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If you haven’t checked in on AMC’s television show, Mad Men, where have you been? America has a new television love affair. It has even enthralled Oprah, the reigning Queen of Television! I openly admit that I, too, have been captivated. The show is set in the 60’s in a time-appropriate but politically-inappropriate Madison Avenue advertising agency, hence, Mad Men.

I’ve always been interested in the workplaces of the 60’s. Mad Men contains all of the usual sexism, racism, debauchery, and disregard for human sensibilities that you would imagine could exist at that time and in that place. Given this, why is America so caught up in this, dare I say it, madness? It is a well-written show with New York gloss but it is also something else. It’s an escape. It does not reflect our present reality and allows our minds to take a break. We laugh at issues and occurences that if faced with in today’s reality would appall us, anger us or at least make us a bit uncomfortable.

Being an HR professional, this show along with another of my favorites, The Office, provides comic relief to my work. I sit and for the length of the show I escape and laugh with the rest of America. However, since my vocation was derived from much of who I am, the show also puts my mind to work. I find that even as I laugh, I am looking for the one who will step forward and “do the right thing”. I am evaluating the situation and working out how this would be and should be handled in the workplace.  The assessments I find myself making center around  not just what would be appropriate today but also at that time and place.  This is the kicker, the responses are not always the same. 

As HR professionals, we are not merely called upon to apply unilateral and rigid rules to every situation. Although, I will admit there are some, even within our profession, who do think so. Each situation calls for an assessment of the factors that are present and at play within it at the time and in the given place. The factors may be internal and organizational in combination with or separate from possible external, legal and regulatory factors. We must also toss in societal factors. All of these impact workplace situations and occurences, to not take them all into consideration is to not craft the best possible response for the given situation.

The next time you’re watching AMC’s Mad Men, I hope you enjoy the show as much as I do, but I also want you to try this exercise.  Imagine yourself as the smartly-dressed (they all are)  HR professional who has the task of working alongside the Mad Men of Sterling Cooper! How would you handle the various situations that crop up? Who would ever think that watching television could help you to make better human resource decisions?

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I’ve uttered those words many times in giving advice to others when they are either seeking a creative solution, stumped, frustrated, overwhelmed, upset, burned out, angry, or just plain bored.  There are so many times when this action is not only the right thing to do but the only thing to do.  There wasn’t anyone around to utter those words to me last month when my plate overflowed with the things of LIFE.  I missed my self-imposed schedule for blogging and every day that I failed to complete it, I piled it back on the plate for tomorrow along with ten other things.  It became the leftover Thanksgiving turkey that instead of eating it, you just move it around the plate to make it look like you ate some of it.  The very next day, there it was again!  Finally, two-thirds of the way into August, I realized that I needed to step away for a moment and stop serving up this leftover.

There are so many instances in life where merely stepping away for a moment allows us to go forward. What does it really do for you? It allows your mind to let go of the stress of dealing  with the issue for a moment. You relax and actually feel the tension that you felt over the issue seep away.  You move on to other things with undivided attention and those things come more easily to you because you’re able to focus without the distraction of that unfinished work at the back of your mind.  Before you know it, you mind is clear and you begin to get new insights and perspectives on the very issue that previously had you tied in knots.  The bigger picture comes into focus rather than the minutiae associated with being so task-oriented.  This is the very reason we take vacations!  It clears the mind and allows us to re-energize.  The “step-away” could be thought of as kind of an instant vacation that we can take whenever it is needed.  We all could use more vacation time, right? 

The most important outcome of stepping away for a moment is that you return revitalized and more productive than before.  Your refreshed mind finds that creative solution, is now more open, calm, and ready for whatever is next!  My mini-vacation from blogging spanned the entire month of August but I’m back and ready for whatever is next!!

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I heard a horrifying string of words at a conference recently. The topic fell under the heading strategic management and the presenter was addressing about 70 HR professionals and executives. He started out with the objective of the session which was to provide tools to better equip HR to contribute to strategic planning. He then warned the group that he would be addressing NUMBERS and that he understood the reason many of us chose HR as a career was so that we would not have to deal with those. I was stunned and cannot for the world remember much else that he said for the next several minutes.

Forgive me, but apparently, I have been approaching this whole practice of HR wrong for the last 15 years! I had no idea that I could avoid NUMBERS. I’ve actually been seeking them out, turning over rocks to find them, and even squeezing them out of colleagues, vendors, and staff when necessary. You see, I began with the belief that numbers were inherent in this field of work. My HR career started as a labor relations analyst. My job was to take all that verbiage that is congealed in collective bargaining agreements and not only monetize it but also convert the socioeconomic factors of the bargaining units into defined needs and wants to which values can be assigned. The world of HR was viewed very clearly in terms of numbers. This same thing that happens when viewing any workforce, an employee handbook, a set of benefit plans, talent management systems, employee relations programs, risk management initiatives, etc. I hope I don’t have mention compensation and other total reward elements where numbers are fairly obvious. If you are diligent, there are numbers everywhere you look in HR. I don’t see dead people, but I do see numbers.

No one should deceive themselves that numbers are not an inherent part of human resource management.  The business of HR is not the place to run if you want to hide from numbers. If it’s is not your thing, you are automatically limiting your career ascension. Being a “people person” will not earn you a coveted seat at the table. The table is all about the numbers. You will need to be able to translate wellness initiatives into premium cost-savings. You will need to be able to equate x% compensation increase into retention rates and show how this stacks up against your industry. Your risk management approach, which is the easiest for CFO’s to pick on, had better include the costs associated with defending against not only a valid claim but even a frivolous one compared to maintaining your annual compliance training schedule. Now, I also have to say that in addition to being able to spew numbers with the best of them, you will still need to demonstrate that you are connected with the people of your organization and the purely human motivations that accompany them to work each and every day.

I think I have established that although it appears soft on the upper half, HR needs to have a very firm underbelly resting on some solid numbers if there is any hope of gaining and then holding your seat at the table. If the regulatory alphabet soup we are served up each day  in HR didn’t frighten you, adding numbers to the mix should be no problem.

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If you are interested in learning more about how to approach your practice of HR from this view, drop me a line! http://morahr.com/contactus.aspx

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HR in orange coveralls is truly a snafu in the original sense of the word! For this post, we will use this term euphemistically. Snafu is a military acronym that stands for “situation normal all fouled up”. By now, you may know that Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, wants to trot you along with the rest of management off to jail if you have not been meticulous in meeting immigration regulations in your hiring practices.

Now, if just hearing this causes tightness in your chest and shallow breathing, you may have work to do.

In the past years, we’ve turned on the news and witnessed workers being ushered on to buses and vans following a raid at this workplace or another. Napolitano states that to truly get at the heart of this issue, we must strike at the demand side – employment – meaning employers. In the new administration’s view hauling workers out without making those responsible for hiring them accountable makes little to no sense. Can we argue with her logic? One can try; however, the workers did not just walk in and start working. They were screened (used loosely) and hired by someone. In most cases, more than one someone is involved in the hiring. HR, however, becomes “the usual suspect” when it comes to verifying authorization to work.

The Form I-9, produced by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), serves to help employers verify who is and who may not be legally authorized to work in the United States. Employers must complete a Form I-9 for every new employee hired after November 6, 1986.

On April 3, 2009, a new Form I-9 was issued along with several new or modified requirements for all employers. Following this change, I discovered a couple of my clients almost frozen in place regarding what to do in light of the new requirements and the news coming out of the DHS. The paralysis came out of fear of earning a criminal record due to: (1) the possibility of not being able to distinguish a valid employment document from a fraudulent one; (2) having to go back to review all of the documents on file for current employees; and (3) the most egregious of all, pressure from “management” to hire “regardless”.

In addressing the first concern, the DHS does provide for a “good faith” defense. If you have examined a document and it appears to be valid, you must accept it to avoid possible discrimination. To assert a good faith defense, you must be able to show that you did not knowingly hire an unauthorized alien. As for current employees, you are only required to re-verify employment authorization when an employee’s authorization expires. If you think there may be a concern with previous I-9’s completed, I would advise you to review all current I-9’s, not just a segment of them. The final concern is most concerning. However, “management” must understand that the potential roundup for criminal charges would not exclude them. Napolitano has made it clear that the objective of DHS’s enforcement unit is to build cases against the employer and prosecute to the full extent necessary to squelch illegal hiring.

This may be the first and only time you hear me say this, but I am hopeful that it is not going to be an isolated incident. The USCIS has produced a very useful document, Handbook for Employers M-274, which provides instructions for completing Form I-9. The instructions are clearly written, provide excellent guidance, and include great document examples. Do not go out and buy any of the publications being sold on this topic. You can download the 54-page handbook from the USCIS site, www.uscis.gov. I would have included the link but the last time I clicked on it from the USCIS site, it brought up a completely different document (no comment on that facet of the operation, but hope is eternal). If you want a sure way to get hold of the handbook, I have a link on my web site to a saved copy of the handbook (http://www.moraHR.com/hrnewsview.aspx). Once you get there, just click on the document title. Read it and use it to stay compliant with the regulations. You’ll be breathing easier and avoiding this particular snafu!

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The recession has brought the unemployment rate to 9.5%. That number equates to 14.7 million unemployed individuals across our nation according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. How companies chose to handle those job losses will greatly impact the reputations of those organizations as we come out of this recession. It is anybody’s guess as to when we will emerge from the current recession but, emerge we will.  How each organization conducted itself during this recessionary downturn will matter greatly to both those who lost jobs and those who remained in jobs within those organizations.

The two factors that will weigh most heavily in employees minds are communication and consideration. How were pending job losses communicated? Who communicated it? What sort of personal and/or financial consideration was extended? Jack Welch, author and former head of GE, spoke at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2009 Annual Conference this week. During his speech, he recounted the story of how a friend of his was notified of his job loss by an outplacement firm hired by his company. The organization’s leadership did not even face their own employees. Can we guess how this company is now viewed by each employee who met with the outplacement firm as well as his/her peers who remained but knew how this was handled? 

Who comes up with these plans? My fervent hope is that it did not originate in HR. Regardless of that, travel with me a bit, back to a favorite childhood television commercial. Can you image the meeting and conversation to decide on this plan of action? It probably went a little like this: “Are you gonna do it?”  ‘No, I’m not gonna do it. You do it.” “I’m not gonna do it. Hey, let’s get Mikey!” Some may not recall the commercial, but, you get the picture. I’m guessing that each player in the decision to let Mikey (the outplacement firm) do it stopped maturing at the same age as the actors in that Life cereal commercial exchange. I’m certain the decision makers thought it was very considerate to hire an outplacement firm so why not allow them to communicate the news. There, they said, both communication and consideration is covered in one swoop.  This company scores in the basement on both communication and consideration.

Employers, face your employees. Look them in the eyes and let them know things are not going well for the company. Communicate along the way. Involve the people closest to the work in helping to increase efficiency or save dollars. Plan your steps as you review your business results. Conduct scenario analyses for potential outcomes. When you’ve exhausted all other means of achieving efficiencies and/or cost savings, tell your employees straightforwardly that staff cuts are needed to pull through. They will respect you for the honesty. They will also know that it is a reality and just may be there for you when you need them again.

And, yes, despite running the earlier organization into the ground, hiring an outplacement firm is a welcome consideration when provided in the appropriate sequence.

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In the past couple of months I’ve attended at least 4 seminars or meetings in the Human Resources community where the proposed Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 (officially, H.R. 1409) has stirred up a minor or major panic in HR professionals. Part of the reason for the panic is that in each case the presenter was a labor or employment law attorney. It’s part of their job to cause you to panic and then call them up because you need their assistance to put your mind at ease.  There are billable hours involved, of course. I have very close friends who are attorneys so before you all start treating me like Benedict Arnold, I said only a part of the panic was induced by dollar signs. I will go further to say that it was the smaller part (but still effective). 

If you are not familiar with H.R. 1409, a brief overview is available at http://morahr.com/hrnewsview.aspx. However, here are the major aspects in a nutshell. Introduced in the US House of Representatives on March 10, 2009, H.R. 1409 is known as the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009.  This act if passed in it’s current version will impact employers in three very important ways. It would (1) amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an easier system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations through a signature/checkcard system rather than private ballot elections; (2) provide for mandatory and stiffer injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes; and (3) require companies and newly certified unions to enter into binding arbitration if they cannot reach agreement on an initial contract after 90 days of negotiations and 30 days of mediation.

The majority of the panic I saw on the HR faces of the audience and that I heard voiced is attributed to three points that I pieced together from each presentation. The HR leaders within these organizations know that a union may be attractive to their workforces because:

  1. the workforce is currently compensated and provided benefits at a much lower level than their organized competitors;
  2. management does not have and have not made appropriate efforts to forge a positive working relationship with the workforce; and
  3. the HR professional seems to feel powerless to effect change to either of the two points above.

The unsettled HR professional now sees organizing, if made as easy as the attorneys have stated it will be, as an inevitability. Is it really so?  I don’t think so.

As an HR professional I began my HR career in labor relations and loved it! I am the product of a union steward, my mother, and a business owner, my father (just to be clear, not in the same business). Conflicting views? Definitely! Being a child brought up in between the two worlds, it seems natural that I chose a path that also exists in between the two worlds. Some would say that my path was not truly in between bacause I worked for the company. To them, I would say, if anyone in business has not yet figured out that the company’s success rest solidly within its workforce, get it now. If you are in the profession of human resources, your very effectiveness depends on whether you understand how important it is to unify these two groups in a positive and productive working relationship and whether you are able to communicate the mutual benefit in a manner that everyone gets it. 

I’m not a labor attorney, legislator, nor am I a prognosticator. However, given that one of the more liberal Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. Ca.) has already indicated she will not support the EFCA as is, I don’t  believe it will pass in its current form. I do believe it will pass in a milder but still potentially worrisome form. I have a hard time seeing our legislators eradicate private balloting. That would be so un-democratic! We can all see a compromise in the future for this legislation.

For the sake of making a clear enough case to your managment teams, let’s assume that H.R. 1409 does pass in its current form. All the unions around the US are now openly celebrating in the streets. Does your organization have little to worry about or a lot to worry about? You know the answer already.  Share it with your leadership teams and start making the changes needed to stay union-free.

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We are all professionals in whatever endeavor we have chosen and we are also multidimensional human beings. There are so many things that define who we are.  This can make developing and defining yourself on the web somewhat tricky. There are so many web and social networking tools available for “putting yourself” out there. It’s difficult to not scatter yourself in every direction. I am on Facebook and LinkedIn. I have 3 websites. I blog at WordPress and I tweet on Twitter. I even have a MySpace page that I haven’t visited in months. This entry was inspired by a recent invitation from someone I think highly of to connect with them on Namyz although we are already connected on LinkedIn. When I received the invitation, I followed the link to Namyz. However, as I contemplated setting up another social networking profile, something held me back. I couldn’t do it. It had nothing to do with Namyz itself. I came to realize that I am spread too far already which explains why my MySpace page languishes without any interference from me. I’ve reached my limit of what I am capable of maintaining with any level of quality while still putting in several hours of “real” work each day. I urge you from a professional and a personal standpoint to also examine your current web presence. Have you excercised discipline as well as a healthy level of caution in defining yourself on the web?

Our lives are made up of a series of choices and the behaviors that result from them – the things that we do and things that we don’t do.  My professional expertise lies in the practice of human resources and I am a masters-level sociologist by academic discipline. Given this background, of course, I believe that behaviors define who you really are. When considering a job candidate, I focus very sharply on the things the canddiate does as well as the things the candidate does not do – the choices he or she has made along the way. With so many companies utilizing your social networking presence to find you and to then determine whether or not you may be a good fit within their organization, exercising discipline in establishing and maintaining your web presence can be critical to your career. For others, like me, who are either entrepreneurs and business owners or who work independently, your web presence can help an individual or organization decide whether or not to conduct business with you. Does that not make your web presence something you consider very carefully each time you sign on?

My WordPress blog, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, website content, and Twitter tweets all define me to those who don’t know me personally. I want ensure that definition is one of quality not just quantity, so should you. Choose carefully!

“No choice ranks a man so quickly as his skill in selecting things that are really worthwhile. Every day brings the necessity of keen discrimination. Not always is it a choice between good and bad, but between good and best.”  A.P. Gouthey

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