Sexual Harassment is Front and Center

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I suspect that you have heard about the recent allegations that a Hollywood film producer committed acts of sexual harassment.  Soon, both parties’ political figures, television celebrities, and others were either charged with having committed acts of sexual harassment or came forward to say that they were victims of it.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

There is significant liability at risk with sexual harassment and employers need to take a very proactive and aggressive position. All employers should have a Sexual Harassment Prevention or Anti-Harassment Policy.  It should clearly state that your organization has a ‘zero tolerance’ for any form of harassment (sexual or otherwise), including bullying, and you must mean it.

Sexual harassment can occur at the office as well as away during offsite meetings, receptions, and other social gatherings.  Employees should know who to report their concerns to in their organization, and be informed that all complaints will be quickly and thoroughly investigated and treated in as confidential a manner as possible.

Although civil rights laws protect employees against retaliation, organizations should also have their own No Retaliation Policy, such that anyone who comes forward with a concern or a complaint, will not have to endure either covert or overt retaliation.  Employees should always feel comfortable coming forward with their concerns.

As with any investigation, it’s important that there are eye witnesses to any infractions, as otherwise, it often boils down to a he said, she said.

Two Kinds of Sexual Harassment

There are two kinds of sexual harassment.  The first kind is referred to as Quid Pro Quo,  which is Latin for ‘this for that’ or ‘this in exchange for that’. This is typically seen between employees of unequal rank, e.g., supervisor and employee, where the supervisor either offers a benefit (good assignment, raise or promotion) if the person complies with the request or threatens with adverse job action, (failure to promote,  demotion, poor assignments, or cuts pay) if the person does not comply.  According to SESCO Special Report: Harassment in the Workplace, November 20, 2017, in these instances the employer is automatically liable for harassment and there is no defense regardless of the policies, training, and preventive action that the employer has implemented.

The second kind is referred to as ‘hostile environment’.  This is defined as frequent, severe (note these two key words), unwelcome harassment where a reasonable person would consider it intimidating, hostile, or abusive. It can occur between employees of equal or unequal rank.  It also protects employees from harassment from customers, patients, interns, and vendors.  Examples of hostile environment may include cat calls, whistles, dirty jokes, name calling, epithets, physical assaults or threats, offensive objects or pictures, etc.  Circulation of inappropriate e-mail even to a select group is intolerable and may also be an example of harassing behavior.  Harassers can be either male or female and same sex harassment is also illegal.

One final point to consider is that everyone’s sensibilities are different.  For example, if one hears a dirty joke, he/she may find it offensive and may report it.  Someone else, may not be offended by hearing the same dirty joke.

You’ll want to note that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Public Portal launched November 1.  It provides employees nationwide with resources on discrimination complaints, including frequently asked questions and the option to electronically file and sign charges.  So it’s incumbent upon all employers to take sexual harassment seriously.  Quickly and thoroughly investigate all raised concerns, and, if the allegations are substantiated, take appropriate disciplinary actions, and inform the employee that brought forth the concern that the matter has been properly addressed.  Properly documenting your investigations will help to effectively mitigate risk for your organization.

Educate, Educate, Educate

Not only should every organization have a Sexual Harassment Prevention or Anti-Harassment Policy, it should annually require all employees to re-read it and sign a document which confirms that the employee has read and understands the policy.  Employers need to be able to attest that each employee has received refresher training annually with face-to-face training being the most effective.  Additional training should be offered to your organization’s leadership team.  They are held to a higher standard than rank and file employees, as they are considered ‘agents’ of the organization.

SESCO adds “…that employers will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees and non-employees of whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises) if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.”

Now that sexual harassment is ‘front and center’ take the necessary steps to educate and protect your organization’s most valuable ‘human’ assets.

Good luck.

theHRMeister is now Principled HR Consulting, LLC

Endnotes

Consider Face-to-Face Training as EEOC Makes Filing Harassment Complaints Easier, by Aliah D. Wright, in Society for Human Resources Management article, November 28, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Ready For the “Silver Tsunami”?

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(photo credit: ‘All About Eve’, 1950)

As a card carrying member of the Silver Tsunami, I am quite aware of our aging workforce.  Just looking around my own organization, not only are there a lot of fellow Baby Boomers (born between 1946 – 1964), but we also employ a healthy share of Traditionalists (born between 1922 – 1943).

According to Arlene Hirsch in 4 Ways for HR to Overcome Aging Workforce Issues (SHRM 10.11.17), “Ten thousand Baby Boomers turn 65 every day—a trend that began in 2011 and will continue until 2030.  Despite their reputation for being workaholics, their average retirement age is 61 to 65, which means that the workplace needs to prepare for a veritable tidal wave of turnover (ergo, the Silver Tsunami).”

And as Bette Davis so poignantly once said, we’d better fasten our seat belts, because the bumpy night is now upon us, as millions of jobs will become available due to the Boomers retiring, and millions of new jobs will be created.  According to a Georgetown University report, the number of younger workers with education and skills to replace Boomers isn’t large enough or growing fast enough to make up for these departures.

Strategies to HELP!

One of the strategies we’ve employed is to offer flexible and part-time opportunities to employees who may otherwise have retired.  We continue the transfer of knowledge to other workers, so when someone wishes to totally retire, we’re better positioned to absorb that knowledge and skill impact.  Our organization’s culture is one which truly embraces the two most vulnerable generations, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists; this is due to a savvy and forward thinking top of the house.  Sadly, this thinking is not broadly practiced in most of today’s workplaces.  Unfortunately, just the opposite typically occurs.

Our CEO has a passion for developing emerging leaders in our organization, which also helps fortify us against these inevitable departures of older workers.  He actively reaches out and invites talented employees to meet with him as he helps to begin to hone their leadership skills and emotional intelligence.  He seeks out and provides opportunities both inside and outside the organization for these folks to learn and grow.  Admittedly, this might be a bit easier to accomplish in our small organization and a tad more challenging to pull off in a huge private sector employer.

Another strategy to consider is for a Baby Boomer to reach out and mentor someone (or two) in your organization.  You don’t need to wait for a formal mentoring program to be created.  In fact, research has shown formal mentoring programs to be ineffective; instead, the concept of having or being a mentor or buddy itself, is quite beneficial.  ‘Reverse mentoring’ where, for example, a Millennial mentors a Baby Boomer, instructing on new technology, software, etc. is a ‘two-fer’, i.e., both are learning from each other.

Challenge your Baby Boomers to be pro-active in sharing their knowledge and skills with younger workers.  Consider making it one of their SMART goals for the year.  Look to infuse these ‘exchanges’ in your project teams, research, presentations, reports, etc.  And finally, remember to recognize and reward your mentors, buddies, and coaches for their efforts.

Take Stock of Your Talent Portfolio

Take stock of your Baby Boomer talent.  Some you will want to retain, others, not so much.  For the ones you want to retain a bit longer, make it worth their while.  If their current workload is too great, reduce it or restructure the job so it’s more bearable. Utilize part-time, compressed, and alternative work schedules – pilot and experiment.  Consider hiring these folks seasonally or as on-call floaters – these folks’ pictures are in the dictionary next to the words, “on time”, “never takes a sick day”, “reliable” (you get my drift).  Take a look at how many hours one needs to work to become benefits-eligible.  Now is the time to take stock of your organization’s talent and see if there may be opportunities to re-balance your organization’s talent portfolio.

Good luck.

the HRMeister

There’s Both An “i” and a “u” in Inclusion

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Have you ever relocated to a different part of the country?  If so, you will likely notice what I like to call ‘regional differences’.

I have lived in the Northeast, Midwest, and the South.  And while it’s unfair to generalize and paint everyone with the same broad brush, there are definite differences in how people speak (and I don’t mean accents) and interact and engage with you.  Folks in the Northeast are quick and fast-paced, while the cadence is somewhat slower in the South.  You’ll find people holding doors open for you in the Midwest and South (and expect you to do the same) and not so much in the Northeast.

People in the Midwest may make eye contact and say ‘hi’ to you as they pass by, while those in the South will always make eye contact and say ‘hey’ to you (unless, of course, they’re mad at you).   🙂

The State of the Workplace

Being a student of psychology, I notice these ‘regional differences’ in the workplace.  Beginning with the interviewing process, it’s helpful to try to ‘flex’ and align one’s  approach a bit so the out of area applicant will feel welcome and comfortable.  If the person is hired and relocates here, meet with them and see how they’re faring.  It’s definitely helpful if the transplant has friends or family in the area, and also ‘reaches out’ to others.  By doing so, they can usually find some level and means of connection in their community.  Fellow transplants can be more receptive to meeting new folks as they are (or were) also new themselves.

Recently, while doing some research for a talk I plan to give on employee retention, I learned that HR folks (OK, I’m guilty) and organizations who attempt to screen applicants for cultural fit may be wasting their time.  Mark A. Stein and Lilith Christensen in ‘SuccessfulOnboarding‘ say “…while ‘hiring for fit’ is important, people are actually quite adaptable.  What people share in common far exceeds the differences that divide them.”  Those words got me thinking, as they’re not currently in vogue.

Our goal is to find ways to capitalize on these ‘shared commonalities’ and that’s where opportunities for inclusion comes in.

Today’s workplaces are different from those of the past.  Not only might we employ  people hailing from different parts of our state or country, but we’re starting to see five generations in our workplaces.  And while on the surface these appear to be good things, disagreements and differences of opinion will arise in our mini melting pots – after all, we’re only human.  When both people can candidly talk about any disagreement and  commit to make some changes and ‘meet in the middle’, it usually results in a satisfactory resolution being reached.

Build Social and Emotional Connections

While organizations offer diversity & inclusion training to help raise employees’ awareness of their differences, the real benefits are realized when the many traits we have in common are identified and leveraged.  And how does that happen?  When work teams comprised of folks with different perspectives feel valued, appreciated, and included.  These types of teams respectfully challenge each other and the status quo, are catalysts for change, and are the engines that move their organizations forward.

Remember, there’s both an “i” and a “u” in inclusion.  Each of us should challenge ourselves to reach out and get to know someone who is different than ourselves.  I’m confident that both you and the other person will be glad you did.

Good luck.

the HRMeister

Do You Have a Learning Culture?

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I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but notice how cultivating a ‘culture of learning’ is growing in importance in our organizations.  The formats available cover the gamut from one-on-one coaching and traditional classroom to ‘on demand’ online training, team-based, learning management systems, net forums, and blogs.

What is a Learning Culture?

“A learning culture consists of a community of workers instilled with a “growth mindset.” People not only want to learn and apply what they’ve learned to help their organization, they also feel compelled to share their knowledge with others.” (How To Create a Learning Culture, by Robert Grossman, HR Magazine, May 1, 2015.

The Business Case 

The research linking learning to business success is compelling. “Companies that learn fastest and adapt well to changing environments perform the best over time,” says Edward Hess, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and author of Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2014).

“Some jobs are disappearing due to the increasing use of technology and automation, and the positions that are emerging require quick thinking, creativity, and high social and emotional intelligence, Hess says, making the ability to learn more important than ever. Companies with nimble learners can react quickly to disruptions, adapt to meet the demands of a changing business climate, and harness a wealth of ideas for new products, services and processes.”

Creating the Culture

Hess suggests that we define the behaviors we want and the behaviors we do not want. For example, if you want employees to challenge the status quo and be candid with their colleagues at all levels, we must teach employees how to do that.  We need to incorporate it into our organization’s approach to learning.

In Mark Feller’s 8 Tips for Creating a Learning Culture, he states that in a learning culture, everyone is expected to improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).  It’s more than training; it’s where learning permeates the culture.  Learning needs also differ between individuals, generations, and topics.

Leaders need to model the behavior they want to see.  They need to allow employees to experiment and to fail.  Experts say that failure is integral to learning.

Make It a Core Value

From the time someone is hired and on-boarded into an organization, HR and line managers need to ‘talk up’ the culture of learning, and training and development opportunities.  Frankly, it should become one of your organization’s core values.  

One way to tell if you are making an impact is to survey your employees.  For example, if you conduct engagement surveys, see if there is any improvement in answers about employee development and learning.  If you offer an online library or a learning management system, assess whether employees are taking advantage of this format to learn.

Readiness for a Learning Culture

Many of us will need to begin to infuse the mindset of a learning culture into our organizations.  We can expect to receive resistance from some, and support from others who enjoy the benefits of this approach.  Leverage your early adopters and position them on key projects and other initiatives, so their behavior can ‘rub off’ and begin to permeate throughout your organization.

Reward ‘how’ someone has accomplished something and not just ‘what’ was accomplished.  This will reinforce that we value what we say we value.  

The Bottom Line

Like it or not, we need to hire smart and look for candidates who have a penchant for learning and are comfortable sharing their knowledge and learning from one another. Using behavioral interviewing and assessments, find out if applicants are inclined to take calculated risks and whether they like demanding tasks.

Risk taking or “failing forward” needs to be supported by your organization.  And yes, we need to encourage mistakes as long as they support learning and growth.  If there are repercussions for making mistakes, employees will become ‘risk-averse’. 

Give teams stretch assignments requiring them to innovate and master new skills. Recognize teams rather than individual performance.  Reward what we say we value.  

Finally, model the behavior you’re seeking to achieve by becoming a lifelong learner yourself and continuously monitor outcomes of learning programs to ensure everyone is engaged and challenged. “You can’t take your learning culture for granted,” Hess says. “Maintaining it requires rigor and daily vigilance.”

I think Kim Ruyle, president of Inventive Talent Consulting, LLC in Coral Gables, Fla., sums it up best, “In a learning culture, you’ll find people learning because they want to.”

the HRmeister

Endnotes

How To Create a Learning Culture, by Robert Grossman, HR Magazine, May 1, 2015.

8 Tips for Creating a Learning Culture’ by Mark Feller for SHRM, July 20, 2017

 

 

 

 

A Reference Check Double Standard

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Recently, I was asked how I felt about requiring applicants, whom an organization wishes to hire, to provide three individual references.  These three would be asked to vouch for the applicant’s work-related performance.  This was asked in light of the fact that this hiring organization itself has a reference neutral policy, i.e., they only provide dates of employment, position title, and, if the former employee authorizes it, his/her salary.

Isn’t this a double standard?

Reasons to Conduct

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM’s) “Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks”, October 4, 2016, “There are many reasons employers conduct appropriate levels of screening for prospective employees through a background investigation, a reference check or both.

Avoiding injury

A major reason to conduct background and reference checks is to avoid harm or legal liability of various types to the employer or to others—for example, harm to:

  • The employer’s business through financial loss or image and reputational issues.
  • Other employees by sexual harassment or workplace violence.
  • The organization’s customers by, for example, sexual assault on business premises.
  • The public by negligent driving.

Litigation defense

Defense of legal claims—negligent hiring and retention, as examples—is a compelling reason to conduct in-depth criminal records searches of job applicants. A multilevel jurisdictional criminal records search can be strong evidence that the employer exercised due care in hiring.

Maximize productivity

Hire the best and reject the rest, the saying goes. Typically, past performance is a strong indicator of future performance and can reveal an individual’s professionalism, productivity, job skills and interpersonal communication abilities. A reference check helps distinguish between a true high flier and a mere poser.

In addition to verifying past employment (dates of employment, job titles, duties performed, circumstances of separation, and compensation), you want to determine qualifications, and verify authenticity of any reference letters received.

Trends

A variety of developments and trends in society at large are reflected in trends associated with background screening and reference checks.

Frequency of use

Surveys conducted by SHRM and other organizations reveal a trend toward greater use of background investigations and reference checks in employment. This trend is driven by several factors, including:

  • Security issues in a post-Sept. 11 world.
  • New legislation, particularly in the area of immigration law enforcement.
  • Technological advances that make background investigations faster and more economical.
  • Increased awareness of the various risks of failure to conduct adequate background checks.
  • A rise in the willingness of applicants to misrepresent their credentials.
  • Increasing competition among applicants due to the dearth of new jobs in a post-recession environment.

Types of findings

According to a 2014 CareerBuilder.com survey,1 industries that appear to encounter fraudulent resumes most often are:

  • Financial services (73%).
  • Leisure & Hospitality (71%).
  • Health Care (63%).
  • Information technology (63%).
  • Retail (59%).

In a 2015 SterlingBackcheck report,2 the manufacturing industry lead with the highest criminal record hit ratios.”

So, what should an organization do?

Employment attorneys will advise that a reference neutral policy is the safest way for an organization to go in terms of risk mitigation.

Whether or not you are part of an organization which requires employment-related references as part of your hiring process, we recommend that you begin or continue this practice as part of your due diligence.  You may be questioned as to why you should expect other organizations to do what you, yourself, are unwilling to do.  The short answer is that while this is a double standard, other organizations can always decline to provide performance-related references to your organization too.

Thoughts?

the HRmeister

 

Endnotes

1CareerBuilder.com. (2014, Aug. 7). Fifty-eight Percent of Employers Have Caught a Lie on a Resume, According to a New CareerBuilder Survey [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=8%2F7%2F2014&id=pr837&ed=12%2F31%2F2014

2SterlingBackcheck. (2015). Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2015-2016. Retrieved from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:54Nb19JJ4GMJ:www.sterlingtalentsolutions.com/~/media/Sterling%2520Backcheck/PDFs/reports/SterlingBackcheck_Benchmarking_Report_2015.ashx+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

When HR Gets It Wrong

original_117633847Beginning July 17, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) published the first in a four-part series of articles—“When HR Gets It Wrong”— by Dana Wilkie, that explores the challenges HR faces when confronted with allegations of misconduct, inequity and other problems at an organization.

I’m writing this post for my HR colleagues, who, like me, need to recognize and understand the implications of the situations spelled out in these four articles.

Let’s explore one aspect of the first article: “When HR Gets It Wrong: At Fox, Uber, and Mizzou, Where Was Human Resources?”  It focuses on sexual harassment at the first two organizations and racial discrimination at the third, and how it affects HR.  I’m simply going to zero-in on this latter piece in my post.

Walking the Tightrope

The article cites the tightrope all HR folks walk with their senior leadership.  Here are some of their thoughts and advice:

“I have always said that … to be an ethical HR leader, you need to always be prepared to lose your job,” said Fran Sepler, who is president of Minneapolis-based Sepler & Associates.”  Now she tells me!

“While it’s best for HR professionals to keep executives at arm’s length in case they ever have to investigate them, cronyism nonetheless happens”, said Karen Kruse, an employment law attorney in Seattle.

“In addition, HR leaders may find it hard to remain objective about executives while trying to prove their worth to these same people, said Patty Wise, a partner with Toledo, Ohio-based Niehaus Wise & Kalas Ltd. and co-chair of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel.”

HR business partners try to learn as much as they can about the ‘business’ from their line and executive partners. Working closely together on projects usually builds trust and collegiality between HR and their business partner.

“HR professionals are often seeking approval and even membership among the senior management group. The goal may be a ‘seat at the table,’ and so what might be viewed as cronyism may also demonstrate professional success and achievement.”

See the tightrope?

“Another reason that HR may turn a blind eye toward an employee’s misdeeds is because the person accused of misconduct is a top performer.”  I would add to this that my experience has been that leadership has taken this position and HR has to deal with it.

“HR professionals often encounter another problem when asked to pursue allegations against executives: their fear of retaliation.

But retaliation happens, and HR professionals know it.”

Debra Katz, a partner with Washington, D.C.-based Katz, Marshall & Banks who has litigated employment discrimination, civil rights and whistle-blower protection cases for more than 30 years, says, “That’s very problematic, because HR officials often are at risk if they go to the mat on some of these things,” she said.

So, what should one do?

Hire the Right HR Person

“When considering an HR candidate, interviewers should ask how comfortable the applicant would feel questioning executives and mid-level managers about their behavior and holding them accountable, said Alisa Shorago, an attorney and owner of San Diego-based Shorago Training Services, which provides anti-harassment training.”

Here’s a new and interesting piece of advice.  “It can also be helpful to arrange for a company’s HR department to report to someone other than senior leaders, said Stephen Paskoff, president and CEO of ELI, an Atlanta-based company that helps organizations address bad behavior in the workplace. That could be an ombudsperson, outside counsel or board members.”  While I have never heard of this practice before, I can easily see why it is suggested.

Just looking at the several excerpts contained in this one article, it’s clear to see the potential pitfalls and double-edged sword which HR folks will face and need to be wary of at all times.

I’ve had the good fortune to have been in the HR field for a long time.  I’ve worked with a lot of different HR and line business leaders – all different, including their work styles and personalities.  All of these examples cited are real and affect us.  If they haven’t happened yet, they likely will.

In the final analysis, sometimes HR does, in fact, get it wrong.  We’re only human.  When it happens, own up to it, fix it if you can, and you will likely never make that same mistake again.

While I appreciate the excellent advice these four articles have afforded me, at the end of the day, HR should always try to: do the right thing – and it’s certainly not always going to be easy to do.  I hope you will agree.

Good luck.

the HRmeister