Employees face some hard things in their personal lives. Somewhere along the line, we decided that people need to leave all of that at the door when they report to work. I have no idea where this became the expectation, but this is just silly. You cannot expect your employees who are dealing with incredible personal challenges to be able to switch all of that off when they walk in the door. To think that we can pretend that all of that isn't happening for 8-10 hours a day is ridiculous. Especially in this "bring your whole self to work" movement, we need to understand that the stuff going on in personal lives will, in fact, affect the work life to some extent or another.
Failing marriages. Miscarriages. Drug use. Elderly and ill parents. Car accidents. Deaths (family members, friends, pets). Financial hardships. Cancer. So many tough things that we all face in our lives.
If you're practicing HR well, you should know by now that you need to be present with your employees. This requires abandoning your office frequently, and working where your people work. Belly up in an area where employees basically have to interact with you. And, ya know, talk to them. If you haven't been doing this, start now. It may seem weird at first, and certainly employees will wonder "WTH?" But over time (and it happens quickly), as you engage in chit-chat, employees will start to open up to you, about their business concerns, their opinions about the company, coworkers, managers and leaders. They will also open up to you about their personal challenges.
And here's the kicker. Don't just ask, "Is there anything I can do for you?" This is a very well-intentioned question. I would like to believe that when people ask this question, they really mean it. The problem is that when people are dealing with incredibly difficult, emotional issues, the last things they are thinking about are ways that others can help them get through it. In fact, most of the time, people don't even really know what they need. On top of that, if they are even remotely Type A, they would never dream of asking for help because this shows some sort of weakness and they are accustomed to pulling up their big-person pants and just getting through it. (Although, in secret, they are struggling, stressed out, losing sleep, crying in the bathroom, etc..)
Want to know how you can help? Show up. Be there. Offer some flexibility in their work schedule. Help them get connected to the right professional (counselor, financial adviser, elder care resources, fill in the blank....). If the issue is related to a medical challenge, talk to them about FMLA and/or the other leave options they have available to them. Explain whatever other benefits they have available - short term disability, bereavement, etc. Allow them to emote without fear of losing their jobs. Bring them a token of kindness that shows you empathize and you're there for them. If you have a close relationship with your team and employees, maybe even consider showing up at their house to help mow the lawn, clean the gutters, do laundry, drop off a few freezer meals. The ways you can show up are literally endless.
And, shhhh, you can even offer them a hug. **GASP** I know... crazy talk that we in HR would ever think about physically touching an employee. (You really do need to know if this is ok. Because there are people who do not like to hug, and that needs to be respected.) There are ways to do this that don't make people feel uncomfortable or make you look like a creeper. But let me tell you, I've had grown men who seemingly have their shi.... stuff together in my office crying like a baby. And, yes, I offered a hug. Yes, they took me up on the offer. And, yes, I've had a shoulder full of tears. (And, no, there wasn't anything inappropriate about this.) Personally, I think this is a beautiful moment. It demonstrates the impact you have on others when you just listen, empathize, and give them a safe place to express the mess in their heads and hearts. It's amazing to me just how many people need a hug, as evidenced by how they lean in, and how tightly they hold on. I think we need to put our constant fear of being accused of sexual harassment aside to allow ourselves as humans to offer a very human expression of empathy - if you are comfortable with it and it is appropriate. (I feel like I should write a disclaimer, but you know what I mean.)
The point is, be present and available. Be the HR Pro that your employees know they can trust and with whom they can share their personal struggles. Don't steer clear. Show up.
A Word About EAPs
These programs can be very valuable. HOWEVER, you need to know and understand your employee population. Not all EAPs are created equal. In fact, if you're in a first-responder environment (firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs, ambulance responders, rescue workers, emergency room and/or trauma-related medical teams, etc.), likely you need to really evaluate the EAP offerings. I could write several posts on this topic alone. This is a population that deals with things that most of us will never see in our lives - and they see it on the daily. Refraining from going into graphic detail, these employees have different needs, and require a completely different level of emotional/mental support. Not only is this population even less likely to ask for help, they are exposed to horrific, awful, terrible, violent, unfathomable situations. This is an environment where you may want to consider a formal peer support program where employees are trained to identify certain behaviors, and become a safe place for peers to turn as a bridge to mental or behavioral professionals. If you are an HR professional in one of these environments, and you're interested in learning more, please contact me. I can provide you with several resources to help you develop and implement a peer support program that very well could mean the difference between life and death for your employees.
Recently, the question was posed on Twitter... "Why do you work in HR?"
This is an important question for everyone to ponder. (Side note: Everyone should consider this question, not just those of us in HR. I think everyone should know why they work in a specific field.) Many of us landed in HR as a freak accident. Some chose it specifically. Some slowly dipped their toes in the water somewhere along the way, perhaps they were responsible for some basic ancillary HR duties as part of another role, and eventually made their way out of the kiddie pool. Whatever the reason you're here, the question isn't necessarily why do you work in HR, but why do you continue to work in HR?
HR isn't for everyone. Working with people, their choices and behavior can be extremely exhausting. Let's face it. We've probably all had conversations with grown adults that sound eerily similar to the conversations we've had with our four-year-olds. "There are consequences for your actions... We all have choices to make... Stop hitting and biting."
At some point in our careers, many of us come to the moment of truth. That being the moment when we become so dismayed, disappointed, exhausted, and, frankly, hurt by our organizations (leaders, co-workers, peers) that we just don't know if we want (or even can) continue. I came to this place a few years back. The environment I worked in at the time was incredibly toxic. Unethical and immoral behavior, it seemed, was rewarded. The culture was so toxic that everyone had this "every man for himself" mentality purely for survival. Complete lack of transparency, accountability and honesty. Employees were mean-spirited, spread malicious gossip solely intended to harm reputations and destroy credibility. The CEO would make comments like "100 people are standing in line for your job. If you don't like it, leave." Working in an environment like this takes its toll. (I'll spare the sordid details... but many of you, I'm sure, can relate.)
Every year I could, I would attend the SHRM Annual Conference. This particular year, I decided that if I didn't come away from the conference feeling reinvigorated for my field, I would change careers. I decided to dig in, be present, make connections, and really think about the field I had chosen for my profession.
What happened was actually quite amazing. Not only did I come away feeling energized and refueled. I also came to the realization that while we may have every good intention to be an advocate for employees, develop and implement amazing onboarding, training and development programs, and help build a culture of trust that allows employees to bring their whole selves to work every day and be highly engaged in the mission, vision and values of the business, the truth is that not all organizations are healthy enough to allow you to operate that way. This particularly year, I realized that the employees of my org were basically taught that "to eat our own" is the MO. THAT was the culture. So... I made a plan and eventually resigned. And it was one of the best decisions I have ever made for my career (and my sanity). I realized that HR wasn't the problem. Even the employees weren't really the problem. The organization and it's leaders who allowed that type of culture to exist were the problem.
Why am I in HR? I’m in HR because it’s the one place in business that I believe we can have the greatest positive impact on people’s lives. We spend the majority of our time at work. We have the opportunity to make the work experience not just good, but GRAND!
Do not let others steal your joy. In other words, don't let other people, situations, or organizations rob you of the love you have for your chosen field. I urge you to consider that maybe the environment you're in is the main culprit, and not the field of HR. I'm not suggesting pointing fingers or blaming others for your choices. (I mean, really, maybe you're part of the problem.... Self-reflection is a really good habit to get into.) What I'm saying is this: Take ownership over your choices. You know when you're in a toxic environment. Humans have this really cool thing called gut instinct that, if we listen, can tell us a lot. If you are simply unable to rise above all the crap that is around you, don't give the org any more power over you! If you know you're in the wrong environment (like a toxic, abusive relationship), then start taking the necessary steps today to find another position and resign. Think back to the reasons why you got into HR in the first place. Write them down. Ponder them.
If, after all of that, you do decide to leave HR, that's ok. Again, maybe it is not an ideal field for you. But if you decide that HR is where you should be, then make a plan to leave your organization. And when you do, choose to leave well. (We'll talk about that in a future post.)
HR is an incredibly rewarding field. Everything we do impacts people. Don't let toxic environments determine your future.