All posts by Michael J. O'Brien

Why We Hate HR: Five Years Later

It’s been almost five years since Bill Taylor and Fast Company published the incisive — yet divisive — essay titled above on the reasons why people tend to dislike the human resources function.

The author suggests here that, five years on, HR executives remain frustrated with their roles in organizations:

So here’s a proposal. As this provocative essay approaches its fifth anniversary, perhaps it’s time to change the debate. The real problem, I’d submit, isn’t that HR executives aren’t financially savvy enough, or too focused on delivering programs rather than enhancing value, or unable to conduct themselves as the equals of the traditional power players in the organization — all points the original essay makes. The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?

Taylor cites Cirque du Soleil, Pixar and DaVita as examples of organizations with positive, forward-thinking HR processes and a real focus on people, and then poses a number of queries to HR executives who are not happy with the role HR plays in their organization:

Why would great people want to be part of your organization in the first place? Do you know a great person when you see one? Are you great at teaching people how your organizations works and wins? Does your organization work as distinctively as it competes?

It’s nice to see that, five years later, Taylor has changed his tune when it comes to HR.

And, with those last questions, it’s even nicer to see him offer some sound advice for HR leaders looking to improve not only their performance, but also the overall perception of the HR function.

Biggest Nursing Strike in U.S. History

There’s never a good time to get sick, but today would be an especially bad day to get sick in the Twin Cities, as more than 12,000 nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association stage a one-day walkout at 14 hospitals throughout the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

The Star Tribune quoted one participating nurse, Laura Schuerman, who spoke on the need to protect the nurses’ retirement prospects:

An issue of primary concern for her, she said, was the hospitals seeking a one-third reduction in their contribution to the nurses’ pension fund.

“I do want to retire someday,” said Schuerman, who is 50 years old. “I work hard. I do a lot of lifting of patients. Can I do that at 65 or 70?”

So far this morning, comments on the Star Tribune‘s story seem to be divided pretty evenly between those voicing support for the unions and those against the walkout. Here’s hoping both sides can come to an agreement soon.

America: Now with More Quitters!

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on positive figures being reported in the employment sector, new government data released today adds some more good news:

The government said Tuesday that the number of people quitting rose in April to nearly 2 million. That was the most in more than a year and an increase of nearly 12% since January. That compares with 1.75 million people who were laid off in April, the fewest since January 2007, before the recession.

During the depths of the recession, workers were hesitant to quit — and not only because jobs were scarce. Even if they found a new job, some feared that accepting it would leave them vulnerable to a layoff. At many companies, layoffs follow a simple formula: last hired, first fired.

Whether those quitters did so because they thought the economy was finally coming back around, or that a better fit could be found elsewhere, is anyone’s guess. But as we all know, when people quit, those positions must be filled, and I can almost hear the recruiters cheering the news now.

The News We’ve Been Waiting For?

In a possible sign that the economy may have turned the corner back onto Prosperity Avenue, the U.S. Labor Department’s figures on job openings are the highest since December 2008. According to the Associated Press:

The biggest increases in available jobs were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services. Government job openings fell by 36,000.

While the possibility of a double-dip recession is still a grim reality, here’s hoping the latest numbers from the government mean that we’ll soon be writing more stories about recruiting and hiring than about layoffs and outplacement.

Banker Alleges Discrimination at Citibank

A steamy Friday morning brings us news of a steamy suit being filed against Citibank, alleging sexual discrimination against one of its ex-employees. The suit is being filed by Debrahlee Lorenzana, who formerly worked for Citibank:

Her bosses told her that “as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear,” she says.

[Her two male] managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts,  and fitted suits. And three-inch heels.

Tanks for the Memories

Fort Knox–long known as the Army’s symbol of strength and impenetrability–has formally changed over from the home of the U.S. Army’s tank warfare division to its new role as headquarters for the Army’s recruiting, training and human resources functions.

From the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal:

Base leaders on Thursday cut the ribbon on the 883,000-square-foot, $210 million Human Resources building, known as the Maude Complex, so large it can accommodate nearly 4,000 workers who will be responsible for soldiers from recruitment to health benefits and retirement.

“Today the torch passes,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, Fort Knox’s new top commander, who argued that the base’s importance wouldn’t diminish under its new motto: “Strong Starts Here.”

On the Clock: Men vs. Women

The New York Times Economix blog has an interesting post and graph this morning that takes a look at the composition of the American workforce by time of day.

In the post, Casey B. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, posits that one of the reasons women are typically paid less than men is because women work more “desirable schedules.”

According to Mulligan:

“The vast majority of workers perceive work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to be more desirable than work during the off-hours, and many of the off-hours workers are compensated with higher pay for the less desirable schedule. A variety of factors — including, some economists and many women’s rights advocates say, gender discrimination — may cause women to be paid less than men, but part of the reason may be the hours they choose to work.”

A Real HR Nightmare

Nine suicides have occurred — so far — this year at a manufacturing plant in China, which provides electronics components for some well-known brands of computers, and the affected company is taking some drastic actions, but not necessarily what you’d expect.

According to the New York Times:

“Company executives say Foxconn is planning to hire psychiatrists, counselors and monks, and intends to bring in 2,000 singers, dancers and gym trainers to improve life on its two sprawling campuses in Shenzhen.

“China’s state-run news media also reported Tuesday that Foxconn was building tall fences at its dormitories to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths.”

So apparently the Chinese attempt at amelioration is to bring in singers and dancers and build tall fences.

One wonders just how different an American company’s response to such a horrific event would be. In fact, has this sort of phenomenon ever happened at an American company before?