Archive for February 13, 2012

Sometimes it Hurts to Say Goodbye

Quite often the hardest part of any relationship can be the goodbye.  We certainly experience this with our friends and loved ones; sending a child off to school, mourning the passing of someone near and dear to us or even watching a spouse or partner pack for an extended business trip.  When a friend accepts a job and moves cross-country we realize that although we can stay in touch, we are still bidding adieu to some elements of the friendship.

We say farewell in the workplace too; colleagues retire, change jobs, or move on for other reasons.

And sometimes those other reasons are involuntary  – reductions-in-force/layoffs or terminations for behavior or job performance.  Not necessarilly the scenarios which lend themselves to balloons, greeting cards and department cakes from the bakery down the street.

Those involuntary goodbyes are tough on everyone.  And often toughest on the managers who are making the decision to move someone out of the organization.


Many years ago I interviewed Vanessa for an administrative assistant position that was open in my department.  Although her personal story was not something that was a necessary part of the interview process, based on circumstances surrounding her referral for the position I was aware of what she had gone through in her life; she had become a mother at a very young age (15) and lived in a tenuous family situation.  She persevered through some rough circumstances and finished high school, continued on with post HS education and built up a few solid years of work experience.  Not only did she have some great skills but she had a winning personality,  an indomitable spirit and a deep desire to be a strong role model for her young daughter.  I extended the job offer and Vanessa joined our team.

And she was a success.  For about 6 months.  Then, bit by bit, the challenges she faced at home began to follow her into the office.  A sibling landed in prison – again.  Her new boyfriend, himself a regular habitue of the local jail, moved in with Vanessa, her daughter and her mother and domestic violence came back into her life.  Her own absent father resurfaced.  She began to miss work.  A lot.

For months I counseled her and coached her.  I referred her to community resources and wrote letters of support so she could receive some services.  I cried with her when she came to work with bruises.  And my heart broke when she came to me in tears and informed me she was pregnant, telling me that being the 23 year old mother of an 8 year old was tough enough – she didn’t know how she could manage with another child.   But after several solid weeks of every-other-day absences I felt like a scolding parent when I told her “one more unscheduled absence and you’ll be gone.”

A few days later she didn’t show up to work, however she left me a message in the afternoon saying she would be in the next day.   I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next morning when Vanessa arrived at work I called her into my office and terminated her employment.  She didn’t weep, she didn’t scream.  She thanked me and gathered her personal things from her desk.  She hugged her co-workers goodbye, wished me the best, and walked out the door.   I didn’t sleep much that night either.


About a year later I was attending a giant Career Fair and manning my booth.  Hundreds and hundreds of employers with THOUSANDS of candidates strolling up and down the aisles.   Around mid-afternoon a lull hit; weary recruiters were restocking their candy jars or milling about and comparing notes with their counterparts from other companies.  I glanced down the walkway and saw a familiar face in the uniform of a well-respected iconic-brand; a giant employer in town whose team I had always wanted to join.

It was Vanessa.  At about the same time she saw me – and a huge smile broke across her face.  She practically ran to me and grabbed me in a big hug.  She was shaking and laughing and talking so fast I had to ask her to slow down.  She pulled out her wallet and showed me the picture of her twins who had just celebrated their 6 month birthday.  She proudly twirled around in her uniform and told me she had been working there just a few months and she was so happy.  She had left the abusive boyfriend, moved away from her old neighborhood and finally felt that her life was on track.

“And I have to thank you most of all,” she said.  “I always meant to call you but I was afraid to start the conversation. Your letting me go was the best thing you could have ever done.  I appreciated all you did and how you helped me with my family and my life.  And I know it was hard on you to fire me but I thank you for it.”

And then we said goodbye.  But that goodbye didn’t hurt.

Keeping Everyone Safe in the Workplace

Last week I was on deck at SHRM’s We Know Next Blog where this post ran.  Enjoy.  And keep it safe people.  And while you’re at it, subscribe to the blog – there’s a great bunch of people writing on a variety of topics.
“If you come to work with ten fingers and ten toes, then that’s how we intend to send you home each day.”  
That was the oft-uttered phrase of an Operations Manager with whom I worked.  It was the foundation of his message to new hires during New Employee Orientation and he repeated it at all staff meetings. Safety mattered.
Most employers are subject to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act and therefore have what’s termed a “general duty” to provide a workplace that’s free from recognized and serious hazards.  The Act is administered by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and most private industries are regulated by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state system.  
Large organizations and/or certain industries may have a dedicated Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) department or may assign HSE responsibilities to their Risk Management department.  In smaller organizations the safety function often falls under the HR umbrella.  However, a truly effective safety program must be a collaborative effort across departmental and functional boundaries.  And regardless of where in an organization HSE responsibilities lie, HR Leaders will bring value as active advisors and partners in workplace safety initiatives.  Most HR professionals are skilled at bringing together the key elements of an effective safety program including evaluation of processes and operational activities, adherence to compliance and regulatory requirements and identification of people-driven risks – and the related potential impact in all these areas.  This can be accomplished by focusing on several foundational components:
Regulatory and Compliance Oversight
OSHA is part of the US Department of Labor and HR leaders are, naturally, attuned to the happenings at the DOL.  Knowledge of federal (plus state and local) health, safety, security, and privacy laws/regulations is a key HR competency and HR professionals are able to ensure merging of all these components in order to ensure alignment with other organizational policies and practices when designing or implementing a workplace safety program.
Effective Program Design
An effective and successful safety program will include strong support and leadership from the management team as well as employee involvement and HR professionals can facilitate this collaboration.  HR professionals are also adept at conducting the necessary needs assessment and analysis (i.e. of the worksite and job conditions) and have the foundational understanding of OSHA standards which allows them to assist with the identification of workplace hazards and control systems.   Safety programs are often, appropriately or not, tied to rewards or recognition programs.  A skilled HR professional will bring an understanding of motivation strategies and can identify the pitfalls in designing a potentially ineffective or counterproductive safety reward/recognition program.
Communication Programs
Any workplace safety program must include a corresponding communication plan.  Managers and employees need to understand goals, plans and policies as well as their individual roles and responsibilities.  An HR professional can identify the appropriate methods and platforms for sharing information and can be a valuable resource when developing accompanying training by bringing an understanding of adult learning processes, training transfer and interpersonal and organizational behavior.
While the elimination, management and reduction of risk is the desired outcome of a workplace safety program, the ultimate goal for organizational leaders is to protect their most important asset – people.  A cross-functional, leadership-driven initiative will ultimately lead to greater success in ensuring safe and healthful working conditions. 

Choose your ‘ism

I’m a day late (and more than likely a dollar short) with my Super Bowl related post – primarily because I wanted to get a sense of the greater public reaction to something I noticed happening on the Twitter backchannel during the game.  To be more precise, something I noticed during the commercials.

It appears that a large number of women (and a sizable number of men) took a vehement dislike to the Go Daddy ad featuring Danica Patrick and another women “painting” the body of a seemingly naked woman. And various female talking heads on the newz channels yesterday morning expressed disgust at the Teleflora ad that appeared to ‘guarantee’ that sending a woman flowers for Valentine’s Day would most assuredly mean that some nookie-nookie was forthcoming. 

But just as I saw on Twitter (real time during the game) and in follow up commentary yesterday, reactions varied.  Some viewers were appalled by the Fiat commercial (coffee foam as sexual metaphor anyone?) while other folks were just about overcome with the vapors when they saw a naked M & M. “Appalling!”  “Degrading!” “This objectification of women puts us back 100 years!”

Interestingly enough, however, the same female commentator I saw on Monday’s newscast who took great pains to point out the inherent sexism in the Teleflora ad became positively giddy when she informed the audience how much she enjoyed the visual delights that were on display during the H & M commercial featuring David Beckham.  (as did I my friends, as did I).


It wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without ads that provoke strong feelings in the audience – cute dogs, chimpanzee co-workers or employees writhing on their desks.

So were this year’s collection of commercials indicative of lingering sexism? – “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.”  Or were they perhaps a reflection of feminism? – “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

Certainly the men at the Super Bowl party got a taste of (eye) candy but at the same time, so did the ladies.  Equality… right?

Is the ‘ism in the eye of the beholder?

Job Seeker – Know Thyself

Although this is an HR-focused website, I’ve never really felt the need to veer off into the topics such as tips for job seekers or ideas for recruiting talent from the HR perspective.  There are many more insightful people than I who have great content on these subjects – check out Miriam Salpeter, Rich DeMatteo, Jessica Miller-Merrell, Dawn Bugni and Chris and Teela over at Recruiter Chicks.

I’ve weighed in on the topic “Is the Resume Dead” and I’ve put my support behind the Zero Unemployment movement.  I regularly share links and info with job seekers who I run into, hopefully pointing them in the right direction so they can tidy up their Linked In profile or explore social networking channels as part of their job search.  Yet I’ve never really tackled (on this blog) the foolish things that job seekers do to sabotage their own success.

However, over the last several months I’ve continued to notice a ton of the same stuff happening in 2012 that I thought we outlawed in 1995.  I’ve also had several sad interesting recent interactions with job seekers that just made me shake my head:

  • A previously considered candidate who contacts me once per month with a 1 line email along the line of “any news on a job?”  No salutation, no greeting, nothing.  Rather, he pulls up an old email correspondence and “forwards it” to me with that one line added as the ‘new’ message.
  • A recent college graduate (degree conferred within the last several years) who has neither a resume nor an online profile. Nothing. 
  • Many many MANY candidates who do not include email addresses or phone numbers on resumes. 
  • Job seekers who continue to include personal information such as age, nationality, marital status, ages of spouse and children and weight (!) on their resumes
  • Folks who believe that networking means having multiple people contact me on their behalf to consider Sally Sue for “a job – any job you have open.”  Not that long ago I received a phone call from Sally Sue herself, a phone call from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend (who has never even met  Sally Sue let alone worked with her), received Sally Sue’s resume via email from another person and finally had a 4th person walk into the office with a paper copy of Sally Sue’s resume imploring me to “please give Sally Sue a chance.”  

I feel for job seekers.  I know it’s frustrating and maddening to be on that side  – searching for opportunities, working one’s way through the labryinth of online application portals, and competing with hundreds of others for one opening.  I get it.

But dear job seekers – don’t make it harder on yourself than it should be and meet the recruiters, HR professionals and hiring managers with the basics covered. 

It’s 2012.  And the resume is not dead.