Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Human Resources - Vampire Squids of Employee Productivity and Happiness

Human Resources departments in big corporations claim to help companies achieve their goals by maximizing employee performance.  Having worked in a few companies, I take the radical position that the HR department is actually an impediment to employee performance.

I am not referring to the useful functions that predate the transformation of the "Personnel Department" into the "Human Resources Department".  Making sure everyone gets paid, that benefits are decent, everyone has a badge and employee number, that interviews with candidates are organized, these are all useful things that were done by the Personnel Department.  When the metamorphosis into Human Resources occurred in the late 70's, what emerged was not a benevolent butterfly, but an employee-sapping vampire monster.

Let's look at some of the soul-destroying hallmarks of modern HR:

  1. The company wide performance review system.  Does anyone like getting a performance review?  Research says no.  Does anyone like giving a performance review?  Research says no.  Is there any research to show that employee performance improves due to performance reviews?  Not that I know of.
  2. Changing the performance review system - this happens every 2 to 3 years.  We need a wider score range for performance, we need a narrower range, we need to rank people, we should not rank people, we need to use numbers, letters are better, we need to do reviews every 3 months and on and on.  Inevitably, the change would come after objectives and budgets were set for the year so everyone would complain that they started the year set up in the old system, then they were judged unfairly in the new system.
  3. The Employee Satisfaction Survey, now rebranded as the Employee Engagement Survey.  We filled these out anonymously and then our managers were forced to discuss them with us.  Did people feel comfortable speaking up and discussing the results?  Not in my 35+ years of doing these surveys.  Were there any substantial improvements due to the surveys?  No, unless you count adding decafeinated tea to the break room as a big productivity gain
  4. The new and improved job grading system and corresponding pay system.  Every company where I worked changed their system every few years - increase the number of job categories, reduce the number, name them, number them, rank them, change your title, tighten the salary range, change the way you move from one category to another, grade the person, no-grade the job, and on and on.  This always drove morale into the toilet and resulted in unhappy people complaining that they were unfairly moved from the "Senior Engineer" category to the "Technical Staff II" category and they are forced to put "Technical Staff II" on their new business cards or office door and it is demeaning
  5. Career planning.  Do companies really care about your career or do they just care about how well you are working now?  Be honest, they don't care about your future, you could leave tomorrow or they could decide to outsource your function, so why does it matter to them that you, the junior engineer, want to be a VP some day?  And careers depend as much on luck as skill and planning, so most employees are confused about career planning.  Can you even plan a career, or is it just a series of decisions you make over your work life and your advancement depends more on luck?  HR stepped in and "solved the problem" by getting into career planning, sticking it into the performance review, spending big money on outside courses taught by HR consultants, and collecting statistics to put into powerpoint charts to show the senior execs.  For example, the chart deck always has a big statement: "Our employees want to advance in rank and responsibility" - no kidding!, you HR folks are geniuses!, let's do some career planning!

So, in spite of the fact that the HR department and its evil schemes are an entrenched part of modern corporations, this author says, let's get rid of all that and get back to the basics of the old Personnel Department Model.  It will cost less, more work will get done, and employees will be happier.

Photo credit: Flickr

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