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I Am Serious. (And Don’t Call Me Shirley).

January 11, 2011
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I had lunch the other day with a few friends who also happen to work in the wonderful world of HR and of course there were a few moments of shop talk.

One of my friends was relating some stories about some transitional changes at her company as, over the years, she has worked to impart some HR wisdom to the troops.  As a Regional HR Manager she supports many many locations, with many many managers and many many supervisors across a huge swath of states. 

As she regaled us with some of her latest challenges, it struck me how often we in HR end up repeating ourselves over and over again.  Year after year, we trot out the same answers to the same questions.  Is there a piece of manager’s brains where HR knowledge/training goes to die?  Does it leak out of their ear canal and fall into a puddle on the floor when they’re having dinner?  Do they watch an episode of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and the exploits of Camille, Kyle and Kim move to the forefront of their frontal cortex, supplanting any HR knowledge that previously resided there?

Why can’t they remember we’re serious?

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Envision these fairly common answers coming from the HR pro at the –

Annual Harassment Training: “No, it’s not your role to provide backrubs to your female staff members when they’re having a rough day.  I don’t care if they tell you they’re stressed and they don’t mind.  Yes, I am serious.”

Interviewing Skills Workshop – Refresher Course: “No, you are not going to ask all the women you interview if their husband or boyfriend is OK with them working at night.  Yes, I am serious.”

Disability Awareness Training: “No, you can’t pay John less money because the job accommodation you’re providing due to his disability is costing you a few hundred dollars.  Yes, I am serious.”

Pregnancy Discrimination Overview: “No, you aren’t going to ‘require’ that Peggy stay home from work  just because you don’t think she can do the job.  Yes, I am serious.”

Wage and Hour/Payroll Process Training: “No, Jim can’t work off the clock.  I don’t care if he says he’s volunteering and doesn’t mind.  Yes, I am serious.”

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Is it us?  Maybe the blame rests with the HR pros who are sharing this information.  Perhaps we’re just dull and stodgy; a veritable batch of schoolmarms and sheriffs.  It’s entirely possible that we’re incapable of presenting information that’s relevant and important and pertinent in an engaging manner. 

Maybe we fail to draw the right correlation for the managers so that they SEE and CARE about the impact that paying Jim off the clock for “just a few hours” can have on the company when it turns from a trickle into a flood.  Our topics, at their core, are interesting.  We talk about money, sex, breaking-the-rules, diseases and drama.  We should be able to find a way to make these topics understandable and relatable.

Perhaps we enable their continuing inability to learn and retain information because we hand-hold and coddle and make their decisions for them.  Why should they retain this information when HR swoops in to make their decisions for them at every turn?

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So is it the HR message?  Or is it the HR messenger?

And yes.  I am serious.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimberly Roden permalink
    January 11, 2011 7:02 am

    Great post Robin!

    One of the things I hate about HR is that the awareness of the legal issues like the ones you mentioned are rarely a priority with managers in organizations. This information will usually disseminate through an organization only when there’s an issue and how many times do we find out by accident…or an innocent conversation? These legal issues that can cause a company a huge headache should be standard information to managers — not categorized as HR — categorized as LEGAL. Managers should also know that they can be held PERSONALLY accountable for making a poor decision. How many managers even know that?

    Companies should have a BASIC procedural guide with FAQs for managers and they should have an annual refresher as state and federal legislation changes. I’m not talking about formal training because I think formal training is generally ineffective. I’m talking about simple, quick FAQs or examples. This is the law, learn it and don’t break it so that we (HR) do not have to clean up the mess from a manager after the fact!

    I’m done now…thanks for the vent. 🙂

  2. Bonnit permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:05 pm

    As always Robin, you’re hilarious. Enjoyed this very much.

  3. January 12, 2011 8:22 am

    One of the things I love about HR is that we are constantly challenged to provide these core deliverables to the leadership team. Those folks come and go, and sometimes they simply are so engrossed in operations that they forget what we’ve shared. We live and breath these issues each day; however, they may only deal with them once a year or less. For me, it’s about the opportunity to keep working those relationships so when problems do arise, they trust me to guide them through.

  4. Robin Schooling permalink*
    January 12, 2011 8:32 am

    Thanks everyone for commenting.

    @Jay – I think your comment is key: keep those relationships going so that the leaders/managers know when to come to HR for clarification. They DO have a responsibility to retain some base knowledge and can’t abdicate from that responsibility. But they also need to know when they are faced with an issue where we can guide them.

    @Kimberly – an FAQ manual (throw it online for ease of access) can be a great reference guide!

  5. January 12, 2011 9:10 am

    Great post, Robin. This reminded me of my first job out of grad school. I worked for the federal government in the Office of Personnel Management. There was a million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration. I, and an attorney, designed and conducted the first sexual harassment workshops for federal employees. I spent a solid year doing traveling around the Northeast and conducting trainings (this was before e-learning!). At just about every workshop, someone made the joke, “Are you going to be teaching us how to sexually harass?” Many years later now, I still get the same joke when I conduct sexual harassment trainings.

    The bad news is that people still don’t get it. The good news is that because people still don’t get it, I have a business. 🙂

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