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–

Published by

Dawn Hrdlica-Burke

VP People & Culture/ Talent Consulting at Kinetix. Advisor. Speaker. Writer.

15 thoughts on “Death Becomes HR

  1. Thanks Steve—I try to derive some lessons from good and bad events. This one is a hard one for me….hard to logic out; but some good HR thoughts. Again, I appreciate you reaching out!

  2. Dawn-
    My best wishes to your and your family in dealing with the loss. Each day, I try to put my particular pile of problems to the side, sometimes forgetting that everyone else has their own. This is a great reminder about the humanity of what we do. Nothing is permanent. And as much as we (especially we Americans) try and control everything, there is far more unpredictability than we can possibly imagine. Thanks for sharing at such a difficult time.

  3. One of the biggest struggles I’ve had with this situation is a) not being able to logic through it (explain it) and b) a sense of a loss of control.

    Good points and thanks so much for you kind thoughts–

  4. Dawn, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I want you to know that your post really made me think and that you make a difference to our community.

  5. Dawn…first and foremost, my condolences to you and your family. Your dad sounds like a pretty awesome guy. I appreciate how you were able to cut through the crap and inspire us with a “tell it like it is” kind of post. Brilliant! Thanks for all you do and for your HR thought leadership.

  6. Thank you so much Seth– what a wonderful comment. I appreciate it so much. My dad was awesome, and the best thought leadership usually comes from things that hit us as HR pros hard. Thanks again.

  7. Hi Dawn, sounds like the world lost a great guy, I’m so sorry for you and your family. 69 sounds younger than it used to!
    I think we would have been very chatty co-workers discussing the merits of what you have posted, I’m in complete agreement.
    All the best,

  8. Dawn –
    so sorry for your loss – I know 2 things about this: 1) nothing I can say will help the pain for you and 2) I would love your Dad had we met.

    Thanks for keeping it real and putting that real pain into perspective in a business sense- it often gets lost, so thanks for the reminder.

    sending smiles & hugs your way,

  9. Hi Dawn, firstly, I am so sorry to hear about your Dad; he sounds like a remarkable man, friend and father. I lost my Dad in October (2011) and my Mum passed away in 2007 so I really do empathise. Personally, I didn’t find any explanations … I have had to try and accept that bad things do happen to good people (not easy).

    I am one of the HR people that takes the risk and, you’re right, people do appreciate you taking the time to ask how they are and to listen. Your article was raw, honest and shows what a leader you are in HR. John Quincy Adams (allegedly) said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more; you are a leader”. You have achieved that.

    Take good care of yourself,


  10. @Lisa I am sorry for your loss as well. I don’t think anybody ever gets over losing your parents. I’m finding it difficult seeing an end in sight but know it will get better. As I said eariler, I am glad I’m able to give at list some simple insight on how this has givin me reminded perspective on the HR environment. Thanks again.

  11. Dawn

    Lost my father a couple of years ago, and your article is spot on. The global head of HR where I work personally reached out to me at the time and said “do whatever you need to do to work through this, and if any one questions you, have them come to me.” It really meant a lot to me then – still does. I guess the best line about death and grieving I read recently was by Bruce Springsteen, who when asked about taking the stage without long time friends and band mates Clarence Clemons and Dan Federici who passed away, said “If we’re here and if you’re here, they are here.”

    Harold Mellor @haroldmellor

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