The 15 things that HR should do (but doesn’t always)

Working as I do with small organisations, I’ll often read an article about some great new HR initiative or theory and wonder why we make things so complex. It seems to me that we frequently get so caught up in the processes, jargon and big picture stuff that we neglect what we are really all about. Employment is a relationship and we need to be clear about what it is that we are committing to, as our side of the ‘deal’. After giving it some thought, I’ve distilled it down to 15 points that define what HR should be doing to create a successful relationship (and where there is no HR, what senior managers should make sure they have in place) 

1.       We’ll pay you correctly, on time, and at a rate that is ‘felt fair’ by both sides.

2.       We’ll make sure that you have a safe place to work, with the right equipment and any required protective clothing

3.       We’ll make sure we comply with the law around employment

4.       If you apply for a job with us, we’ll make sure the process is clear and easy to follow, and keep you informed about your application.

5.       If you need training or other support during work, we’ll make sure that it is organised for you in a timely way.

6.       We’ll keep you informed about what’s going on in the organisation and how it affects you, and we’ll listen to your views

7.       If you do something that’s not right, we’ll make you aware of what it is and why – and do what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

8.       If you think we’ve done something wrong, we want you tell us (and feel comfortable about doing so)

9.       If we do get something wrong, we’ll make sure it is put right (for the future, if we can’t correct it now).

10.   We recognise that there may be times when what individuals or groups of employees want may not be the same as what the organisation wants. We’ll always discuss the best way forward and try to reach a consensus if we can

11.   We won’t tolerate a culture where individuals are abused, belittled, harassed or insulted – whoever this is by.

12.   If we need to end your employment, we’ll make sure this is done with respect, professionalism and understanding.

13.   We can’t promise that every day you work here will be enjoyable. But we’ll try to make sure that the unpleasant ones are the exception, not the rule

14.   We understand that you may have things going on in your life outside work.  We’ll do our best to support you and, if we can, accommodate them.

15.   Above all, we recognise that you are a person too.

I’m conscious that I might be accused of coming up with a ‘best practice’ list – anathema to many modern-day HR practitioners. But I prefer to see it as a core set of principles – which can be adapted to virtually any business size, structure or sector. One thing’s for sure – could you say your organisation is doing all 15 currently?

Time to Drop Discipline?

In HR, we love to update our terms. After all, we even renamed ourselves “Human Resources” because “Personnel” sounded a bit old fashioned. And the names of things we do is forever changing – we don’t recruit, we acquire talent; we don’t induct new employees, we onboard them; we don’t train them, we develop them; and while we once did appraisals we now do performance reviews.

Now some of these are actually sensible and reflect a different mindset for the modern workplace – others are however just an attempt to sound hip and trendy. But one term persists – and to my mind it is the one that should have been cast into the dustbin of HR history many years ago.

I refer of course to Discipline –  a word that the Oxford Dictionary defines as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience”. Surely no word harks back more to the outdated command and control management style that goes back to FW Taylor and the pre-war years? So why do we – and indeed other professionals in the area such as ACAS – persist with the term?

It may be because the same term is used in the US, since the UK tends to follow American terminology about a decade later. Or it may be that we’re all closet Taylorists, believing that staff will attempt to get away with anything without a good dose of corrective sanctions. Or even because it allows HR people to get involved in something that sounds quasi-judicial and stop line managers from getting it “wrong”.

I’m intrigued to know – why do we still use Discipline? And what term should we replace it with? (A final warning for anyone who suggests “Inappropriate Employee Behaviour Modification Procedure”!)

You need heels if you wanna make deals (apparently)

Top accountancy firm PwC hit the headlines yesterday when a temporary receptionist was sent home for not wearing high heels. While it may not appear related, the situation has many parallels with the famous case of whether a Christian can wear a cross in work – something which went all the way to the European Court to decide.

So can an employer have a dress code? And can it include a requirement to wear high heels?

The answer to the first question is yes – but you need to have a reason why you want one.

If the reason is health and safety, things are relatively simple. If employees must wear hi-vis jackets, safety shoes or tie long hair back to avoid it being caught in machinery, then you are fine with enforcing rules – and indeed the vast majority of employees would understand and accept this.

Equally, if it is a condition of employment to wear a uniform, you’re also on safe ground. Lots of people wear uniforms to identify themselves either to customers or to show the company they are representing. While it’s perfectly possible to be a courier, security guard or airline pilot without wearing a uniform, it’s a requirement of most employers in those sectors that their staff do so.

Where things can become a bit more nebulous is when you want to enforce a dress standard to promote a “corporate image”. You need to ensure that any dress code is non-discriminatory (particularly on gender and religious grounds) and proportionate to what you are trying to achieve. So if you want to say that employees must wear smart business dress this is fine (and you can define this as a suit and tie for men, and a business suit for women). But the reason for this needs to be clear – for example because it would be expected by business contacts, customers etc. What you need to consider is the culture and the expectations of your company and the industry it operates in.  Does it really affect the performance of your call centre if staff wear jeans, t-shirts and trainers?

So the answer to question 2 – can a dress code require a female employee to wear high heels? – is a “no” on sex discrimination grounds and a “why would it be necessary?” on the grounds of being reasonable.

Like many things related to HR, the key question for business owners is whether the dress code rules actually serve a business purpose or are they just petty restrictions?

Want to make your company look stupid? Here’s How!

What is it about recruitment that allows managers to do stupid things that would probably get them fired if they tried it in any other part of the business?

A recruitment website has recently been touting the “Top 10 toughest interview questions” it has come across, suggesting that “job candidates … should be ready to answer any question” in an interview.

Really? Such as How many people born in 2013 were named Gary? (No. 8 on the list). Which of course might be a relevant question if a knowledge of useless trivia is a key requirement of the job. (Anyone who works for BT, who used the question, may be able to confirm if it is essential to know this to work there)

Or how about How many hours would it take to clean every single window in London? (No.4) I suppose this is possibly relevant if you’re running a commercial window cleaning business with the objective of creating a monopoly in the capital. Less so, I would suggest, for tech people in IBM.

Or this one If you were a fruit, what kind would you be and why? (No.2) I can’t even begin to suggest how this might be relevant to any job, let alone a Trip Leader with a Travel company.

Recruitment is a two-way process. Not only are you assessing whether a candidate is right for you but they are deciding whether your business is the right one for them. Idiotic questions like this tell candidates one of three things:

  • Your managers don’t know what they are doing
  • Your managers enjoy humiliating and tricking their staff (and your company culture condones this)
  • The decision making processes within your company are fundamentally flawed if you have appointed such people to positions of authority

(Oh, and  similar “clever” recruitment tricks like this one are just as bad for your reputation)

By all means ask tough and challenging questions that are relevant to the job. But unless you want your managers and your organisation to look completely ridiculous and laughable, drop the smart-alec questions, tricks and tests from your recruitment process.

5 great ways to manage people better

Today is #SmallBizSaturday – a worldwide day for celebrating and supporting small businesses. Here at Ariadne Associates we support small businesses throughout the year, of course, but today seems a good day to remind small business owners and managers of some of the simple things they can do to get the best from their staff.

  1. Say Thank You (and please). Basic good manners don’t disappear once you start work. If someone does something you have asked them to, say thanks. And particularly acknowledge if they’ve done it well – a great piece of customer service, solving a problem, or identifying a new way to increase sales.
  2. Remember you are dealing with people. You don’t have to be best friends with your staff (in fact you probably shouldn’t) but you should appreciate that they aren’t just automatons. Be aware, and take an interest in, the fact that Betty in accounts is worrying about her son’s A Levels; that Rajesh likes to travel to away matches so doesn’t like doing overtime at the weekend; that Paulina who works behind the counter is doing night classes because she really wants to be an engineer.
  3. Be professional. No-one wants to work for an employer who is slipshod about their pay, doesn’t bother to issue them with a contract or who ignores basic employment law. Pay the same attention to this as you do to sales, marketing, accounts etc. And get specialist advice if you’re not an expert.
  4. Be fair and consistent. This doesn’t necessarily mean do the same thing on every occasion, but it does mean that you should consider everything before making a decision. Don’t allow Phil to take extra holidays just because he’s your star salesperson and then not allow Deidre, who may have an equally good reason, but who isn’t doing so well.
  5. Don’t forget that if someone doesn’t appear to fit into your business, you were the one who recruited them. Learn from what went wrong in a bad hire before you start recruiting again.

Small businesses often can’t beat their bigger rivals in the pay and benefits they can offer. So you have to compete in other ways to attract and retain good people. Making your business a good place to work is a great (and low-cost) way to start. And if you’d like to know more about how you can do this, why not read this next?