This post is a long time in coming, but it is time. See, I have left HR for the third time in my career. What’s the saying, the third time is a charm? I guess we will see. OK, so I spent about 20 years in HR, which means I must have started shortly after my Bar Mitzvah. Contrary to that last statement I am actually really good at math. Which brings me back to part of the reason I hate HR. Too many HR people completely suck at math or, well, anything business-related. I can’t tell you how many HR Pros I have met over the years at conferences and seminars that literally could barely explain the basics of their company’s operations. And yes, growing up in this area I can confidently tell the difference between the ones who can’t tell me because they don’t know and the ones who, well, just can’t tell me. It’s kinda like in the days before more advanced digital telephone lines, I knew that the phone company truck outside the phone box near my parents’ house, and a couple of foreign dignitaries and diplomats, wasn’t really fixing that same phone box 24/7.
But back to the math and business. For those 20 years you could hear the constant whine about wanting a seat at the table. I’m not sure how so many of them expected to get a seat at the table when they had no idea exactly what their business did. Nor did many understand math well enough to grasp things like budgets, projections, and return on investments. The worst part is that a fundamental part of HR is risk management; How the heck can you even do that if the notion of statistics hurts your brain? If you want to do real risk management for a company, know the statistical likelihood that X +Y = Z and the mean, median, mode, and range of cost of Z. Then show the statistical cost of G by doing A+B instead. And don’t stop at direct costs. Know the statistical likelihood that if Z does happens that it may lead to P, D, and I. Then make sure you know the likely cost of P, D and I. Also know if you do A+B as recommended, what are the probabilities that you might still face P, D, I, and/or Z. And of course you need to know how much lower (if you are actually paying attention to the statistics) the cost of G, P, D, I, and Z (revised) would be if A+B demonstrates good faith effort or whatever mitigating factor might be at play. No, depending on your company culture and the communication style of the final decision maker(s), you likely won’t have to show your math, but you better be able to do it to present an accurate risk assessment. If that hurts your brain, then you shouldn’t be in HR or HR as it exists today shouldn’t be… Now if you are in HR and do not have a J.D., repeat after me: you are not a lawyer. That said, you better darn well know as much about employment law as your average employment practice attorney and still know an actual E.P. attorney that knows more than you. And while we are on that subject, Google may be your friend, but reading the actual codes and laws is what saves your company’s bacon. I know this might come as a shock to some HR Pros out there, but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Which brings me to another reason I hate HR. Too many of you are a bunch of Google Stalkers. I know, you “can” check you biases at the door, or much, much worse, you think you don’t have any. Stop it! If you don’t have more to do with your time than check out your employees’ and candidates’ Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and/or blogging activity, you have way too much time on your hands and should be doing a staff cost analysis and reduction in force. Hey, you just saved your company 100k in salary and more in benefits by eliminating at least one FTE. Here is the bigger problem: you are just too darn likely to come across protected information that you might not otherwise have known and that could very well come back to bite you on backside. Then there is the whole issue of context. I don’t remember the specifics, and it doesn’t really matter because it’s a great example of context and either too much time on someone’s hands or poor management skills, but employee Joe calls out sick. HR “Pro” Pat has way too much time on his/her hands and sees that Joe checked into Home Depot on Foursquare. Employee Joe was then counseled for inappropriately calling out sick. This example is based on a real incident that gained some press a year or two ago. I have no idea what, if any, due diligence the real HR Pro did before actually counseling the real Joe, but either way, the HR Pro needed to be counseled, trained, or terminated. This person had way too much time on his or her hands and there should probably have been some staff reorganization. OK maybe that isn’t the entire situation. Maybe Joe has a real attendance issue, not covered or protected by FMLA or ADA and/or outside of a reasonable accommodation. Internet stalking Joe is not the way to handle an attendance issue. HR and/or Operations needs to manage Joe’s attendance. Period. And for the record, who the hell cares if he was at Home Depot? Maybe it was an intestinal issue and he ended up with a plumbing emergency. Maybe his/her issue was emotional which, by the way, doesn’t make it any less medical. Or maybe he/she was sick enough to know he/she wouldn’t be productive at work and didn’t want to waste the company’s money by showing up and not being able to do his/her job. I certainly remember being single with a 101 fever and running to the store because there was no one else to do it. These are not related issues. You don’t know the context and unless there is an absenteeism issue, you don’t need to know. If there is an absenteeism issue, work with Operations to manage it, coach, counsel, and if that doesn’t work, terminate. Then there are accuracy issues when it comes to the internet. As I mentioned above, not everything you read on the tubes is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me – separation of church and state. Did you know I once had a, I don’t know, is there a word between a friend and acquaintance? Close enough to exchange some emails, and more Facebook comments and tweets, and to have a drink or two with at a conference once every couple years, and still be worried enough for her to think to text me after that Metro accident a while back to make sure I wasn’t on the train. Anyway, this person and I had an odd falling out. Turns out she is less than stable. Smart and well spoken, but off her rocker nonetheless. She actually went to the trouble of using LinkedIn to find my boss’s contact information and made up a bunch of lies about me. Thankfully it was clear to my boss from their communication that she was playing with less than a full deck. OK so my point in regards to what you see on the internet is actually connected to this story by more than just that she used an internet service to screw with me. In my career I have seen some pretty crazy stuff, not to mention as a writer I can let my mind wander to places I would never dream of taking my body. I am also very technically savvy. But even without any heavy duty internet lifting, your average user could, should they be so vindictive for little to no money, do much worse. You could use Tor (knowing is vulnerabilities) or an unsecured WiFi hotspot where there are no cameras or where you are out of the line of sight of the cameras, get a free email address from any of a million places, then setup a Facebook, Twitter, and/or other social media account. Heck, if you really want to get creative and don’t mind spending a relatively minor about of money, you can even register a domain name (maybe something along the lines of [insert name of person you hate].com/net/me/info with bitcoins (also knowing its weaknesses). You can further hide your IP with VPN services that are paid for via bitcoins and even get a web host that accepts bitcoins. Then spend a few minutes collecting pictures on Google or elsewhere and start posting to the social media accounts and/or the fictitious website, and you have now stolen someone’s internet identity. Then have fun with Photoshop, or that thing that is mightier than the sword (I think they call it a keyboard now) and you can make anyone look however you want to the world. If done right, it would be nearly, if not impossible, to track. Sadly there are people that vindictive in the world. Now I am not saying that a company shouldn’t be keeping an eye on the company’s social media profile. They should! Now if you happen to come across an employee disparaging the company’s reputation or products, you may then have grounds to fire or counsel. Of course you still need to tread lightly. One person disparaging the company or company product alone – well, that *might* be safe to term or counsel. But if you happen to have two employees, then it could very likely fall into what is known as protected concerted activity and it doesn’t matter that you aren’t unionized. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can and has brought suit for this against non-unionized companies. And even if it is only one person and therefore not engaged in protected concerted activity, depending on what is being said, there could be whistle-blower protections; And if you have taken action against him/her, you have now lost on retaliation. But again, know the law, at least as well as your average employment practice attorney, and know an employment practice attorney that knows even more than you do. Because in a lot of cases that kind of activity can and should be terminable. But it needs to be done right, by the book, and with appropriate due diligence.
Which brings me to the next reason I hate HR. Counselings are not tools for termination. And for that matter stop calling them counselings. It is corrective action. You lay out the issue, you present the expectations, and you give constructive ways to help the employee correct his/her actions and set reasonable goals and benchmarks. You follow through. Yes, some people just need to be fired. Use your brain. If they have a standard issue(s), you follow your normal verbal, written, final, term-type corrective action policy. If they do something incredibly stupid, then skip a step or two and give them a final corrective action or boot them out the door. Yes, your documentation is your legal defense. But that is not it’s primary purpose. First, it is a tool to correct behavior, then it is your defense. But here is the thing – documents needs to be real, verifiable (or of a clearly established pattern following the reasonable person standard), and the story needs to stay the same. If your story changes mid-EEOC investigation, get out the company checkbook and fire and/or be fired.
Yes, firing people sucks, but if you want a career in HR, get used to it. Which brings me to another reason I hate HR. Here is a cheat if you ever find yourself interviewing with me for an HR position. When I eventually ask you why you want to go into HR or why you like HR, or anything else along those lines, and you tell me because you like working with people or helping people, you may not know it but the interview is over. You want a job helping people? Go be a social worker, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, clergy member, or social advocate – pretty much anything but HR. HR Pros, please stop hiring people that tell you that is the reason they want a career in HR, even if it is why you went into HR before you became jaded. HR wannabes, your job isn’t to help people. Sometimes you get to and that is awesome, but your job is to protect the best interests of the company. Now, in today’s litigious society and Google “lawyers” those two things can often overlap. Not to mention that anyone can contact their state or the federal EEO office, for free, make any allegation they want, then the government has to inquire into the matter, at no charge to the employee, only the tax payer, and the company has to defend it. And to make things better, if you are silly enough to retaliate against the employee in any way, even if the employee looses on the initial claim, you have already lost what is likely to be a very expensive retaliation case. Because yes, it is still illegal to retaliate even if you win the original charge.
Which brings me to another reason I hate HR. There are actually a lot of HR people that have the appropriate knowledge for their position. I have heard them at conferences and on blogs. Then I find out they are “do as I say, not as I do” managers. A great example of this was at the SHRM conference of 2009 in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans. MMMM chicory coffee and beignets. I was at a social media class mostly dealing with possible legal implications. There was a lot of debate back and forth about why it is and isn’t okay to Google-stalk. I will never forget one lady vehemently arguing for it. Now agree or disagree with my advice on Google-stalking employees, but here is a suggestion. If you are pro Google-stalking, and openly talk about how important it is to know employees’ and candidates’ “judgement”, it might not be the best idea to get plastered on Bourbon Street and flash for beads – just saying. Back to the topic at hand. Besides the “do as I say” managers, there are also the ones that know better but never learned to control their reactions. Now I know this isn’t just in HR; It is all too common of people in general. I probably hate it so much because I know it was a skill I fought long and hard to develop and will hopefully someday perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hot head, but I’m not perfect and I know few who are, especially when it comes to this skill. But because it is so systemic and very much an element of the human condition, it is HR’s job to step back and help the powers that be make the choice from a calm and rational perspective. Slow down, get the facts, investigate, do your due diligence, and present it clearly and calmly.
Which, I suppose, leads me to another reason I hate HR. Too many HR Pros don’t have the fortitude to stand up to the powers that be. This is an essential element to anyone who heads an HR department. Maybe your boss is a scumbag. Maybe they just don’t know the law. You do, or you should if you have VP/EVP/CHRO or whatever in your title. Your job is to protect the entire company, even from itself. If you can’t do that, don’t take on the head HR role.
So to summarize and finalize why I hate HR, too damn many of you are still, after all these years, clamoring for a seat at the table. Yet you don’t learn the business or the skills to understand it. You don’t keep up with technology. You don’t keep up with what, in many cases, are rapidly changing laws. If you do, you don’t follow them or get the powers that be to buy into why it is in their best interest to follow them. If you did, maybe – just maybe – you will be taken seriously. And that, by the way, is actually how you get that seat at the table. So if you do want to be taken seriously, learn statistics, learn your business, stop wasting company resources Google-stalking, know employment law inside and out, and act like a leader. And stop throwing birthday parties, leading seminars at expensive and supposedly professional national industry events, and teaching fluff pseudoscience and pop psychology – what animal, color, shape are you/team building/waste of everyone’s time and the company’s money games.
Posted from Potomac, Maryland, United States.