February 11. 2018
MY FIRST HR SUPERVISORY JOB
I often tell the story of one of my first HR Supervisory jobs, where I came in with the mentality that it was my way, or the highway. Be rough and tough and show no weakness or vulnerability. Vulnerability was after all a curse word in 1994! This mentality was how I was taught by the person who supervised me at my last job, and the job prior to that, and the job prior to that. The 80’s and 90’s certainly did not believe in gold stars for achievement in the workplace and leaned much more toward – Do as I say, not as I do. I love telling this story because it hits home with people who are new in management, or perhaps can relate to this story regarding someone who managed them. I recall how my Manager at the time mentored and coached me to treat others as I would like to be treated. What a crazy concept! I tried it, I even listened, I even gave advice…it worked! How simple and miraculous. She (Leslie was her name, I have never forgotten her) met with me weekly and talked about work, my team and career path development. She took the time to work with me, rather than to take the easy road and throw me out and chalking me up to a “bad hiring decision”. She was honest and told me my employees came to her secretly and told her I was terrible to work with. I responded at the time hurt, and therefore lashing out with comments like, “well, we can certainly replace them!” She took the time necessary to move me to the next level of proper, professional and appropriate management. A kinder Brent Houchin. A better Brent Houchin. Her 1:1 meetings with me brought about change in my area of responsibility in HR from high turnover to none at all. I went from the idea of “ruling by fear” to a more simple concept of being there to help and support those reporting to me and also mentoring them to the next level, if they desired to do so, even if it meant that they may leave me and go to another company. Who knows, maybe they would come back someday? Many did, and some even took over my job after I left. Talk about a proud moment!
I recently had someone who worked with me probably 10 years ago tell me that they still refer to me as their mentor in how to treat people. I was thrilled and astonished all at once. Although I am quite the confident individual, I also question decisions and ideas from the past like anyone else. I am just as human as anyone else. I bleed just like anyone else. But to have your past come back to thank you and tell you that you did a good job, that in itself is the best story you can tell!
Be vulnerable. Make mistakes and learn from them. Be a mentor. Continue to learn. Continue to grow.
Tell your stories.
February 16, 2018
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS
Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of those you are speaking with. Be mindful of the information you are receiving and ask lots of clarifying questions.
I worked for a Drug Rehab company, they primarily worked with teens who were placed with this company through the “system”. This was a second (or in some cases, third, fourth or fifth) chance to rehabilitate and prove that they could be returned to their homes or guardians. It was a sad situation many had no drug issues to speak of other than selling at their schools because a family member made them do it, or threatened to hurt someone they knew if they did not do it. Some of the kids there were true addicts. I came in one day to find a kid bashing his head on a wall trying to “get the bugs out!” This sort of place is managed by counselors, psychologists, prior addicts and administration. I was in HR in one of their main buildings.
One day, 3 students came running in to my office. Keep in mind, Administration is not a place that the kids were allowed to roam, mostly for legal reasons in that none of us had true or appropriate experience to work with and deal with these kids in the manner they should be. The kids ran into my office and slammed the door closed. I was obviously alarmed by this and stood up and asked what they were doing? One started to tear up and told me that they had been raped on the roof by a counselor. Another of the teens started to do the same. I immediately called security and for the House Manager to come to my office. They arrived quickly and pulled them out. I followed as they made a very serious allegation against one of our counselors. We sat in a sterile room and asked to hear their stories. The stories were slightly off from one another, but their emotions were quite compelling. The teens left the room and the House Manager demanded that we meet with the counselor immediately. We did so, the counselor was visibly shaken and horrified and denied the situation whole heartedly.
The teens were pulled back in one at a time, their story was still closely the same. We had an obligation to report the teens to the police. We did so, the police interrogated everyone and arrested the counselor. The teens were shaken as was the administration staff. This was a very serious matter, one that we all agreed needed additional attention and additional discussion.
As we started to work toward fixing the situation with more training, I kept reviewing our notes and feeling as though something was missing. There were holes in the teens information, and their stories were not 100% comparable. The Administration felt that we made the right choice as this was now in the hands of the police as it should be. I felt uneasy.
After two days, the teens came to my office again. I once again was alarmed and asked what they needed? One became emotional and stated, “it went too far! We just did not like him, he did not do what we said he did.” Another stated, “he is so rough and unfair with us, he expects too much from our studies and doesn’t give us a break when we just want to play video games or hang out.” Having a poker face in HR is very important, but I felt mine that day was less than what it should be. I quietly and calmly called Security and the House Manager, when they arrived, I asked the teens to repeat what they told me. They did. The House Manager was horrified and had to leave the room, the Security staff member was quite but turned red. We had a psychologist meet with the teens and a social worker to better assess to ensure that this was a true and accurate account and that they were not somehow coerced to contact me. It seemed they were not. I took it upon myself to call the Police and give a statement as well as have them come and meet with the teens. They felt their account was truthful, and the counselor was freed.
Doing the right thing…I offered him his job back. I was sure he would not take it, being he had been humiliated and treated unfairly. He was gracious and kind and told me, (I will never forget this), “This is not your fault, and I took this job to help kids, I want to continue to do that. Justice has run its due course and the kids did the right thing.” He was welcomed back with open arms by the staff and by the teens. The teens who lied and wrongfully accused an innocent person were put back into the system, which in this case meant Juvenile Hall. I heard that he even visited them and forgave them.
What is the moral of this story? Ask more questions, even if you think you have asked enough, ask more, especially if you can find relevance. Sometimes, you have to trust your gut instinct and dive in even more. Although I do not think we would have come to a different conclusion with more questions in this case, being we involved all the right people, perhaps we could have found out more and saved the humiliation, embarrassment and even the situation with the teens.
Treat every situation as an individual situation that needs its own special attention, special questions and details.
February 23, 2018
He harassed me! She harassed me! They harassed me! The email harassed me! The text harassed me! The Instagram post harassed me! I AM HARASSED!
The laws surrounding harassment are a good thing. How we investigate such claims and how we respond to such claims is extremely important. As well, equally so, how we educate on this subject is extremely important.
Two employees (male and female) worked in a very small space together. One came to work an hour earlier than the other each day. They had a good working relationship and respected one another’s need for a quiet space.
The male employee would ride his bike to work each day, come in, change his clothes in the office and get to work. The female employee, who came in an hour later drove to work and had no reason to change her clothes. This understanding went on for about 3 years. One day, while the male employee was changing, the female employee came into the office, about 45 minutes early. The door had been locked, but he was standing there naked, with nowhere to hide or duck. The female employee screamed and he apologized profusely. She ran out of the office to the restroom. The male employee continued to get dressed and was extremely embarrassed. The female employee came back some time later and got to work, they both ignored one another and made no mention of it further.
The female employee showed up at my door. Very distraught and sobbing. She explained the situation and told me that she could not sleep and that she was having nightmares and she now felt uncomfortable working with him now that she had seen him naked. I handed her a tissue, gave her some water and empathized. I acknowledged what she told me, that it must have been difficult for her and that it was apparent that this situation was very difficult. She sobbed and nodded in agreement. I asked what she wanted to be done in this situation, she told me that he should be fired for indecent exposure. I inquired as to why she felt we should go in this direction being it was an isolated incident, he apologized and (I asked her to correct me if I was wrong) she arrived to work early and that he did not appear to be doing this on purpose as it was part of his normal routine? She continued to repeatedly say, “I will never unsee that!!” I also asked her if he knew she was coming in early, she said that she decided to do that last minute. She reiterated that it was Monday that this occurred and she could not deal with it anymore. I questioned which Monday, she stated the last Monday. She continued to get more upset and sobbing, I asked if she needed to go home for the day, she stated that she would like to do that. I went ahead and made those arrangements with her Manager.
I then pulled in the co-worker, the male employee. I explained the situation to him and explained that this was very upsetting for his female co-worker. He was growing increasingly upset as I walked him through the concern. He respectfully let me finish and stared at the floor and said loudly, almost shouting, “This is UNREAL!!! This happened 8 years ago! 8 YEARS AGO!!!” I, putting on my best poker face asked, “8 years ago?” He was very angry at this point and told me that he apologized 8 years ago for the one time that this happened and that he had no idea she was going to be early, if he knew, he would have arrived to work even earlier. I asked if there was a more recent situation of this happening? He stated, “No, this was 8 years ago.”
I sent him back to work and called the female employee immediately. I reintroduced myself on the phone and she asked, “Is he fired?” I explained that we were in the middle of investigating this. I asked her when this occurred? She said, “It was a Monday”. I asked if she was referring to this past Monday? She paused for what seemed like a long time, then she replied, “maybe a year ago.” I asked, could it have been 8 years ago? She paused, and silently replied, “Yes.” I asked why she was just now bringing this to my attention? She started to rehash the situation all over again, I stopped her and asked again why she was just now bringing this to my attention? She stated loudly, “I cannot get it out of my head! I have gone to therapy and been a mess for 8 years! YOU have to do something about it!!!” I explained to her that I was sorry and that I could tell that she was struggling, but that the situation appears to have been a complete accident and that he was sorry. I told her that he was surprised to have this brought up when it was, and that he was again sorry. She yelled, “IS HE BEING FIRED OR NOT?!” I explained that he was not being terminated and that I would not be acting on this complaint due to the timing and the fact that this appeared to truly be an accident. She asked if he would be written up? I reiterated that he would not be written up based on the information I had and the timing of the situation. I further offered the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which would be free of charge to her to receive further counseling. She became enraged, hung up, and she never showed for work again.
After further investigation, the male employee had just been promoted days before the complaint was filed. The female employee had gone to the Manager stating that she felt it was unfair and that he was not the right fit. The Manager took the time to explain why they chose him and even further explained that she never even applied. The female employee felt that she should have received the job without applying. She left the Managers office stating, “I will get him fired and I will get the job!!!”
This is why investigations can be so important. Whether it be for Harassment, Discrimination, Fraud or Theft (to name a few), look into each and every situation to ensure proper handling. The situation above, if not asking the right questions, could have turned into a much uglier situation and could have resulted in more upset than was necessary.
March 10, 2018
The LGBTQI community has always had a fond place in my heart. When managing a good sized HR Department in California, I had an amazing New Hire Orientation employee who came to me one day and told me she had to quit. She was in tears and very upset. We closed the door and I inquired as to what was happening and why she was so upset? She continued to look off and tell me that she just had to and that this place would not accept her. I was confused and continued to offer my support in any way that I possibly could. She was silent for some time, then she looked up and told me, “I am going to go through a change, I am going to become a man. I know that people here will not accept me and so I have to leave. I have to leave a job I love.” I was shocked, not because she was going to go through an extremely difficult procedure, or that she wanted to go through such a procedure at all, more that she thought she had to leave. I was very firm in stating that there was absolutely no reason to leave. I reminded her that I believed in equality and support for all employees, this would obviously include her. I further congratulated her for making such a tough decision and that I commended her for doing what she truly felt she needed to do. Her courage was breath taking and so inspirational. After her tears subsided, I explained that I needed to look into what we needed to do for her and that I wanted to ensure she was treated fairly and equitably. We discussed timelines as to when we should make announcements (as appropriate and necessary) and when her uniform would change to a male uniform, or when she would start to use the men’s restrooms (there were no all-inclusive restrooms at the time), we discussed things that to so many people may have seemed trivial, but were necessary…she left my office appearing to feel much better and thanked me for treating her as a person and not someone who was weird or strange. I treated her as I would anyone, as a human being who deserved respect.
Over time, we moved forward with departmental training, ensuring we used the proper requested pronouns such as HE, HIM or better yet, using his name. In our training sessions for the department, we reminded people that they would forget and improperly say SHE or HER, but that we ask he remind us when we forget. Sticking with the theme, we are all human was important in all aspects of this. He was training us for the future, being patient with us would be key.
Sure, we had a few bumps in the road, but nothing we could not all work out together as a department and a team.
Later, I conducted training with the management of the other departments. Being that he handled all New Hire Orientation and interacted directly with all levels of management, it was important for us to train them as well, to ensure that everyone understood. One Manager told me, “I will not change how I speak to HER, I will not refer to IT has HIM.” I calmly took him to the side and had a private discussion letting the manager know that he was more than entitled to his opinion, but that his opinion was unprofessional in how he states it and that we as an organization support this employee and will be nothing less than respectful. I checked in periodically to ensure that the manager was professional, nothing seemed to be inappropriate other than that he regularly let me know how “wrong” this lifestyle was. I was thrilled one day when the manager called me telling me that he had a huge amount of employees call in sick and that he was freaking out due to having to close areas of his department. My employee happened to be at his office when this occurred and offered to help and even stay over if the manager needed him to. The manager realized, this is a person, this is a human being and I have been wrong. He reached out to thank me and to tell me what a great job my employee did for him and that he will be forever thankful. The manager also pointed out what great work my employee did for him, which I always knew was the case. We mended a few fences that day simply by being good people, nothing more. The manager never completely came around, but he certainly stopped his inappropriate comments and even smiled and greeted my employee periodically when my employee would pass him on the walkways.
Transitioning for any transgender employee can be extremely difficult. Taking the time to learn and grow with your employee is important. Ensuring that you hold appropriate discussions and by all means, follow-up whenever you can to show care, compassion and the want for a learning opportunity for yourself as well is vital.
I have since heard from the above mentioned employee, he is doing amazingly well! He is married and has a family and is a major advocate in the community. I couldn’t be more proud!
Treat everyone with respect, empathy, compassions and care…it will be recognized. Treat others as you would like to be treated. It goes a long way.
March 28, 2018
HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT
“Hostile Work Environment” is used quite often and for the wrong reasons. Hostile has a specific meaning, generally where screaming in someone’s face is involved, or actually physically assaulting someone, or threatening bodily harm or injury, these are among the many that could be considered “hostile”.
Your boss, who may be somewhat of a, well, a jerk…being a jerk isn’t hostile. If they have high demands, or if they micro manage to the point of making you want to vomit, or they speak loudly/rudely…being a jerk isn’t hostile.
Co-workers whom you do not like, or do not like you, or refusing to work with specific co-workers…generally, this is not hostile.
Gossip in the workplace, usually is not hostile.
Labeling as “uncomfortable working environment”, this is generally more appropriate.
I had an employee stop me in the hall, very visibly upset and wanted to speak with me immediately. The employee followed me into the elevator and started to tell me how they want their Manager fired! I asked the employee why, he simply said…”because she is creating a hostile working environment!” I asked how this manager was doing this? She responded, “She will not let me go on vacation when I already paid for it and planned for it! She is so mean and so out of line and she needs to be stopped!” I got to my office and asked her to come in and close the door. She was very shaken by this point. I asked her to tell me about the request for vacation, when it took place in advance of the vacation and why her manager denied the request. She replied, “this was today! I told her I need a week off next week because my girlfriend got a week off and I wanted to go away somewhere fun!” I asked her what the policy is for time off in her department? She replied, “I dunno, it’s stupid whatever it is.” She then looked up and said, “like 4 weeks notice or something. It’s dumb.” I asked her why she could not give 4 weeks? She said, “because my girlfriend is off next week! I just told you that!” I asked her why her manager denied the time? At first, she stated, “to be mean! I hate her! She is always like this!” I asked the questions again. She replied with, “she said we were short staffed next week and that I could not be off.” I asked if that was unreasonable? She would not answer. I told her that there are rules in place to ensure that the business continues to run and that we need all employees working within those rules and planning ahead and accordingly. She screamed, “YOU are now creating a hostile environment!!!” I calmly told her that she should not be screaming and that she needed to compose herself before going back to work. She replied, “FUCK YOU!” She stood abruptly and stormed out while pushing books off of my credenza on the way.
I contacted the manager, who calmly explained the situation with the staffing and that she offered the time off in the current week or the week after the low staffed week and that the employee yelled at her and told her she was creating a hostile work environment.
The employee was contacted by the manager the next day. She explained that her actions in my office as well as at work were completely unacceptable. Before she could finish her conversation, the employee quit on the phone, although, she was to be terminated.
Out of the description of the issues above, truly, what situation was the hostile work environment? I explain this scenario often when trying to explain appropriateness in the workplace and the difference in the terms hostile and just being a jerk. Don’t be either.
April 30, 2018
A true passion of mine is to train, to educate, to help others see something from a different perspective and by all means, to learn something myself in the sessions I conduct/facilitate. I facilitate a huge variety of programs that generally are custom built for my clients and for my previous employers. Subjects range from Harassment Avoidance, to Career Pathing, to Management 101 to Customer Service best practices.
While working for one of my prior employers, I was conducting a Diversity course. This was more of a base level beginners course which lasted about 3 hours and was intended for Management. The course was going well, the engagement level amongst the attendee’s was great and we even had some goods laughs (which always makes for a great class). Toward the end of the course we discuss the LGBTQI community and how to support everyone who identifies (or may be struggling within the identity of LGBTQI). A very nice new manager raised her hand and asked if she could ask a “dumb question”? I told her that she could ask any questions in this course, especially if it is helping her to learn and grow. She proceeded with, “I am from a very small town, we did not have any of those people. I am worried I will not recognize them or know what to say? I am worried I will screw up and make them feel badly and that I will be so embarrassed after? What do I do? I want to do this right and want so badly to make a great difference”. I smiled while other participants looked around smiling and I walked up to her. I put out my hand to shake hers. She looked extremely puzzled. I said, “Hi! It’s a pleasure to meet you”. She was still puzzled and then her eyes got huge and she became red and said, “Oh my gosh! I am so embarrassed!” I told her, “treat everyone well, treat everyone with respect and if someone identifies themselves to you as LGBTQI, do the above. And if they need help, get them help by calling me in HR, I am always happy to do whatever I am able to do. You are never alone here and will always have help. Again, do your best by being open, kind and helpful”.
This sort of thing can be overthought. It can be quite simple! Sure, there are subjects and situations that will not end this simply, but it’s our job to be open, helpful and professional at work. And even better, if this sort of lesson can be applied to our regular lives as well.
June 22, 2018
BEST REHABILITATION PRACTICES
Whether you use the terminology “discipline” or “corrective action” or “coaching”, in the end we want the employee to rehabilitate and to give them the tools to do so. A good friend of mine uses the term, “Rehabilitate before Terminate”. This is simple and to the point, and makes a lot of sense. Many of us come from the more hard hitting employer who believes termination is always the answer, or at the very least the end result. What can we do to ensure that employees know what is expected of them in order to succeed?
You’re correct! Setting expectations from the beginning (by the way, it is NEVER too late to set expectations) informs, instructs and educates the employee as to the path to success with you and the company. When should they arrive to work? How should they dress? How should they engage with one another or the customer? How many breaks do they get and how long is their lunch? Who do they report to? Where do they go with concerns? Is alcohol allowed at work related functions? Is dating a peer permissible? Answer every question up front through honest communication and documented expectations.
Do employees have to sign the expectations? This would depend on the company culture. However, best practice would be document when the expectations were given, that the employee received them in writing and verbally. Send an email to the employee thanking them for their time and attach the expectations. It is also suggested to submit the expectations to every employee either quarterly or ever 6 months, especially when changes have been made to the expectations.
When or if an employee is not meeting expectations, you meet with them and review the expectations sheet again and remind them of the prior conversation surrounding expectations. Get their buy-in that they will move forward meeting the expectations and then send them an email that reiterates the discussion (let the employee know prior to the end of the discussion that this email will be coming and that it is for both of your files) and re-attach the expectations.
If the employee continues to not meet expectations, at this time you should start with the rehabilitation process which depending on your company culture, may be steps in some sort of a disciplinary process. Within such discipline, you should reiterate the initial expectations meeting, the most recent expectations meeting and that the employee agreed to meet the expectations going forward. Be sure to document your expectations going forward. This would also be a good time to give a new copy of the expectations to the employee and attach the expectations sheet given to the discipline. This sort of meeting should not take longer than 10-15 minutes as it should not be an argument, but rather, a discussion of facts and resetting expectations.
These meetings should always be respectful and appropriate. Reiteration of expectations reminds both parties of what is expected now and moving forward.
Another best practice may be to follow-up within 15, 30 and 60 days regarding progress. Be sure to discuss the areas still needing improvement and areas that the employee has made great strides. This meeting should also be respectful and no more than 10-15 minutes. Asking the employee, “would you like to do a follow-up meeting in ____ days?” If the employee would like to, have the employee create the meeting request. This puts them in charge of their progress.
Should the concerns continue, you would move up within your companies normal process.
Rehabilitate before Terminate – work to try to assist the employee in resetting expectations to succeed.
Try it. Your employees will thank you.
Type your paragraph here.
This blog series will surround stories from my upbringing in Human Resources…as a consultant, I often encourage my clients to tell their story when conducting training or meeting with their staff or even when disciplining or coaching. Story telling makes you real and gives some valuable insight to the mistakes and accomplishments you have made in your career.