The HR Hamster Wheel

human hamster wheelSomeone reminded me yesterday about how important it is that those of us who work in Human Resources or Leadership roles remember that we can also be the voice for those without a voice.  The entry-level employees, the teenagers working in their first jobs…the ‘little guy.”

In our quest to drive business objectives, be “strategic,” and reach for the newest-shiniest-buzzword-worthy HR initiative, it’s something I think many of us forget.

When we dive into conversations about Work/Flex and ROWE and Work from Home programs we need to stop and consider for a moment that these are, let’s face it, programs only applicable to certain group of employees.  I’m not saying we should discard identifying initiatives that attract and retain the critical talent that our organizations need.  I am, however, pointing out that we should not sit high in our HR ivory towers and develop strategies that treat some of our employees as disposable. We need to be mindful that occasionally the unintended consequences of implementing the Latest-Greatest-HR-Program means we may be further alienating a certain subset of staff members.

Does having a workplace program that allows employees in certain positions to work from anywhere and float in and out with laptop in one hand and smart phone in the other serve to further downgrade the (apparent) importance of other employees?  Quite often, those who could most benefit from some flexibility are the ones who are in the most rigorously scheduled, and often most pointedly penalized, positions.  We see this play out when the knowledge workers, independent contributors, or managers in a department or organization are afforded the opportunity to set their own hours (“I’m going to work 9 to 6 because then I need to drop my kids off in the morning.  Oh…and I’ll work from home whenever there is a school holiday.”) while the seemingly easy-to-discard employees are chastised or disciplined for arriving at work at 8:05 because a child became ill and emergency plans had to be implemented.

Quite often, the employees who face the greatest personal challenges or have limited access to resources are the ones who end up running an overwhelmingly frantic race in the Organizational Hamster Wheel that we, with perhaps the best intentions, have built.

We need to stop and think about that.

One comment

  1. Great post Robin (as usual!) I hope that most of us in HR and other leadership roles think hard about this. I don’t deny that there are some amazing concepts and programs out there…one’s that I am very passionate about. But if we hold on too tight to the Utopian ideal, we may lose sight of the possible negative effects on some. What is great for some, may not be for others. I think we need to continue to be creative and innovative in the workplace, but be aware of possible negative impacts. Take the great ideas and concepts, and make them our own.

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