Blog Summaries

Carnival of HR: How HR is Making the Workplace Better for Employees


By Stephanie Hammerwold

HR has not always had the best reputation. Whether it is publications like the Harvard Business Review talking about why it is time to blow up HR or managers that call us terminators or policy police, we are often branded as being out of touch or too consumed with unnecessary rules. Despite this bad reputation, there are many of us in HR who toil away behind the scenes, trying to make workplaces better for employees. We fight for better benefits, work to end harassment and discrimination and advocate for employees who need a second chance, and I have met and worked with many HR colleagues that are doing quite a bit to change workplaces for the better.

As the HR Hammer, I am committed to helping employers make workplaces better for employees. Doing so creates a happy, productive and loyal team. So, I put the question out there to bloggers for this carnival: How is HR making the workplace better for employees?

Over at Blogging4Jobs, Jessica Miller-Merrell shares an episode of her Workology Podcast where she interviews David Sturt, author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love and Executive Vice President at O.C. Tanner. Miller-Merrell and Sturt discuss employee engagement. What I like most about their conversation is how Sturt offers an easy way to drive engagement: recognize employees. In HR and management, we can get really focused on policy and paperwork, and sometimes we forget the value of saying “thank you” or commending someone on a job well done on a big project. As Miller-Merrell and Sturt point out, recognition is an often overlooked engagement tool that costs little to nothing. Next time you are at work, take some time to say thanks to your employees.

At HRmoz, David Richter of Octopus HR Software offers up some advice on how HR and product/market fit can make workplaces better for employees. Richter gives some good examples of how a strong product/market fit can increase productivity and reduce turnover. Company success would also lead to more money for well-being programs and bonuses. He says that one of the most important areas HR can help achieve this is through creating a culture where the employees have voice. This includes seeking employee feedback and letting employees propose and try out new ideas.

Parental leave has been getting quite a bit of attention in the media lately, and we regularly hear how the U.S. lags behind many other countries in providing paid leave options. At Blogging4Jobs, Eric Magnussen writes about how employers can best support employees who are about to add a new child to their families. Magnussen goes beyond the basic requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and provides suggestions that include making a checklist for new parents that includes leave requirements as well as information on the lactation room, contact numbers for counselors and support services for new parents, insurance information and other available resources. Magnussen also says employers can help by being flexible and including fathers in leave and offering work-from-home options. These are all great ways employers can recognize the challenge of balancing work and raising a family, something which ultimately supports creating a workplace that meets the needs of our employees. 

Finally, Stuart Rudner and Brittany Taylor of Rudner MacDonald LLP discuss a topic of increasing relevance: medical marijuana in the workplace. There have been many changes regarding legal use of marijuana, and it is important that employers are ready to address how these changes affect the workplace if they are going to support how their employees live. Rudner and Taylor talk about the Canadian laws regarding medical marijuana and give advice that is relevant to many of the legal changes we are also seeing here in the U.S. They point out that the use of medical marijuana should be treated in the same way as an employee on any other doctor-prescribed medication. Rudner and Taylor remind employers that it is important to have procedures in place for handling requests for reasonable accommodation and to follow those when an employee makes such a request that includes the use of medical marijuana. They also write that this is a good time to review your company’s drug and alcohol policy to ensure that it address changes to the legal use of marijuana.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival of HR. Now get to work improving things for your employees, and be the superhero of your workplace! Follow the HR Hammer for more tips on creating good places to work.

HR Lessons From Fictional Workplaces

By Stephanie Hammerwold

When you are trying to save the world one workplace at a time, it is hard to turn off the HR part of your brain. This means that I often find myself analyzing the work environments in my favorite books, movies and TV shows. Fictional stories are a great way to understand our lives better. Even if we are retreating into a world populated with dragons, magic and time travel, we can gain insight and think through problems in our own lives.

Lessons from Vonnegut on Workplace Automation
In a post for Blogging4Jobs, I wrote about the way reading shapes our understanding of work. Kurt Vonnegut’s books and short stories provide us with some food for thought on the workplace. Published in 1952, Player Piano was Vonnegut’s first novel. In the novel’s dystopian future, automation is to the point where human labor is nearly obsolete. To combat some of the problems caused by laborers with no purpose, people create jobs that are really just busy work in order to combat the idleness due to lack of real work.

While we still may be far from replacing all our human employees with machines, technology is evolving so quickly that it is easy to forget how it affects employees. Look at the shift in job duties caused by the personal computer. Secretaries have become administrative assistants, and most of us write our own emails rather than relying on someone to take dictation and type up the letter for us.

Rather than thinking only of how technology will improve a process, think of how technology can make work better for your employees. In addition, training needs to be a constant in the world of rapid technology evolution. This is the key to helping your employees grow with changing workplace technology.

Work on TV: Parks & Recreation and Downton Abbey
Two of my favorite shows are Parks & Recreation and Downton Abbey. Parks & Recreation ended its seven-year run recently, and Downton Abbey just announced that next season would be its last. The action on both shows revolves around the workplace, so they are full of all kinds of HR lessons.

Parks & Recreation follows Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson and other members of the Parks Department in the fictional city of Pawnee, Indiana. As I wrote about recently in a post for The HR Gazette, the best lesson learned from this show is about workplace friendships. Despite his anti-government, libertarian ways, Ron tolerates his job because of the bond he forms with his coworkers, which he calls “workplace proximity associates.” Sometimes we forget that one of the things people value most in a job is working with people they enjoy being around. Read more about my take on Parks & Recreation at Blogging4Jobs.

Downton Abbey gives us a peek at life in a large estate in early 20th century England. The house employs a staff of servants that include kitchen employees, footmen, lady’s maids and more. With all those folks under one roof, it’s no wonder that Downton is full of workplace drama. Check out my recent Blogging4Jobs post for more on the employees of Downton.