters that he would welcome his wife, Judith, at White House Cabinet meetings and other policy discussions if he were elected president next year.

    "If she wanted to," Giuliani said in the "20/20" interview to be broadcast tonight. "If they were relevant to something that she was interested in. I mean that would be something that I'd be very, very comfortable with."

    We wouldn't put up with that in business, why do we put up with it in politics? Would Giuliani have been slammed if he'd said, "My wife is a wonderful person, but I'm running for office and I will be the one responsible to the people, not my wife."

    I'll grant you that a good spouse can do wonders for you career. You want to move up in the company? You'll do better if your spouse is willing to relocate with you. What about late nights? If your spouse is the primary caregiver for the children, you'll have more options. But, invite your spouse to an executive team meeting? Not unless that is where you met--and most companies have rules against such behavior.

    (Hat Tip Ann Althouse.)

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Carnival Reminder

    The next Carnival of Human Resources is goin to be posted on Wednesday, April 4. Please submit your posts to evilhrlady at hotmail dot com.

    Any HR, Training, Business or similar post is welcome. Please, no bad words! This is polite business.

    April Fool's Carnival

    Carnival of the Insanities is up over at Dr. Sanity's.