If someone asked you whose responsibility it was to maintain a healthy work culture, what do you think you’d say?
My guess is that you’d probably say it fell under Human Resources (HR). I think most people would.
You know when I told a work colleague at job #9 about my interest in work culture and how important I thought it was, she said to me, “Maybe you should think about working in HR.” I remember saying, “God no! Why would I want to do that?”
Basically, I felt no connection with what I was talking about and HR.
Yeah I know, HR is supposed to be there to take care of the employees. But I can’t say I’ve felt that. In fact, I’ve found them to be distant and not in touch with the reality of what people go through.
I’ve been witness to some crazy experiences. To the point where you were made to feel guilty to want to leave on time and where staying back two to three hours every night became a norm. And it still wasn’t enough. This situation resulted in employees resigning to no job and others leaving the team. And only when about half the team left within a couple of weeks was something actually done about it.
But was this too late?
How was it that it got that far?
The whole company could see what was happening. I think the mere fact that when an employee resigns to no new job, that should raise red flags. Not to mention employees working endless overtime, crying in the toilets, people looking absolutely miserable and unhealthy. Everyone saw it.
I remember coming home one night a couple of hours late, my brother, who happened to be there, asked me if I was working for the Pharaoh of Egypt (lol). He thought what I was going through was comparable to the backbreaking scenes from the “Ten Commandments”. To this day it still makes me laugh.
Now it’s fair to ask, did people go to HR with these problems? Well, they did and they didn’t.
Why didn’t they all go? Well, I don’t know about you, but this whole system of going to HR when you have a problem with your manager just doesn’t sit well with me. It never has. I always thought that if things got that bad where you can’t sort them out with your manager then you may as well call it quits.
The simple thought of doing something like that made you feel like a backstabber. Like you were going against your manager and against your team.
People are very reluctant to do it.
And from what I’ve witnessed, people tend to take these actions when they’re absolutely at their last straw. When they simply don’t care about what happens anymore, even if they lose their job.
And how would this make your manager feel?
You’re never going to be in their good books again. Even if some agreement is made, things like this are remembered. Trust goes down the toilet and so does the relationship. And the focus is once again placed on protecting yourself. Employees protecting themselves from their managers and managers protecting themselves from their employees.
And don’t forget, HR is in the same position as everyone else in the company. It’s not like they have more power than the CEO when it comes to dealing with managers.
It’s for these reasons why I believe that HR is quite powerless in making a difference to company culture. Through my experiences they’ve had little to no impact in inspiring change or making a positive difference in this area.
Now, I’m not saying that they didn’t have the right intentions. But activities that they put in place failed to have the right effect, if any.
4 HR culture building activities that don’t work:
1. The online culture survey and meetings that followed
Now, I’ve been through this process twice and twice at the same job.
What difference did it make? None whatsoever.
So both times, yes people were honest as it was anonymous. And both times it came back that the culture of the company was shocking. In the more recent survey, it was especially shocking in the team I was in.
Now, I know there were good intentions behind this, but I have to say I don’t think the survey was needed. I’d say it was obvious how bad the culture was both times. Time and money could’ve be saved
And both times, following the survey, a meeting was organised.
First time-round we sat around a table with our manager. The person doing most of the talking was the HR person. With everyone else, there were far and few comments in between.
What changed afterwards? Nothing.
Simply acknowledging feelings, thoughts and opinions made no difference. The same type of work culture continued. No real initiative came out of it. When it was time to have the second survey you heard comments like, “This was done a couple of years ago and nothing was done with it.”
I wasn’t there for the meeting that took place after the second survey, but a comment from one of my teammates summed it up for me – “Mimoza, it was an absolute waste of time. I’M NOT GOING TO SAY WHAT I REALLY THINK IN FRONT OF MY MANAGER!”
Need I say more?
2. The awards and the trophies
The years of service award
A decision was made to acknowledge the employees that had been there 5, 10 and 15 years during a staff catch-up.
And so the CEO started to call the names off the list. Now, I know that there were good intentions behind this as well, but it felt so impersonal, like these employees weren’t people they were numbers being called out one after the other.
It meant nothing to the people getting it. It meant nothing to the people around them.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if many walked away feeling down about how long they’d been there.
There was no relationship between the person giving the award and the employees getting it. They were strangers to each other. I doubt the CEO was very familiar with what they did in the company, let alone about anything outside of work.
The intention may have been good, but the delivery was bad.
Awards for good work
I remember a colleague that got this award once and her reaction to the whole situation was something like this.
As we were at the staff party, it came time to give the awards and she said something along the lines of, “I really hope I don’t get called up.” She did. She got the award, stayed for a bit longer, handed it to one of her teammates to leave on her desk and got out of the party as soon as she could.
I think it’s safe to say it didn’t mean anything to her.
My point… it made no difference to how she felt about her job. Bigger picture… no difference to company culture.
3. The annual review
It’d be that time of the year and I’d think “Oh crap. Here we go again.” So, you’d fill it in with the relevant stuff and alter it so it worked with what you needed to put in to get it done.
Did I feel more advantaged by having it as an employee? No.
It meant nothing to me. Just another tedious job to do, so HR could tick it off its list. It made no difference to my performance or how I felt about the overall job.
Did this process bring me closer to my manager? No.
Why? Because for them it was also more paperwork that they had to do and you both just did what you needed to do to get it done. Care factor – 0.
One of the most common reactions that I saw is how people were surprised with some of the comments they received from their manager. Their reactions; “Why didn’t they tell me about this earlier?”
I guess it’s important to wait for the annual review and not communication things as you go – NOT! (lol)
4. Getting rid of offices
In some places where I worked they somehow believed that this act alone could improve the work culture. My experience showed me that it can’t.
In job #8 where the culture was ideal, if all the managers had offices it would’ve made a difference. Why? Because the relationship was developed in a way that you felt comfortable approaching them no matter what. Office or no office.
However, in one of my other jobs, I worked right next to one of my managers and I never felt comfortable in approaching her. And the relationship never changed despite being there over two years. Her sitting next to me made no difference. In fact, I’d secretly hope that I’d somehow be moved.
So when looking at the role of HR I have to ask…why are they there for us?
Why do we need protection?
Why is a department set up to protect us from our managers? Are we focusing on the wrong area?
Instead of setting up a culture where we need to protect ourselves from our manager and vice versa, how about we focus on developing a culture where that’s not needed?
What do you think? How valuable have you found HR to be where you work? Do you feel safer because they’re there?
Are there any activities that they’ve put in place that you think have made a difference? Tell me about it.
Next week… it’s all about hiring someone and what happens afterwards.
See you then.