Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Philosophical Job Search

Hello, Evil HR Lady. I've got a question that may be a bit personal, but hopefully it's still general enough to be useful to you.

I'm a philosophy major. (Go on, laugh, get it out of your system.) Looking at postgraduate career paths, HR is a remarkably appealing option, but I'm worried about whether my BA would be taken seriously when I'm looking for jobs. Am I fussing too much, or could this be a real handicap after graduation?

A local college offers a postgraduate program that preps students to write the CHRP exams. Certainly, the CHRP designation would help, but a fancy designation on a lame-duck degree isn't much help at all. Would such a program help make up for shortcomings in my undergraduate degree, as far as employers are concerned, or would this just be a waste of a year and tuition?

Thanks for your time, in any event!

An Undergraduate

Ahh, you are one of the many who made a choice of a major without much thought to how you would get a job. I would laugh at you, but I majored in political science and my emphasis was political philosophy. My senior thesis was on Nietzsche, so you can tell how employable I was after graduation. (I, of course, sold truck bumpers and then went to graduate school to gain a master's degree in political science, making me extra un-employable. Should I send you some applications for grad school instead?)

Ahh, but to get a job in HR. Do you have any computer or analysis skills? Well, of course you have the latter--that's what you've been doing all these years. Are you willing to start at the bottom? Of course you are.

An HR analyst job might be attainable for someone in your shoes. It doesn't require a great deal of actual HR knowledge at the entry level. Staffing is also a good place to start.

Before you go out and spend money on a course, which may or may not help you, attempt to get an HR internship. We love people who will work for us for little or no money. (One year, I asked my boss for an intern for Christmas, and I actually got one! It was fabulous.) If that doesn't work, go to a temp agency and say you'll do ANYTHING as long as it is in an HR department. Either one of these solutions will teach you the basics of the HR language so you can sound like you know what you are talking about, even when you don't.

Keep in mind that you are not the first philosophy grad to go, "Oops, I have no marketable skills!" What you need to do is figure out what you can do, and network, network and did I mention, network, to get yourself into an entry level job. If that all fails, then sure, try the course option. But, I bet you'll land yourself a job without it. Get the certification later.

Taking Advantage of an Exempt Employee

I’m a medical administrator of a nonprofit organization. I am married and have young children. When I was hired, my job description indicated that my work was split between 50% patient care and 50% administrative and I was told it was a 37.5 hour work week. I didn’t quite understand what exempt was at the time. I generally worked between 40 – 45 hours a week.

Two years ago, my new boss changed my job description despite my protests and indicated that it should be 80% patient care and 20% admin. However I continue to do the same admin time as before. In fact in the last two years, two other positions have been downsized or changed with “green” replacements at lower salaries, but some of their duties have fallen into my lap by default because they didn’t have the experience or credentials to do the job. I’ve done what needs to get done. I strive for excellence. Now I’m working 50-60 hours a week. I’ve tried whatever I could to streamline processes, addressed any inefficiencies as best as I can including delegating to others or giving back tasks to those “green” individuals, to bring those hours down. I’ve gotten some relief with (not even) a day’s time admin asst. (something I requested), but I’m getting burned out because my boss continues to give me more projects and when I complain, he says “You’re exempt”; unfortunately there really isn’t anyone else around that could do these projects. We are a small organization. He and the others executive administrators work long hours because their kids are grown. I probably would too if my kids were grown. MY family life is coming apart.

I know I could ask for monetary compensation and I would probably be granted it. However I don’t really want monetary compensation, I want to work less hours so I can spend more time with my family. I suspect that the only solution left is to leave the job I love. The only advantage I have at this point is that it will be hard to replace me. I hope you can help me.

So here are my questions:

How does one determine what is considered reasonable for one person to do and how does one negotiate this? What prevents an employer from collapsing two full time jobs into one and calling it exempt? Did I legally (I know you are not a lawyer) have a say when my job description changed? How do I say no to something without risking getting fired? What do you think I should do now? Thanks, I look forward to getting your answer!

There aren't too many legal protections for the exempt employee--that's why we call you exempt, because you are exempt from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. So, no, you can't sue or prevent an employer from changing your job description. (And I answer this as a non-lawyer who does not give legal advice.)

What is reasonable? Well, I know a heck of a lot of people who regularly work 50-60 hour weeks. It's part of what is expected in many jobs. They whine and complain about it, of course, but it's what is expected and everybody does it.

I myself, am whiny about such things, but I do it when required. I wouldn't, however, do it all the time. I would find a new job.

See, that's the beauty of the situation--your boss doesn't hold all the power. You can always leave. (Sometimes, I think people worry more about quitting an unpleasant job than they do about leaving an unpleasant marriage, but that's another topic altogether.)

Your boss knows that you can always leave. Therefore, you need to use this to your advantage. Not by threatening or throwing a fit, but by being confident. Schedule a meeting and explain your concerns. When he says, "you're exempt!" you can reply that, yes, you are aware of that, but your responsibilities have grown to the point that you can no longer accomplish all of them within a reasonable time frame.

Ask him how many hours a week he thinks is reasonable. "You're exempt! You get the job done!" He'll say. "Yes, but how many hours do you think I should be working? When I was hired, my expectations were at 40-45. I'm now working 50-60. Can you help me either prioritize or work more efficiently so that I can accomplish everything in 40-45 hours per week?"

If you've had these discussions, but no success, then it's time to start looking for a new job. But, first, ask for a raise. You said you could probably get one. So, get one. It will help you in your job hunt if your salary is higher.

Keep in mind that a similar job in a different place may require similar hours. That's the way it is.

You could also attempt to negotiate something different. Flextime, working from home for some of the stuff (obviously, patient care couldn't be done from home), working 4 days a week instead of 5. All these things could help you improve your work-life balance without cutting the amount of work you do.

If your boss truly values you--and is not an idiot--he'll be open to solutions. He knows you can quit and it's harder to fill a lousy job than a good one.

And, if you want to climb in the bitter tree with me, after I quit one job, they replaced me--with 4 people. FOUR! And not only did they replace me with four people, all 4 of them made at least $25,000 more a year than I did. Can you say I was under appreciated and over-worked? Hmmm, just a little. It happens. It stinks.

Good luck.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why Didn't You Hire Me?

A friend of mine asked me this and since I am not in HR, I wanted to get a professional opinion.

She had an interview a few months ago, and a couple of weeks later found out she didn't get the job. Last week she saw that the company is advertising the position again, so she forwarded her resume to them again and said she was still interested. The response she got back was an email stating they are "pursuing other candidates".

My friend wants to if it is ever okay to ask them why they aren't considering her. She says she is definitely qualified for the position and she thought the interview went really well. She really wants to know what the problem is, both so she can "get over it" and improve on her next interview.

I told her I thought it was fine to call and ask, but that she probably wouldn't hear anything helpful. If it was a personal reason going against her, like a bad interview outfit of body odor, they certainly aren't going to tell her that. Am I right? What would you advise?

In an ideal world, the company would tell her why she wasn't hired. This would allow her to work on the gaps in her resume or interviewing skills or wardrobe. However, they don't and they won't and I'll tell you why: Liability.

Oh, but your friend would never sue for discrimination of any kind. Yes, yes, I understand. Other people would. Once you start getting into reasons, you start opening yourself up for lawsuits. If I tell you, "I didn't hire you because you don't have experience doing X," that seems pretty straightforward and not at all discriminatory. Right?

Well, what happens if after searching for 6 months, I can't find anyone who can do X, but I've long forgotten about you (and you've probably found a new job anyway), so I hire someone who is a different race/gender/sexual orientation/religion/political affiliation than you are that also doesn't have experience doing X. (Note, not all of those are prohibited by law in all places. I just threw them all in to make the post more interesting.) Next thing I know, you are crying foul and suing me.

No thank you.

And what if my reasoning isn't a "hard" reason, like lacking skill X? What if you just don't interview well? What if you picked your nose when you thought I wasn't looking or spilled spaghetti on your blouse (another hint: never order something messy if they take you to lunch)? What if your skirt was too high and your blouse was too low? Well, I don't want to bring that up.

What if the reason is you wouldn't fit in in the department? This is something people really take into consideration. Most likely, you'll have to interact with others at work and a manager will have to manage you. If you'll cause problems based on personality or otherwise, you won't get hired. But, no manager is going to tell you it's because you sound like Fran Drescher.

Your best bet is to ask friends for an honest assessment. They will not want to do this because it will involve telling you to stop picking your nose and lower your hemline and could you please see a voice coach? But, persist.

Even if you have all the qualifications on paper, this doesn't mean you really have them. I mistakenly hired a temp who said she had vast experience with Microsoft Access. Well, turns out she had run reports on a database that someone else had set up and all she had to do was open the file and click on a button. This was not the skill I was looking for, but I'm sure she thought she had the necessary skills. (Or, she thought she could get away with her lack of knowledge, which she couldn't and didn't.)

Your friend certainly can call and ask, but you are right that she shouldn't expect anything helpful. When calling make sure to not sound accusatory and not to use it as a chance to insist that she is qualified for the position. "I have an interview at another company coming up and I want to make sure I don't make the same mistakes i made when I interviewed with your company. Could you give me some feedback?"

In the meantime, if she does have embarrassing issues like mannerisms, dress or hygiene, you, as her friend, should tell her. If you don't want to, you can see why a company that could get sued won't want to either.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Better HR Through Laziness

If you just read this blog, you would think that I've reached sheer laziness judging by the number of posts I've written lately. Rest assured that is not the case. I'm still working on the nightmare, soul sucking project at work and I am 37 weeks pregnant, so two projects at once. (Hopefully the latter will have a better outcome than the former...)

Nevertheless, in my lack of laziness, I still manage to read interesting blogs. I found this post, Better Parenting Through Laziness. It's written by a home day care provider. She describes dealing with a hitting situation between her employees young charges.
"Timmy, did you use your words?”
“Did you say, ‘Anna, don’t hit me’?”
“Yes. I say, ‘Anna don’t hit me!’ “
“And is Anna hitting you any more?”
(Obvious question. Timmy is here with me, and Anna, whatever she may or may not have been doing three minutes prior, is in another room, not hitting him.)

I sit up straight, and fix a beaming, joyous smile upon his earnest visage.

“Well, good for you! It worked! Anna hit you, and you used your words, and now Anna isn’t hitting you any more! You used your words, and it worked!! Good job!”

I smile, I clap, I am practically delirious with joy at the boy’s accomplishment. Timmy trots off, happy, Anna is playing with the blocks in the next room. And I don’t have to get up and let my tea go cold.

Sheerest laziness brought me to this strategy. Inertia, even. But when you examine the response, it’s excellent.

The child who comes to you is seeking any number of things: justice, vengeance, comfort, indignation, attention, reassurance. If you charge in and sort things out, a few things happens:
1. You become his enforcer. With that kind of reward, why would he stop coming to you? You’re creating the very thing you’re trying to avoid: a tattler.
2. You’re showing him you don’t expect him to be able to do this on his own, or that
3. His attempts to solve his own conflict were inadequate.

Brilliant, I say. Let's transfer that to our work environment:
Timmy: Anna told an offensive joke
HR: Timmy, did you tell Anna that you thought the joke was offensive?
Timmy: Yes.
HR: Did she stop telling offensive jokes?
Timmy: Yes and she apologized. She said she didn't realize it would offend anyone.
HR: Great job, Timmy. You've single handedly shut down offensive joke telling in the workplace. I'll make a note in your file about how you have contributed to the success of the company's diversity objectives!
And then Timmy goes off happy and you can continue drinking your tea. (I don't drink tea, by the way, so I'll have to come up with something else.)

And no chiming in about hostile work environments, blah, blah. I don't want to hear it. This method solves the problem. (And for more about "hostile work environments," try here and here. )

Of course, I know the conversation would really go like this:

Timmy: Anna told an offensive joke.
HR: Timmy, did you tell Anna that you thought the joke was offensive?
Timmy: NO! That's not my job. That's your job. I shouldn't have to hear any such thing. I'm calling my lawyer right now unless you punish Anna.

Who said adults were easier to deal with than toddlers?

Monday, April 21, 2008

English Only

Can you require the "ability to speak, read and write in English"? Or is this a surefire discrimination issue if the applicant meets all other job qualifications?

Absolutely you can require this--if the job actually requires you to speak, read and write English. For instance, my job absolutely requires those skills. I have to do a lot of communicating in English, written and spoken. It would also be a bonus if I spoke Spanish, but I don't.

On the other hand, I have cleaning ladies who lack that ability. Their manager, who I communicate with speaks English. Some of her crew does not. Does this impair their ability to clean my bathrooms? Absolutely not.

Without knowing the specifics of the job, I'd have to guess that your statement that the applicant "meets all other job qualifications" indicates that it would be illegal for you to not hire this person. So, he/she can do the job. That indicates it's not a true requirement for the job.

Keep in mind that even if the job DOES have a justifiable reason for requiring the ability to speak English, you can't require people to speak it on breaks, at lunch, or when chatting with co-workers.

Because I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (entertainment value only, people. Quick, feel entertained!), here and here is some more info.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fun Appraisals

The owner of the company I work for has tasked me with coming up with a way to make employee evaluations “empowering and fun”. While I understand how to use employee evaluations in an empowering way, I have absolutely no idea how to make them “fun”. Furthermore, I’m not sure making them fun should be the goal. Aren’t they supposed to be objective? And since “fun” is a subjective term, doesn’t that make it impossible to do? If there isn’t a way to make them “fun”, how do I convince my boss it can’t be done? He wants everything to be “fun” and believes in making everything a game. I don’t know how to see that not everything in business is “fun”. Sometimes things just are what they are. Can you help??

Oh for heaven's sake, a fun performance appraisal. Let's see--have managers dress up like clowns to deliver the messages? Give everyone's appraisal in a Dr. Seuss styled-rhyme? Do appraisals on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at Disney World (arrgh!)?

I have to say I agree with you. One person's fun clown is another person's childhood nightmare. Blech.

I recommend going back to your boss and ask him how he expects you to carry this out. He'll probably say, "that's what I pay you for!" in which case, you respond, "Performance appraisals are about work, so I think they need to be fair and objective. I think the fun should be reserved for the company picnic."

Employees will NOT respond positively to any sort of "fun" appraisal process. If it truly is fun, it will not be empowering--an empowering appraisal needs to be objective and realistic and set goals that employees can achieve.

Fun appraisals. What will they think of next?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tattle Tales

I am the HR and Finance Manager of a small company, 15 employees. I have been at this job for 6 months and my previous employment focused more on finance so my HR experience is very limited. The issue that I am having is that I know one of my co-workers has been job-hunting and has recently gone on a third interview with one particular company. How do I know?...She told me. She and I are quite chummy and the atmosphere is the office is very informal and by the way, everyone in the office is hates our director. I'm not quite sure why she chose to disclose this information to me. This co-worker is the person responsible for planning and executing a big fund raising event that my company holds every year so if she gets offered this new job and accepts it, it will leave my company royally screwed being that the event is held at the end of May. She told me that she would try to wait it out until after the fund raiser if offered the new job, but if the new company could not wait 2 months for her to start, she would leave with short notice to our boss. Our boss will have a fit is this girls leaves before June at the earliest.

As HR Manger, am I responsible for telling my boss what my co-worker is up to or would this be considered confidential? I don't want this to later come back to bite me if she does leave.

This is where being the HR Manager at a small company really stinks--it's too easy to be friends with people you shouldn't be friends with.

First of all, that everyone hates your director should be irrelevant to your decision making process. He may be a jerk and you may be looking for a new job, but he's the boss and you all choose to work there.

Secondly, everyone is an at-will employee (presumably), so if she leaves, she leaves, and even small businesses need to be aware of the possibility of an employee leaving at any time, even when huge projects are going on. There is rarely a "good" time to leave.

So, none of this helps you. But, start thinking of this in a positive light--she cares enough about the business to let HR know when she is planning to leave. This is probably not her motivation, but it should help you to be nicer about it.

Let me ask you this question, what if this person was in a car accident and ended up in the hospital for a month? How would you manage? You would, you know, because everyone always does. Everyone would pitch in and work to get the job done.

So, here are my suggestions--which should be worth what you paid for them. (Thanks for the large check, by the way!)

1. Sit down with your friend and say, "I really appreciate you telling me about your plans. And I really appreciate that if you are offered this job, that you'll try to see this fund raiser through. But, we need to plan on how we'll act if you have to leave prior to that. Of course, you know I have to tell the director about your plans, because this will affect the whole company." (Please note, I did not suggest throwing more money at her to get her to stay--this only prolongs the inevitable. I'm not a big fan of counter offers, unless, of course, you are offering me more money.)

2. Work with her on how to best handle her responsibilities should she get the new job and leave. Who would take over what? Where are her current plans stored? Are they on a shared drive, or does she have it all in her head? What vendors have you used in the past and where are the old contracts?

3. Once you have a working plan in place for how you would handle an absence, then go to your boss and say, "Jane has been looking for a new job. I don't know if she'll get it, but if she does we'll need to be prepared to handle the fund raiser without her. Here's how we can do it."

4. The director may be irrational and angry that someone would dare leave. He may threaten to fire your friend immediately. Remember, your job is to do what is right for the business and the people. By having a plan already in place, you're going to be able to stop some of the hysteria that would surround a situation like this.

5. Hope for the best.

If you don't treat it like a problem, others will be less likely to think of it as a problem. Just make sure that you remain confident and rational throughout the process. Point out to your boss that your friend respected the business enough to give a good amount of advanced warning.

Aren't I little miss sunshine this morning? I think it's because I haven't filed my taxes yet and I'm doing everything I can to avoid them. Being happy and cheery is helping me to forget that I have a huge tax bill.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Laid Off with No PTO

My husband was fired March 25 without notice. They were "restructuring". My husband was due to start his vacation the day after - on March 26. Nothing like trying to figure out if you qualify for food stamps to get you in that vacation mode!!

My question is - He had 200 hrs. of PTO and now they say "It is not our policy to pay PTO". Is there any recourse to get that PTO??!!

If you live in California, my understanding is yes, they have to give it to you. If you live elsewhere--well, no. (Unless there is another state like CA, feel free to chime in if you know about one.)

Here's the thing about working in the good ol' US of A. Vacation and paid time off programs are not mandatory and except in a few circumstances, you are an "at will" employee, which means you can be terminated at any time. Severance is only mandated by law in a few cases. (Like, for instance, if a site is shut down without at least 60 days notice.)

So, basically, no. Decisions to pay out unused vacation is up to company policy. Depending on how the original offer letter was written, you may be able to raise a ruckus about it, but I doubt you'd get anywhere.

Job losses stink, but truly they are not uncommon and most people recover rapidly. One of the things that I always find fascinating is when we train managers on how to notify someone that his position is being eliminated. I always ask if they've done this before. More often than not, the manager will say, "well, I've been on the other side of the desk before."

I realize this isn't helpful. But, know you are not alone.

Do make a phone call and ask for the written policy, though. If such a thing doesn't exist, it might freak them out enough to pay you. Not likely, but worth a shot.

Just remember--be nice. Do not burn any bridges. And make sure your husband (the affected person) is the one to call in. I hate it when spouses call for anything other than, "my husband/wife is in the hospital. How do I initiate a leave of absence for him/her?" My first thought--especially when it is the spouse of a terminated employee calling--is "this is why we fired your spouse in the first place. He obviously couldn't take care of himself." Yes, yes, I know I'm making all sorts of assumptions. Just a little piece of info from the mind of HR.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Overworked--Managing the Boss

I began my new job at Large Multi-National Company in a small division. I was hired into the finance department to deal mainly with fraud detection/prevention and accounts receivables. At the time I was hired there was 1 other person working in finance, and that was the CFO of this particular division (a very nice guy). Apparently due to some restructuring small division is going to be splitting from Large Company and the 3 other people who worked in the finance department were transferred elsewhere in the company as they chose to stay Large Company employees rather than be part of the split off, so work was very much backed up and I worked hard to get it on track.

However, ever since I came on about 4 months ago the CFO has been dumping more and more things on me (I love taking on more responsibility don't get me wrong) first the Accounts payable, then the month end reporting, then the credit cards, and on and on.

And slowly he started being at work less and less and this is causing a slight problem. Generally he comes in at 11-12 (I am here from 8am – 4:30), soon after he takes an hour and a half lunch, and then disappears sometime around 3-4 to hang out with his friends a few floors down for an hour or two. Sometimes he doesn't come in at all, and just calls to tell me.

A few times he has forgotten very important meetings about the split, come in late for them or dressed inappropriately (in jeans). Obviously this is none of my business, but I sit right next to his door so when people come by to see him and inevitably find him missing they come to me and ask where he is, why he isn't here, doesn't he know he has a meeting….and its really getting sort of awkward as people (like the CEO of this unit and people from the corporate finance) begin getting very agitated at his lack of presence and his lateness and ask me more and more often. If he is in the building I try to call his cell (he usually leaves it at his desk) and once went down to fetch him when he'd blown off an important meeting. Now people are making comments like, "Doesn't he ever work" "When IS he here?" and the like.

I really do understand they are frustrated, as am I…as I am buried in work, and with no help at all from him I don't know when I will ever catch up. But these questions from people looking from him are extremely awkward for me.

Do you have any advice for me? Pretty please?

I think we all (well most of us anyway) have an innate desire to be nice. To cover for people. We'd appreciate it if our co-workers didn't blab to everyone, "Well, Evil HR Lady's not here right now because she had this horrible toenail fungus and she's been complaining about it, driving us nuts and she finally got into see a doctor..." (Please note, I have no such toenail fungus. My toenails are very healthy. This was just a made-up example.)

So, it's natural that you feel compelled to give excuses for this slacker. You need to stop it.

Now, to be fair, I presume that the CFO is your boss and that makes it more difficult. But, it's becoming obvious to the world that he's not pulling his weight. So, it's time to start being honest.

"Where's the CFO? He's supposed to be in a meeting right now."

Your response: "The last time I heard, he was hanging out with Jim and Karen downstairs. You can try him there."

or: "He normally doesn't get in until around 11:00, so I'm not sure. I'll let him know you were looking for him, if I happen to see him."

or: "I think he went to lunch--although that was two hours ago."

No other commentary. Just the facts.

You need to go to his boss and explain your workload and that you need help. This will probably not result any help, but at least you've established that you are the one working.

The real problem here isn't with the CFO, but with his manager. What?!?! All of you are screaming, we are each responsible for our own actions! Yes, yes, that is true, and hopefully he'll get what is coming to him. However, his manager should have been managing this obvious performance problem a long time ago.

I realize that statement does nothing to help you out. However, for all of you who manage people--these types of problems just get worse. You must MANAGE your people. Not ignore them. Manage them. Fire if necessary.

Now, if you really want to be nice, one thing that stands out in this story is that this appears to be a big change in behavior for this guy. As a subordinate, it's not your place to talk to him about this. You may, however, want to bring it to the attention of Employee Relations. (They may already be aware.) Changes in behavior like this can be indicative of bigger problems inside or outside work. He may just be a slacker, or he could be going through some major trauma outside of work.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Motivating Employees

I'm executive director of a small nonprofit with a total of three employees. I have one employee who works hard and one who does not. However, they like to talk instead of working a bit much. How does one get the point across that although you don't expect them to keep their noses to the grindstone from the minute they walk in the door to the minute they leave, you do expect them to work most of the day without sounding like a total Grinch?

Well, why don't you want their noses to the grindstone? And the Grinch is such a fashion icon, I'm not sure why you resist. But, I digress.

What you need to focus on is the outcome of their work--not how they do their work. I, personally, have the attention span of a flea and am frequently doing numerous tasks at once, listening to music and keeping up on Dear Abby, so that I can mock her over here. (Which, I haven't done for a while, but I probably should.) Someone might think I'm being a slacker, but if you look at the quality and quantity of my work, you'd know that I'm good at what I do. (And only a little bit pompous, but you all knew that.)

Are they working while they are chatting? Well, if you have one good employee who chats and one bad employee who chats, it's obviously not all a chatting problem. (Although, you didn't mention your poor third employee who has to listen to their mindless banter...)

What you need to do is set clear expectations and goals, and follow up on those--not necessarily on the chatting. If the bad employee isn't meeting those expectations, you can have a "chat" with her as well. "Brenda, X and Y didn't get done and the presentation on Z was somewhat sloppy. What's the story?"

"Oh, Grinch Boss, I am working so hard and I just can't get everything done!"

"I've noticed you spend a good deal of time talking with Jan. I think that might be interfering with your ability to get things done."

Brenda won't like this, by the way, because people don't like negative feedback. But, being the boss is not about being friends. Really, it's not. It's about motivating, developing and getting the job done.

With clear expectations of what work is to be accomplished, Brenda can either rise to the challenge or fail--in the former, great, with the latter--you can (and should) fire her. Without clear expectations, why shouldn't she chatter away the day? She's getting paid (her motivation for working), and she assumes you (in your non-Grinchy fashion) are happy.

What you also don't know is who is instigating the chatting problem. It could be your good performer--she may be a proficient multi-tasker that needs multiple brain stimuli going in order to do a good job--and she may be wearing down on your poor performer. Keep that thought as a definite possibility.

Helpful Hints From Your Evil HR Lady

If you get paid twice a month (usually the 15th/30th of each month), you get 24 pay checks a year. If you get paid every other week (usually Fridays), you get 26 pay checks a year. Therefore, a paycheck for scenario 1 is not going to equal a paycheck under scenario 2.

Questions about this are not urgent. EVER. And questions about tax withholdings--well, those should go to payroll. The IRS has their rules, payroll has theirs and the Evil HR Lady does not want to get in the middle. Fighting the IRS and payroll is well, a classic blunder. The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Find Out What is Going On--But it Better Darn Well be Positive

Greetings Evil HR Lady,

I've recently experienced an HR issue--that maybe all HR folks experience at some point-- that I would really like your opinion on. Since I've only been with Company X only 4 months, I've spent much of that time creating forms, processes, working with managers, and trying to learn everything I can about existing processes and procedures.

A few weeks ago I started to make more frequent rounds with employees. Within days, during casual "How's it going" conversations with employees, many of them confided how disappointed they felt about the management [the owners]. The owners are two siblings. Every employee conversation was worse than the one before it. Many are looking for other jobs. Other stories were, well, scary.

I should add that Company X has had a lot of change. Shortly after I joined them they decided to let go of certain managers for performance reasons (and well, I think they weren't well liked). Within a month, the fallout appeared and a key manager resigned.

During a conversation with the owners they asked how things were going and I told them I wanted to do a survey. They looked hesitant. I told them morale was very low (based on the fact that 100% of my conversations were negative). They became ANGRY. They demanded to know who said what, when, and from which department. I was shocked. What do I say? "Everyone." After stumbling back on my tongue I told them that this may be a result of the employees not having information, that folks fill in where they don't get information--often not accurate but it's something. The short story: They pulled in senior management to talk about "this low morale", then one of the owners pulled in several employees one by one and, so the story goes, to tell them "They can ask questions at any time...". I wasn't told about the meetings.

I felt devastated. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I thought I was on the right course by letting them know that morale was low and needed some attention. The next day employees still said hello and were cordial but I'm sure they won't be coming to talk to me anytime soon--or ever! Was this just a bad decision on my part to include the "management"? I feel they overreacted and alienated me and their staff.

Or is this just another day of being HR?

I thank you very much for your time and expertise.

Well, see, here's the problem. People say they want feedback, but dang it, what they want is positive feedback. I think this stems back to the self-esteem movement where some idiotic (Did I just write that? How rude.) child development people decided that feeling good about ourselves was better than actually being good at anything. Bah! It's bad enough in second grade, and now it's moved to the workplace.

You work for a family owned company. Not saying that all family owned companies are poorly run, it's just that people who are good at ideas and starting businesses aren't necessarily good at running them. Their children are often even worse. So, you probably have two brothers who are good at the "business," but not good at managing it.

What they did--by interrogating employees--was not a good idea. But, it's done. Did you make a mistake in giving them negative feedback? Well, obviously because they didn't react well. Did you make a mistake in saying you wanted to do a survey? No. Those can be very valuable.

In my never to be humble opinion, what you should have done is said, "You know, now that I've been here a few months and I've gotten x,y, and z going, I think it would be a good idea to do an employee attitude survey."

They still would have freaked out. "We know what employees think!" they would protest. "I'm sure you do," you could say brightly, "but being new here, I don't know. My job, as I understand it, is to make the business as successful as possible by understanding the best way to motivate employees. Because all companies have different cultures and employees, I want to be able to motivate within the framework you've set up."

Then you could run back to your office and vomit after spewing forth such rainbows. It may be an approach that fails, but it might succeed.

But, that is neither here nor there. You've got a long road ahead of you. Employees now know that you support "them" and not "us." Therefore, you are now part of the true management team in their eyes. Congratulations! Of course, the managers now think you are supporting the employees and not them, so basically, you're all alone in your HR world.

You've already gained a good deal of insight into how employees feel and how managers feel. Take that knowledge and work on developing solutions. The tricky part is that management can't know why you are truly suggesting the solutions you are suggesting. Talk about retention, productivity, profits. Yes, I just said profits. One thing that even poor managers understand is the need for good profits. If the changes you want to make will help increase the bottom line, then you are going to have a better chance at success. If you present your ideas as "this will make everyone happier!" you'll get shot down.

What a challenge you have in front of you. But, I'm sure you can do it. After all, us HR types can do just about anything.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Carnival of HR #30

Is up now, and was up yesterday, but somebody around here is a little late. It's over at Fortify Your Oasis, with your host, Rowan Manahan.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Firing After a Non-Resignation Resignation?

Dear Evil HR Lady (Oh - I do love that title):

I am the general counsel for a small engineering firm in NY, and as such, spend a great deal of my time working with the Human Resources department. Most of the time, it's a kick, but this problem's got even me confounded.

On Friday, one of the HR staffers left early, and from her home, sent an email to her supervisor, the HR manager, stating that something happened at work and that she could not stay in the office any longer.

Her desk is less than 10 feet from her manager's office, and it was likely that her manager (the head of HR) was in her office at the time. She made no effort to seek out either her supervisor, the Director of Operations or anyone else to (1) let them know that there was a problem and (2) that she was leaving early for lunch and would not be returning for the rest of the day. This violated company policy which requires all employees (regardless of status or title), to let their supervisor or a senior manager know in advance if they need to leave the office (advance meaning before actually leaving), unless there is a family emergency or sudden illness.

The HR staffer concluded her email with the following:

"With this, I would like to inform you that I will be officially seeking employment elsewhere. This is not a resignation letter, nor am I providing notice. I would just like to inform you of my decision and be honest with you so that you may plan, as I have always done. I am extremely disappointed and wish this did not have to transpire, as I had previously believed that I had a bright future with [this company]."

Generally speaking, my company does not have a history of summarily terminating individuals who have announce that the would be seeking other employment, but nor does it bargain with employees to get them stay.

The very simple question is, given that this employee has advised the company in writing that she intends to leave, can she be terminated?

My how I love to say this: You can fire anyone at any time for any reason or no reason as long as the reason isn't one protected by law (state or federal) and the employee isn't under a contract. Fire, fire, fire. It warms my little evil heart.

Now, the real question: Should you fire this employee?

First, I have a question for you. What was the "incident" at work? I'm completely in the dark, so I have to guess. Was it being told that she needs to work on her personal hygiene? Was it because she was threatened with some negative consequence because she said she was going to blow the whistle on an illegal activity? Was it because her boss had sexually harrassed her? See, you've got trouble brewing in River City.

If it's one of the above reasons, firing her now could be construed as a violation of law. (Retaliation is a big no-no, and the personal hygiene issue could fall under ADA, depending on cause.) If it was just, "Hey, you don't have what it takes to be promoted to the next level," then you can blissfully fire away. Not to say that she wouldn't initiate a law suit anyway. You can't control that.

What do you gain from terminating her immediately? Unless she's causing problems among other employees, I see the only thing you gain is smug satisfaction. Now, if you routinely terminate people for leaving with only an e-mail, then you're on secure ground. If you don't, I'm going to wonder why she's being singled out.

Duh, you say, it's the non-resignation resignation letter. Yes, yes, that is annoying, and fairly stupid on her part. But, you don't have a habit of terming people because they resign. If you start this now, word will get around. People will stop trusting you/the company, and you'll find people resigning without notice.

True story: I got a call from a sales manager. He was angry that an employee had come to him on a Friday and said, "Here's my laptop and all my company equipment. Today is my last day. I start a new job with a competitor on Monday. Thanks, bye." The manager was LIVID. How dare the employee have so little respect for him as to quit without notice. This was wrong. Could he do anything about it? (Like what, I wanted to ask--fire the guy?)

In the course of our conversation, he admitted that when an employee submitted a resignation letter and provided two weeks notice, if said employee was going to a competitor, he terminated the employee immediately. Hmmm, I said, "And if this person had submitted a two week's notice, wouldn't you have terminated him immediately?" Grudgingly, the manager said yes he would. Then he hung up, feeling kind of sheepish (I hope).

So, what do you gain from terminating this person immediately? A bunch of other employees that say, "Hey, Sally got terminated as soon as she said she was looking for another job. I'll keep everything to myself."

A good manager realizes that sometimes the company can't provide a good career path for everyone. Perhaps in order to truly progress, an employee needs to leave the company and some day might come back. Sure, you probably wouldn't want to take this person back, but you might want to take back another employee who hears about her termination, but doesn't hear about the "incident" (whatever that was), that started this whole mess.

If you decide you just can't stand having her around for a few more months, go ahead and terminate her with severance and have her sign a General Release in exchange for that severance. That may make all of you happy.

Remember, that however you handle an "incident" with an employee needs to be consistent and fair with how you have handled similar incidents in the past and in the future. Whatever you do, make sure you are in compliance with state and federal law. (NY may have lots of protections that federal law does not. I used to do HR in NY, but it was a long time ago, and I have forgotten everything about it.)

Yet Another Meme

Incentive Intelligence tagged me for a memoir meme. The goal is to write a memoir in six words. Here's mine:

Opposite of last post is life.

Can anybody tell that I'm still tired and in the midst of a huge project? So much so that I actually worked 17 (not a typo--that's seventeen) hours on Friday. Even the hour I took for dinner I spent on the phone with a co-worker.

Still want to be in HR?

In honor of that, I'm tagging two who escaped (albeit, one only temporarily):

HR Wench

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What is it Really Like to Be in HR?

From time to time, I have people ask me what a typical day as an HR professional is like. So, I thought I'd take the time today to answer that question.

Arrive at the office. Walk in and find fresh bagels and cream cheese waiting for you and your team. "Oh," your admin explains (there is always plenty of administrative support, so you never have to do things like fill out forms, or schedule appointments) "these are from finance. They just wanted to thank all of us for helping them out with the headcount they needed for the annual budget review."

Check voicemail. One message from an employee thanking you for the coaching you gave. "It really helps me integrate into my group better! I'm more productive now. Thanks!"

Check e-mail. Just some announcements from the company. This is not surprising since you did stay late last night (5:30) and got here early (9:00), so no one has really had time to send you anything.

Prepare for your first meeting of the day. The customer service team has asked you to come meet with them to help brainstorm some ideas to improve the skills of the customer service team. They recognize that by investing in the proper training, they can increase their skills and increase customer satisfaction.

Attend first meeting with Customer Service management team. Productive discussions around employee and customer needs.

Meet one on one with an employee who has a concern about a discrimination issue. After discussing with the employee, she comes to the conculsion that her manager was not acting based on sexist beliefs, but was being rational and even handed when she required everyone to be on time in the morning. Employee vows to be on time from now on.

Meet with the above employee's manager. He wasn't aware that his employee was in earlier, but just wanted to make sure his enforcement of arrival times was within company policy. "I just want to do the right thing."

Lunch with a former colleague. Always networking!

After lunch, take two hours to work on a presentation for next week's restructuring meetings. Thankfully, you've been able to devote at least two hours every day for the past two weeks to this, as it's a critical change in the company. Had several formal and informal meetings with the Organizational Development team, as well as line managers to help produce the best structure for the company. Thankfully, it's looking like there will be no job eliminations with this restructuring. This is largely due to the excellent recent hires made by this group. They've really taken your advice and the advice of the staffing team seriously, and it shows.

Staff meeting. Everyone presents their projects and gains ideas and insights from each other. You get a great idea from a co-worker on how to meet client needs.

Call from finance personally thanking you for help on headcount. "Did you get the bagels?" they ask. "We really want to thank you for catching those errors. Boy, that would have been embarrassing if we hadn't had HR on our side!"

Call from manager, "Can we set up time where you can help me write meaningful development plans for my team? I've got some really great people and I want to make sure they stay with the company, regardless of whether they stay in my department or not."

Call from staffing, "I know you are working on a restructuring of your client group. I'd like to be in the loop so we can be prepared for any new hires the group may need. I'm already working with compensation to discuss the new position descriptions and make sure all jobs are graded properly."

Ooops! It's already 5:00. Time to go. Even though you have a laptop you rarely take it home because you almost never have to do work from home.

And that's a typical day!

(Oh, happy April Fool's day by the way.)