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Recently, one of the most prominent CEO’s in our lifetime, Mr. Jack Welch – formerly of GE, penned an article about layoffs being a defining moment in human resources.  I read the article and, frankly, it’s been bothering me.  While I understand that orchestrating layoffs often falls within the domain of human resources, I don’t view them as a “moment of truth”.

God forbid.  When a company is faced with a layoff decision, how employees are treated shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Employees should know that they’ve been treated with dignity and respect their entire time at a company and, if faced with a layoff or termination, the circumstances should be no different.

I certainly agree with Jack that, during a layoff, employees should not be let go by an outplacement consultant.  They should be treated with the utmost respect.  They deserve it.  These are employees who have worked long and hard for the company.

But I don’t agree that layoffs are a “moment of truth” for human resources.  That’s not when HR should demonstrate whether or not a company really cares about its people.  HR (and the rest of the company for that matter) should be demonstrating their caring respect each and every day.

Jack goes on to talk about the role of HR today.  I totally concur with his comments that HR should do more than just plan the company picnic and file benefits paperwork.  But I also think that it’s time HR Pro’s shed the role of “arbiter of equity.”  Isn’t that just a euphemism for ’striped shirt’?  He makes it sound like operational managers have no obligation to provide equity . . . only HR.

And, I’m not sure that I agree it’s the role of HR to absorb pain.  It’s the role of HR to help the organization handle pain.  But our role is to teach managers how to identify it, process it, help their employees through it, and move forward.

If HR wants to really be a business partner, they have to remove the moniker of “layoff and pain” department.  If you think about it, aren’t handling layoffs, being an arbiter, and absorbing pain all reactionary activities?  Shouldn’t the role of HR be proactive and more than a little strategic?  HR needs to train people how to deal with emotional fallout of business decisions.  That’s the real moment of truth for human resources…teaching and educating.

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