Eight Basic Mistakes in HR Management

There are three “legs” that support managers and supervisors in doing their jobs—policies and practices, performance management, and job descriptions. Unfortunately, in many companies, each leg is weakened by basic mistakes that make compliance difficult

Here are the most common mistakes:

Policies and Practices Mistakes

Mistake #1: No policies at All

The no policies approach has its attractions—for example, it provides for great flexibility—but invariably a lack of policies leads to inconsistent treatment of employees, and that in turn creates two major problems:

  • First, morale problems are guaranteed when employees realize that other employees are getting better treatment.
  • Second, legal problems are sure to follow, because it’s going to be difficult to defend against the inevitable charges of discrimination. You’re going to take an action against an employee, and the employee will claim that you did it for a discriminatory reason. Your inconsistent treatment will leave you little to fall back on.

Mistake #2: Policies or Practices That Are Unlawful

One might think that this would be rare, but it’s surprisingly common for companies to have policies that are unlawful, especially regarding wage and hour issues. Some examples of the typical practices are:

  • Asking an employee to answer phones during an unpaid lunch hour. (That should be paid time.)
  • Letting employees take work home off the clock, or clock out and then finish up. (You owe the employee for those hours even if you told the employee not to take work home.)
  • Offering comp time in private employment. (Generally, comp time systems are not permitted in the private sector.)
  • Docking exempt employees’ pay in half-day increments. (This practice may endanger the employee’s exempt status.)

These infractions seem minor, but the costs mount up when multiple employees are involved—and you will end up paying: Employees are more informed of their rights these days, and if they’re not, there is an ever-increasing pack of hungry lawyers out there to inform them.

Mistake #3: Failure to Follow Policies

When you do have policies but don’t follow them, you’re looking for trouble. Why don’t managers and supervisors follow policies? Some of the reasons are they:

  • Aren’t aware of the policy
  • Don’t understand why it’s important
  • Don’t understand what to do
  • Are too busy (or too lazy) to bother

Management training is a must, as is frequent follow up to be sure managers take it seriously. And don’t forget that frontline supervisors are often the ones that make the key decisions about whether and how to enforce policy.

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Performance Management Mistakes

Mistake # 4: No Performance Management System

In smaller companies especially, performance management is often a casual thing. Once again, this is a morale disaster and an invitation to a discrimination lawsuit. In these "tap-on-the-shoulder" workplaces, where out of the blue someone gets a promotion or raise, all the other employees are thinking, That should have been my promotion. Why didn’t I get it? I didn’t get it because I am [a member of a protected class].

And when you go to defend that lawsuit, you’ve got little to show. You can’t show that others were treated the same way, or that the decision was fair.

Mistake 5: No Goals or Vague Goals

Some times the appraisal system seems to be working, but the appraisals are relatively meaningless because the parties didn’t pay enough attention to goal setting back at the beginning of the period.

With no established goals, or with goals that are vague, how could one tell whether an employee’s accomplishments during the period were outstanding or poor?

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Goals should be measurable and reasonable. They should be agreed to by the appraiser and the appraisee.  And there should be a system in place to modify goals if there are significant changes in the work.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, more expensive mistakes in performance management and job description preparation, as well as an introduction to a popular program that essentially writes your job descriptions for you.

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