Death Becomes HR

A few weeks ago my father, Ken Hrdlica, suddenly died.  It was awful.

He was 69 and very cool.  He was well-known in the community, so much so that the local news ran on three separate broadcasts that he passed.  He was a businessman, actor, singer, church contributor, sports lover; an all around renaissance guy.  And funny.  And he never met a stranger.  Several people told me that he always made you feel you were the only person in the room—the type of guy who made you believe you could achieve anything. How rare and wonderful.

He also saddled me with the name “Hrdlica’.  That says it all.

So what is the point? Tragedy does put many things in perspective and although I am probably still in the shock phase (you know, the 5 stages of grief…) I have thought about how this affects my HR point-of-view.

1)       Everyone has their S***.  EVERYONE in your organization has something going on in their lives.  Many of you may argue that has nothing to do with you, your company, or their productivity. But you know, of course, it does in a big way.  HR, quit ignoring this human reality.

2)      If you, HR leader, are going to move your organization in the right direction, before you make a knee-jerk reaction about why someone may suddenly start behaving badly, under-produce or why they have quit smiling at you in the hall… remember everyone has their S***.  Everyone. Take a deep breath and just like you would in a good interview, dig a few layers deeper to determine a bigger employee picture.

3)      Knowing that bigger employee picture will help you guide your employee to productivity.  Openly discussing (if they want) their situation intuitively frees the employee; clears a lot of headspace taken up by hiding emotion, fear or personal frustration from YOU.  I will bet my next paycheck that employees will be more productive in the long run if you reach out to them in attempts to understand how they are doing.

4)      Quit thinking that “knowing” your employees will result in a lawsuit.  If you think getting to know your employees more personally makes you an at-risk HR pro, or that you are putting the company in enough jeopardy to make a big legal difference then you are mis-informed and a little daft.   Compassionate HR always trumps the minute risk of knowing too much about an employee. It is a risk worth taking 100% of the time.  Truly the excuse “What if I have to fire them later and I know too much?” is cowardly.  It is your problem to overcome.  Buck up.

Naturally if an employee doesn’t want to open up to you don’t force them.  Perhaps it is time for and EAP. I am not suggesting you become a therapist either.    I am simply suggesting you do two things:  a) give employees the benefit of the doubt that work is not the only thing on their mind 100% of the time and b) quit making excuses as an HR pro for not connecting.

None of this is easy—but HR isn’t supposed to be.

Here is to you, Dad–