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
- An unexpected pregnancy
She is coming to you not really as a friend, but as someone who she thinks can help her. She wants:
- A break
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Photo credit iStockphoto
I read through the posts on random encounters and was reminded of two random encounters I have had in my life – one which I had prepared for and one which I had not – but both of which changed my life for the better.
When I was in my twenties, and broke up with my college boyfriend, I wrote a list of the things I wanted in a man. Tall, funny, family minded and a great kisser were among my top ten. Shortly after writing my list, I met my future husband randomly. In meeting and talking with him, I quickly realized that he had many of the things on my list (tall and funny for two) and looking back, I think I used my HR skills to “interview” him on some of my other “must haves” like being family minded and political views. My preparation helped me realize the potential in a random encounter and we recently celebrated thirty years of marriage.
The second random encounter I did not prepare for but it was a situation that I took full advantage of. I had been working in HR for a Fortune 500 company in Kentucky and my husband was transferred to New Jersey. I decided to take some time off and do some volunteer work while I tried to figure out what I would do next. I found a nonprofit organization that I wanted to learn more about, sent them a letter along with my resume, and offered to do volunteer work in whatever capacity they needed.
I received a call from the Founder who asked me to come in and talk with her. I went to the meeting and after many questions about my background, skills, and how I would handle certain situations at the organization, she asked me about salary. Only then, did I realize that this was a job interview.
I explained that I had sent a letter offering to volunteer, she pulled out my letter and reread it in amazement, and then handed me a job description for an Interim Director. Long story short, I quickly changed gears and got the job. This was a life-changing experience at which I become good friends with three incredible women and which was the exact right stopping place for me to be in before starting my own business.
Random encounter or fate? Opportunity meets preparation or luck? What do you think?
About the author: Judy Lindenberger is the President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning human resources consulting firm, located near Princeton, NJ. They are experts in career coaching, customized training workshops, online training programs, mentoring, 360-degree assessment and feedback, HR audits, employee handbooks, and more. Learn more about them at www.lindenbergergroup.com.
Photo credit iStockphoto.com
As busy HR professionals we use the word focus in many ways, whether it be in terms of what project we need to focus on next, what the focus of our next meeting should be or where our overall focus should be to keep in line with strategy.
What if we find ourselves having trouble with focus in the more literal sense though? We have very full schedules to maintain, and at some point we may lose sight of what is at the center of our day and miss a cue. Here are some tips that I employ to keep my productivity up when I find myself having trouble zeroing in on the task at hand:
Get organized. If your mind is racing and all you can think about is everything else you need to accomplish it will be hard to give your full attention to what you need to work on right now. Take a few minutes to organize your work area and update your to-do list. Prioritize, update deadlines if necessary and cross off tasks you’ve completed. When you have things in order it is easier to give your full attention to one specific item on the list so you can complete it and move on to the next.
Get a small project out of the way. Now that you are organized look at your list and see if there is something simple you can cross off right away. Perhaps there is an email that can be easily answered, a meeting quickly scheduled or some papers cluttering your desk that can be filed. Knowing that you got something accomplished, no mat
ter how small it may be, will give you a boost of confidence to tackle something bigger.
Refuel and recharge. Think back to your last meal; did you skip it altogether or was it not satisfying? If your stomach is grumbling or you are feeling light-headed it will be tough to make progress in your work. Take time to eat lunch or fit in a small snack. With the proper nourishment we have the energy necessary to make it through the rest of the day.
Not hungry? Get up and take a walk instead. Move around the office to check in with co-workers or step outside for fresh air. Either way, when you come back to your desk you’ll be reinvigorated and ready to tackle your inbox.
Turn on the music. This may not work for those that require quiet to get their work completed, but I’ve always found that putting light music on in the background can drown out all of the other office noise and allow me to focus in on my work.
Everyone has a different approach to get back on track. Find what works best for you and make your day as effective as possible.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Heather Rose, PHR is an HR Professional with over 7 years experience supporting top organizations' HR functions. In addition to her career in HR, Heather enjoys writing about her life adventures, reading and traveling. You can connect with Heather on LinkedIn.
It begins on Friday. “Got any plans this weekend? What are you doing? Are you going to the
big game big concert craft sale at the VFW? Will you be having a cookout party crawfish boil for the holiday weekend?”
And it ends, momentarily at least, on Monday. “How was your weekend? What did you do? Did you go anywhere? Did you do anything?”
It’s office small talk that allows people to appear somewhat interested in the lives of their fellow cubicle dwellers. More than likely, Glen in Purchasing could really care less that Carmen from Marketing is attending the Annual Furry Convention to be held in Pittsburgh (well, ok, that might intrigue him a bit…), but he feels the need to ask.
But I’ve noticed, throughout my working years, that this idle chatter can turn into yet another form of workplace one-upmanship. I’ve heard the sanctimonious inflection in a woman’s voice as she answered “I retiled the bathroom Saturday morning, applied weed-and-feed to the lawn, hosted a small gathering for 8 on Saturday night and then, after church on Sunday, tackled that smoked salmon w/ foie gras recipe I’ve been meaning to try. It was a light weekend.” And I‘ve witnessed the blank-stare and faintly disguised superiority from the questioner when someone (oh wait, that was me) answered “I did absolutely nothing.”
Perhaps it’s a cliché because it’s true when we admonish people to “take time to smell the roses.” Why must we feel the need to be doing-something-every-minute? After a busy, hectic and structured work week filled with meetings, appointments, phone calls and tasks, isn’t it just enough to stop, relax and not feel the need to DO?
In our quest to appear busy and engaged a
nd active and plugged-in we seem to have collectively embraced the viewpoint that just being in one place (i.e. HOME) for a span of time longer than it takes us to sleep and bathe is now seen as some sign of societal disengagement. Weekends spent cuddling one’s children on the couch under a comforter, reading a book for the pure enjoyment of it or even mindlessly watching VH1’s marathon of “100 One-Hit Wonders” are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend the weekend – aren’t they?
Yet, I’m convinced; we sometimes ask others how they spend their leisure time for the primary purpose of making judgments about either their lack of ambition or their lack of creativity.
Occasionally I pull my car into the garage on a Friday evening and don’t venture out beyond our property line again until Monday morning. I eat cold pizza for breakfast and cereal for dinner. I watch The Princess Diaries and Sex and the City reruns. I read Happy Hollisters books and pretend I’m in 2nd grade. I deep cleanse my pores. I take a nap in the morning and then, just for good measure, I take another one in the afternoon.
Then, come Monday morning, I go along with the small talk and ask my colleagues what they did over the weekend while I answer their queries as well.
And when I state “I did absolutely nothing” I do so with pride.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
About the author: Robin Schooling likes gadgets, coffee, wine and football and insists upon surrounding herself with people who are curious and have a desire to try new things. After 20 plus years in HR, she is fully aware that HR is fun, frustrating, rewarding, maddening and important … and she loves most-every minute of it. You can keep up with Robin at her blog HRSchoolhouse.com and on the Twitter at @RobinSchooling.
Defining balance can be tricky.
In my opinion finding balance between one’s work and the remainder of their life is very personal and varies from person to person. What may be a life that is in balance for one person could be a life ready to go off the rails for another. It all depends on our perspective on our life at work and our life outside of work.
Nonetheless, along my career and life journey I have found a few things that work for me in terms of balance that I think are worth sharing with others who may be struggling with the issue.
Seems like everyone everywhere is trying to find the right work-life balance. I have a very challenging job and a husband and three children. I am often looked to at work as a role model of someone who has found work-life balance even with a demanding job and family.
I often find myself embarrassed by that because unlike others, I am fortunate to have an incredible support system. My mother lives with us and does many things to help run the household. She gets the kids off to school (makes all the lunches), does our laundry, and cooks dinner every night. My husband, Shaun, is also a big contributor. Additionally, he works out of the home so he is available to run daily errands. Nonetheless, I have a very busy lifestyle and work hard to find “balance.”
There are however, a couple of key things I have learned about balance. Again, defining balance is unique to every individual. What balance means for me, can be entirely different than what it means to others. Additionally, I believe that finding balance isn’t a constant state. Sometimes, work has to take a priority and sometimes family life does. The key is to not let one always take precedence over the other, but to ebb and flow with the situation at the time.
Based on my particular circumstances, while I do not see myself as a role model of work-life balance, I have learned the following lessons along the way that do help and are worth sharing:
You don’t have to be perfect. There was a time that I thought I had to be the perfect leader, employee, wife and mother. No one is, or can be perfect. The earlier that you realize that, the better off you will be. When you expect perfection in all things from yourself, you are setting yourself up for constant failure.
Set your own boundaries. People will allow you to do whatever you allow yourself to do. No one is going to say, oh don’t take on that additional work, you have a family to care for. After awhile, they will come to expect from you whatever you have willingly done in the past. You have to set your own boundaries. Just as people will come to expect you to do everything that you always have, they will come accustomed to, and accepting of your boundaries.
Know your priorities. You have to decide what is important for you and what isn’t. I take my job very seriously. In the past, maybe too seriously. One of the best ways I have learned to set priorities is by asking myself a simple question, ” In five years, will it matter that I did or didn’t do this?” It is amazing how often the thing that you feel a strong obligation toward doing won’t even matter in five days.
Accept help. There are many people willing to help you out. Never turn down someone’s offer to help. This relates to number 1 above. Our drive to be perfect sometimes leads us to deny ourselves help. If someone offers to pick up your kids from school or drive them to practice, let them. You can always reciprocate in easier times.
Take time for yourself. If you spend all of your time taking care of others and things you will become resentful. Find something that you enjoy and that is just for you (exercise, reading, etc.) and make the time to fit it in. Taking care of yourself re-energizes you.
Above all, keep in mind that life is too short and goes by far too fast. We all need to earn a living but more importantly, we deserve to live life to the fullest. This requires a balance between doing the things we have to do and doing the things we want to do.
About the author: Lisa Emerson is the Vice President — Global Total Compensation at McDonald’s Corporation. In this capacity, she has responsibility for all aspects of compensation and benefits globally. Lisa and her husband Shaun created Tutto Persona to share their experiences and thoughts on work, family, and other odds & ends.
A few weeks ago, week my constant state of being over committed caught up with me and I fell ill.
My body was telling me to slow down and I fought it with everything I had, but I lost. The result of what happened was exactly what I needed.
You see, I had an ENTIRE day to myself. No one at home. No one at my office door. No electronic device tempting me to answer it for the next great blog post, tweet, DM or Facebook note. At first, I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, I fought an amazing pull to do SOMETHING because that’s what we wired to do. Doing nothing means being lazy, nonchalant or just slacking off.
The reality of this day to myself is that it allowed me to just empty myself out mentally and get reset. I’ll be honest. I don’t do this nearly enough. Like many of my friends, we just keep adding on more and slogging through it because we have an immense capacity (or so we tell ourselves).
When I was better the next day, I was sharp, revived and ready to face things once again. This time, however, I didn’t do the mad jump into the rush. I sat back and thought about how the tidal wive of commitments I’ve chosen could very easily come back and jump up to attempt to drown me once again.
So, I thought it was time to get back to what works for me – feelin’ groovy!!
The phenomenal duo of Simon & Garfunkel had many memorable songs, but one of my faves was The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) because the lyrics and the feel from the song give you perspective. Look at this:
“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the mornin’ last. Just kickin’ down the cobblestones, Lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy. Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy.”
It may seem naive, or even a waste of time, for folks. That’s a shame. I know that when I woke up to head back into work and heard this song, I thought let’s try something renewed today. So, I was kinder to my family, excited to get to work, and geeked to see my friends and co-workers. I called some of my friends from the “social media space” just to check in and see how they were doing, etc.
The groove hasn’t left and I hope it doesn’t. As you approach your day, your work in HR and life in general, remember – HOW you approach it makes all the difference in the world.
I need to go kick some cobblestones now . . .
After some recent reflection, I am convinced that my childhood has had a huge impact on how I consider various circumstances thrown my way as an HR professional. I can’t help but wonder how many others feel the same way.
A few weeks ago, I was driving to pick up some books for the ILSHRM Leadership Conference at our treasurer’s office. I got the idea of taking pictures of some of the homes I grew up in because it was on my way. I thought I might use them to share with my kids one day.
While doing so, the idea of writing this blog post for Women of HR popped in my head because the memories from seeing the homes brought back visions of similar employee circumstances I have had to deal with in the workplace. Some of these circumstances impacted the employee and their co-workers’ performance while others would just come in and share to get whatever was bothering them off their chest and back to work they went.
My experience has helped me to be a better problem solver and listener with employees dealing with adversity of any kind.
Just the number of homes I took a picture of, eight not counting the three no longer standing or out of state, tells a story. So many employees deal with instability in their life for a number of reasons. For me, I lived in 11 different homes growing up compared to the stability of my 20-year-old (2 homes) and my 11-year-old (1 home).
How many of our employees bounce from home to home? What impact does that have on their job? Psychologists typically only look at your life between the ages of 0-17 as it relates to the impact the experiences between those years makes on the rest of your life. I have a lot of empathy for instability and so much more that employees go through. For example, as I think back to my childhood, I have a much better understanding for employees dealing with:
- alcohol and drug abuse
- emotional and physical abuse
All of these personal problems have a huge impact on employee performance, attendance, and quality.I think overall my background has helped me be a better more understanding human resources professional. It affects how I handle things and how I communicate with people.
It’s not just what we learn in books or on-the-job that makes us good solid human resources professionals; it’s also what we are made of. Our early beginnings, where we came from and how we grew up has a lot to do with how we work with and influence others on a day-to-day basis. It can have a significant influence on our performance and ability to connect with employees, managers, owners and other relationships related to our work.
In HR, no one situation is anything like the other and that is what makes this profession so exciting to work in. I say be proud of your humble beginnings because all in all it is who you are and who you are is an outstanding professional who can handle whatever situation that is thrown at you.
I vividly remember sitting down with my best friend at lunch time with our matchbox cars that we were zooming around in the dirt in the playground. I was 8 years old.
I remember turning to him and saying that, when we grow up, we aren’t going to have Matchbox cars anymore. We are going to have the real versions of these cars and we are going to live in a bachelor pad and we can park our cars in the driveway.
Back then, that was the holy grail for me: to own my own car and to live in my own place. It seems that back then I was striving for independence and ownership. I wanted to say to the world that these objects are mine and I’m free to be and go wherever I please.
What I wasn’t dreaming about was how I was going to get there. I only focused on the outcome and knew I’d do whatever it takes to get there.
I reached that goal this year. Except it isn’t my dream anymore.
My dreams have changed as my life has changed. To be honest I’d completely forgotten about it until today when it hit me like a rock out of nowhere. I own my own car (although it’s not the Ferrari that I was skidding around in back at primary school) and I park it in a garage at my place every night.
Something that hasn’t changed since that day though, is my ability to dream. The ability to envisage myself being somewhere in the future and then working hard to make it happen. Although I’ve since moved cities and don’t have contact with that boy anymore, there’s a little part of me that hopes that he also reached his childhood dream of independence and freedom.
It’s important to have dreams but it’s important to remember that our dreams will change as our life changes. New people will come into our lives and change our dreams and people we thought would be with us forever, will vanish from our lives.
What’s important to remember is to never stop dreaming because, regardless of the outcome and whether or not you reach it, the fact that you’re dreaming means you’re always striving for something more. So I’ll continue to keep dreaming, researching, changing direction, going off the beaten track and adapting to my surroundings. Will you?
Although I once wrote a post denying the existence of the glass ceiling, it occurred to me recently that men do have one big career advantage: wives.
Oh, for one of those! Someone who shops, cleans, picks up the kids from school, checks their homework and has a nice dinner waiting for you when you come home from the office (even if it’s take out). Someone to cover your back at home so you can travel, attend late meetings, network after hours and generally be seen after 4 p.m..
Before you write me off as a sexist pig, I realize that the modern husband is a far cry from the typical diaper allergic husband of, say, the ’50s. And the modern wife isn’t necessarily a wife at all, and may not even be female. Nonetheless, there tends to be one person in any partnership who assumes the bulk of the household chores and childcare, even if both partners work. And for lack of a better word I’m going to call that person a ‘wife.’
I love spending time with my kids but I enjoy working, too. And I sometimes envy my husband when I have to shut down in the middle of an interesting thought to pick up the kids while he finishes his work in relative peace and quiet before coming home to a somewhat clean house, fed children and a home-cooked meal.
My husband, by the way, is very supportive and spends a lot of quality time with our kids. He is also a wonderful cook, will shop in a pinch and has been known to clean the kitchen. But typically I’m the one who leaves work early, provides primary childcare and logs back on after they go to bed to finish up my work.
That’s why when my husband recently asked me what I wanted for my birthday I said I wanted a wife for a day. That’s right, for one day I wanted to go to work in the morning, work until I was finished and come home to smiling children in pajamas. I wanted dinner on the table and a ‘get out of cleaning the kitchen’ card.
I thought about holding out for folded laundry but decided not to press my luck.
My husband listened to my birthday request in silence, thought about it for a moment then asked, ‘Just one day, right?’
So if you’re wondering how to show your appreciation for that special working mom in your life, why not consider trading places for a day. Man up and be a mom, so to speak. As an added bonus, it’s a great chance to get in touch with your inner wife.
P.S. I hope he doesn’t ask me to file our multi-country tax returns for his birthday.
Photo credit iStockphoto
Life gets crazy sometimes.
For most of my professional life I’ve worked for software companies in diverse roles, including developer, consultant, product strategist, software designer and marketing manager.
I’ve lived and worked in Munich on and off for the last 10 years which means a 9 hour time difference with most of my colleagues. And I have three kids between the ages of 7 years and 3 months.
Crazy is an understatement.
I’m not one of those women who run a company while creating organic meals from scratch for my three perfect children. I’m just someone who wants to work and raise my kids with minimum outsourcing.
There’s no magic formula for balancing work and family because everyone has different priorities but here’s a list of 10 things that works for me:
Stick to What You Know. I sometimes fantasize about doing something completely different like competitive kick boxing or breeding really ugly dogs but the expertise I’ve built up over the years helps me work quickly and efficiently.
Telecommute. Whenever I work at home I can spend my commuting time working. Unless you spend it on the phone talking to colleagues or customers – which makes you a road hazard – commuting is wasted time.
Keep Meetings to a Minimum. Meetings have a cost and deciding which meetings to attend is a professional skill in its own right. Attend too many and you won’t get any work done, attend too few and you’re invisible.
Say No. It’s never easy to pass up on an opportunity or push back when someone asks you to do something but if you can’t politely decline, and know when it’s OK to do so, you can forget about work life balance.
Don’t Follow the Money. I used to earn more as a consultant but now I don’t have to get up at 5 a.m. Monday morning to catch an early flight to a customer site. I consider it a fair trade.
Enjoy What You Do. If you’re like me, you end up working at night after your kids are in bed or on weekends when they’re outside playing, so enjoying what you do is pretty important.
Be Good to Yourself. Make time to exercise, eat lots of leafy greens and plenty of cake. Get a pedicure or a latte. Pat yourself on the back for the things you do well and don’t obsess about the rest.
Think Laterally, Not Vertically. It may be possible to work 30 hours a week from the location of your choice, earn an executive salary and run a big chunk of the company but I haven’t figured out how.
Share the Load. If you’re married with children and both of you are working full-time, you should be doing half the housework and childcare. Men actually can fold laundry so don’t believe that helpless act. Of course, to be fair you’ll have to kill half the spiders.
Look at the Funny Side. Without even knowing you, I bet your life is hilarious. Find the humor in those frantic drives to the vet with the barfing dog and screaming toddler while talking your boss on the phone. It’s there, I promise.
Sounds easy when you make a nice little list, doesn’t it? We all have bad days. I’m sometimes late for meetings, impatient with my kids, too busy to buy groceries or too busy to chew my food properly.
Most days I can’t believe my luck because I have a good job, colleagues I enjoy working with and a family that loves me. Everything else is just white noise. Ultimately, the secret to having it all is believing you have it all.
Photo credit: Photobucket.com