CategoryLabor Relations

From PIC — I Don’t Talk About Race at Work

Although my lack of melanin often confuses people, I am Black. I was born and raised by lighter-hued parents in a predominantly Black neighborhood, surrounded by my family and friends who were a wide array of brown and I was/am influenced heavily by Black culture and history.

Being in Human Resources as a Black Woman has always felt like a privilege to me. I have the ability to make sure there is job opportunity and pay equity and fair treatment for people who look like me. When someone is mistreated because of their race or their gender or some other external thing that has nothing to do with their work, I have the ability to make it right. And I take that responsibility very very seriously.

However, I don’t talk about race issues at work …

       Read the rest of  “I Don’t Talk About Race Issues at Work” on Performance I Create

Who is the Real Scrooge? The Boss….or The Employee?

We are all familiar with the story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in which Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser of a boss, is visited by his dead partner and then three Christmas ghosts that help him see the error of his ways in order to turn over a new leaf before its too late.

In 1988, the film “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray took a modern spin on the story with Murray starring as Frank Cross – a cynical television programming executive who found great success and wealth, but only by becoming cold-hearted and cruel.  As his station recreates the story as a live play, Cross finds himself living out the play in his real life – mirroring the storyline.

Whether or not it was the intent of Charles Dickens when he wrote the story (which is actually loosely based on his real life and feelings regarding his father), audiences have always found themselves viewing Scrooge as the villain and his employee as the victim.  Especially in today’s job market where so many are working for low wages along with grueling hours, and thanks in part to the introduction of the Internet and social media/email keeping us connect to work 24/7, many workers find themselves feeling as if they are living the part of Bob Cratchit/Grace Cooley.  Many may even dream, this time of year, that their bosses would be “visited” and suddenly have a change of heart!

So one’s first inclination to discuss how HR plays a role in a situation like this would be to say that HR needs to address the boss and let him know just how unfair and disgruntled his employees are.

  • Is he truly blind to the workplace situation or purposefully ignoring the needs of his employees and focused solely on turning a profit?
  • If he/she knew that a “simple” act of kindness would have an enormous effect on the employees and their morale, would he/she do it?
  • Would he/she part with the money needed to upgrade the work environment, grant pay raises or even add more attractive benefits in order to keep trained and experienced employees? Does he/she really not care about the employees and doing what is needed to retain the talent or are employees viewed as easily replaceable?

 

If, as an HR professional, those are the questions that first come to mind, then you aren’t doing your job right. 

Remember: every situation has two sides to the story and one’s “perception” based on only some of the information can result in the wrong answers.  An HR professional truly is in a position to help garner change at a company so you need to first look at both sides.

Employees only see part of the situation at work and focus on what affects them and their lives.   Managers normally have to deal with much more that is rarely revealed as part of their decision process.

When people are placed into management roles, it is for a variety of reasons: based on skills/experience needed, to fill a need for someone to lead, because they are a family member, because it seems the next logical step in their career, and so many more.  Point is: not all those that go into a management role are ready for it and almost all bring with them some sort of baggage that affects the decisions in their new role.  One of the biggest factors is the manager’s past experience at the employee level – some work to change things for the better in their new position but some will use their position to control what they couldn’t control before…the ones we say are on a “power trip.”

So, when you come across a situation where the employee is complaining about their manager and “unfair treatment,” are you focusing on the solution they want….or do you try to uncover why their manager is acting the way they are or making the decisions they have made?  Employees aren’t going to focus on the manager or their problems…they only care about themselves which is, in a way, the definition of a “scrooge” even though we don’t automatically think that.  They are acting just like the person they are complaining about…do you see?

What both “A Christmas Carol” and “Scrooged” show is that the lead character didn’t start out the way he was…at one time, he was loving and hopeful.  Circumstances in his life caused him to change – and without having anyone to talk to about it, he changed for the worse instead of finding help and healing.  The ghostly visits eventually bring him down that path.

HR needs to remember that their role in the workplace is “human relations” which includes ALL employees of the company: from the owner to the managers to the employees.  All deserve the same consideration and treatment and not be labeled based on assumptions or skewed perceptions.  Remember: your job is to listen to both sides and help them see the others’ point of view so that both sides can work together – regardless of their role – to create a happy and profitable workplace.

You – Mr/Ms HR Professional…are the Ghosts of the Past, Present and Future all rolled into one! Happy Haunting!

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This post was written by Barb Buckner. Barb Buckner is has over 15 years experience as a HR professional across a wide variety of industries including: banking, retail, pharmaceuticals, professional services and real estate. Read more of her writings and connect with her at her blog “Chicago HR Coach”

Living the Fast Food Worker Protests

Five years ago, I separated from my husband and the father of my children after years in a tumultuous relationship. I accepted a promotion which required me to relocate to NC shortly after we split. Although the job paid a good salary, it was difficult for me to make ends meet as a single mom with 2 children under 5 years old. Our split was contentious and it would take months for child support arrangements to be put in place — and even longer for me to receive payments. I made too much money for assistance of any kind. I relied on friends and family to help me. Some, I was able to pay back; others, I never did and I thank God that they still love me anyway. I struggled for over a year, while working to finish my Master’s degree … and for some time after that, “tight” wasn’t a strong enough word to describe my budget.

I never once blamed my employer or demanded a raise. When review time came, I pushed hard for the maximum increase and I had all the documentation to back it up. But I didn’t expect anything from them. And I wasn’t mad at my owners for making a profit while I experienced personal struggle.

So as media coverage and protest participation surrounding the Fast Food Workers gained momentum this summer, I felt … some kind of way about it.

On the one hand, I felt I could relate to their struggle after my own experiences. I couldn’t imagine having to support my family on minimum wage for an extended period. I couldn’t imagine working someplace who never awarded pay increases.

On the other hand, demanding a pay increase just based on personal need isn’t acceptable to me, either personally or professionally. My bills are not my company’s business or concern. If the demands of my life require me to earn more, it is my responsibility to figure out how to make that happen. It will not be easy or fun. I felt all kinds of guilt, embarrassment, shame and depression during my struggle. But I decided I wouldn’t let myself stay in that place and I did what I had to do to make it through and make it better. I believe the same power lies in each of us — especially when we align ourselves with uplifting things and people.

If I had a 3rd hand, I would use it to challenge the assumption that these fast food restaurants are swimming in money. It’s not true. Most of these restaurants are independently owned franchises and they are NOT making record profits, yo! And I know because I’ve spent almost 9 years working for retail franchisees. The money for these franchisees to pay $15/hour as minimum wage just isn’t there — unless we all want to pay $20+ for our “value meals.”

Yet I’m not OK with leaving people to struggle. The disparity of wealth in America and all the problems resulting from it are real. Especially for women and people of color. People I know. People I love. People who look like me.

I’m proud that, while my organization saw a few protests and protestors, none of our employees walked out, called out or joined the fray. I think it speaks to our commitment to providing fair wages, good benefits and a path for promotion to our long-term employees. I think it speaks to good HR philosophy, strategy and execution.

That makes the struggle worth it … even though it’s probably not over. For the workers, the owners, the industry or for me.

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