Month: February 2015

DHS: Working Without Pay

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I’ve got a deal for you.

I am going to let you work in a highly sensitive position, one that requires you to be ever vigilant and may even put you in physical danger. A job which is vital to our nation’s national security.

And, here’s the best part. I’m not going to pay you. At least not yet, maybe not for a long time.

At the end of the week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will run out of money. This department includes TSA workers, border patrol agents and the US Coast Guard. They are the first line of defense to ensuring that foreign terrorists do not get into the country. Seems it would be a no brainer to continue funding them, right? Unfortunately, the politicians in Washington are refusing to come to an agreement. At issue is the only remotely related subject of immigration (otherwise known as, how do we keep the non-whites out?).

If the DHS isn’t funded, the department won’t be able to pay its more than 200,000 workers. But guess what, as essential workers, they’ll still be required to come in to work. They just won’t get paid. Oh sure, they will eventually see pay checks once the funding comes through, but that could weeks or months.

Politically, many in Congress don’t see this lack of funding as a big deal. After all, the airplanes will keep flying, the border crossings will still be staffed. Ordinary citizens won’t notice a difference. Of course, this doesn’t include DHS employees, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and will be stretched to make ends meet.

Most states have laws about how often employees must be paid. Where I work, if we didn’t pay our staff at least twice a month and on a regular basis, we would be subject to stiff fines and law suits. Yet the Federal government is exempt from such legislation. Sure, they may be state laws, but no government agency should be exempt from the same laws that apply to the private sector. And while it could be argued that these employees must work for the safety of the country, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t pay them anyway. It’s not a matter of not having the money, it’s a matter of not having it in the right bucket. And even if the country was broke, it always has assets it could sell (Washington Monument anyone?).

Oh, and by the way, Congress People who never took Psych 101, you’re even wrong about a shut down not effecting average Americans. Sure, we may not see an immediate impact, but we will notice its future impact. The DHS already suffers from low morale. Not paying them, and seemingly not caring enough to pay them, only makes it worse. And unhappy workers are not good workers. This is bad enough if they are clerks in a department store or driving a cab. It can be disastrous if they are checking bags for explosives at a boarding gate.

Having DHS employees work without pay also eliminates the need for politicians to resolve the issue. Think about the reaction if not funding the DHS meant all these people stayed home. How would voters react if they couldn’t get that flight to Cancun during spring break? More importantly, what would happen to their corporate campaign contributions if companies couldn’t get their goods through customs?

Making people work without pay is wrong. It’s bad business. That’s why even if the laws weren’t on the books, most employers would still pay employees in a timely manner.

Some DHS workers say they will refuse to go to work if they aren’t paid. They could be charged with being AWOL. They welcome these charges, and believe they would win in court.

I’m guessing it won’t come to this. A last-minute deal will be worked out. And if it isn’t, I think the politicians responsible should be required to pay the DHS out of their own private funds.

That would get a deal done quicker than it takes to pass through a metal detector at LAX.

Ow, That Hurts! The Rebranding of HR

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Human Resources.

Just the mere sound of it makes some people quiver in their cubicles or swear under their breaths. We are seen as enforcers, our only purpose to enforce the sterile, uncaring policies we’ve created. In the media, we are seen as bureaucratic minions of upper management at best, Satan’s spawn at the worst (Think Toby in The Office, or Catbert of Dilbert fame). That’s why some in the industry think we need to change, and we should start with its name. They believe the term turns workers into just another resource to be abused and exploited.

A lot of options have already been tried: Human Capital, People Department, Organizational Effectiveness to name a few. Some have even returned to the term Personnel Manager (these same people probably also use electric typewriters and carbon paper). Such a name change reflects a different attitude towards HR, a rebranding.

Rebranding – such a loaded term. It came from the practice of ranchers searing their mark on their livestock. They’d press a red-hot iron into the hide, causing a great deal of pain. I wouldn’t even want this done to me once, let alone be “re” branded.

You could call me the Grand Poobah or Lord God Emperor or Worker THX 1138 for all I care. It won’t change my job, or even how others see me. But if I have to pick a title, it may as well include Human Resources. Why? Sorry to break this to all those who think that your employer should treat you as a person, but to them, you are a resource, and pretending you are anything other than that is disingenuous.

Don’t take it too hard. It’s not all bad. In fact, being nothing more than a resource clarifies the otherwise muddle employee-employer relationship. All too often, this relationship is doomed from the start because both sides expect what neither is willing or able to deliver. Employees want employers to provide them with purpose, self-worth, happiness. Things that you can only find within yourself.
Employers want employees to be fully engaged, fully committed. They don’t just want you to work for them, but thank them for the privilege. And when you don’t, they dead-end your career because they don’t see you as a “team player”. If you are a resource, the commitment to one another is simplified. You provide time and energy, and many cases knowledge and creativity, to your employer. In exchange, your employer provides you with pay and benefits.

This relationship doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your employer. You want to do all you can to help it succeed, because if it succeeds, it will be able to continue to employee you. In the same vein, your employer cares about your personal well-being. After all if you are healthy physically, mentally and spiritually, satisfied in your job, and care about what you do, you will be more productive.

Before you think I am a cold-hearted bastard, let me say this. I care about everyone I work with on a personal level. I want to see them succeed in life (whatever that might mean to them) regardless of how it affects the organization. Hopefully, the two are aligned. But fi they aren’t, I have made a commitment to the organization. So if a choice has to be made, assuming it doesn’t require me to act in an unethical or illegal manner, I have to side with those who sign my paycheck.

There are also limits to what an employer can do, even when the employer wants to help. I once had an employee who was a functional alcoholic. Drank himself to sleep every night. When his performance started to suffer, we offered to help him stop drinking – time off, paying for a program, etc. He turned us down, but his work improved. From then on, he was always on time and did his job above expectations. He still drank, though, and while I’m sure it was hell on his personal life, we were his employer, not his friend or family.

It’s not much different from the relationship your employer has with its computer system. Your employer ensures that the computer system is protected from viruses and malware, that it has the necessary upgrades, that all its components are in good repair. It doesn’t do any of this for the sake of the computer system itself, but to ensure that it is performing at an optimum level for the benefit of the organization.

Does this mean that you are nothing more than another machine? In a sense, you are. A highly complex, extremely valuable biological machine that often acts in unexpected and unpredictable ways. And just as your employer requires an IT Department to keep your computer system work efficiently, it needs a department to ensure its people work efficiently. It needs Human Resources.

Now, I do realize that some of you don’t just have a career, you have a calling. You would do your work whether someone paid you are not. It isn’t just your job, it’s your way of life. I’ve met some of you – teachers, police officers, pastors, nurses. Unfortunately, you are few and far between. For most of us, however, work is a means, not an end.

Cynical? Maybe. Honest? More honest than those who think they can sugar-coat reality simply by changing a department’s title. The term human resources demeans workers, you say? No, low pay, no benefits and unsafe, hostile work environments demean workers. Not what’s on the person who’s in charge of all this puts on his business card.