Having spent my entire adult life working in the human resources domain, I’ve accumulated quite a list of items I wished the managers I supported knew that would make everyone’s lives easier. They are simple things, really, and yet they’ve come up time and time again in various jobs and in various industries. Below is a brief list of the heaviest hitters:
1. Write it down or it didn’t happen.
This pertains to a myriad of topics – most notably performance items (good or bad) but also research requests, job requisitions and hiring criteria. Let me be blunt: if you visit your HR manager and demand an employee be dealt with due to poor performance, be prepared to provide documentation of said poor performance. Any HR manager worth their salt is going to require documentation of performance issues before taking action. This is to protect you and the company from legal messes like discrimination and retaliation.
2. Don’t ignore minimum qualifications.
Job postings identify minimum requirements for a reason; namely, to draw a list of fully qualified candidates while unequivocally weeding out those who are not qualified so you don’t have to read their resumes. If you come across a great candidate who doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the job, the answer is not to ignore that fact and consider them anyway. Rather, work with your HR to determine why that candidate is a great candidate, revamp your job description to incorporate their skills (or determine if they are a better fit for a different job and re-post the job so that anyone who has a similar background also has a shot. This keeps you out of potential legal trouble should you ever be audited by the EEOC or DOL. Who knows? You may find an even better candidate than the one you were advocating for.
3. Contracts are legal, binding documents.
If you have a labor union with a negotiated contract, that means there is a legal, binding document that establishes expectations for behavior for both parties. Yes, there’s grey area, and yes there’s past practice, but at the end of the day, a contract is a contract. It would be like hiring someone to put a pool in your backyard with the provision that they must complete the job within a certain time limit and are responsible for hauling away all construction materials at the end. If they finish 6 weeks late and leave a pile of junk behind in your yard, you’re going to be unhappy and you’re going to request restitution. Rather than just disregarding the provisions of the contract and doing whatever you want (which will most likely result in time-consuming grievances), partner with your HR manager to identify where the wiggle room is (it’s there, trust me) and provide them with feedback about how the language can be modified, either through formal negotiations or a letter of agreement, to better serve the needs of the company.
4. HR is not the hygiene or dress code police.
If you have an employee with a hygiene problem or who is eliciting complaints regarding their attire, it is not HR’s job to address it just because you don’t want to. If you need help figuring out how to approach the situation, HR is there to help, but ultimately, you need to manage your employees.
5. Don’t write policies to address one bad employee.
It’s really not necessary to write a policy for every occasion. If you did, your employee handbook would be a tome the size of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. While policies are important ways to document expectations for behavior, you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to list every single do or don’t – it’s impossible. A colleague once put it to a manager this way: if an employee decided to relieve themselves in the hallway, would you write a “No Urination in the Hallway” policy? Of course not!
Finally, keep in mind that HR is there to partner with you, not replace you. If you have a tough employee relations situation, HR can provide you with the tools and recommendations to manage it on your own, or, if necessary, assemble additional resources to support you. They are also great researchers – able to dig into subjects such as training opportunities, job compensation analysis and employee engagement techniques and provide you with the data you need to be better managers.
And a special note to all you HR heroes out there: make sure that instead of saying, “You can’t do that because…” you’re saying, “Let’s figure out what you are trying to achieve so we can find a way to get there.”