What is Sexual Harassment? An HR Perspective

If you’re asking for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion, subjecting people to clearly unwanted sexual contact/behavior, or telling someone they’ll be fired if they don’t sleep with you (**Ahem, every famous transgressor that's been outed lately), then the videotaped sexual harassment training you viewed upon hiring probably told you that’s sexual harassment. But it’s more complicated than that, and the legal definition of sexual harassment contains a lot of gray areas:

Here is part of the EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment, which can include:

…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Being on the right side of the legal line doesn’t necessarily mean you should pat yourself on the back that you have a high functioning, gender-inclusive culture. It’s worth going beyond talk of harassment, a hostile work environment, and the like. We have to do better if we’re going to retain top performers and cultivate a successful, committed and tight-knit team. In order to do that, we need to change the narrative from useless employer “CYA” anti-harassment training to answering difficult questions that actually illustrate what’s toxic in our work cultures.

Focusing on sexual gratification at the expense of a coworker’s dignity and well-being is clearly reprehensible. But other situations may not be so clear. With that in mind, if you’re not sure whether a particular activity, decision or topic of conversation contributes to an atmosphere of harassment, ask yourself some of these questions:

1.       Is the behavior or conversation centered around sex or sexuality, even if not for sexual gratification, but instead to exert power or demean someone?

2.       Is the interaction sexual in nature and unrelated to the work at hand?

3.       Is sexually focused behavior or talk directed from one person with power toward another person with less power? This doesn’t just mean a supervisor to an employee, but could also be a client or customer, or someone considering investing in a company.

4.       Are you tempted to keep it secret?

5.       Did you cross a physical boundary that is normally inappropriate at work?

6.       Do you treat people differently at work based on your sexual attraction to them?

7.       Has someone gone along with the behavior or talk but it’s clear from the person’s body language that discomfort or awkwardness exists in the interaction?

8.       Did you press forward with a sexually explicit topic or action after someone said “no” or changed the subject?

9.       Would you be comfortable discussing the interaction with your grandma, or seeing a news story about it online?

10.   Did you witness any sexually inappropriate behavior from a coworker directed toward someone else, and you laughed it off or silenced yourself or others about it?

If the answers are yes to any of these questions, it may be worth investigating further and considering changes. The pushback I often hear is that a company’s culture is “freewheeling” and “no BS” and people like being able to “be themselves” at work in order to foster innovation-leaders don’t want to diminish that. What they’re missing is that some people are just pretending to feel great about it, and those who actually do typically are in the seats of power in the organization. That makes their behavior more dangerous and likely to negatively impact their company’s brand and invite legal liability, not to mention, most importantly, risking serious harm to others from potential harassment in the workplace. If your company culture is centered around being free about the way you talk and act toward one another and you value that energy more than you do respect for everyone in the workplace, you may want to reconsider.

I’m working with my clients to address the potential business risks of this behavior and develop understanding of the potential upside financially of creating an atmosphere of respect, passion, drive and success where men and women can do phenomenal work together without harassment and assault. The energy of your organization can change for the better without losing your company’s fiercely unique identity.

Photo credit: Foter.com 

8 Tips for Recruiting in Low Unemployment

This is one tight labor market. In case you haven’t been recruiting lately, let me tell you: it’s really tough to find talent if you don’t have a smart game plan and compelling value to offer as an employer, as well as an attractive employer brand. Unemployment is at 2.4% in Denver and statewide in Colorado. In Boulder, it’s 2.1%, and nationwide in the U.S. unemployment is sitting at 4.1%. But with unemployment this low, the additional piece is that the cost of sourcing and hiring new employees has gone up. And we need to recognize and budget for that fact, as well as identifying creative and affordable ways to attract new talent.

I’m an HR professional who recruits, not a recruiter. So, I don’t have access to paid platforms and I don’t have the luxury of having my focus be allocated entirely on sourcing and recruiting great talent. If I throw up an ad (even a sticky and compelling one) on a platform that gives me tons of eyeballs, these days I don’t have lots of qualified people who are looking to apply. And especially if my client hasn’t budgeted for and implemented the groundwork needed to establish visibility and interest from job seekers in them as an employer of choice, my job gets a lot more difficult.

Today, I’m recommending my clients consider the following recommendations, many of which can support both job seeker attraction and employee retention:

·       Use video on company career pages to show what jobs really look like (and showcase their employees in a unique way that communicates their organization’s values and attractiveness as an employer)

·       Institute creative compensation and benefits options that are highly valuable to job seekers and employees, and that reinforce your company’s values, then make sure they’re marketed to potential hires. Some examples are: student loan repayment, sabbaticals, earning a gift on your work anniversary that is actually meaningful (i.e., a new bicycle (or alternative gift of similar value) for employees at a cycling industry company), or a small annual bank of volunteer PTO time where they can be paid to do good work for a local nonprofit with a mission they’re passionate about.

·       Budget for staff time and technology to source and build pipelines of candidates for roles that are likely to be needed in the near future. These are not just roles that turn over or have variable demand, but are also key positions revealed during succession planning.

·       Make your employees into ambassadors for your employer brand. Share content on social media and encourage them to do the same. Yes, this means that you will need to address employee engagement first, so that your ambassadors have an authentic and attractive story to share about what it’s like to work for you.    

·       Invest in technology that allows for creation of a talent community where job seekers not right for one position may be identified as a fit for another, and that also effectively supports recruiters in identifying high value potential hires they can keep warm for later opportunities that are likely to come up. This needn’t be highly complex or expensive, but it does take some thought and expertise to determine requirements and find the right cloud-based platform or system solution, depending on the complexity of the client need.

·       Involve your leaders in sourcing talent and building your employer brand. Often managers are involved in professional and industry groups where they network with others who might have skills that could be needed by the organization in futures hires. Create and share a game plan with them for identifying candidates who should be in your pipeline. Often these people are currently employed-organizational leaders must be tasked with responsibility for continuously not only representing the company in the community but also looking for opportunities to recruit new talent. This activity shouldn’t just start when an opening becomes available.

·       Don’t let time to fill be your trigger to hire. It is naturally going to take longer to find the right new employee for your teams in this tight market. Hold out for the right new employee who will shine and stay to help your organization be successful.

And the final, but most important recommendation is that in EVERY interaction with job seekers, my clients must represent their employer brand in a positive way by being responsive, professional, friendly and respectful of people’s time and interest. If done the right way, this is the lowest cost recommendation but potentially the highest impact. If employers can turn job seekers themselves who weren’t chosen for positions into brand ambassadors, then a very small positive action can have an amazing ripple effect. Job seekers, after all, are often customers, and they also might be right for another position down the road, even if they weren’t hired for the one at hand.

Sourcing, recruiting and hiring can be successful in today’s low-unemployment environment. It just takes some creativity and prior planning, as well as a little bit of patience.

Photo credit: flazingo_photos via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

FTE Creep: A Creepy Term

What is FTE Creep? And how do these two words combine to give us a uniquely inhuman and distasteful sense of being treated like machines at work? Turns out, FTE Creep is something financial analysts formally try to minimize, typically in healthcare organizations. The irony is that an inhuman idea is utilized in a business that’s all about caring for humans.

I am a business leader first. So I don’t hesitate to make recommendations about difficult cost-cutting measures, or controlling labor costs. But I’m also mindful of what our words say about what we value at work. HR sometimes reports into finance. So if our finance leaders are talking about labor in terms of jobs “creeping” up where we should be squeezing our current employees to do more, I wonder if they are open to hearing about what people actually need to keep inspiration in their work.

“FTE Creep” implies that all of the people along the chain of command care about is getting more FTEs in their own respective organizations, because direct reports mean power and status. And all front-line employees care about is having more people to spread the work across. Now, I know that FTE Creep is likely to naturally happen as a result of a lack of vigilance in defining how much labor is needed to address the data-driven assessment of productivity need on each team and in each role, by location in a healthcare facility. But the term itself is, frankly, distasteful.  

The reality is that our people need to feel passionate about what they’re doing and be connected with the mission of an organization in order to do their best work. When they feel engaged and belong, they do better work and are more productive. And this tends to affect the company’s bottom line in a positive way. HR can help finance understand this, and incorporate it into the labor demand and cost analysis process. A little wiggle room is needed in there to ensure we aren’t just treating every FTE the same, with the same percentage of productivity, the same demands, and the same needs. Location 1 may have a large population of high-needs patients, an aged community, or concentration of people on dialysis or dealing with HIV. The “FTEs” in that location take pride in delivering personal care and have positive outcomes and high staff retention. Is this something finance will notice or take into account?

I’m not minimizing the importance of taking account of labor costs. Is it true that over an entire organization, an extra job in every location will negatively impact profits? Could inappropriate staffing even jeopardize the financial viability and future of the organization? Absolutely. This problem must be solved cooperatively between finance, operations and HR, and I would call it workforce strategy and planning.

Does it matter what we call it? I answer with an emphatic YES. I’d say naming this phenomenon “FTE Creep” indicates that HR was either not involved or didn’t assert itself to represent the people aspect of the planning process. People strategy ideally should never happen without HR professionals being part of the team.

Photo credit: Nick Goodrum Photography via Foter.com / CC BY

A Watershed Moment

What is a watershed moment? It’s that point in time when everything changes, and there’s no going back…a time people reference as the dividing point “before” and “after” it. A watershed moment feels exhilarating, terrifying and monumentally important all at the same time.

My watershed moment this week is that I am finalizing plans for Solve HR to move into its own physical space in Boulder apart from where I live. I have found a few wonderful, charming, creative and friendly places where I can situate my office and be part of thriving communities of people doing great work they love. Although I have looked at coworking spaces like Galvanize and the properties involved with the Boulder Coworking Alliance, and love the energy and spark they offer, I need an enclosed office in order to do my clients’ important work with dignity and privacy. For that reason, I’ve held off on using interim arrangements that are offered at lower cost, in favor of making absolutely sure that my company has strong legs and I am ready to take the leap and commit to commercial space. Today I’m ready to make that commitment, and I couldn’t be happier to be taking this important step.

As I started to look for space, I was surprised at how easy the process was. I shouldn’t be shocked that along with the traditional real-estate agent represented spaces, there are now convenient new tools for companies with space to come together with people like me who just need an office. Craigslist, as always, is a great resource for this kind of need, but I also discovered PivotDesk, which serves the same purpose but as a “one-stop” digital shopping platform for smaller co-working spots and office space. PivotDesk is a great example of how B2B marketing has changed-as business owners, we all want to have our research and shopping experience for our business services and products to be just as easy, convenient and transparent as our personal experiences.

I’ll keep you all posted on my new business address. I hope to have a decision made this week on the place where HR Coffee Breaks will be held going forward.

What’s going on with your business? Please share your thoughts, questions and comments with me here and on Twitter @KellyinBoulder.

Photo credit: mypubliclands via Foter.com / CC BY


85% of Employees Worldwide Are Not Engaged-How Can HR Make an Impact?

Worldwide, employees are so lacking in connection to their work, the word “engagement” has almost become background noise. It’s time we began to talk more specifically about what it means-like when we treat people like machines, they lose connection with what they do. Process over people is always going to create risk that people will lose hope that their work will have meaning. It happens to us as HR professionals too-if we are in a box that requires we address problems as policy and process issues, instead of considering the human side of what happens at work, we have the potential to become disenchanted and disconnected as well. It’s not surprising, then, to hear that according to Gallup, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work.

I’ve been reading Gallup’s 2017 State of the Global Workplace Executive Summary this weekend, and according to the report, the business case for engagement is clear:

Business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are: 17% more productive than those in the bottom quartile AND 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.

Looking at engagement worldwide, Gallup identified something interesting about economically developed employee populations. This tendency to emphasize process over people does have a negative impact on engagement. However, when Gallup reviewed data on Western European employee engagement, they discovered something interesting (if sad):

Only 10% of employed Western Europeans are engaged at work; by comparison, the figure among U.S. employees is more than three times as high at 33%.  

East Asia's engagement came even lower, at 6%. So as low as U.S. employee engagement is, when we consider that the nature of work in economically developed nations creates challenges for us in the type of work that must be performed, and the way it must be managed in order to maximize productivity, it’s worth identifying what is keeping U.S. worker engagement at a higher level than Western Europe. In Gallup’s analysis, it’s performance management practices that recognize the human need for psychological engagement, like relationships, recognition, ongoing coaching and feedback, and opportunities for development. Less hierarchical arrangements that allow people to choose roles that play to their strengths also increases engagement, as does the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

We are doing some things right in the U.S., and it doesn’t escape notice that the professionals who drive design, implementation and ongoing management of these performance systems are in HR. It’s clear that we in human resources can impact employee engagement through identifying ways to feed employees’ need for meaning, growth and opportunity. In some ways, this is the key to our own engagement in HR. If we know that reorienting the way we address performance management and development has the potential to directly impact engagement, and we can show that engagement creates productivity and profitability, then we have the tools we need at hand to drive change in our organizations.

The question when considering any decision should always be, “what is the most meaningful option for our employees?” To some extent, this can depend on the culture of our organization and the things our employees uniquely value. We can find out by asking questions, and then genuinely listening, and responding in ways that align with the company’s values and employees’ human needs.

The key to engagement? We’re not machines. We perform at our best when we find joy, excitement and meaning in the work we do. Everything we do in HR should be oriented toward this end, for ourselves, and for employees.

Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Foter.com / CC BY