Special from SHRM’s Legal and Legislative Conference
Tough Love: What Your Employees Won’t Say About HR, But I Will
SHRM’s top-rated speaker, attorney Jonathan Segal, has distilled what he’s learned about HR—by listening to non-HR people—into 15 principles all HR managers should abide by.
Segal, who is a partner with law firm Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia, shared what he’s found in engagement surveys, discussions with CEOs and COOs, and his own observations in a well-attended session at the SHRM Employment Law and Legislative Conference, held recently in Washington, D.C.
Here are Segal’s 15 principles:
1. Communicate More Frequently and Effectively
- All your communications need to be clear, concise, and credible. (For example, saying “I had no idea this was coming” when you did know is not credible.)
- Communicate about HR, of course, but don’t stop there. Be more of a business partner; talk about new products and services, for example.
- Diversify the means and frequency of your communications; for example, don’t always communicate by e-mail.
2. Plain Speak English: Minimize HR-ese
It can sound like we’re hiding behind our lingo, says Segal. Phrases to avoid include:
- Value added
- Paradigm shift
- Outside the box
- New normal
3. Be Visible and Approachable
Yes, you want to keep an open door, but that’s not enough. You want to:
- Walk the floors.
- Visit locations, and not just when there’s a problem.
- Ask employees:
- What’s working?
- What’s not working?
Again, do not limit your inquiries to HR issues only.
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4. Help Employees Solve Problems
Again, the HR issues are a given, but be knowledgeable about and help employees solve other business problems, such as:
- Finance and accounting
- Sales and marketing
- Products and services
- Business operations and logistics
If you cannot solve the problem, find the right person who can.
5. Increase Recognition and Appreciation (“R&A”)
Lack of recognition and appreciation is the number one complaint of employees, says Segal. You have to make the case for R&A.
- Improve the quality of your product or service—unengaged employees will not work to full capacity.
- Minimize loss of talent—unengaged employees will leave.
6. Recalibrate Time
It’s typical to spend 85% of your time on your “favorite” 15% of employees. You can’t totally reverse this, but you can move along the continuum, says Segal.
- Resolve to spend more time with A and B players (and less time with C players).
- Reserve “outlook time,” time spent on positive employee relations.
7. Say No to GOMOs
You need to learn how to say nicely: “Get out of my office.” HR cannot be the “friend to the friendless.” You need to be direct that not every issue is an HR issue. Be kind but protect your time, says Segal.
8. Protect Employees from Retaliation
Sentence you’ve never heard: “I’ve always wanted to be falsely accused of something that is an anathema to my values.” Segal’s point is that the urge to retaliate is natural, but has to be avoided.
- Empower employees to speak up internally (or they will do so externally).
- Understand that employees fear retaliation (because it happens).
- Meet with managers to make sure there is no “terms and conditions” retaliation (giving the worst assignments, no raise, for example).
- Be aware of the possibility of retaliation by avoidance. (OK, since I get in trouble talking to this employee, I just won’t communicate with him at all.”) That’s also a form of retaliation.
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9. Protect Employees from Bullying
Bullying because of or directed at a protected group can be illegal; otherwise, bullying is not unlawful if it is directed toward an individual target due to personal animus, or at many targets (the equal opportunity bully). But that doesn’t mean that you can allow and condone bullying.
- Clarify for managers the difference between pushing an employee hard to do better work and bullying.
- Understand that bullying has costs in lowered morale and productivity.
- Advocate for employees, where appropriate.
10. Be Clear of Your Role
You often have to play a mediator’s role, says Segal, but remember that you are a member of management.
- Don’t suggest you are an employee advocate.
- But serve as an employee advocate, where appropriate.
In tomorrow’s Advisor, the rest of Segal’s “they won’t tell you” principles, plus an introduction to a unique guide especially for smaller or even one-person HR departments.