Thursday, September 24, 2015

Regulatory (and Administrative) Overreach?

DOL and White House touting unions…….

If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, you probably already know that I think some of our federal regulatory agencies (as well as state counterparts) and legislation in the employment arena is overreaching, business-unfriendly, and unnecessary. The EEOC has inserted itself into corporate wellness programs – and contradicted the ACA in the process; it has been slapped around quite a bit in the courts with its aggressive stance on criminal background checks. And, of course, we have the NLRB wanting to make every company policy and rule an unfair labor practice, and blurring the contractual line between franchisors and franchisees.

Well, here we are again. Both the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Obama administration are delving deeper in this territory. In addition, Democratic legislators are helping.

First up, we have the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, which would greatly expand the scope of the National Labor Relations Act. This bill would increase the National Labor Relations Board's authority to seek redress for complainants, and authorize the award of civil fines against employers. Specifically, it would strengthen the penalties that the NLRB could assess against an employer charged with violating an employee's Section 8(a) rights. An employer could be liable for back pay in addition to liquidated damages in the amount of double back pay.  Violations deemed to result in "serious economic loss" to the employee could result in additional civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation, or up to $100,000 per violation if the employer is a repeat offender.  Corporate officers could be held personally liable. It would also eensure employers will be jointly responsible for violations affecting workers supplied by another employer. (See the Littler article for more details.)

As Littler states, there is little chance of this bill going anywhere given the current makeup of Congress, but it is an indication of the willingness of legislators to promote the advancement of unions over the very entities that create jobs. The NLRA, as well as numerous other laws and regulations, already have quite severe and far reaching penalties for violations of employment and labor laws. Adding additional sledgehammers to the process is ridiculous; and giving even more power to the NLRB (who is doing quite fine in wielding power as it is) is frankly outrageous. Maybe it’s just an attempt to be seen as a friend of the "working class" ahead of the coming elections. Union membership in the private sector stands at 6.6%.  Many people believe the decline in union membership has way more to do with the perceived lack of value in union membership as opposed to any efforts by businesses to interfere with unions. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, the image of organized labor had suffered, sinking to an all-time low of 48% in 2009 and only 37% of Americans want unions to have more power. While these numbers have decreased slightly from the last survey, it still indicates a lack of confidence in what unions can offer employees.

And now for a double whammy. The Department of Labor, by its own definition, is to administer and enforce the more than 180 federal labor laws voted on and enacted by the people (although some would argue the part about "voted on by the people"). Clearly, unionizing and collective bargaining is one of those rights. However, the DOL has put out this video, which also pretty clearly promotes unionizing and more than implies that the only way to improve workplace conditions is to increase union membership.

Now, the White House and the DOL have partnered up to hold a "workplace summit" On October 7th, 2015, The White House has announced its "Summit on Worker Voice." According to the White House: it and the Department of Labor will bring together workers, labor leaders, advocates, forward-leaning employers, members of Congress, state and local officials and others to highlight the relationship between worker voice and a thriving middle class. They want "both seasoned and emerging leaders from across the country, who are taking action in their communities to lift up workers’ voices — to be active participants in this conversation."

The White House wants your employees to nominate workplace "voice leaders," those who:
  • Join with co-workers to discuss common workplace issues in a constructive and productive way.
  • Support workers in seeking workplace policies that better respond to worker needs and concerns.
  • Seek feedback — for example, through surveys — from employees to learn what really matters to them.
  • Open a dialogue among workers, managers, and supervisors about what works best in your workplace.
  • Create dialogue with co-workers and employer leadership about ways to expand voice in the workplace.
  • Reach out to workers who have never had a voice in the workplace to let them know that they are not alone and broaden the conversation on the future of the workplace.
Laudable goals. Sound familiar? Basically, this administration is looking for employees to join together to discuss wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, a right that the National Labor Relations Act already gives to your employees. But here, the administration and a federal regulatory agency are promoting unionization. Promote the worker – absolutely. Help provide opportunities for people to succeed – you betcha. Pimp unions at the expense of sound business practices? No.

This administration has already done much to make it far easier for unions to form, and much more difficult for businesses to respond to those efforts fairly and completely. Using executive fiat to effect major changes in employment laws/regulations and now actively promoting labor unions does not seem like it should be the proper purview of either the White House or the DOL. 

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a blog post that the meeting will "highlight the value of collective bargaining" and dig into challenges workers face joining unions today. I’m not sure what challenges he’s referring to, since as is known, the NLRA already makes this a right, with significant penalties for businesses who interfere with that right. This statement flat out reveals the true motivation at work here. The administration also said it launched an online tool to allow workers to tell the government how they’ve challenged their employers to treat them better at work.

It seems to me that the pendulum has not only swung too far in one direction, it’s in danger of completely breaking. Hopefully, our economy (and the job engine of private business) won’t break right along with it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bad HR?

Signs you may have a bad HR practitioner working for you

HR bashing has been rather the rage recently. Most notably, you can find articles on Harvard Business Review and Fast Company. (Interestingly, both of these sites also publish any number of positive articles about HR.) It appears to me that many of these authors have never really practiced HR in the "real" world, so it’s easy to be critical of something you’ve never actually done. The real harm comes when business leaders take these ideas too much to heart and think their organization is behind the times, stuck in the HR rut of years ago. I won’t go into these articles any more deeply than to say they often advocate for the "next best thing" in HR; experiments in human capital management that may work at some companies, but not at many others. Unfortunately, the authors don’t really tell you that.

Paul Hebert (who writes for Fistful of Talent and HRExaminer) wrote a recent blog that highlights the problem of trying to be an "outlier" when you’re not really an outlier. Take a read, it’s very sound thinking.

Clearly, I disagree that HR is no longer relevant, or not a true necessity or is an impediment to effective management. However, as an HR professional, I also know that there are bad HR people out there. Without going the philosophical, big idea route, let’s take this down to the day to day reality most businesses face. Having someone in an HR role that is not knowledgeable enough, or not motivated enough, to do a good job can cost your business plenty. Whether it’s the cost of bad hires, loss of good employees, bad morale, or even unnecessary lawsuits, you want to avoid these costs.

Here are some signs that you have a bad HR practitioner on your team:

Doesn’t have the answers. No one has all the answers. Employment laws and regulations change and are added to frequently, benefits design and administration does as well (ACA, anyone?). It’s difficult, but imperative for your HR practitioner to have the answers, be able to find the answers, and be able to apply the knowledge gained. If the person you are relying on to manage HR in your organization doesn’t have the knowledge, or can’t (or won’t) apply the knowledge, it’s time to make a change. No one really likes being the "HR police", but compliance is vitally important. Non-compliance with employment laws and regulations can cost you dearly. In addition, not being able to assist employees with questions about any number of HR or benefit issues does not serve your organization or your employees.

Presents unqualified (or unscreened) candidates. Or, if your HR practitioner has the authority to hire, hiring those unqualified or not properly screened candidates. Recruiting, interviewing and hiring are never easy. Few people are really great at it. But, there are things that can and should be done to ensure you’re getting the best candidates available for the job, given your resources. Knowing how to source appropriate candidates is necessary. Failing to know the difference between those nice to have qualities and the must-have skills is a red flag. So is not properly screening candidates (references, criminal background history, etc.) or ignoring the information gained during that screening. You need to protect your business, your customers, your employees and your property. Referring to the item above, HR needs to know the federal, state and local regulations concerning processes like criminal background screening, and what you are allowed and not allowed to do.

Spends too much time and effort on low priority tasks. Does your HR practitioner focus more on things like the next company party, or the employee of the month contest or being the dress code police? While cook-outs and contests can be part of an effective employee engagement effort, they are not the meat of a real HR function. Parties are fun and can be a nice break in the routine of work, but are probably best left to employee activity committees. If, while your company has real problems that need attention – underperforming employees, bad supervision, a crappy or confusing benefit plan or maybe the need to respond to rapid growth - your HR practitioner is busy trying to get people to sign up for the holiday party or the wellness contest, you need to examine why.

Knows little to nothing about the business of your company. I firmly believe that in order to be effective, an HR pro needs to know about your business and needs to care about it. She needs to know about your product or service, needs to know who your customers and stakeholders are; needs to understand your revenue stream/funding and your budget. How can your HR practitioner help with your business needs if she doesn’t know what you do, or what your employees do? How can she effectively recruit, retain and manage staff without knowledge and understanding of your business structure, finance and budget?

Never making an exception (to the rules) or making too many exceptions. It’s often drilled into us that we must treat everyone equally. This is not really accurate in most cases. You should be treating people equitably. You probably wouldn’t offer the same considerations to a high-performing, long-term employee as you would to a brand new, unknown new hire. Being consistent, based on the circumstances, and being equitable are far more important than either blindly applying the "rules" without exception, or being inconsistent and unpredictable. If your HR practitioner is rigid or always shoots from the hip, it’s time for a change.

Failing to act in a timely manner. Has HR waited too long to alert you to a pending problem? Didn’t tell you about an employee issue until the employee resigns? Didn’t warn you that the policy you want may not be compliant with the law – until you get sued? A big part of HR is risk-management and preventing problems when possible – being proactive. While it’s not always possible to prevent problems, your HR practitioner should be keeping you informed of potential issues before the crisis occurs.

The only answer to a problem is a new policy! Actually this applies to your management/supervisory staff as well. You don’t need a policy for every, single issue that pops up. It’s gutless and ineffective to create a policy for all employees when you’re faced with one or a few who are causing difficulty. Deal with the trouble makers. Don’t allow numerous rules and policies as a way to avoid confronting the problem employees.

Never or rarely recommends/approves terminating an employee. Yes, it’s important to be sure that a termination is the best solution and to make sure due diligence has been done. However, if your HR practitioner prefers to prolong the agony unnecessarily, it’s time for a change. The old adage of hire slow, fire fast does have merit. Keeping non-performing, or otherwise undesirable employees only serves to reduce morale, reduce productivity and respect for management, and increase distrust in management’s ability to manage.

The "next great thing" in HR or management in general is great and you can explore and experiment. However, if you don’t have a solid foundation on which to base the next great thing, failure is likely. Having a knowledgeable and effective HR practitioner is important to building that solid foundation.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Micromanaging Bosses

Do you have one in your organization? What’s it costing you?

Most of us want to do a good job. Most managers understand their role in the success of their team and their organization. They have skin in the game, they have a stake in how well their department or function runs. Unfortunately, for some that means a level of control that often will destroy the very thing we all want – success.

Providing guidance, coaching and a "game plan" are all part of being a good manager. At times, employees may need a bit of hand-holding, but if we’ve hired the best person (or at least the best person at the time given our resources), then that hand-holding and control should end fairly quickly after hire, or after a new project or task is assigned. What if it doesn’t end? What happens then?

Are any of your managers "micromanagers"? There are some signs you should look out for and be ready to take action if you see them.

The manager is always "swamped", always busy – too busy to get to the manager part of their job. On closer inspection you might find that the tasks they’re swamped with are things their team should be doing. In this case, the manager won’t delegate, won’t give up the control of these tasks because she doesn’t trust that her staff can perform them well. That "no one can do it better than I can" attitude is present. If this is actually the case, then intervention in the hiring process seems necessary. However, for the micromanager, this is her perception at all times.

When the manager does delegate a task or allow employees to do the job they were hired to do, does he also give them step by step instructions on how to do it? And is he constantly checking to see they are doing it that exact way? This level of control is not only stifling; it’s very counterproductive. Again, no one has the corner on the right way to do things. The ultimate outcome is the goal, how to get there can vary and those varied ways are not incorrect just because they’re different than the way the manager would do them.

Does the department have higher than normal turnover? Are employees seeking to transfer out or leave the company altogether? While some turnover is of course normal, higher numbers can indicate a problem. If you perform exit interviews, review them for clues as to why the employees moved on. When people are stifled in their efforts to grow, learn and move up in the organization due to a manager who won’t allow them to grow, learn and move up – moving on seems to be their only choice. Talk to people and find out the reasons. If you discover that the manager is the problem, take action to correct the problem.

Is the manager often frustrated or resentful that employees don’t seem to appreciate all the "help" he gives them? Taking a closer look at the manager’s view of his employees may be useful to determine if all this "help" is really helpful.

Is the manager the only one who’s visible? In other words, does it seem that you rarely hear about the successes and good work of the other people in the department, but only those of the manager? You should probably be asking why that is. No one can "do it all". This can go beyond simply not recognizing employees for their accomplishments, but could also indicate that the manager is actually stealing credit for work his employees are performing. The manager wants all eyes (and attention) on him, not on his team. Micromanagers will often take a project or task away after an employee has done much of the work, then pass it off as her own.

Do the employees in the department not seem to know what is going on in the wider organization? Is their only line of communication/information through the manager? While we all appreciate the benefits of chain of command, if the manager is controlling the flow of information both into and from the department on a consistent basis, regardless of the content of those communications, there is most likely a problem. Micromanagers often insist on being copied on all email leaving the department, and demand that people outside the department go through them to contact employees within their department. Do the employees have the ability to speak to and interact with management staff above their manager, or does the manager control this as well? This may be standard procedure in some companies, but certainly not all. Again, if there is no trust that staff will handle issues appropriately, that needs to be addressed. If the manager is simply inserting herself into every interaction – necessary or not – there is a control issue and productivity will be seriously affected. Information control is a way to manipulate others.

Micromanagers feel that others are thwarting their success. Do you have a manager who is frequently blaming others (often their own staff) for any and all failures? The attitude being expressed is that "I’m the best, most knowledgeable person here; if I fail, it’s not because of me, it has to be something else." If the fault always lies elsewhere, it’s time to closely examine the manager.

Finally, micromanagers often feel the need to know everything. They may try to dig into their employees personal lives beyond what is appropriate and way beyond the value of showing friendly interest in their employees. This may be a way for them to exert control - maybe in the guise of giving their expert "advice", and is almost certainly a way for them to gain information that will further the reach of their control and manipulation.

We’ve all heard the line that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses. Micromanagers can be insidious in that they may not be the screaming, rude or neglectful boss we’re more familiar with, but they are bad and will cost your organization in lower productivity and eventually the loss of good employees.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Some People’s Kids!

Childish behavior at work

We expect immature behavior from kids, but not usually from our employees. Yet it still occurs. Again, CareerBuilder is out front with a survey that included a representative sample of more than 3,000 full-time, U.S. workers and more than 2,000 full-time, U.S. hiring and human resources managers across industries and company sizes. Take note, the respondents included employees – the co-workers – of those exhibiting immature or childish behaviors.

A whopping 77% of those surveyed have witnessed such behavior in the workplace! Like we don’t have enough to do without refereeing schoolyard antics. 

What behavior are employees seeing among their colleagues? According to the survey, among the top reported were:

  • Whine: 55 percent
  • Pout over something that didn’t go his/her way: 46 percent
  • Tattle on another co-worker: 44 percent
  • Play a prank on another co-worker: 36 percent
  • Make a face behind someone’s back: 35 percent
  • Form a clique: 32 percent
  • Start a rumor about a co-worker: 30 percent
  • Storm out of the room: 29 percent
  • Throw a tantrum: 27 percent
  • Refuse to share resources with others: 23 percent

And it appears that immature behavior is not limited to rank and file employees, as evidenced by a few of these real life incidents reported by HR and hiring managers:

  • Company owner threw tantrums, yelled and slammed doors when he didn't get his way.
  • Employee hid to get away from duties and work responsibility.
  • Employee intentionally set up a co-worker to get him/her in trouble.
  • Employee ate other employees’ food from the company refrigerator.
  • Employee blocked parking spots to prevent other employees from parking closer to the front door.
  • Employee gossiped about all of his direct reports, and then pretended to be their advocate.
  • Employee constantly pulled up inappropriate content on her cell phone and showed it to her "clique."
  • Employee went to lunch and never came back.
We all know that goofing around at work is common, and is sometimes just a way to let off some steam, or is all in good fun among work friends. But when it’s allowed to get out of hand, it will affect morale, productivity and certainly the reputation and career opportunities of those engaging in such inappropriate behavior. It can even lead to claims of harassment and discrimination if allowed to continue. Want more evidence? Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune where an employee who had been given a conditional job offer texted pictures of his nude self to the HR Manager - twice! Needless to say, he didn’t get the job and in fact, earned himself a visit from the police. While this guy wasn’t an employee yet, the very act of sending nude pictures to people is acting like an immature (and probably hormonal) teenager. Not the behavior of someone you may want to have in your workplace, potentially leading others and being a role model for your organization.

So, I guess all this is really a cautionary tale. If you’re an employee, think twice before you whine, tattle or throw a temper tantrum at work. If you’re an employer, nip this stuff in the bud before it becomes a real problem.