THE ULTIMATE BLOG ON ALL THINGS HR
& THEN SOME
& THEN SOME
In “Stairmageddon”--an episode of The Office--Dwight pushes boss Andy for direction. Unfortunately, Dwight wasn’t forthcoming with his needs and Andy was not clear in his direction. Dwight was driven to fulfill a goal but went about it in a completely inappropriate manner. Have you ever had a conversation with your boss or employee and walked away believing you were both on the same page?
Clear communication is essential when setting clear expectations. One time an employee sent a text message to their supervisor on a Friday afternoon requesting a day off from work for personal business. The supervisor did not respond. The employee then sent a text to the next in chain of command and the request was immediately granted. When the employee asked the supervisor the following week, the supervisor cited policy and indicated a text message was not acceptable communication for an attendance request. Leading up to that day, it was acceptable practice. However, the supervisor chose not to communicate this until after the fact. The supervisor missed the mark on setting clear expectations.
So when practice trumps policy, which wins? As much as policy is important and should guide practice, this doesn’t always happen. We all know policies exist because practice calls for it. In other words, policies aren’t just guidelines for what employees can and cannot do. They also contain processes and practices employees should follow to complete certain tasks or to be compliant. It is up to managers to ensure policy trumps practice. This is accomplished through clear communication.
Clear communication begins during the recruitment process. Effective communication looks like following up with all candidates, whether they move forward in the selection process or not. It looks like keeping managers in the loop on where new hires are in the onboarding process. Providing new hires with handbooks, policies, a parking map and a superb orientation experience are all ways of communicating.
So how do we know if our communication is effective? Ask. If someone has a quizzical or glazed-over look on their face, ask them to explain what you just told them. Don’t judge them if they weren’t paying attention or they just don’t get it. It happens. We are all guilty of zoning out during meetings and going over our grocery store list or thinking about hot to-do items still on our desk. And we all know the saying, “There never is a stupid question.” It’s true. When understanding is sought, both parties win. Besides, if you’re in a group meeting, there may be someone else with the same question. Look at you being the hero!
Second, be the hero again by allowing them to ask clarifying questions. Keep body language open to indicate you welcome the opportunity to clarify. Asking questions means they have been paying attention! Half the battle is won. Keep in mind being on the same page is key. Here’s the thing: it’s possible they may understand you completely yet their knowledge and experience is causing them to have reservations. Questions may be forming in their heads. This isn’t a bad thing. When we communicate, we solve problems, create ideas, and best of all…PROGRESS occurs.
Progress doesn’t always come without conflict. It is our job as HR professionals to mediate conflict stemming from miscommunication. Let’s face it: most conflict stems from miscommunication or complete lack of communication. When bringing parties together, it is important all voices are communicated and heard. It’s our job to also maintain a positive environment by encouraging respectfulness and assertive communication versus aggressive.
Authors of Managing Conflict Through Communication wisely counsel, “We need to express our feelings about the situation as specifically as possible and link them to behavior in some way.” This is done by first making an “I statement” that describes the problem behaviors. Then continue the statement by linking the consequences with goals. The result is parties understand one another better and can work toward resolution. This can be applied to your personal life with children, loved ones, and friends.
Think about Miss Othmar and how the students were clueless, looking around the room to see if anyone could decipher her. It could be her voice was monotonous, her content was uninspiring, or her students were in their own spaceship adventure. The point is, clear and effective communication doesn’t happen magically. You have to work at it with mindfulness remembering there are times when you may be the one communicating like Miss Othmar.
Abigail, R.A., Cahn, D.D. (2011). Managing conflict through communication (4th ed). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
The magic of encountering Elliot the dragon as the dragon stood across the river from a human changed a human’s viewpoint. This is what the world needs now. Not just love—it comes before love—when individuals allow themselves to see other individuals as just that: individuals. Perhaps it IS love. We need to move away from putting people into boxes of race, culture, religion, political leaning, sexual orientation, and even gender. Instead, we ought to embrace individualism.
Merriam-Webster defines individualism as, “the concept that all values, rights, and duties originate in individuals.” The most terrifying thing in the world today is groupthink. While I understand it can be a source of comfort for people—to feel part of a group instead of alone or isolated—it is dangerous. Spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran warns us, “The suffering of our industrial age is loneliness, alienation, and despair. Alienation can cause terrible harm; for it is when we feel isolated and alone that we lose sensitivity to others.” I would argue it is also when we enmesh ourselves within a group we may also lose that sensitivity.
Here’s the thing: individuals make up groups. For groupthink to take over, you must surrender individual thoughts. Who wants that?? Even when supporting a political candidate, do you really want your voice silenced? It’s one thing to belong to a chess club or meet monthly with others in your profession. It’s a whole other thing to promote any level of hatred for groups of people different from you. Perhaps hatred is a strong word: displaying superiority or trying to make others feel inferior because they disagree.
We all are in this world with backgrounds that will never be the same as another person’s, even if you have siblings. Why? We each have our own experiential perspective. In my previous blog Minding the Generational Gap, I cautioned you to be cognizant of your own biases. Let us not be sheep in the traditional sense. In fact, I challenge you to shear your wool, tie-dye it, and wear it as a cape! BE yourself. And here’s the kicker: allow others to be themselves as well.
How does this relate to Human Resources? Let me count the ways! The recruitment process sees a lot of individuals applying for the same job. As an employer, what are you looking for in a candidate? Education, experience, and a certain skill set, right? As an HR professional or hiring manager, I advise you to put less stock in someone who simply looks good on paper. Because good on paper does not always translate to good in person, meaning personality. But I’m pretty sure you already know that.
Second is culture. While I understand an employee’s job description calls for certain duties to be performed and perhaps specific licensure or qualifications, there should be room for them to shine as a person. If not, organizational culture will suffer. Even if you are a judge or government agent, being yourself should be allowed to some degree. I firmly believe self-identity in the workplace directly correlates to employee engagement. I’m not talking about being good at their job. I’m talking about the little things that make someone who they are—sense of humor, peculiarities, how they talk, how they walk, how they treat others.
Let me take culture a step further as it pertains to Human Resources. Trust can be difficult to obtain from employees. In my experience, when I present my authentic self to employees, the wall between HR and employees disappears. My goal is personal—I genuinely enjoy getting to know employees as individuals, not just numbers on a spreadsheet. This enriches my life as an individual, not just an HR Director.
So to enhance organizational culture, individuality should reign supreme. I hope you’re beginning to see a running thread here. Conquering groupthink doesn’t mean fighting the existence of collectivity or shared ideas. Diminishing groupthink equates to welcoming individuality. Individuality breeds engagement. When an employee has permission to share their personality, magical things occur.
Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true.” I highly encourage employees to be who they are. I urge leaders to do the same. Encourage community over groupthink. Individuals should guard against losing themselves within the group or trying to drown out other’s voices. Here is what the authors of Reframing Organizations proffer, “Combine advocacy with inquiry. Advocacy includes statements that communicate what an individual actually thinks, knows, wants, or feels. Inquiry seeks to learn what others think, know, want, or feel.”
Seeking clarity within community is essential for communication and growth. In the movie, Elliot was hunted because some people feared him without knowing his intentions. Individualism can exist within community and can even enhance the communal experience. Don’t fall into the trap of groupthink bred by fear. Learn about each other and give one another permission to BE.
Bolman, L.G., Deal, T.E. (2013). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Easwaran, E. (1996). Original goodness: A commentary on the beatitudes (2nd ed). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.
I was talking with a colleague recently and she told me last year she spent $140 on her toddler’s birthday cake. My eyes widened and I’m pretty sure my mouth gaped. She continued telling me how she spent even more on custom decorations and gifts. Then she told me of a birthday party for a friend’s child, which was held at a local park. The parent offered guests a gargantuan bowl of cheese puff balls, a stash of Capri Suns, and homemade cupcakes. The kids loved it!
Have you ever worked for a company that threw branded schtuff at employees? You know, things like insulated coffee cups, laptop bags, and fancy pens with the company logo splashed all over it? And be honest, this schtuff ends up at the bottom of your closet, in your trunk, or in a paper bag for Goodwill, right?
Picture this: decision makers sitting around a table thumbing through impressive catalogs of products aimed at rewarding and recognizing employees. Employers believe they know what employees want and they believe it is throwing money at employees. However, this may be done in ways that really have no meaning attached. The “C Suite” can often get it wrong. It’s as if the “C Suite” members were blindfolded throwing darts and whatever the darts landed on is what the management team chose.
Instead of choosing blindly, management should be proactive and seek employee feedback. HR can help with this process by gathering employee opinions. This can be easily accomplished through surveys, focus groups, and suggestion boxes. These are just a few options—options that cost companies little to no money—highlighting democratic methods. Even if an individual’s preference isn’t chosen, the employee will feel included in the process. However, be sure to follow through with the results by acting upon them as well as communicating the results to everyone.
For example, if a hospital decides to move to colored scrubs to differentiate departments, employees should be involved in deciding what color scrubs their department will wear. The hospital could have an unveiling of scrub colors with refreshments. This will encourage employees to embrace the change while bringing employees together in a fun environment.
When employees are given a choice and voice for even the littlest of things, employees thrive and the organization benefits. Authors of The Leadership Challenge hit the nail on the head, “A one-size-fits-all approach…feels insincere, forced, and thoughtless. Over time it can even increase cynicism and actually damage credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership.”
To augment credibility, leadership would do well to clearly communicate their values AND walk the talk. The Leadership Challenge authors counsel, “Shared values are the foundational pillars for building productive and genuine working relationships.” I believe employee engagement is tied to values. To me, this contributes immensely to a positive work culture. Creating common bonds through shared values promotes a sense of community. Employees want to feel they belong and that their goals match up to organizational goals.
Has your employer hosted celebrations galore: buffet feast, open bar, karaoke, photo booth, and dance floor with DJ? And do you ever wonder to yourself, “This is cool. But why did they spend so much money on all of this? I can think of better ways to spend company funds.” Honestly, I believe this creates an air of suspicion regarding what else the “C Suite” may be spending superfluous amounts of money on without care. Again, I point to credibility.
As an HR professional, I repeatedly stress the importance of the employee voice to managers and administration. But an employee wants to hear their supervisor’s voice as well. Positive performance appraisal is a huge component of employee engagement. “Praise guides performance at work by making people feel valued and happy…and has a way of keeping people on course,” advises Scott Carbonara, author of Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement. Again, the only company expense here is the supervisor’s time. An inexpensive win-win!
Not going to lie: employees appreciate tangibles like raises and bonuses. But I firmly believe if you recruit them at a competitive wage and treat them as part of the team, money won’t be first on their minds. Engagement isn’t always about the pocketbook.
Unless employers ask, they will continue to get it wrong. Employees don’t want fancy pens and wild parties. Employees want intangibles like feeling valued and a genuinely positive culture. These are intrinsic in nature with a powerfully positive effect. So before employers go all out on a company celebration, stop and ask whether this party is really to make the “C Suite” feel good or if it’s truly what employees want. Employers might be surprised to learn employee engagement costs little or no money at all.
Carbonara, S. (2013). Manager’s guide to employee engagement. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Kouzes, J.M, Posner, B.Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Minding the Generational Gap
This is the second in a series based on social media suggestions for articles related to Human Resources. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting ageism as a topic. But I am glad it was suggested because I have a lot to say.
I am myself in a protected class thanks to the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act). However, I do not believe I have experienced ageism. I say this because I have always been told I look younger than my age. Although, I suppose it could be ageism in the sense I am not considered mature. So when one thinks about it, ageism is a two-way street. It is not necessarily the standard “older than the hills” discrimination but instead “she’s too young to have the knowledge and experience for this job” discrimination. Considering this, raise your hand if you have ever felt subjected to ageism.
Admittedly, I have ranted about Millennials and the tell-tale traits associated with this generation. Am I ashamed? Absolutely. I have blatantly committed ageism. Now, have I directed ageism at any one person? No. Nevertheless, in the future I must remind myself we all have strengths and weaknesses, including myself. Each generation brings something to the table.
Let’s take a look at how good ole Merriam-Webster defines ageism: prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. Prejudice simply means to pre-judge. But let’s dig deeper with the help of Merriam-Webster: prejudice is the preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. BAM! This hits home because when you break it down in this manner, I am certain we have all committed prejudice at one (or many) time(s) in our individual lives.
So what happens when opinion not based on experience is directed at you? How does this make you feel? Has this kept you from being promoted or getting a raise or transferring to a job more suited to you? Have you felt your voice at work is not heard due to your age? These are all questions with valid answers. These are questions worth asking yourself, particularly if you are the one committing ageism.
I’ve said it a million times: we all deserve to be happy in the workplace. After all, happy workers tend to be more productive and will remain with the organization longer. Our work environment should not cause undue stress. All employees should be held to the same expectations: come to work on time, complete assigned tasks, behave appropriately. We should not be in the habit of pigeon holing individuals based on prejudiced beliefs about age. Remember, we are four—FOUR—generations in the workplace today.
People are working well past age 70: Traditionalists. Baby Boomers follow Traditionalists and both groups have a strong work ethic, company commitment, and do not typically stir the organizational pot. Baby Boomers lived through the free love and revolutionary ideology of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The next generation is Gen X—the children of Baby Boomers—who grew up as latchkey children, developing independence early in life. Millennials then entered the workforce within the last 10 years and have been labeled lazy, needy, and selfish. However, their approach stems from growing up with technology, convenience, and high praise. We have Millennials to thank for the pursuit of work-life balance.
Leaders within organizations must foster inclusion and bridge any communication gaps between generations. Team building exercises aren’t going to lead to magical moments wherein everyone starts relating better. Instead, leading by example should reduce and potentially eliminate ageism. By debunking the myths that individuals within one age group share identical approaches to work, unity develops. After all, aren’t employees ultimately on the same team with the same goal of contributing to the success of the organization? It should never be us against them or every man for his self.
Organizations would do well to hire and retain employees from diverse age groups. Diversity is not solely about race or culture. Ageism plays a heavy role in diversity. Traditionalist and Baby Boomer employees can possess vast knowledge and incomparable experience. While the older workforce may be paid higher wages, organizations reap the reward of this invaluable combination. Nonetheless, Millennials bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas that may help organizations propel into the 21st Century. Meanwhile, Gen Xer’s stay the course and get the job done without much supervision.
Consider The Breakfast Club film as a prime example of diversity and the importance of recognizing and embracing differences. Whether it is age, race, culture, sex, or religion, we all have value and our individualism has value. Journalist Walter Lippman said, “When we all think alike, then no one is thinking.”
Often times, discrimination is borne out of fear of the unknown. Overcome this fear by first confronting ageism. Ponder the idea we may not all be the same, but that is okay. Take it a step further and open up dialogue with members of dissimilar age groups. Gregory Berns, author of Iconoclast, writes, “The way in which we interact with each other is, in many ways, more important than what our own eyes and ears tell us.” Falling into the trap of believing stereotypes is dangerous.
Groupthink is another trap we may fall into with our peers and coworkers. Think of the cliques currently existing at your job. Now ask yourself if you are in a clique. Be honest. What kinds of conversations do you have in the break room or during lunch? Do they center on group member opinions about other workers or do you talk about the latest episode of Survivor? Be conscientious of this and be the voice to question groupthink.
Rebel against stereotypes. Be willing to bridge generational gaps. Lead by example. Erase ageism by engaging one another, embracing the similarities, and celebrating the differences.
Berns, G. (2010). Iconoclast: A neuroscientist reveals how to think differently. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Intimidation: The Silent Bully
I recently posed a question on social media: What topics related to HR would you be interested in reading about, from my perspective as an HR professional?
Before I dive into the meat of this, let me share with you my credentials. Nearly 10 years ago I began my career in Human Resources. Within 2 ½ years I tested for Professional in Human Resources certification and passed. It was through studying for this certification my eyes were opened to the larger scope of HR—recruitment, relations, and retention. Furthermore, I had an a-ha moment regarding the importance of fostering positive relationships in the work setting.
It is only fitting then the first topic suggested to me is INTIMIDATION. Looking at those capital letters, how many of you felt a twinge of uneasiness? According to Merriam Webster, some synonyms and related words for “intimidate” are as follows: blackjack, browbeat, bully, strong-arm, trash talk, harass, demoralize, disconcert, distress. By a show of hands, how many of you have ever felt one or more of these while at work? How many of you believe your work (product, effectiveness) has suffered because of intimidation?
Intimidation presents itself in many forms and can be pervasive or intermittent. To me, it can be the quiet second cousin of harassment. But both can be in your face or indirect. My belief is intimidation is borne out of fear. Unfortunately, it also creates fear. In other words, the intimidator may feel insecure and use intimidation to wipe away their insecurities. By using intimidation tactics, the intimidator passes on this unnecessary chain of insecurity to their victim.
Some examples of intimidation are:
Let’s take a step back and examine the scene further. You are this employee. You come to work on time, do your job in a timely manner, and there have been zero complaints about your work performance. So what gives?
It is your right to ask clarifying questions and give objective responses in a professional manner.
Don’t take the intimidation personally. Take an objective stance as if floating above the room and removing yourself—your ego—from the situation. The common thread in the above responses is using “I language” to smooth over communication and refrain from accusations. Gregory Burns, author of Iconoclast, states, “Think of fear like alcohol. It impairs judgment. You shouldn’t make any decisions while under its influence.” In other words, remove the fear and approach with solutions.
Often, the intimidation may stem from miscommunication or misinformation. I find when you tackle the issue directly—think flag football, not roughhouse football—it may solve the problem without allowing the problem to become bigger than it really is. Strive to not perpetuate the fear with aggression. Keep in mind the intimidator may be operating out of fear. Be the one to offer the olive branch.
Easier said than done when it is pervasive intimidation, right? If you are in a situation where the intimidation is ongoing and seemingly never ending, use your chain of command. It is there for a reason. I am sure you have all heard of “chain of command” and are familiar with its purpose and how it works. It is only right we give our chain of command the opportunity to know about and correct the problem. They may be oblivious. When you take the problem to them, they may be grateful to be made aware and hopefully they will take the issue up with the intimidator.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room: what happens when the intimidation is coming from your direct report? Whether your direct report is a manager within your department, the director over your department, or even a chief officer, this behavior should not be allowed. Again, chain of command is the best course of action when used appropriately. Do not be afraid to go to the “C Suite” and air your concerns. At the very least, you will have used proper protocol. At the very most, your concerns will be addressed, investigated, and you will get relief from the intimidator.
REMEMBER: Human Resources always run parallel to the chain of command. Seek counsel from your HR professional at any time.
Here’s the deal: every single one of us deserves to come to work, do our job, and be successful. Period. Constructive feedback is key, and it works both ways. When you are upfront about behavior that makes you uncomfortable, you both win. How? You are free to focus on daily tasks while the intimidator is made aware of actions and behavior affecting the mindset and productivity of others.
Moving forward, consider what the authors of Communication: Principles for a Lifetime advise, “If you can view conflicts as problems to be solved rather than battles to be won or lost, you will better manage the issues that confront you in your relationships with others.”
Berns, G. (2010). Iconoclast: A neuroscientist reveals how to think differently. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Creator: That makes me sound all powerful. I suppose I am in many ways. Hi! My name's Amy and I've been practicing HR for twelve years now. No big deal. I am here to offer fresh perspective on HR topics and topics about the world we live in and life in general.