The HR Community I Know
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The HR community I know rejects divisiveness for its own sake, and is universally welcoming of anyone who is passionate about HR and wants to grow in the profession.

The HR community I know honors diversity and is warmly inclusive, making room for all people and for differing opinions and viewpoints about issues that are close to our hearts.

The HR community I know cares about me and wants me to be a better HR professional, so I can make a difference in the world, the best way I can, with what I have to give.

The HR community I know tells me the truth, with respect, even when they disagree with me, and listens to and acknowledges my deeply-held convictions, even when they’re not shared.

The HR community I know has brought me many genuine friendships, with people down the street and across the world, that enrich my life and my professional experience.

The HR community I know makes work better for people, listens to their pain, cares about them and wants to help them be the best they can be, and when there’s bad news, tells them the truth in a way that preserves their dignity.

The HR community I know is a genuine partner for business leaders, delivering real and substantial advice, strategy and thought partnership to contribute significantly to business and organizational success.

The HR community I know has a deep passion for HR and believes that there is a way for HR to make every organization more successful, whichever table we have a seat at. 

The HR community I know isn’t afraid of any historical shortcomings of HR, because we’re empowered to change things, one workplace at a time, so it gets better 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

The HR community I know doesn’t have room for self-righteous judgment-after all, perfection may be an ideal, but it’s not a human trait, and we all have room for improvement.

The HR community I know is a tight-knit, collaborative, caring and inspired bunch of people.

Whatever you call us, we’re right here waiting. If you want to create change, come join us.

Sexual Harassment-HR Steps Up

Respect for each other in a culture is always the most effective way to approach the issue of sexual harassment. Consider today’s (and Today’s) termination of Matt Lauer after complaints, investigation and conclusion of inappropriate behavior at work at NBC. The reaction of his co-hosts spoke volumes-they were clearly in shock, not realizing that their colleague could have been one of the mighty who are being felled by accusations of sexual harassment. One wonders where NBC’s conclusion that “this was not an isolated incident” came from. Had they been sitting on other allegations and investigation results that they chose not to act on in the past? We may never know.

Often sexual harassment involves something less extreme than the examples that have come to light lately, with Harvey Weinstein being accused of physically assaulting women and Louis C.K. forcing women to witness his masturbating in front of them. Everyone can agree that these behaviors are disgusting, despicable, and would easily subject an employee to immediate dismissal. What more often happens is that people are demeaned, put down or bullied with sexual comments or sexually inappropriate behaviors, and it can be a power play on the part of others in the workplace. It’s a way of saying, you can’t be yourself here, you are not welcome here, you’re on a lower level than me. Engaging in and tolerating those behaviors (and worse, having them come from the top) are things that are less easy to train for. You can clearly tell someone that unwanted touching is off limits, and that they can’t threaten someone’s job if that person refuses to sleep with them. That’s a pretty clear line. But the trick is how we decide to embrace and convey the idea that if you step on other people’s backs to get ahead, and that includes saying or doing things that are counter to their dignity as human beings, we aren’t going to reward you by promoting you and giving you more money. And if you are already in a position of power and you do these things, we’re going to take the hit even if you’re making us lots of money-we’re going to remove you from our company and make a strong statement that your behavior isn’t going to be tolerated.

Sometimes HR responds that we are in a difficult situation. We have dual roles, after all; we are there to protect the company from legal liability as well as helping employees when they encounter difficulties at work, and we serve as the investigator of these complaints. It is our job to find the facts, and come up with a recommendation about what to do next. Employment attorneys will tell the company what the risks are in any given situation, but they will not recommend what action to take. If HR finds evidence that an employee is harassing someone at work, and recommends termination, but company leadership doesn’t agree, then HR has a choice. We can go along with what leadership says, and find some other recommendation, or after making our strongest case for termination and insisting that leadership follow through, if no action is taken, we can exit the organization. We don’t get to decide what happens, because that is up to what we usually call, “the business.” The business gets to decide what to do, and then we get to decide whether we want to be part of an organization that does what they did. So, as much as I empathize with internal HR professionals when they say, “it wasn’t my choice” what consequences to deliver at the end of a sexual harassment investigation, I don’t buy it. We all have a choice every day to go to work and be part of whatever company is our employer. If their values are not consistent with ours, HR, and leadership isn’t open to listening, learning and growing, we must find ourselves another employer.

Recently, one of my clients terminated an employee on my recommendation. The behavior at issue consisted of verbal comments. The coworkers around this former employee were concerned about him losing his job and told me they not worried that he would assault them. I reminded them that although they were strong people who were confident in themselves and their ability to respond to this behavior, it was absolutely counter to the organization’s values to tolerate it. I also reminded them of these two things:

1.       We don’t know how any future team members might react to behavior like this

2.       We don’t know who else might behave like this in the future

We can’t make exceptions because someone is otherwise well-liked, or because he or she is a great performer. We have to make clear on the front end what’s expected, be frank and open in talking about it when people do not behave according to those expectations, and draw clear lines and let people learn the hard way when they refuse to abide by these norms at work. Earlier this fall, I had sat across a desk face to face with this former employee and told him exactly what he had been heard saying at work, and let him know that it was disrespectful, unprofessional and would not be tolerated. I told him if it happened again he would be terminated. And to my client’s credit, they followed through with that termination when the time came.

In order for HR to step up and handle sexual harassment, there are a few main points we must begin with:                                            

·       Bullying, manipulative, power-play behavior often goes along with sexual harassment. If we address the former, we will diminish the risk of the latter.

·       Being open about addressing sexual harassment begins with interactive training during the orientation and onboarding process (I am still working on developing this training-it’s difficult to meet that goal because those who embrace the training are the ones who don’t need it as much).

·       When the time comes that an investigation substantiates that an employee has behaved in a way that’s counter to the company’s values and/or has violated policy, then action must be swift and clear.

When I come across a client that is having trouble with projecting and maintaining cultural values around respect and open communication, I typically will recommend one of my organizational development colleagues come in and facilitate a communication session with leadership. Part of this may be personality profiling, 360-degree feedback and other tools to help them open up to one another and identify risks, attitudes and working styles that are interfering with their ability to lead effectively in an atmosphere where gender diversity and other kinds of diversity in their teams can thrive and deliver success in their organization. This also is an effective way to combat the false narrative that men and women can’t work successfully together, with mutual respect where they are valued for the results they deliver and the talents they bring to the organization.

I'm hoping, like many of my HR colleagues are, that the current climate of openness and accountability, as well as support for people who have been harassed continues, so that future men and women who have less power than those in the media and Hollywood will feel some of the power too and feel supported enough to come forward. We will do whatever is in our power to create and maintain cultures of respect in our organizations that allow that to happen. 

Photo by ahyakal on / CC BY 

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.

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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 / CC BY-SA