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Human resources must balance claims of workers, bosses

Q: Shortly after joining this company, I became aware of numerous issues related to discrimination and harassment. As a human resources professional, I felt obligated to make management aware of these problems, so I reported them to my boss, who is the director of HR, and to several department heads.

Although my superiors were willing to investigate some situations, they seemed reluctant to address any concerns that might involve executives. I was encouraged to overlook these matters and was advised that pursuing them could damage people's careers.

Because I believe it is my duty to report violations of state and federal law, I went around my management chain and contacted our ethics department. Since no one else was willing to file a grievance about these issues, I reported them myself. Now I have received a very negative performance review. What should I do?

A: There are two possible interpretations of this situation. The first is that you have joined a company where questionable behaviors are tolerated and perhaps even practiced by senior management. As a result, you have learned the hard way that the values of top executives always influence employee-related decisions.

For that reason, a key component of job satisfaction for HR professionals is compatibility between their values and those of the people above them. So if you are experiencing an ethical mismatch, the ultimate solution is to find an employer whose standards are similar to yours.

On the other hand, an alternative scenario is that you are crusading against problems that may not actually exist. While some legal issues are clear-cut, many others are a matter of perception, so you need to be sure that personal biases are not clouding your professional judgment.

The best HR people serve as both management representatives and employee advocates. But when either role has an exclusive focus, problems inevitably result. So if you consistently find yourself on the employee side of every issue, you may need to examine your own motivations.

Try less chatting, more working

Q: A supervisor who reports to me spends a lot of time listening to one employee's personal problems. "Pete" really cares about his staff, which is a strength, but I think he's overdoing it with this woman. I don't want to sound unsympathetic, but they need to spend less time chatting and more time working. How should I coach Pete about this?

A: First, you must be sure that Pete understands his role as a supervisor. While he should certainly demonstrate caring and concern, his primary goal is to produce expected results. If he starts becoming a buddy or a counselor to employees, then he has crossed a boundary.

Pete also needs to recognize that attention is a powerful motivator. Whenever he participates in an extended gab session, he is tacitly encouraging the employee to come back for more, so he needs to start setting an appropriate time limit.

Like many polite people, Pete may feel trapped in these conversations because he doesn't know how to escape without seeming rude. He may therefore benefit from rehearsing verbal exit strategies. For example: "I'm sorry you're having problems, and I certainly hope things work out. However, I think it's time for both of us to get back to work."

It's sink or swim time for co-worker

Q: Our new secretary, "Jackie," is driving me crazy. Although I initially trained her, I am not Jackie's supervisor. Nevertheless, she constantly interrupts me with questions and asks me to proofread her documents. This has been going on for several months.

I'm beginning to wonder if Jackie can handle this job. She makes frequent errors and repeatedly asks the same questions. I often have to remind her about simple, routine tasks. Overseeing Jackie's work is interfering with my own, so I would like to know how to end this.

A: Helping a new colleague is commendable, but enabling incompetence is not. Because your assistance is hiding Jackie's ineptitude from her boss, it's time to stop participating in this performance cover-up.

When Jackie comes with questions, suggest that she ask her supervisor. If she requests proofreading, politely explain that you are busy. And since remembering her duties is Jackie's responsibility, not yours, stop providing those reminders. Once she is operating independently, management should be able to determine whether Jackie is a keeper.

Human resources must balance claims of workers, bosses 08/03/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 3, 2013 5:15pm]
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