The Grass is Greener When the Field is Mowed

Posted on August 5th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Business and Workplace, Career Advice. No Comments

LawnRecently I was out for a walk with my husband and we decided to take a different path through the nearby school athletic fields. It was a beautiful evening and there were teams practicing and kids having a great time.

As we were walking, I looked down and I noticed that there was a distinctive line between an area that had been recently mowed and one that had not. You could tell where the unmowed area was because even though there really didn’t appear to be much of a difference in grass height, on one side all the flower heads on the weeds were still there. It was so apparent that I decided to take a picture of it and committed to try and find a way of incorporating this into a HR blog.

Here it is.

In the world of HR advice-giving, we encounter those who seem to want to bail because they think it is better elsewhere. Many of us offer the same advice to those thinking of leaving their workplace. . .the grass is always greener. . .

According to Urban Dictionary this expression “refers to the way we tend to look at other people’s lives and other things that we don’t have in general through rose colored glasses. Comes from the idea of looking at a neighbour’s lawn and seeing it as better looking, healthier and overall greener then your own when in reality you’re just ignoring anything negative about it and downplaying everything positive about your own.”

I agree that using the grass is greener expression is a good strategy for those thinking of leaving, but I think we have an opportunity to take that concept a little further. It is worth reminding people that all fields, green or not, have weeds of one kind or stage.  Some just haven’t had their flowers mowed off yet.

The ideal field is not uniformly green. In fact, if we accept some weeds and their flowers, we can avoid the use of pesticides. We can minimize the risk of land erosion because weeds help to hold in soil better than grass generally due to their longer roots. Weeds use less water than grass.

What goes on above the surface is just as important as below the surface. Or to put it in a workplace context. . .

The ideal workplace is not uniform. Don’t mistake gloss for perfection. Every workplace has weeds. It needs weeds. Getting the most out of those weeds is an important step for workplaces today.

 

About the Author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

HR Legacy

Posted on May 6th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Career Advice, Community and Connection. 2 comments

What causes people to gravitate towards their career?  We know that there are numerous factors including socio-economic status, location, age, academic inclination, mentors, and parental influence.

For many years, centuries it seems, it was common for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents—daughters following mothers, sons following fathers.  Given how we used to learn things and the very nature of old class systems, that careers were family-centric is in no way surprising.

In recent times however, children are less likely to take similar career paths as their parents.  In fact, according to recent findings from Ancestry.co.uk, just 7% of children today end up in the same job as their mother or father (as compared to 48% a century ago).

Indeed, from a career perspective, all sorts of things have influenced career gravitation for women, including the Suffrage movement, Title IX, and even technology.

According to Ancestry.com’s studies, children today are three times more likely to choose a different career from their parents.

So let me ask this question of HR Professionals.  Was one of your parents an HR Professional, or the earlier derivations such as Personnel Manager or Payroll Administrator?  If yes, how much of an influence was this on your own career choice?

In my entire career, I have only met one mother/daughter HR duo, and in reality, the mother was only the HR Professional for a few years before taking over the company from her father.  How come there aren’t more mother/daughters like this?

I think it behooves us to ask:

  • Are we promoting our career in a sustainable, attractive way?
  • Are we happy in our career, and do we project happiness?
  • What can we do to promote this field to our children?

 

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

Photo credit

 

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.


Why Engagement is the Wrong Word

Posted on December 3rd, by Bonni Titgemeyer in On My Mind, Wellness and Balance. 14 comments

I was engaged once.  It was 1988 and in between a course of sweetbreads and lamb at the Millcroft Inn in Alton, Ontario, the blue-eyed guy across from me popped the question.  I looked at the ring, and I looked at him, and I said, “yes”.  In other words, I said (on the inside), “I find you very attractive, I have no idea how this story might end, but yes, I think there are good odds here and I’m game to give it a shot”.  After all, we were very young, we had no money, but we had high hopes for the future. We set a date.

That’s engagement.

During engagement, you buy an expensive dress you’ll never wear again, and you fuss over the strange details of a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.  You drive your friends and family crazy.  Then once the engagement is over and you’ve settled in, you find true happiness.

I’ve thought about this as it relates to the workplace.

Do we need engagement?  Or do we need that sense of settling in and happiness?

I think it is the latter.

I’m not sure we are at our best during the engagement.  There are reasons why there are TV shows about bridezillas. There is frenzied anticipation and many, many details.  There are a lot of things to balance, with time always seeming to be at a premium. Our goal is to have a lovely wedding. We fret at not being able to see much beyond that day.  It is when the engagement is over that we have a routine and new goals and a longer-term outlook.  We fall more deeply in love with our spouse. That’s happiness.

I fully realize that not everyone on the engagement bandwagon agrees with me.  They argue that an engaged employee is not necessarily a happy employee and they argue that a happy employee may be happy because their work isn’t challenging, which doesn’t benefit the business.  Ok, fair enough.  That said, perhaps I’m being overly technical but the definition of engagement does not include the word motivation (in fact, appointment is a synonym for engagement).  Ultimately, motivation is another positive side effect of being settled in to a role where you have confidence. Again, during engagement you are not settled in yet.

So how can you achieve a workplace full of happy people?  Try these strategies:

  1. Find ways to include your employees in long-term planning.  So often we set short-term goals in our planning without thinking about how this contributes to the big picture.  The more employees can see themselves in your organization 3, 5, 7 years down the road, the more likely they will contribute in ways that will ensure the organization is sustainable.
  2. Love your organization.  Love your employees. I’m talking to you HR. Some of the best organizations out there have amazing programs not only for current employees but also alums.  Make it a family atmosphere full of positivity and mutual respect by focusing on programs designed to be supportive of the whole employee, at 24 and 64.  The workplace should feel safe and a place to find your centre.  This can’t happen in a place where there isn’t an environment of mutual trust.
  3. Lessen the distractions. People focus best when they aren’t surrounded by a myriad of distractions.  They’re happy when the details are set.  If that means organizing central pick up for dry cleaning, providing access to a concierge service or being more flexible about work arrangements, go for it.

If you think of your employees after the engagement, the onboarding, all that preliminary stuff, and make the workplace feel like an extension of home, you’re well on your way to achieving workplace happiness.

 

Photo Credit

 

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.


Compassion and the HR Professional

Posted on May 7th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Business and Workplace, Leadership, Networks, Mentors and Career. 7 comments

It happens to all of us in HR at some point in our lives.  We find ourselves caught in an awkward position at work and we ask ourselves, “What is the best response here?”

I am talking about situations where compassion is needed, but with extenuating circumstances.  You’ve encountered the scenario before.  An employee confides something deeply personal:

  • A health issue
  • A break-up
  • Bankruptcy
  • An unexpected pregnancy

She is coming to you not really as a friend, but as someone who she thinks can help her.  She wants:

  • Advice
  • A break
  • Support
  • Shelter

She doesn’t know or understand the awkward position this possibly puts you in.  The information she provides may or may not be true.  You know that:

  • Her supervisor is at his wits end because her performance is so poor
  • She was late again three times this week
  • The organization doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy culture with flexibility
  • There are impending layoffs and her employment is at risk

What are your responsibilities in this situation?  How involved should you be?  How do you protect company interests while being a human being?

Human resources practitioners are not registered psychologists or social workers.  We are not “Mother Theresa”.  For most of us, our employers do not want or expect us to be advocates for the downtrodden, but we are expected to be kind, helpful and looking for the win-win.  We do not have a magic wand.  Therefore suffice to say that there are no clear cut answers about the level of compassion we need to provide in these tough situations, only possible approaches.

Here are some things you can do:

  1. To the extent possible, help her find professional help.  Does your benefit plan offer an EAP?  Are there help lines or government services available?  Is counseling a covered benefit?  Keep abreast of the resources available to a person in need and share them freely.  Short lists are better than single resources.  Encourage her to make the call.  That way, you don’t have to give advice or get overly involved.
  2. Are there small things you can do?  Can she borrow your office for 20 minutes to get her composure or to make a private call?  Is there some small token you have that you can give to her to show her that you and the Company care?
  3. Be clear about what you can and can’t keep confidential and your channel of communication within the organization.  For most employees, the role of HR is unclear, which in many cases leads to the risk that an employee won’t come and see us out of fear or mistrust, even when it is prudent that they do so.
  4. Encourage her to be discrete about whom she confides in about the circumstances.  The workplace is full of people who are your frenemies.  Your Company has policies regarding fair treatment but you can’t control everything.   While it has become commonplace for stars to rise out of their personal meltdowns, it is more difficult for the rest of us to do so.   Also a privately-managed issue will likely result in less workplace disruption.
  5. Be clear about the conundrum created when personal information like this is shared with someone in HR.  Ask for clarity on the reasons she came to you and what she expects your involvement to be. Be clear about what you can and can’t do for her.
  6. With regards to how the personal situation impacts her job, encourage her to speak with her Supervisor and to be open to possible solutions.  Offer to open the discussion with the Supervisor if you feel there may be a risk that the Supervisor may not handle the situation in a manner appropriate to the circumstances.  If it is possible, try to create clarity about the continuing performance expectations and work through strategies to address them.  Try to keep to as much of a third-party approach as possible.
  7. Get legal advice as needed.  There are a myriad of potential challenges that could present themselves if down the line she is terminated. It could be construed that you used the knowledge gained in the circumstances inappropriately with undesirable consequences.

Above all, be genuine.  The success of the outcome is in direct relation to your ability to:

  • Be compassionate
  • Think on your feet
  • Keep your head
  • See it through

Good luck!

Photo credit iStockphoto


2013 Will be the Year of Women

Posted on January 15th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in On My Mind. 5 comments

Typically over the holidays I end up watching a lot of television. This time of year there are always season finales and competitions and other things to catch up on, and for me this year was no exception.

Based upon the things I saw, I’m convinced that 2013 will be the year for women.

Why? Well, because women were hugely showcased at the end of the year, in ways and in places that were surprising.

First, Alex Guarneschelli won the Next Iron Chef, Redemption competition. For those that don’t know much about the world of haute cuisine, there are few female chefs, and where women exist, they are often not at the top.  But this time, the final two chefs in the competition were women, and they cooked their hearts out.  The best part about the finals is that both Alex Guarneschelli and fellow finalist Amanda Freitag made it without special consideration.  They made great dishes, period.

Second, the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors show performance was carried by awesome women (even though the deserving recipients were with one exception, men).  Think about this.  Tina Fey’s tribute to David Letterman was funny, poignant, and quintessentially spoken as a woman, even though David Letterman, by all accounts, is not.  Bonnie Raitt, a trailblazer in her own right, performed Buddy Guy’s Sweet Home Chicago with a raspy finesse that only she can do.  And Heart’s Ann and Nancy W

ilson, the bedrock of the women’s rock movement, belted out Stairway to Heaven in a way that not only respected Led Zeppelin but brought new significance to what is arguably the greatest rock tune ever written.

So women adding new context to the traditional; I like that. It seems a lot of other people did also.

Is this a trend?  I hope so!

From a human resources perspective, I wonder what 2013 will bring for women.  As barriers break and as it becomes more normal, and less novel, for women to contribute unique things to our workplaces at the highest level—all the better.   We need to think about a people movement.

That said, it will be a good thing when articles and blogs like this no longer have to be written, when women’s achievements are not unique or noteworthy as a women’s achievement.  Until then though, I look forward to seeing and hearing about all the occasions when women rocked it.

Here’s to 2013.

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

Photo credit iStockphoto

zp8497586rq

{Women of HR Unwrapped} Chivalry in the Workplace

Posted on December 25th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Business and Workplace. 1 Comment

We are unwrapping some posts from the Women of HR archives for you this holiday season. Relax, enjoy and let us know if there is a favorite of yours you'd like to see unwrapped and run again.

I’m beginning to get a little nervous for my husband’s generation of men.

It is scary to think that his generation is the last of those men who were brought up to behave in a chivalrous manner.

I like chivalry. It is polite and helpful. It is slightly romantic, and I think I hold men who do such things in higher esteem than those who don’t.

My husband holds open doors for me.  He drops me off at the front entrance to the store so I don’t have to walk across the parking lot.  He brings in the groceries from the car.  He makes sure I don’t leave the house without an umbrella. He helps me put on my coat.  When we are dressed up to go out, he helps me get in the car, and he closes the car door for me.  He holds my hand when I walk across icy pavement in high heels.

While I am clearly the object of his affection and the love of his life, I do notice that he behaves this way with other women, e.g. that he is thoughtful. The door opening thing in particular is something he

does for women, but I also regularly see him thinking ahead so that women aren’t inconvenienced.

Unless a guy is disabled or clearly in need of help, I don’t see my husband stepping ahead to hold a door for him. This isn’t expected.

Being married to me, I hardly think he thinks of women as being the weaker sex. I think it is just a part of who he was taught to be, a gentleman.

In this world of workplace equality, I have to wonder what dangers there are in continuing to show a favoritism of this nature toward women. Will it, or has it already been perceived as sexism?

Rather than chastising chivalry, I wonder if the best approach would be to encourage women to be chivalrous, or to take the taboo/weirdness out of men helping men.  In that way, everyone benefits.

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

Photo credit iStockphoto

zp8497586rq

The Value of Tactile Learning in the Workplace

Posted on November 8th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Business and Workplace. 6 comments

Recently I was in a rented a car with a GPS. For whatever reason, the GPS was off (putting us at least two streets south of where we were at) and so we turned it off and I pulled out a map to figure out where we needed to go.

I hadn't held a map in my hands in a long-time.  It felt good yet slightly disconcerting.  When I was a kid, I always got the front passenger seat which made me the de facto navigator, so on trips I usually ended up with the map.  I was a good map reader, and we were rarely lost.

Being rusty with a paper map, we drove around a little bit to get to our destination.

These days, with GPS, I'm lost a lot.

I'm not blaming the GPS industry; I'm only saying it is an inexact technology that sometimes fails to appreciate certain nuances.  It's existence has caused me somehow to lose touch with my inner map-reading capability and when forced to go back to old school, it took some time to acclimate.

Since that trip, I've been thinking about the value of tactile learning in the workplace. Believe me, my life revolves around a computer and it is an important part about how I interact in the working world, however I think my skills are better because there was a time when I had to figure things out without it.  Two examples come to mind:

  1. Back in the early days of my career, I wrote a lot of copy for things like newspaper articles, advertisements, brochure text, etc.  Back then, there was no such thing as Pagemaker and so my layouts were done on a lightboard, using paper strips, an Exacto knife and hot wax. Doing layouts that way was part of getting material “photo ready”.  At that time, I learned a lot about how to make things line up properly without the benefit of kerning software or the justification feature.  I would say that today I have an eye for space because I used to have to spend so much time getting space right in the first place.
  2. In my first few years in human resources, I worked in the compensation arena, mostly on developing pay equity plans. This involved determining the proportional value of jobs, and the only resources I had to do “sum of least squares” calculations was graph paper, a ruler, a calculator and a pencil. Sometimes it would take a

    whole day to figure out calculations which now would take less than 10 seconds on Excel.  Staring at the dots on the paper though helped me to understand compensation patterns and trends. Every once in awhile when I am thinking about design, I go “old school” and do some of the work manually, just to get a better feel for the options.

There are countless articles out there focusing on the value of experiential learning for adults and the workplace. Tactile learning is of significant value to most adults and is a great form of experiential learning. In order to master something, first the learner must experience something directly, e.g. they must have concrete experience and then be able to conceptualize what it means and to look at the options or possibilities. To use my example above, I came to understand compensation trends by physically plotting them, looking at options and then creating a design. I wonder if I would be as good at compensation design today if in reality Excel had always done most of the work for me.

What else in HR has tactile learning value?  So many ideas come to mind, from operating machines on the shop floor and understanding process flow before writing job descriptions to understanding the day-in-the-life of staff before recommending policy changes. But this is just HR, and HR is a small part of most workplace operations.  Think about how much better our employees could be at their jobs if they better understood the old-fashioned concepts and grounding behind their work, which often can only be done by figuring things out manually.

My point is that I feel sometimes like we have lost skills or capabilities simply because we discourage manual learning due to the time involved, and therefore miss out on great opportunities to more broadly apply what can arguably be a deeper skill set.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

zp8497586rq

Don't Laugh Too Loudly

Posted on July 3rd, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Community and Connection. 3 comments

I can say without reservation that most HR folks I know are really nice people who do a respectable job.

I can also say without reservation that most HR folks I know are not wild party animals live life on the edge and who routinely break company policy.

But does the term “respectable” go hand in hand with, shall I say, “boring”?

A few years ago, my firm did a “What HR Likes” survey, and to my great surprise, the respondents’ favourite TV show was Two and a Half Men.

I liked Two and a Half Men, a lot, but up until seeing those results, I really thought I was the only one, and kept my love of it a secret.  I watched it by myself, low volume, lights out.  It was not something I admitted publicly.

Why?  Because Two and a Half Men at its core was and is still offensive to some people.  It is full of outlandish situations that the HR profession cannot condone at work.  Sex, sexism, adultery, fraternization, debauchery, harassment, alcoholism, double entendre—you name it, the show had it.  I laughed loudly when Alan needed Charlie to cover as the Receptionist at his clinic, and within hours Charlie had turned the office into a seedy massage parlour.  As

an HR Professional, how can I be expected to hold high standards if secretly I think certain escapades like this are funny (actually hilarious)?  After all, we’ve all had a “Charlie” in our workplace we’ve had to deal with before, right?

There used to be “rules” about what could be said in mixed company.  In some people’s lives, these rules no longer apply and anything goes.  The challenge is in some cases, for some people, these rules very much still do apply, and at work, there is still a need for a decorum that respects higher standards of behaviour.

I guess I’m trying to say that if you’re in HR, it is hard to have overly liberal views.  Basically, there is no way of winning, which is probably why our profession is full of closet Two and a Half Men fans.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Bonni Titgemeyer is the Managing Director of The Employers’ Choice Inc. She has been in human resources for 20+ years and works in the international HR arena. She is the recipient of the 2012 Toronto Star HR Professional of the Year Award.  You can connect with Bonni on Twitter as @BonniToronto, often at the hashtag #TEPHR.

zp8497586rq

Stop Expecting Perfection: Decide What’s Important

Posted on February 28th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Business and Workplace. 3 comments

In elementary school, I struggled with handwriting.

My letters were always way out of proportion.  It wasn’t pretty.  I felt it created a negative perception of me and my capabilities.

I was vindicated at around 4th grade when the TV show, Laverne and Shirley, became popular.  Laverne DeFazio used a script “L” on her shirts, which basically broke all the rules of elementary school handwriting.

Since my maiden name was Lile, I adopted the Laverne “L” as part of my signature.  Whenever my teacher would complain, all I would have to do is point out that “L.” It became my trademark.  It was cool and I was proud of it.

Even today, there are lots of things I do that do not fulfill the notion of “fitting within the lines.”  That crisp “hospital corners” type of finish on most things eludes me.  I realized this the other day when I went to make the bed at home.  No bouncing quarters here. I just can’t make the corners fit neatly into the pre-made slots. And folding fitted sheets neatly, forget about it!  Thank goodness for big fluffy comforters that hide the wrinkles!

Strangely, there are times when I am envious of those who can be crisp about their work routines.

I know that I frustrate payroll professionals in particular, who by virtue of their trade, are generally very good at keeping completed documents in proper order, on brads and in the right sub-folders.  Their staples are always exactly in the right place too, and all the correct information is neatly set out on forms.  I’m not going to win a 5S award anytime soon.  I’m just comfortable when the right documents are in the right folders (so that they are handy when I am looking for them), and don’t get too fussed about the order.  And, to quote one of my favorite lines from the movie, Office Space, I have been admonished several times in my career for “failing to put a cover sheet on my TPS report”!

Reflecting on this, it has occurred to me that the notion that there is only one perfect way of doing things is a dangerous habit for an HR professional.  In practical terms, it isn’t possible in most cases, and also it promotes a level of uniformity about things that may result in stymied creativity.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for some level of polish, but it does mean we should have a meaningful discussion about the cost of the pressure of uniformity.  What stylized “L” might we miss?

My grandmother always ironed the sheets, and underwear for that matter, and spent the better part of a day each week doing it.  I thought it was silly but it was a socialized norm for someone of her generation.

I think it comes back to that old adage about figuring out what is important and focusing on that.  We should stop expecting perfection on things that don’t need to be perfect.


Women of HR’s Lilith Fair

Posted on December 30th, by Bonni Titgemeyer in Community and Connection. 2 comments

This holiday week we are featuring some of our top posts on Women of HR. Enjoy!

I am a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan. She’s a brilliant musician and entrepreneur.

That’s right, e-n-t-r-e-p-r-e-n-e-u-r.

You see, Sarah figured out that if we stopped making the music business competitive, and instead collaborative, there would be far more female musicians out there that would have their shot at real success. She pushed to create all-female led-band concerts.

And Lilith Fair was born.

The statistics on Lilith Fair’s success are astounding when you realize that nothing like it existed before. In the 1990s, the Lilith Fair concert series earned more than $16M in ticket sales. The concert was sold out in virtually every city where it was booked. It was girl-power extraordinaire.

In the years following the Lilith Fair tour, we saw many more female musicians in airplay. Their music was softer, harder, richer and gutsier than ever. Men showed up. The riffs are more complicated now. The lyrics cover more diverse subjects. The music has taken us beyond Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell and Helen Reddy.

In our profession, WOHR is our Lilith Fair. It is incredibly cool to have a space where women (and men) celebrate our profession in a collaborative fashion, without it being all gooey.

That isn’t to say that women have experienced challenges in our profession, in fact we dominate the profession, but it is to say that we are at the stage where we can now influence our profession by celebrating who we really are. It is no longer about towing the company line. It is no longer about crafting a dated message. It is about putting a human touch on human resources.

When I made my first post on WOHR a couple of months ago, I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback. I realized that I was not the only HR Pro who enjoyed muscle cars, college football, baking and puppies. The experienced fueled a growing list of things to blog about.

And, I can write about all sorts of subjects without feeling like I need to put on my business jacket with the extra-wide shoulder pads.

Even more significant, I found a whole lot of great HR Pros to follow and support.

Sarah McLachlan’s career skyrocketed during Lilith Fair and she has earned a place among music’s elite. The same is true for many of the other artists on the tour.

If we all continue to collaborate, won’t the same thing happen here too?

Photo Credit, People Magazine, July 19, 2010, via Lilith