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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Because We Like to Give Advice

I am interviewing for an HR/Information Assistant position this Thursday (October 30). I really really want to get this position, as I am very interested in working for Human Resources. However, I do not have any prior experience in HR, and have heard that it is difficult to get into the department without prior experience. Is there any advice you could provide for someone like me, who really wants to prove to the employer that I am serious about this job, and that I am the perfect candidate?

It is difficult to get a job without experience, but we all did it at some point. I'll ask my readers to give additional advice to you, but here's mine: Don't pretend you can do something when you can't.

I would far rather have someone say, "I have no idea how to do x, but I'm a fast learner and I'm willing to try anything. I'm sure I could learn to do it. In fact, in my last job I [learned x] and became the department expert." So much better than, "yeah, I can do that," and then you really can't.

Also, I'm not sure what an Information Assistant is (but can I have one?), but an HR assistant is an entry level job where you aren't expected to know everything, but you are expected to jump in and try and learn. Also, we expect that you will never make a mistake. (Ha! We know you will, but we will try to prevent you from making mistakes that will show up on the CEO's desk.)

What other advice do you have for this future HR person?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Problem With HR

In the comments on Policy Problem Just Another HR Lady Wrote:
I would like to just comment that every profession (not just HR) has individuals who are low-performers or who are not the right fit for the job. Because HR deals with every single person in the organization at every level, HR low-performers or those who make mistakes/errors/missteps are much higher profile in the company than someone who only deals with one department.

And with that she sums up a very real problem. Every employee at every level has contact with HR and sometimes with very low level HR people. Add to this that HR isn't the highest paid profession and sometimes you get some real problems.

Any mistake we make is magnified--because it involves people. Let me tell you about a memorable mistake in my past. Once upon a time, I was responsible for running the year end salary increase program--for the entire, very large company. This was in the dark ages, so at the end of the whole thing we sent every manager a piece of paper with a list of their employees and the employee's official increase. Attached to that were individual notification sheets for each employee with their names and new salaries. Did I mention this was a very large company? Did I also mention this was all done on PAPER? Oy.

So, we're handling tens of thousands of sheets of paper. Stuffing them into envelopes and sending them out. It was quite a process. And we made a mistake. No one really knows who--everyone in the department, from admin to VP helped out on this stuffing process, so it could have been anyone. But, we made a mistake and ONE Vice President (note how I said, one out of thousands) got an extra sheet stuck to his list. The extra sheet happened to be for one of his direct reports, so it wasn't as if he saw anything he didn't already have access to. It was just a mistake. And unfortunately, it happened at the top.

Of course, the world came to an end and there were meetings and process re-designs and it was a mess and if you ask me if I ever want to do that again the answer is a resounding no. It made us look terrible and no one recognized that our error rate was well below 0.0002%. You ask me if any other department would get reamed for that error level. Even worse all of HR looked bad, even though staffing, employee relations, benefits, etc. didn't even make the mistake. My group did.

My point is, of course, that we do have to be better. We need to know more than we do. We need to be more accurate than we are. We just need to be better employees.

Which makes sense. After all, if we're in the people business we should be the best people.

Friday, October 24, 2008


This has nothing to do with HR, but it would be so phenomenally horrible if it happened to you. But it would also be really funny.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Policy Problem

I had asked one of our HR ladies via e-mail 3 different times to supply me with the tuition reimbursement policy our company has. After waiting over 6 months I went to our companies intranet site and searched "tuition reimbursement". I found the policy and sent her the link since she obliviously didn't know where to find it.

A few minutes after finding it I received an e-mail from our evil HR. Manager asking where I found it and that it because it was not to be available to the public. How is that right? How am I supposed to follow policies that I am not privy to? Is he being evil or are HR policies not for employees to view?

Of course he’s being evil. That’s what we HR types do.

You’ve got several different issues going on here. Let’s talk about issue number 1: HR not returning e-mails. You have a simple question—what is the tuition reimbursement policy? Now, depending on the size of your company the person you know as “HR” may not (and judging from the lack of response, does not) know what the policy is. So, she ignored your e-mail. Or she forwarded it and that person ignored it and she didn’t follow up. This is completely unprofessional and downright rude.

If she didn’t know the answer and didn’t know whom to ask, the proper response is to e-mail you back and apologetically tell you she doesn’t know the answer. Then the other proper response is for her boss to fire her because she should either know the answer to that question, know who to ask, or be willing to wade in and find out who knows.

The second issue is that your intranet security stinks. If there is a document that you shouldn’t have access to, you shouldn’t be able to get to it without some serious hacking skills. It sounds like you just surfed around and found it. Bad intranet security.

The third, and really most important point, is that your HR manager is paranoid and wrong. I've never understood the desire to "hide" information from employees. Do you have a tuition reimbursement policy or not? If you do, make it available to everyone. Do you have a vacation policy or not? If you make it available to everyone.

I know, the "little people" can't possibly understand big, complicated policies! Plus, the world will come to an end if we change one of them, so we should keep them secret. Well, we can let managers know because everyone knows managers can handle that information, whereas individual contributors cannot.

If you haven't guessed, I hate this attitude. In any organiztion that doesn't hire teenagers (and even in those that do, but I'll grant you this much), everyone should be able to handle policies and even handle the knowledge that not all policies apply to all people. Get this, people even understand that sometimes policies change.

I'm a big fan of openess. If you can't justify why you have a policy in place, you probably shouldn't have it. If a policy is so complicated that posting it would lead to confusion among the masses, perhaps you should revise your policy so that it makes sense.

I realize that initial posting of policies can cause phone calls. I get that. (I've also been the recipient of many dumb phone calls, including ones that went someone like this: "I'm looking at the tuition reimbursement policy and it says that in order to be reimbursed, I have to get at least a C in the class. So, if I get a D can I be reimubursed?") I also think that if someone's knickers get too twisted after reading a policy you've got a management issue.

And that is why HR is afraid of posting policies. We'd rather avoid the issues of having someone question. We'd rather avoid having managers manage their people. In short, we're wimps.

We shouldn't be. We won't be respected as an organization until we stop being wimps.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Unpaid, Uncompensated Overtime

I have a title, more than two employees, satisfy the salary requirement, and have weight given to my decisions to hire , fire, task assignment, etc... So I'm exempt right?

I am salaried for 40 hr. a week, about half of the work year I repeatedly put in 70 hrs. a week performing predictable,rotational, maintenance labor identical to that of my employees. I work unpaid in the field every Sunday and all summer holidays. My company does not have the budget to hire any staff to perform these tasks that are critical to the deliverables. The employees I supervise are assigned to single service areas and may not work on the broader assignment for which I am responsible. The rotational tasks are weather dependent so regardless of re-arrangements and behind the desk Monday quarterbacking, service must be delivered. The most critical of the tasks can only be performed on weekends when I have accessibility to the sites. HR said you have to work whatever hours it takes to get the job done.

We anticipated this at point of hire, and vague promises were forwarded to compensate with additional paid time off (PTO).

Nothing in writing. I took a vacation after serving these 70 hour weeks for 16 weeks straight. Then received an email upon return informing that I didn't have sufficient PTO, and will go unpaid for the vacation.

I reminded my supervisor of the vague promises, a date was set to draw up language, this has past with no follow up.

Any ideas?

Yes, but the best one is of no use to you. Never, and I mean never, accept a job offer contingent on vague verbal promises. Something like this should have been in writing as part of the offer letter or in the employee handbook as a matter of policy. Working 16 straight 70 hour weeks would send me over the edge and a vacation or 12 weeks of mental FMLA would be required.

So, where do we go from here? First, you need to take responsibility for getting this fixed. Your boss doesn't care. He should, but he doesn't. Nobody cares about your vacation like you do.

You need to make sure you get on his calendar. Go in prepared with what your expectations are. Do not pause for a second if he says, "what do you think is fair?" You know what you think is fair, so make sure you have something to say. Don't leave without a resolution. If he says, "Well, I need to check with HR and the big boss on this," say, "Great. Let's write up a proposal right now and e-mail it to both of them." Otherwise, he won't have gotten around to meeting with them and you'll be working another 16 straight weeks of weekends.

If the vague offer of additional PTO came from him, keep in mind he may not have gotten authorization and he may be getting in trouble. So, it may not be truly possible to give you what he promised you. (My lawyer friends can tell you that in some cases a verbal promise is equal to a written contract, but I don't know if this is such a case and I'm not a lawyer anyway. I did, however, hear a "pro-lawyer" advertisement on the radio the other day. Seriously. It was weird. Yeah lawyers!)

If you cannot get a meeting (people who are avoiding you can miss meetings like you wouldn't believe) then type up what your expectations are in an e-mail. This is a last resort, because many people see this as a passive aggressive move. I hate confrontation so I do as much as possible via e-mail (plus e-mail covers your rear end sometimes). Try, try, try to meet in person. But if not, try something like this:


When you offered me [position x] part of the offer included comp time in exchange for the 70 hour weeks I would be expected to work. I would like to formalize this so there are no more misunderstandings.

For each 70 hour week I work, I will receive an additional [half day, quarter day, hour--whatever was discussed previously] in paid time off.

Please let me know if this is not to your understanding.


[your name]

For the first e-mail, don't copy his boss or HR. We want to stay out of it and it won't help your cause. If his offer was outside of company policy he'll get in trouble and you don't want him to get in trouble if you can help it. (A happy boss is more likely to give you the time off you deserve).

If he doesn't respond, send him a follow up e-mail saying that you understand this is now in place and you are acting accordingly.

Then ask yourself this question, "why am I working for such a place? Do the benefits outweigh all the negatives?" If the answer is no, get your resume updated and start looking. I certainly wouldn't want to work under the conditions you are describing. Of course, I've worked part time for 5 years now, so I've grown soft.

(And PS--before someone comments and says "maybe she's not really exempt!" we're assuming she is exempt. Hire/Fire and supervisory responsibilities tend to make one exempt. If she's doing a lot of the actual work and it's not professional level work, you may be right, but we are assuming this is an exempt position.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Completely Random Overheard

18 year old Chuck E. Cheese employee to fellow employees: "I'm voting Obama and don't argue with me because no one beats me on politics. I study the stuff. And Joe Biden is hot."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Would You Laugh or Write Up?

If one of your employees wrote a letter like this would you laugh or write the person up?

I laughed. (Not that I work for this law firm. I don't work for a law firm.)

Via lowering the bar.

Fired and Hired

I've had interviews with a prospective employer and multiple discussions over the last month. The prospective employer said they would have an offer to me tomorrow (Thursday) 10/2. I was terminated today (Wednesday) from my current employer (entire career /work history is with this employer, over 10 years) Do I need to make the prospective employer aware of my termination or just sit tight? Do prospective employers ever do reference checks after they've hired to verify positions, or dates of employment? Please help as I am in a panic right now and don't know what to do.

Have they already done the reference check on you? If so, it probably doesn't matter. They are extremely unlikely to do a second check. If not, it might.

I wouldn't panic, though. Get the offer letter. If it says in it that it's contingent on a reference check then mention to the recruiter that today was your last day with your former company and you are eager to start at their company. If the termination was something other than a position elimination (performance or cause) and there is any chance of them calling your old company for a reference, explain. Usually a good explanation is one that doesn't make your previous company sound bad. "My boss was a jerk who couldn't see that I was a genius" is a bad explanation. "My boss wanted to take the department this way and I think we should go that way, which is in accordance with [new company] and so the timing couldn't be better" is a better explanation.

If you were fired for stealing copy paper and toner from the supply closet, well then you're on your own.

Getting fired is not the end of the world. It's extremely common. EXTREMELY common for someone to have a lost job in their past. Yours seemed to have hit at the perfect time. I hope everything goes through with your new job.