Last week a friend stopped by who’d just been riffed by Microsoft (reduction in force, for the luckily uninitiated).
She spoke angrily about the HR woman who answered most of her questions wrong concerning her severance and departure from the company. Initially my friend was told there was no severance beyond six weeks and her layoff would leave her just short of the date where she’d be fully invested in her pension. Later she talked to a more senior HR staffer who reassured her that she would receive enough additional time to receive her pension.
Misinformation. It happens all the time. But I can think of few times more painful than when you are getting laid off to get bad information. In football the term for this would be piling on. And yet I hear from people all the time who have to go through an experience that would be difficult enough by itself, getting laid off, but then the salt water is poured in their wounds by insensitive or incompetent HR or management staff.
Let me lay a card or two on the table. I like the vast majority of Human Resources people I’ve met through the years. I’ve spoken at HR conferences, I’ve written for HR publications and I consider many HR people to be my friends. This shouldn’t be surprising because I like people with heart.
It pains me when people in HR forget that they need to be the bridge between the company and its people, rather than just serving as an agent for the company.
Let me explain. I once spoke at a HR conference. I began by asking if audience members grew up with an adult’s table and a children’s table at big family events like Thanksgiving. Most of the audience smiled and said they had.
I then asked a simple question, as an HR person, which table do you sit at where you work, the adult’s table or the children’s table? For the rest of the session, every person who spoke began by saying that they sat at the adult’s table and then they explained why. “I have a great relationship with the CEO and board.” “I attend executive staff meetings.” “I report directly to the CEO,” were typical responses.
Oh, there was one exception. At the very end of the session one HR director said that she preferred the children’s table because you could play with your food, there weren’t a bunch of annoying rules and meals were always fun.
The correct answer concerning which table is either “both” or “neither.” The most effective HR people must be able to mix it up at both the adult and children’s table, but they should never allow just one audience—executives or employees—to dominate their thinking. Because, to be effective, they need to be a bridge between both groups.
It is tough to have to fit in both in the rarefied air at the top of the corporation and in the trenches where the work really gets done. Let’s just give thanks that there are people out there who can.
“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.