Five Common Human Resources Mistakes and How to Avoid Them!
By Claudia St. John, SPHR
The banner at our booth at the 2013 Buffalo I-Day read “Do you love HR? We didn’t think so.” Human resources is a topic that very few people get excited about – I have yet to meet someone who went into business for the purpose of hiring and managing employees. Tackling thorny “people issues” is hard and can be frustrating. But the reality is that once you hire employees, you own a myriad of challenges that, if not handled well, can grow into significant problems.
Fortunately, with some knowledge, planning and management, you can minimize the headaches associated with human resources and enjoy the benefits of a motivated, engaged workforce. Here are some tips to get started:
- Hire with Your Head, Not Your Gut!
When hiring, many people rely on their gut or their intuition. I often hear “I’m a great judge of people.” That may be true, but more likely than not, the hiring manager who relies on gut instincts is often placing too much faith on subjective qualities – the firmness of the candidate’s handshake, alma mater or love of a particular sports team – all of which have little bearing on whether the candidate is capable of doing the job well.
Instead, we encourage hiring managers to first write up a detailed job posting that outlines the skills, abilities and requirements of the position and then, importantly, to stick to it when screening candidates.
We also STRONGLY recommend using a behavioral and/or skills test to determine whether the candidate has the right personality and dependability for the job. The data don’t lie, and the more of it you have on the candidate, the better off you will be.
- Have an Employee Handbook!
Any enterprise with at least one employee should have a handbook. The handbook communicates your expectations about how employees should act and what will happen if they don’t meet those expectations. It also helps you firmly establish for the record that your company complies with all federal and state employment laws.
Two words of caution: Don’t download a handbook off of the Internet and don’t borrow one from a friend’s company. Handbooks can quickly become outdated and online templates are notoriously outdated. Also, laws apply to different companies of different sizes – you wouldn’t want to obligate yourself to comply with a complicated and expensive federal law (like the Family Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act) if you don’t have to!
- Ensure Your Employees are Classified Correctly!
Many employers do not realize that it isn’t really their choice whether to pay someone an hourly rate or on a salaried basis – that decision is guided by federal law. Before you hire an independent contractor or chose to put your receptionist on a salary, check out the rules. Getting this right will protect you from that disgruntled ex-employee who may try to sue you for back wages and past-due overtime pay.
- Give Regular, Constructive Feedback!
If I could point to one common problem in today’s work culture, it would be the failure of our managers to give positive, constructive feedback. Generally, we are good at citing poor behavior, but rarely do we stop and spend the time to observe and comment on positive, correct behavior. Positive feedback is designed to promote and reinforce good behavior. Most parents know this but we fail to apply it to the workplace.
Specific, measurable and timely feedback is much more powerful than an occasional “good job!” or a formal annual performance review. Make it a practice to give positive feedback each week. You’ll be amazed at the results you get.
- Document Corrective Conversations!
Unfortunately, not all of our conversations can be positive. Many of us avoid corrective conversations in an effort to avoid conflict. But if we fail to have and to document those conversations, we cannot demonstrate to ourselves, to our employees and, if it becomes necessary, to the judge or arbitrator that we made efforts along the way to address and modify the employee’s behavior.
Having and documenting corrective conversations not only ensures that you know you’ve done all you could do to fix a bad situation, it also helps employees understand where they are in the disciplinary process. This is important because if you ultimately have to terminate an employee, it will be less likely to come as a surprise and the employee will be far more likely to accept responsibility for his/her actions. No one likes bad surprises. And the more surprised an employee is about a discipline or a termination, the more likely he or she will be to take action against you. Eliminating the surprise will also help the employee recover and move on more quickly.
Managing employees isn’t easy. And for most of us it isn’t much fun. But with the solid practices described above, you will be more likely to hire better talent, keep them motivated and keep them happy and productive.