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.

Possible Fallout from CVS Caremark-Walgreens Split

If you haven’t heard the news about CVS Caremark and Walgreens yet, you’ve either been asleep or back-packing in some remote forest. Bottom line, the honeymoon between Walgreens and CVS Caremark (post-CVS-Caremark-merger three years ago) — is very much over, if there ever was a honeymoon at all.

For those who have been sleeping or camping, here’s the gist: In a Monday, June 7, letter, Walgreens announces it won’t participate in any new and renewed prescription-drug plans awarded to the CVS Caremark pharmacy-benefit manager because of the way its forces chronic patients to use CVS stores, switches plans to differently priced networks without notification and is unpredictable in how it reimburses Walgreens.

That’s followed by CVS Caremark’s Wednesday, June 9, announcement that the PBM will simply remove Walgreens altogether from its network and start transitioning pharmacy care for all its participants who used Walgreens stores to other participating providers. Youch.

A few other statements follow (you can read the testiness of the whole situation between the lines), such as this statement from Kermit Crawford, executive vice president of pharmacy for Walgreens, assuring the public his company’s move was unavoidable and done in such a way as to hurt the least number of participants possible. (If it’s not still at the top of the news site, scroll down; it’s there.)

And then there’s this comment from the National Community Pharmacists Association, siding with Walgreens and condemning the merger altogether. If you want to check other postings out, just Google the two pharmacy chains. This drama has gone viral.

And it won’t end here, says Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens. In the next 30 days, “millions of Walgreens customers” will be getting letters telling them they have to find other neighborhood pharmacies to get their CVS Caremark PBM drugs. HR and benefits professionals will be impacted when they come running to them for advice, he adds. Polzin hopes they’ll (you’ll) tell them this wasn’t Walgreens’ fault, that it tried to make “a very necessary move as painless as possible by hanging on to all existing PBM customers,” but that CVS has changed the game. In fact, he says, the relationship between Walgreens and the Caremark PBM (pre-merger) was just fine, thank you, but has “become much more competitive with Walgreens in the last three years.”

CVS, on the other hand, says the impact won’t be that significant since only 7,000 of its (now former) Walgreens stores were among its 64,000 participating pharmacies — and that “when Walgreens is included in the CVS Caremark network, 85.9 percent of members have access to a network pharmacy within three miles of their homes” yet that number only changes to 85.7 percent “when Walgreens is excluded.”

A spokesperson from CVS told me late Friday the PBM “did not make this decision lightly, but [has a] responsibility to our clients and their plan members to balance providing consumer access with managing cost and delivering their pharmacy benefit.” Take note of CVS’ earlier announcement above (I call it the Walgreens head-chop), saying Walgreens was simply making a hard-ball move for more money.

I could — very obviously — go on and on. But I won’t. I could also spend some of your valuable time giving you my spin on the words between the lines and the writing on the walls. I’ll let you do that with all of this.

All I can safely say is this fracas is, by no means, over and I can guarantee you a whole lot of employees are going to have a whole lot of questions in a very short time, and you might want to start thinking about what you’re gonna say.

Why It’s Hard to be a Woman Boss

I’m in the process of writing a story about how women bosses are perceived in the workplace. Just about all the research I’ve uncovered reveals that female bosses tend to be less popular in the workplace than male bosses. The experts I’m interviewing have a number of theories as to why, and what HR can or should do about it. In the meantime, thought I’d share what consultant BJ Gallagher, a management consultant, author of “It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been” (and a woman), has to say about the double standards that female manager-types face in the workplace:


~ A male boss is aggressive; a female boss is pushy.
~ A male boss is attentive to details; a female boss is picky.
~ A male boss doesn’t suffer fools gladly; she’s a bitch.
~ He knows how to follow through; she doesn’t know when to quit.
~ He stands firm; she’s inflexible.
~ He’s a good leader; she’s bossy.
~ He’s ambitious; she’s driven.
~ He loses his temper occasionally; she can’t control her emotions.
~ He isn’t afraid to say what he thinks; she’s mouthy.
~ He’s a stern taskmaster; she’s hard to work for.
~ He’s a man of action; she’s impulsive.
~ He controls his emotions; she’s cold.
~ He’s a good team player; she just goes along with the crowd.
~ He thinks before he acts; she can’t make up her mind.
~ He thinks before he speaks; she second-guesses herself.
~ He tells it like it is; she’s tactless.
~ He’s authoritative; she’s caustic.
~ He makes things happen; she’s lucky.
~ He’s a ladies’ man; she’s a slut.

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.

Sports Talk

Here, in the Philadelphia area, where HRE is located, the office talk is all about the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals and the sliding Phillies, who haven’t seemed recently too much like the Fightin’ Phils of old.

But, many employers, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, will soon be hearing more chatter about the World Cup — even though Americans rank fairly low on the scale of soccer afficiandos throughout the world.

So, the U.S. productivity levels probably won’t plunge as much as for employers around the globe, since soccer is the world’s most popular sport. 

In this country, the biggest productivity punishers, according to Challenger Gray’s non-scientific poll, are March Madness; college football bowl games; the Olympics; and the playoffs and finals for the NFL, MLB and NHL.

And one more that transcends sports: Apple product announcements.


HR’s Balancing Act

One of the Web extras to our June 2 cover story on Ford’s turnaround offers a brief list of the qualities of courageous HR executives, as set forth by Johnny Taylor, former president of the Society for Human Resource Management in his book with Gary Stern, The Trouble with HR.

Among his key points are: Act as a leader, not a follower; possess the courage of your convictions; and adapt to a  changing business environment. Read the rest on HREOnline.

More succinctly: Hold firm and be creative, but don’t be stubbornly resistant to new facts on the ground.

Such courage, writes Tere Bettis, an HR VP with Coppermark Bank in Oklahoma City, Okla.,  is “not always supported by senior management. … The balancing act between recruiting, developing, and retaining the best of the best while maintaining the bottom line for the CFO is tricky.”

But having the courage of your convictions is required in these tough times. Senior leaders won’t respect the ideas of their HR leaders, if HR won’t respect themselves.

BP’s ‘Human Face’

BP seems to have a regular spot on the front page of the New York Times lately, thanks to the Gulf of Mexico disaster. In today’s edition, two front-page stories touch on BP and the oil leak, including one focused primarily on the verbal missteps of BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward.

Nicely titled “Another Torrent BP Works to Stem: Its CEO,” the story dissects some of the more memorable “gaffes” from Hayward, including one in which he said the spill is not going to cause big problems because the gulf “is a very big ocean” and “You know, I’d like my life back.” Responding to the latter, Hayward apologized to the families of the 11 men who died on the rig.

The story, for the most part, explores how Hayward’s comments have turned into something of a public-relations fiasco for BP. But I have to also believe they haven’t been much of a motivator for those BP employees (and contractors) who now face the monumental task of fixing the leak. Would imagine they’d be a lot better off were they to have a CEO at the helm who managed to not make news himself.

Ironically, just about the same time BP started making headlines, John Hofmeister’s book, Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider, arrived in the mail. Hofmeister is one of the handful of HR leaders to be promoted to president of a major corporation, in this case Shell Oil Co. (2005-2008). Perhaps, had Hofmeister’s book come out in the fall, BP’s latest fiasco (remember, BP was hit just last October with the largest OSHA fine ever) might have received a paragraph or two in Hofmeister’s book, which explores the oil industry’s image-management problems.

“Best practices doesn’t just mean taking credit for the positive steps the industry has taken; it also requires public exposure by top executives, a human face on a complex organization, consumer empathy and engagement, obvious and intentional,” Hofmeister writes. “Twenty-first-century engagement demands a commitment to transparency.”

OK, I guess you can say Hayward is showing BP’s “human face.” But I suspect that’s not the kind of “human face” Hofmeister is referring to in his book. Nor is it the kind of face that’s going to inspire BP’s engineers to come up with a solution that works.

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.