Dealing With HR Contradictions

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It’s hard to know what to believe sometimes. In every field, there are multiple viewpoints. While there are groundswells and bandwagons galore, consensus is seldom, if ever, attainable. That’s why it’s important to realize there is more than one right answer to most questions and more than one solution to most problems, so butting heads doesn’t solve anything.

two cows butting headsPhoto by Andy Rogers, Wikimedia Commons

For example, here are three competing and sometimes contradictory themes I’ve come across recently in HR.

Best Friends at Work

Both Fast Company and Harvard Business Review have written recently on the topic of finding friends at work. In their article Why Having Friends at Work is So Important, Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman ties having workplace friends to happiness and engagement. In the HBR piece (In the Age of Loneliness, Connections at Work Matter), Tim Leberecht paints a picture of increasingly lonely people reaching out for connection in the workplace: not just any connection, but true social intimacy.

On the flipside of this theme, former principle with Gallup (whose research likely initiated the discussion), has become skeptical of the notion. His article (Stop Using Employee Friendships to Measure Engagement), also in the Harvard Business Review, suggests that employers should not be in the business of fostering friendship and social intimacy at work, but are better served by building a culture of collaboration and accountability.

Applicant Tracking Systems

The introduction of applicant tracking systems was met with excitement as visions of a more streamlined recruiting process danced in the heads of overworked recruiters. The Undeniable Reasons for embracing the technology were touted widely and the industry generally agreed that Every Recruiter Should Use an ATS.

Still, an increasing number of recruiters are expressing frustration with the limitations of their applicant tracking systems. ATS technology is exceptional at filtering through hundreds of resumes based on pre-defined parameters. But it’s much less effective at identifying the exceptional. It seems that even the perfect resume may be discarded by an ATS focused on weeding-out. Besides, candidate experience matters and many candidates hate that an applicant tracking system eliminates them from consideration based on their vocabulary, not to mention some abysmal usability. 

Unlimited Vacation

Companies like Netflix and Gravity Payments see unlimited vacation days as a win/win policy. Employees benefit from the increased flexibility and feel more valued by their employers. At the same time, organizations can remove accrued vacation liability from their balance sheets and reduce administrative overhead. Everyone benefits from the morale boost that comes with a shift to outcome driven performance expectations and increased trust (according to one study, a 10% increase in workplace trust is worth a 30% increase in pay to employees!) Taking it one step further, Richard Branson sees unlimited vacation as simply a reflection of changing times, writing in his blog on the subject:

“Flexible working has revolutionized how, where and when we all do our jobs. So, if working nine to five no longer applies, then why should strict annual leave (vacation) policies?”

As usual, not everyone agrees with this rosy interpretation of unlimited PTO. Some detractors feel such a policy would be abused, costing employers a fortune in lost productivity. Others spring to the defense of employees who already under-utilize available vacation time, claiming that peer pressure and management’s “true expectations” will lead to even less vacation time being taken. A number of companies who’ve implemented the policy have found that employees take fewer vacations days or express confusion about how much vacation time is appropriate. Tribune Publishing Company had to rescind its unlimited PTO policy when employees decided to sue. It seems employees had been using accrued vacation days as a form of forced savings to be cashed in when they left the company. A small tech company in Berlin had to modify their unlimited vacation policy to a minimum vacation policy when employees were taking so little vacation time that it was leading to burnout.

What to Do When “It Depends”

There is always more than one side to every story. Whether a particular philosophy, technology or policy works in your organization depends on a lot of variables. Remember that every decision will have both intended and unintended consequences—and you will have to deal with both! With that in mind, when anticipating a significant change in your workplace, it pays to:

  • Consider the change thoughtfully from multiple angles before implementing,
  • Know (and be honest about) what you’re trying to accomplish,
  • Solicit (and listen to) input from those who will be affected,
  • Monitor both desired and unintended outcomes, and
  • Refine as required.


Whether you track vacation days or not, NetSuite TribeHR brings social to HCMS for a more engaged workforce. Try it free today!

Problem Solving: A Double Diamond Approach

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Whether you’re designing a new product or solving a personnel problem in the bullpen, there is an optimal process for arriving at a workable solution. Of course, the optimal process is not always the same, and it’s not always followed. This is especially true when it comes to solving people challenges. In fact, when a worker is out of line or conflict erupts, the most common response is a rush to solution: tackling outward behaviors without adequately assessing underlying causes. Some of the most difficult challenges we face in the workplace are people issues. Speaker and …

Our Hidden Biases and What to Do About Them

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A friend of mine once said, “for every PhD thesis, there is an equal and opposite PhD thesis. Certainly, I’ve come to learn there are (at least) two sides to every story and that what we see in a given situation is often exactly what we’re looking for. Cognitive bias research makes it abundantly clear that we are seldom the objective observers and rational decision makers we prefer to believe we are. Cognitive biases are “mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies…a cognitive bias does not result from any emotional …

When Job Ownership Runs Amok

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When it comes to fostering engagement in the workplace, encouraging employees to take ownership of their jobs is right up there with providing meaningful work. In American Venture Magazine[1], Dr. Noelle C. Nelson writes: “Studies show that job satisfaction among employees by itself doesn't predict productivity. It is only when job satisfaction is paired with psychological well-being at work that productivity is high. Psychological well-being at work includes a sense of purpose in one's job and a feeling of accomplishment. One of the easiest ways of supporting employees' sense of purpose is to give them ownership of …

A Diverse Team Counters Complacency

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A colleague handed me a book the other day. The cover looked like a children’s book and the title did little to dispel that impression: A Peacock in the Land of Penguins.  Like many business books in recent years, the authors (B.J Gallagher and Warren H. Schmidt) decided to create a fable[1]  to illustrate their point and share an important business lesson. It was a very fast read: large print, short pages, and plenty of illustrations. In fact, the book was deceptively simple. It was an entertaining light read with a heavy, even vital, message …

4 Steps to Make Your HR Tactics Strategic

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In his article Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking: Empowering the HR Professional, Hebe Lugo differentiates between the two as follows: “doing things right” is tactical thinking, while “doing the right things” is strategic thinking. The challenge for HR professionals is that success relies on “doing the right things right!” Milan Mikuláštík - Chessball/Wikimedia Commons In other words, focusing purely on strategy without ensuring effective implementation is just as potentially damaging as ignoring strategy in favor of exemplary tactics.   Even more challenging is ensuring the use of effective strategy …

Human Rights and Human Wrongs

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From an HR perspective, any discussion of human rights typically revolves around discrimination and the prevention of discriminatory practices in hiring, managing or disciplining workers. Specifics about what constitutes discrimination, and who is protected against it, vary from one jurisdiction to another. In some ways, the U.S. sets a high standard for protecting human rights in the workplace, and yet it’s evident that: Photo by Jenny Downing, Flickr “The concept of workers’ rights as human rights has only recently begun to influence the formation and implementation of labor policy in the United States. In the …

Connecting the Dots Between HCM and Financial Performance

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Intuitively we know that exceptional talent and high employee engagement make a company more successful. We know that high performing teams are more productive and high trust work environments support all of the above. The challenge for human resources executives and managers, however, is to translate that intuitive understanding into concrete metrics that justify their commitment to the necessary HR policies and people investments. HR Policy and Investment Outcomes The Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) together with Larry Beeferman and Aaron Bernstein (Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School) may have just made this connection a little easier to …

What’s the Deal with Unretirement?

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The vanguard of the boomer bulge is reaching retirement age. At least, they’re reaching the age at which people have traditionally retired since the early 1900s: i.e 65. Of course, when 65 was originally set as the standard (and often mandatory) retirement age, most people died within a few years of retirement. These post-retirement sunset years were a well-deserved rest after a lifetime of work and represented a short final chapter for most people. Photo by Emilio Labrador, Senior Guard, Flickr Things have changed.  The trend toward earlier and earlier retirement that characterized the last century has …

Was That Insubordination or Just Attitude?

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Insubordination is variously defined as the “willful failure to obey a supervisor's lawful orders; refusal to obey some order which a superior officer is entitled to give and is entitled to have obeyed; intentional refusal to obey an employer's lawful and reasonable order; or more simply—disobedience to authority.” Mutiny on the Bounty by Pascal, Flickr But simply having a bad attitude at work doesn’t necessarily qualify as insubordination. Insolence, for example, is often inaccurately labeled insubordination. According to Sacha Morrisset of Stewart McKelvey: “Insolence refers to derisive, abusive or contemptuous language, …

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