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Davis Brown Employment and Labor Law Blog

My Best Parenting Advice as Applied to Human Resources - August 13, 2019

I’ve been to a lot of baby showers lately where it seems like the parents-to-be are showered with as much advice as they are gifts. I’ve seen this as a parent myself - people like to give parenting advice. Strangers offer advice as they evaluate the contents of your shopping cart at the grocery store, at Super Target as they question your toy choices, and pretty much any time your kids have missed nap time or are having a bad day.

HR is in a similar situation: advice cascades from people about how to manage employees, how to address problems, and how to apply the latest and greatest new theory to HR management. Trends and issues in HR and parenting come and go and they seem to intersect.

Always contain the damage

One of the things that frequently happens with new parents is the baby gets sick and starts to throw up. The minute you’re holding a vomiting baby you start to run to the bathroom and all you do is spread the mess everywhere. You can always yell to someone to bring you a bucket, or a towel, or take one step so can get on the tile floor, but don’t spread the mess everywhere you go.

The same is true of HR. How many times have we made decisions to move a problem rather than resolve it because moving it just seems easier, but a short term gain typically results in long term issues. It’s certainly possible that performance relates to poor management, or maybe a mismatch in skill sets and a move would help, but you want to avoid simply moving a problem because you’ll have to deal with it later.

Don’t threaten things you aren’t going to do

In line at Super Target the other day I heard a mother say to her children, “If you don’t stop that we simply won’t go to the lake.” Everyone in the line knew that they were going to the lake. The kids could have set fire to the shopping cart and they would probably still be going to the lake. I knew it, the checkout person knew it, the people behind me knew it, and the kids knew it. Which means it had no effect.

Do that long enough, particularly in an employment situation, and a couple of things happen: One, your employees believe they can continue to behave inappropriately, or fail to meet performance expectations with little to no consequences. Two, those employees who have complained or have raised concerns about performance or perhaps discrimination begin to believe that human resources “does nothing” which impacts your effectiveness, and ability to manage in the future.

How many times has a final performance warning turned into a second, third, fourth, or fifth final warning before employment action is taken? You need to assess your corporate culture very carefully and not threaten things you won’t follow through with. If you tell people you’re going to terminate their employment for certain behaviors, you should be willing to terminate their employment for certain behaviors. Failing to do so not only creates the risk already discussed but also future liability risk in the event you have a discrimination or some other type of claim.

Your kid (or company) is your kid not somebody else’s

Everybody’s got advice, and a lot of that advice is really good advice, but it might not apply to your kid/your company. You know your company, your culture, your behaviors, your expectations, your staffing patterns, and so it is important not only to listen to good advice but to pick and choose advice that may be applicable to your circumstances and corporate culture. Sometimes you need someone to help you step out of the role when you’ve gotten bogged down in the emotions of a bad employee or situation, just like parents needing a little adult conversation. So, it’s important to have places where you can fact check or “gut” check, and obtain that advice always remembering that ultimately you need to weigh the specific circumstances.

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