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When I was 4 years old I learned how to ride my bike without training wheels. As I would struggle to keep my balance, I was introduced to and reunited several times with the asphalt that made up our driveway. I still have the marks to prove it.
When I would cut my legs, there were times that I could walk it off. There were also times that I had to run inside so that my mother could apply this red stuff (they call it iodine now) that burned like hell, some thick goo (I assume it was Neosporin) and some gauze or band-aids. But more important than getting patched up, they taught me how to either avoid falling altogether or to do it in a way that wouldn’t cause as much harm when succumbing to the forces of gravity were inevitable.
Recently, there were some employees in my organization that fell off of their bikes and needed “attention”. There were severe breakdowns in communications, unbalanced management and feelings of unfair treatment. The bleeding had become severe enough that my office had to step in. Assessing the situation, it was up to me to determine if a bandage would suffice or if extra treatment was needed. Listening to the accounts of what was going on in the department I had a revelation…they had been falling for a while and no one ever properly treated them or taught them how to avoid the issues/injury going forward.
This wasn’t the first time there had been complaints and misunderstandings. This wasn’t the first time the manager felt as if they didn’t have the support from their higher ups to enforce policy. This wasn’t the first time that employees were allowed to disrespect their manager and go over their heads for the simplest of issues. The reason they were in my office this time was because:
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- HR never put that red stuff on the wound
- HR never applied that gunky goo
- HR never taught the managers how to care for the injury after they left
Painful But Necessary
In efforts to be all nice, a disservice was done by not having the hard, direct conversation with the employees letting them know that what they were doing wasn’t working and that changes had to be made. Like the iodine my parents applied to my scraped knees as a child, there was burning initially but after a few seconds, the pain subsided and the sting turned cold. We have to be honest (sometimes brutally) with our people when we see holes in methodology and technique, especially when it’s for the betterment of the team.
Don’t Just Treat The Symptoms
Let’s be honest, we don’t want to deal with everyone else’s mess, and because of this we apply quick and temporary fixes to employee issues. When we don’t take our time to treat them correctly, we sometimes make them worse, resulting in “staff infections” and scars that require more attention later. We as HR are entrusted to invest time in our people and their situations. This investment up front enables us to diagnose the root causes, apply Neosporin-like reason and expertise to the wounds, and to give usable methods and tools in their workplaces to ensure that the scabs of their daily grind heal properly and don’t come back.
Make Sure It’s Healing Properly
A major part of our investment in employees as medical, I mean, HR professionals is following up to see if our suggestions are working. Regular checks up are necessary to ensure that there are no relapses and setbacks.
We must also take our investment a step further and teach employees how to avoid the fall or how to protect themselves when falls can’t be avoided. We can’t just give them a “Be careful” or “Don’t do that again” as they walk out of our doors, we must teach. Teach effective communication. Teach conflict resolution. Teach consistent policy application and documentation so they don’t end up needing our emergency services in the near future.
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HR departments have to stop applying bandages to the issues that are brought to us and start applying resources, time, and consultative services to help our managers navigate through the confusing and challenging bike ride we call leadership. Unfortunately, pain and discomfort are a part of the job and we cannot afford to be squeamish and avoidant. If we can’t stand the sight of a little employment blood, we may just be in the wrong profession.