Simple HR Mistakes

How to Avoid the Classic HR Pitfalls

I learned the classic HR pitfalls the hard way. When I began my first position as an HR manager, I walked into a firestorm of new information. I only had my MA in HR and zero actual experience, plus I was the first-ever, full time-HR manager for the company. The situation was daunting.

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An additional challenge was that I’d never dealt with civilian medical or dental insurance (I was an Army brat who went directly into the Army). However, I was fortunate to have a supportive team of co-workers and a very informative boss who guided me through everything I needed to know about HR. Now that I’ve had enough time to be on the other side of the fence, there are some classic pointers that I can give that will help any HR unit avoid typical mistakes in their day-to-day work.

Knock Down Your Ivory Tower

Believe it or not, the majority of people I’ve worked with, both in HR and beyond, often times feel that HR professionals tend to isolate themselves from the general workforce and tend to make policy and support managerial positions without investigating the “trenches” of the labor force first. Even the other day, I was informed to turn in a personnel roster to my organization’s HR manager. The unfortunate fact was I had no idea who that was.

From the HR side of the fence, there were often times I didn’t even know what a routine workday looked like for most employees, and only knew what I had seen on job descriptions. Thusly, I made it a point to meet with department heads and talk about the various job classifications. Not only did this help me in future job postings, but it also helped me when talking to the employees about issues or day-to-day goings-on in their jobs. Get out and get familiar with your co-workers!

Update Often

There have been to many times that I’ve entered a new position at an organization and been provided copies of policies or an employee handbook that are over a decade outdated.

Policies and procedures are something that, at very least, need to be reviewed anytime the signing authority (i.e. President, CEO) changes. Ideally, it would be good for senior leadership to review these documents on an annual basis. Even if there is no change, an updated review date sends a message to employees that the policy is still relevant and isn’t some outdated rule regarding eight tracks and typewriters.

Policies that haven’t been reviewed or revised in many years tend to tell employees that the organization, as a whole, is selective about policy enforcement, and tends to have weak structure when it comes to the working environment. And, as it applies to employee handbooks, this is a document that should be reviewed both for updates as well as potential legal compliance issues. Typically, the first thing requested in any employment law case will be the handbook, so it should be reviewed often.

Don’t Be Eager To Answer

Probably the first and most important lesson I learned from my previous HR director was that anytime you’re asked a question that you’re not sure about, you should never be afraid to say, “I’m not 100 percent sure so let me go check and I’ll get right back to you.” There is little if no reason why a decision can’t wait long enough for proper research to be done. Plus, decisions made in haste, with little to no research, can be heavily damaging in terms of liability to the organization. The employer and the employees alike will appreciate research done on your part.

Know Your Stuff

On the same page of doing research, it is absolutely vital that you are the subject matter expert on all things associated with the policies and procedures of your organization. Now, obviously, no one is going to expect that you memorize a 100-page employee handbook and be able to recite on what page any given policy is but, at the very least, it is expected that you should have a general knowledge of the overall policies as they apply to the workplace. Additionally, it’s always a plus when you know where to look externally for answers.

While in my previous position, our organization was a member of the Washington Employers Association. This organization was a collection of HR and legal experts that would provide support to us in the form of answering the really hard to answer questions. Beyond that, even the US Department of Labor has a “contact us” link which I’ve used to get the answers to questions that were too gray for me to commit to.

Actively Support Your Organization

Many times it can be easy for an HR unit to fall into the “work when activated” mode. This is the pattern where HR spins up when employees or supervisors need assistance. It never hurts to get out of your seat and go check on department leads, and even employees, to see if they have anything that you can help with.

HR is usually the go-to people for benefits, and a common saying is, “If you mess with my benefits, you mess with my livelihood.” One of the biggest morale drainers in a workplace environment is issues with benefits and payroll. This is why it’s not only important to get out and meet with staff, but it’s also good to audit your employee files often. At the very least, this will ensure that any issues with benefits and pay will be addressed before extensive, historical damage is done.

Although human resources isn’t directly involved in the daily functioning of the overall organization’s mission per se, they can provide some seriously invaluable support to both the employees and the organization alike. From building morale to protecting the company from liability, HR should be consistently involved in the overall workings of the employment workspace.

Regards,

Donald Nickels

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