Dear HR, The Cream Will Rise, The Sh*t Will Float, It’s Those Underneath We Need To Support

It’s just so much sexier to talk about fabulous executive career trajectories. Breaking through the glass ceiling, being the best you can be, blah blah blah. Here’s a harsh fact for all of us to come to terms with though, we’re only the best we can be for maybe a short burst in our life, but probably never. Not to say we can’t push ourselves to live vibrantly, but living vibrantly doesn’t mean being the best you can be. Mostly, we are the 99% body of water that the 0.5% cream and 0.5% shit gets to float on. Don’t believe me? Then seriously, honestly, achingly look at your skills, your life and your place – we’re all in the water together my friend and it’s fine. 
Yeah – yeah – obnoxious kid speaking, I get it. But I tend to think we dream about HR’s role a bit like poor US voters for the Republican party. They’re not rich, the republican policy would negatively affect them, but they still want to vote for them because they are projecting themselves into the 1%. Research has shown “people’s views on their financial situation are shaped by their partisan affiliation rather than the other way around.” Aren’t we HR folk a little the same, fantasising about HR practices for great talent under incredible leadership when it doesn’t really apply to our particular staff? That’s not a bad thing and I’m not saying we should downscale our personal career ambitions and ambitions for HR in our organisations. I say that cream and shit is going to make its way up to the top no matter how poor or excellent our leadership programs or equal employment opportunity policies are! 
What I do think is important is acknowledging that as a part of the body of water, despite however close to the surface we get, it only takes a few events to lose our bargaining power. Child care responsibilities, long term illnesses, changes in technology, age, changes in bosses, recessions – this stuff happens to everyone. So let’s use our time in HR to make sure all parts of the organisation have a decent working life.
So, here’s my list of items I wish business magazines (you know, the types that use stock photos of women in ridiculously tight business suits) talked about for the latest and greatest sexy HR initiatives that would actually positively support the 99%, and not just fill our heads with more fancy schmancy air.
1. Benchmarking and grading salaries for equal payment across jobs and genders. Come onnnnnnnn, it’s possible. Do itttttttttt HR, it would be incredible. It would directly affect your pink ghetto wage. Ya wanna? It’s worth it!
2. Support for industrial action for industry recognition by the government, which I illustrate by an example of employers and employees marching the streets to petition the government to raise the minimum wage for the community services sector. The employer seeking to pay fairer wages isn’t pricing themselves out of the market if the whole industry’s labour prices are raised. They also get to keep better employees once they can pay people more lucrative wages. The industry has higher respect when it becomes a career choice with decent returns, and not just something you do for ‘passion’.
3. If theres no government social security for its citizens, then imitate what it would be like through employment practices. Ethics mofos, practice them. Plenty of warning before job terminations, equal opportunity hiring, parental leave provisions, proper healthcare provisions. Just ‘cos you can, doesn’t mean you should treat people like a machine that can be switched on and off, with no food, shelter or love in between usage.
4. Ditch the family crap. Workplaces are Not a family(!!!!), that’s our home life. And seriously, think about the cultural ramifications of what’s being said when we declare “we’re one big family”. Do you know how shitty family structures are in some cultures? The dysfunctional, seriously fucked up shit that comprises of ‘family’ that people are going to be carrying in their heads and then apparently rejoicing in being a part of at work? Shut it down. Respect the professionalism of employees and their expertise by being a staff team. Call them a professional, treat them professionally and expect professionalism in return. Being professional doesn’t mean being inflexible. But it does mean expectations are met, i.e. colleagues talking to each other, as opposed to most families where someone isn’t speaking to someone else.
5. Get rostering & hours in lock down. Get it sorted once and for all. No sneaky expectations that a normal work day is until the boss leaves. The boss is never leaving, he has the comfiest chair in the office and an assistant to fetch him coffee. Exceptions are exceptions, not norms labelled exceptions. Never exploit the care of those who could “care too much to leave”, so they will work until their family life falls apart while they work frantically to do a 2 person job. Whatever the hours are, have it upfront, under agreement, and of course, acknowledged.  
6. Job sharing, part-time work, yada, yada, yada. This isn’t a women’s solution, it’s a workforce solution.
7. Computer literacy – really, really your staff are all computer literate?! I’ve seen Jane try to print a document by hitting the ‘print screen’ key. I’ve seen Larry open Excel to open a Word document, without just clicking on the file in explorer. I can hear Mandy’s MSN Messeger beep-beeps because she’s too dumb to turn off the volume and probably thinks no-one knows what that sound is – but bitch I did my best flirting on that program as a teenager. You wanna chat for free, get an iPhone and enable iMessenger! Then set the phone to silent. Staff suck at computers, we all know it’s true for about 70% of our workforce. Heads out the sand now guys, people are really, really crap with computers! How much time is being lost in the day when people are using the freaking Caps lock key to make capital letters instead of shift key?!  Everyone’s life, job and future career prospects improves exponentially when they know how to navigate a file directory.
None of this is sexy, fun, or the case study for the latest coolest employer profile. But it would be so damn nice to have it in place, so just in case we found ourselves working in a little part time job to tide ourselves over during retirement after we’ve had a hip replacement and the pension isn’t covering our living costs, our workplaces look a bit like this: same pay as the young bloke doing the same job, in a recognised industry, for an ethical employer, that treats us as a professional, is clear about our working hours, allows us to work part time and ensures we have the skill to operate the most basic machinery required of all 21st century employees (a computer) which means we are also employable elsewhere.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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  • 27 February 2013