Human Resources

Want to See Something Really Scary? Life Without HR

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Did I scare you? Probably not. No offense to John Carpenter and Wes Craven (RIP), but most of us are not terrified by masked slashers or clawed fiends who invade our nightmares. These are fantasies. Reality is much scarier. How are we going to pay the bills? What if we lose our jobs? Will we ever be able to retire? These are the thoughts that run through our heads as we toss and turn at night.

I’m no exception. But it’s the realities of the workplace that frighten me more than any personal concerns. Now, I know some of you think that as an HR Guy, I’m the one who is truly scary. The bogeyman with the pink slip and the empty box for you to pack up your office, lurking behind the door as you walk in to start your day. Many of you wish I was a fantasy, a monster under your bed, a bad dream you could wake up from. But I’m here to stay, and it’s a good thing, too.

Some say we don’t need HR, that managers can and should perform most of the employee relation and performance management functions HR performs. HR, they claim, gets in the way. Here are some examples of why these people are wrong. I may have written about some of these before, but in honor of Halloween, the most frightening ones bear repeating. What’s even more terrifying is that most of what I’m going to describe occurred at places that are overall great places to work. It sends shivers up my spine to imagine what happens at employers who don’t care what employees think.

1) A woman asks her boss for a raise. He tells her that he would pay her more if she was the breadwinner.

2) A manager asks an employee why she is bothering to study psychology, when the Bible has all the answers to life anyone will ever need.

3) A nursing mother asks about a private place to pump. Her manager tells her to go use a bathroom stall.

4) A verbally abusive manager tells his staff that if they complain to upper management or HR, he will fire them because they are “at-will”.

5) An employee leaves over a fifty-cent raise ($540 annual) the manager refuses to sign off on due to budget constraints. It costs $3,000 to replace that employee.

6) A manager has the habit of looking female employees up and down when he talks to them. He tells one that she would look more “professional” if she wore more skirts and heels.

7) An employee gives other employees derogatory nicknames, and even uses them directly. The manager does nothing about this. He claims employees have no problem with the nicknames, because who doesn’t like being referred to as ugly or stupid?

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m breaking out in a sweat as it is. The bottom-line is that what scares me most is, despite all the training, all the coaching, all the talk of fostering a positive work environment, managers will still go and do something unethical, illegal, or just plain stupid. And when they do, it’s HR that has to pick up the pieces. But don’t feel bad for me. It comes with the job. Feel bad for the employees who work too hard to have to put up with bad bosses day-in-and-day-out.

And as for those managers who insist on being jerks, what about them? Maybe they should try something novel for Halloween, and dress up as human beings.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Into the Water: HR’s Image Problem

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I am of the firm belief that the workplace would be a much more happy and productive place if everyone just had a theme song.

Look at the great workplace comedies. Mary Tyler Moore could turn the world on with her smile. Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin got the better of their tyrannical boss working 9 to 5. Then there’s that great bass riff to start out the theme to Barney Miller, and get the cops of the 12th Precinct through another day of dealing with purse snatchers, prostitutes and the just plain weird.

If you still don’t believe me, compare these TV shows and movies to those that are more negative about the workplace. As great as The Office and Office Space are, their music is not what you remember about them. These fictional workplaces are dysfunctional, at least in part, for lack of a good theme song.

With this in mind I went out in search of a theme song of my own, something to improve my performance and increase my job satisfaction. I wanted something upbeat to reflect my always cheery disposition. Perhaps Eddy Grant’s Reggae classic Walking on Sunshine, Beautiful Day by U2, or Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Unable to decide from so many great choice, I asked my coworkers for suggestions.

They didn’t even hesitate. Without a moment’s thought, they all said at once, the theme from Jaws.

Yeah, that’s right, to them I’m a mindless, man-eating monster of the deep. When I come into their workspaces, shivers run up their spines with the fear of getting devoured with a termination packet and an empty box for packing their personal belongings.

Now, I’ve written about my reputation as the guy who fires people before in a previous post, but that was a few years ago. Surely, my reputation has changed by now. Rarely are people fired at my organization. Most of my time is spent helping people. Whether it’s assisting them in navigating the benefit package or counseling them in how to deal with a difficult coworker, I’m the good guy.

I’ve been assured that this is the case most of the time, but to some, I’ll always be the guy who shows up when you are about to get your legs chopped off while your frantically swimming for that buoy. They don’t see me, they see a fin popping out of the water.

This is the onus of being in HR, and no matter how I act or what I do, it always will be. It comes with the job, and I’ll just have to get used to it.

And tere is a bright side. When I asked for a theme song, at least they didn’t suggest Talking Heads Psycho Killer

Project Hiring – The Latest in Realty TV

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Court Jester Productions is looking for contestants to be on their new reality show, Project Hiring. This show will pit a dozen human resource professionals against one another, eliminating one over the course of each episode to determine who will win the title of Top HR.

Each week, contestants will face a new challenge, these will include:

1) Conducting a sensitivity training session which takes two hours to tell people not to be jerks.

2) Arbitrarily applying some policy written in 1984 to a current situation, without considering the circumstances (the phrases, “That’s the policy” and “We don’t want to start a precedent” have to be used at least once).

3) Creating a canned PowerPoint presentation filled with charts and metrics that make it appear that the HR professional is accomplishing something other than beating his/her high score on Candy Crush.

4) Seeing how many times buzzwords like synergy, gamification and strategic partner can be woven into a one hour meeting that should have only taken ten minutes.

5) Selecting a job candidate using questions such as “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” and “What’s the color of success?”

6) Firing someone while keeping a straight face, even though you’re smiling on the inside because you never liked that person anyway.

7) Providing psychiatric advice even though your only qualification is having read, I’m OK, You’re OK.

8) Counseling managers on employment law issues, despite the fact that all your legal knowledge comes from watching reruns of Alley McBeal.

9) Telling an employee that a two percent raise isn’t in the budget while ordering a new massage chair for the executive lounge.

10) Conducting a New Employee Orientation in under 15 minutes by saying, “Here’s your desk, here’s your computer, coffee’s over there, get to work.”

11) Seeing how many acronyms such as FSA, FMLA, ADA and COBRA you can throw into a five-minute conversation, oblivious to the fact that no one else knows what you’re talking about.

For the final challenge, the remaining two contestants will have to tell Donald Trump that he isn’t fit to manage the night shift at a convenience store when he’s the only one working, and to do it in such a diplomatic way that not only doesn’t get them fired, but gets them a promotion.

The best news about this new show is they’ve selected me to be one of the judges. I’ll be a mix between Simon Cowell without the accent and Tim Gunn without the fashion sense. They would have chosen me to be a Heidi Klum-like host, but I just don’t have the legs for it.

The winner of Project Hiring will receive a new, high-paying job where he/she never has to deal with another living soul ever again.

In order to ensure that contestants provide the proper entertainment value demanded by cable television, applicants will be required to undergo a thorough mental health examination. Only those who fail this exam will be considered.

Tryouts begin April 1 at the Scranton, OH Holiday Inn and Conference Center.

Lessons in HR from a Miracle on 34th Street

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Despite my Scrooge-like demeanor, I’m a sap when it comes to Christmas. The lights, the tree, baking cookies. I even enjoy Christmas music, at least for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve). My favorite part of the lead up to Christmas, however, are the movies. I make it a point to see certain classics every year – It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf (yes, it is old enough to be a classic). The best by far, though, is The Miracle on 34th Street.

If you’ve never seen it – and I’m talking about the 1947 version with a very young Natalie Wood and an Oscar-winning performance by Edmund Gwenn – it’s about an old man who gets a job as Santa at Macy’s Department Store who happens to be named Kris Kringle and claims he is the real Santa Claus. After a run-in with the store’s psychiatrist, he goes on trial to prove his sanity or be institutionalized. Meanwhile, he befriends the daughter of a single mother, who not only doubts he’s the real Santa, but doesn’t believe in Santa at all.

One of the reasons I like this movie so much is that it is a modern-day parable for all that’s wrong with Human Resources.

Kris gets hired on Thanksgiving when the man hired to play Santa is drunk right before the Macy’s Day Parade. I can’t help but wonder what type of interview process this Santa went through. After all, being drunk first thing in the morning is usually signs of a serious problem. This might have been spotted during the selection process, or discovered in a background check. There’s every likelihood he had arrests for public intoxication or drunk driving on his record (I know back then the laws weren’t as strict for this sort of thing, but they still existed).

After Kris is hired, he turns out to be an excellent fit for the job. Children and parents love him. When a girl who doesn’t speak English comes to him, he converses with her in her native Dutch. His whiskers are real. He does a fantastic monkey impersonation. Most importantly, instead of pushing toys that the store has too much of, which the toy department manager suggests, he sends customers to other stores if it is something that Macy’s doesn’t have in stock. This turns out to be great publicity for the store.

Despite all this, he is sent to the company psychiatrist for testing, and there are those who want him fired. Because anyone who thinks he is Santa must be dangerous. It doesn’t matter that he otherwise seems more well-balanced than most people, or that the doctor at the retirement home in which he was living says that it is a harmless delusion.

What company needs a psychiatrist? I doubt there are enough mentally unstable people working the counters at Macy’s to make this a justifiable expense. In their defense, this was probably just for the movie. I can find no evidence that they ever had one on staff.

To make matters worse, the test administered is ludicrous. The questions seem designed to measure Kris’ intelligence, not his mental health. Unfortunately, workplace testing today isn’t much better. Rarely does it determine whether someone can do his/her job (see my previous blog post for more on testing at

Even if the test were valid, and Kris does have delusions of grandeur, that doesn’t mean he isn’t fit to be Santa. I have worked with a number of people with some level of mental illness. Some had days when they couldn’t get out of bed. Others would rant at coworkers. There were those who believed everyone else was out to get them. A couple I even thought might be a danger to themselves and others. And even if they weren’t, we didn’t lock them up. Instead, we tried to get them the help they needed. They had an illness, after all, and require treatment. I know that back in 1947, the attitudes towards mental illness were different, but even so. They have this man who does a great job and they want to get rid of him because he’s different. Like so many in the workplace today, we don’t measure coworkers, staff or supervisors by how well they do their job, but by whether or not they fit our narrow description of what a good employee should be. We don’t play to their strengths, but focus on their weaknesses.

I can’t help but mention that those who want to get rid of Kris are jealous of him. They resent his success, his good-nature, his positive relationship with their boss, Mr. Macy. While never stated in the movie, it’s clear that this resentment leads in part to their treatment of him. The psychiatrist in particular is an unhappy man who seems to abhor a man as jolly as Kris.

The only one who seems to get it is Mr. Macy. He rewards Kris for doing a fantastic job. Even though he admits to believing Kris is Santa, Mr. Macy probably wouldn’t care if one of his employees thought he was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and wore antlers all day long, so long as they made him money.

Maybe that’s why he’s the one in charge.