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Jessica Chesher

Managing Editor

Innovation eReview
HR Feature
by Liz Lonergan

While we were throwing around ideas for this newsletter, it occurred to us that in addition to being scientists, technologists, researchers and professors, you are also managers, mentors, leaders and employees, and that a column addressing the infamous “people issues” topic might be a nice complement to legal and IP issues. Just as many of the topics in this newsletter aim to help you become a perceptive consumer of legal knowledge and advice, we hope this column will help you to become a more savvy consumer of HR knowledge, and, ultimately, a better manager and leader. As always, we welcome your input and suggestions and will be glad to write columns on topics that you suggest to us, so please, drop us an email with your ideas for the HR e-view. 

Future editions of our newsletter will cover many topics in the HR spectrum, but I thought we would start at, well, the beginning, and talk about what HR is and what it means to you, as leaders in your organization.

Like all departments, HR has many roles to play within an organization, some of them fun, some of them frustrating, some of them difficult and some downright distasteful. What sets HR apart is that their “customers” are all internal, and their customers are their fellow employees, co-workers, friends, even the president of the organization. Everyone has an opinion on HR because HR touches employees from the boardroom to the boiler room. Every employee uses benefits, is paid, completes paperwork, needs questions answered, etc. And in addition to being the crucible of organizational paperwork, HR provides a whole host of other services to employees including training, employee development, celebrations and gatherings, the performance appraisal process (and oh how we all love that), retention, safety, service awards and on and on. They organize mountains of paperwork on each employee, plan holiday parties and employee service awards and are present at terminations, disciplinary actions and lay offs. They are the enforcers of state, federal and union rules and regulations and the recruiters tirelessly hyping the organization to job candidates. They ensure employees at all levels are treated with dignity and respect and they educate those who do not understand what dignity and respect mean. In short, they are all about all employees. 

But they are not perfect. Individual HR departments have their strengths and weaknesses and you, as the “customer” of your HR department, know what those are, and we aren’t even going to try to guess. What we will do is give you a few pointers on how to best use the resource that is your HR department. And so, we give you, for the first time in print, the Top Ten Tips, HR Arena (cue the drum roll, please):

10. HR department are “mandated reporters”, they are legally obligated to report and investigate discrimination and harassment complaints, so if a complaint is brought to them, they MUST act on it. They cannot, and should not, ignore such a complaint or issue. If you bring something to them, they will initiate an investigation and you and any staff members who are affected or involved, should be prepared for that. 

9. HR has access to a great deal of confidential information, and yes, they know your salary, they know if you have been passed over for promotion, etc. They know all that, they don’t care and they don’t spend their lunch hours talking about you with other HR employees. If you see two HR people with their heads together in the cafeteria, whispering and giggling…….they’re talking about their own lives, not yours. Honest, and we should know, we were in HR for a number of years.

8. If you have a bad experience with HR, be it a suspected breach of confidentiality, a lack of service ethic  (not seeing you as the customer) or whatever, go to that person and tell them, in a calm, neutral tone of voice, behind a closed door, why you are upset/disappointed/concerned, what you believe they did to cause this to happen and ask for their side of the story. If you do not get a plausible explanation from them, go to their boss and tell them the story, and don’t rest until you have gone up the chain to the top. Outside of a direct boss who is a petty tyrant, nothing tears at the fabric of an organization like a dysfunctional service department, be it HR, payroll, facilities (how do you feel when the sidewalk isn’t shoveled in the morning?) or whatever. You are the customer, and you have a right to demand good service. Make your voice known.

7. Educate yourself, and ensure your employees are educated, about their benefits. If there is an HR website, look at it. If it’s confusing, send an email suggesting improvements. If your employees complain about HR’s services encourage them to speak up or speak up for them. In large organizations, HR cannot be at all sites, and they cannot understand the experience of all employees. If you provide direct, honest feedback, they will provide better service to you.

6. Complete your paperwork on time. HR doesn’t just make up deadlines because they think its fun to torture employees, often their deadlines are federally or state mandated or there are deadlines because without those deadlines (performance appraisals are but one example) the tasks would never get completed.

5. Participate in events, meetings and fun stuff. Encourage your employees to as well. If you don’t go to the benefits meetings, how will you know what is available to you? And if your employees see you participating, they will participate as well.

4. Take the time to find out what services your HR department offers to you and your employees. Perhaps you are considering sending an employee to training on writing skills. Instead of plunking down that $250 on a one day seminar (in which most of the information received will be forgotten as soon as the seminar is over, but training’s a topic for another column), call your HR department and ask about training programs for business writing. Maybe you will be the fifth person who has asked HR about business writing training and your request will spur them to offer an in house (read: free to you) program.

3. Make HR a partner in your recruiting efforts. If you’re not using HR to help you recruit new employees, you’re not availing yourself of some of HR’s finest skills. HR can help you define job requirements, write job descriptions, write employment ads, screen resumes, interview candidates, teach interview skills to you and your staff, check references and assist you in talking through the pros and cons of various candidates. They can also help you persuade a “star” candidate to join your organization by showing that your organization has departments that work together and that teamwork and inclusiveness is important to you as a leader.

2. HR can help you deal with problem employees. You do not have to suffer in silence with someone who is not equipped to handle the job, has a poor attitude, an attendance problem or anything else. Go to HR and tell them the issue. They can help you formulate a legal and logical plan to deal with the situation. Yes, you will have to do the work, HR doesn’t do it for you, and yes, disciplining and firing employees is stressful and upsetting, but having a “problem” employee is, in the long run, more stressful and upsetting than firing someone. Go to HR, explain the problem and ask for their assistance.

And the number one tip for dealing with HR……… 

Umm, there really is no number one tip. The number one tip is woven throughout the other nine tips, and, folks it’s simple: use HR as a partner in all aspects of managing your employees, from developing a job description to termination. They have experience and expertise in all those areas and they are eager to help. How can we be so sure of that you might ask, after all, we don’t know YOUR situation, now do we? Well, no, we don’t, but we do know one truism when dealing with employees and it’s an oldie, but a goodie: You can deal with employees now, or you can deal with them later. We always advise dealing with them now, as later is almost always worse. HR ’s job is to help you deal with them now, or clean up when you deal with them later. Which do you think they prefer??

Below are a few links to HR resources on the web that we particularly like. Email us your suggestions for future columns and we’ll print them. 

A website with over 35,000 links to U.S. based and international HR related sites with topics ranging from Absenteeism to Workplace Violence. Lots of links and fairly well organized. Annoying ads with strobe light like blinking pop up occasionally.

The Society for Human Resources Management’ s official website, the grande dame of North American human resources organizations, offers membership, a magazine, news items, commentary, analysis and links to other HR related sites.

Thinks of itself as a “hip” HR magazine, and an alternative to SHRM’s magazine, which can be a bit focused on large, for-profit organizations.

Another site with numerous links to mostly U.S. based companies that would just love to sell you their goods and/or services.

Another in a series of excellent sites in the About.com family, this HR resources has legal information, sample policies, articles on recruiting, performance management tips and tricks and links to other websites and sources of information. Definitely worth checking out, this site has something for every leader or employee. We especially like the “Twenty Dumb Things Organizations Do to Mess Up Their Relationships with People” article; it’s like a guide of what NOT to do in running an organization.

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