The holiday season is upon us – a time to reflect on those niggling workplace predicaments. But help is at hand in the form of agony uncle Walter Hale, who here offers solutions to some of your personnel problems
Line managers, eh? From the way some of them behave you wouldn’t be surprised to discover they had the number of the Beast tattooed on the back of their heads. There was the line manager at a law firm who tried to invoice the mother of an employee who had committed suicide for costs of £13,000 involved in settling up office work, including a bill for £1,500 which was alleged to be the expense of going to the employee’s home to find out why he hadn’t turned up for work.
Then there was the manager of a doughnut shop in California (where else?) who tried to pretend that an employee who had been wounded in a hold-up was actually a customer because he knew the company was not insured to compensate injured workers. So determined was the manager to succeed in this deception that he dragged the wounded worker off the company premises and out on to the street.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t made clear whether the manager carried this act of despicable duplicity as far as to tell the police, “Never saw him before in my life, officer! He just walked in here off the street and tried to buy a doughnut.”
Finally in this unholy trio, comes the manager of another Californian company who told staff they’d be docked a day’s pay if they showed up for work with a visible love bite. This controversial policy received surprising support from an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, who said, “Someone with sex on their mind will look at a hickey as if they’re watching Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.” Quite.
Most line managers don’t reach those ludicrous heights, but they have been known to go around saying things like “HR is for wimps”, and claim that 80 per cent of what the personnel department does is form-filling. You know the kind of managers – the kind who disguise the fact that they have all the interpersonal skills of Josef Stalin by insisting that they are merely being “firm but fair”.
The challenge for human resources and personnel managers is to shape the managerial culture of their company so that line managers don’t behave in ways that will have the chairperson of an industrial tribunal trembling with rage.
To do this, successfully, HR has to deal in the coin of the corporate realm – making a difference to the bottom line. This can only be done with the support of main board directors, not just political support, but the will to put their clout behind such initiatives as, for example, charging £20,000 to a line manager’s operating budget every time one of their staff leaves.
The cliché that personnel management comprises all those things that do not deal with the work of people and are not management is still too widely believed for the profession’s comfort. And when HR is too far down the corporate food chain, you get these kind of horrors.
All these problems are real but sometimes the names have been changed to protect the innocent HR people. The solutions, if that’s what they are, are thrown in free for good measure.