Sunday, September 29, 2013

How NOT to Handle Your So-Called Negro Problem

Business Insider recently posted an interview with Simon Anderson, CEO of DreamHost, a web hosting provider and domain name registrar, during which Anderson talked about his hiring practices while revealing his favorite interview question.

But I really wasn’t interested in that. Instead, I was interested in this statement from Anderson:

“I think there’s this big shift under way in business where you have to respect the fact that people are going to forge their own path, and they’re going to be motivated by different things and they’re going to want to do meaningful things."
You don’t say? Well, Minnesota company Izza Bending Tube & Wire didn’t get that memo.

When manager Myrna Peltonen decided to “forge her own path,” by refusing her boss’ directive to fire employee Randall L. Smith, Peltonen was demoted and given a pay cut. Later she was laid off and eventually, fired.

According to Peltonen, she’d recommended that Smith, a temporary worker, be hired full time after working the requisite 500 hours.

But her manager rebuffed the recommendation, allegedly telling Peltonen that “We have not had good luck with n-----s [racial slur].”

The manager then told Peltonen to fire Smith, but she refused. Instead, she called the staffing agency that had placed Smith. She also told Smith what had happened.

Smith then spoke to the staffing firm’s owner, Rose Vaughn, asking her what the agency planned to do. Vaughn suggested that Smith work elsewhere. (Gee, thanks lady.) The agency later lied to Izza about why Smith couldn’t work there any longer, and then effectively dropped him.

I think I understand why Creative Staffing Solutions didn’t confront their racist client. Doing so would have required an amount of caring, courage, and lack of self-interest that most individuals just don’t have (which is what makes Peltonen such a compelling character, actually). But dropping Smith like a hot potato? Hmmm ...

(However, I do get a chuckle thinking that Izza must have heard the news about Smith not being able to work there and thought “Whew. Dodged that bullet.” Haha.)

Smith later filed a complaint against Creative Staffing and Izza, and the parties reached a confidential settlement earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Peltonen is waiting to see how things will shake out in her case. 

She says Smith “worked hard and deserved the opportunity for a full-time permanent position with benefits at Izza. This case is about doing what is right and taking a stand against intolerance. Mr. Smith deserved better. Everyone at Izza deserved better.”

Wow. Talking about "forging your own path." 

You go, girl.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whatever You Do, Don’t Let ‘Em Go Away Angry

A few days ago, I quoted Bob Funk,  president and founder of Express Employment Professionals, as saying that “employers are living in a state of fear" as a result of EEO and other employment laws.

As a worker, I find his opinion appalling, and as an HR professional I find it maddening.

Here’s my experience.

99.9999999 times out of a hundred, an employer has nothing to fear from any regulatory agency, so long as the employer isn’t acting like an ass.

But when the employer begins acting like an ass, that’s when bad things happen.

For example, if an employee brings a complaint of discrimination and then the employer does nothing or goes into CYA mode, instead of listening and acting like he gives a crap, then employees start to feel invisible, and depressed, and sometimes very, very angry.

And when employees get angry, that’s when the employer should be afraid. Not before.

But here’s the good news. Employee anger is not a foregone conclusion. Anger comes in stages. Again, in my experience, employees don’t start out angry. They start out hurting and wanting somebody to give a shit about their problem.

And when that doesn’t happen, and they’re ignored, or ridiculed, or told they’re mistaken (despite all evidence to the contrary), or retaliated against, or shunned, or whatever—you get the picture—then they begin to feel dejected and trapped and hopeless, and eventually, angry.

And in my opinion, it’s employee anger that fuels many claims and suits, not greed, or opportunity, or any of those other things we sometimes hear about.

It’s simple. After a while, people get tired of being treated as though they aren’t human, they decide to fight back, and then the trouble starts. (Actually it started way before this, but from the employer’s perspective, then the trouble starts.)

And this is soooooo avoidable.

No employer or employer agent (that’s you HR) has to agree with every half-baked complaint brought forth by an employee. (I admit it. Not every complaint will have validity.) But there’s a way to deal with the situation that leaves the employee feeling heard and cared for without compromising the employer’s interest.

However, if you’re just going to go into “lock down,” refusing to give an inch and even acknowledge your employees’ humanity, then, well, you may get what you deserve.

But really, nobody wins. Employees don’t want to be fighting these battles. They just want to work in peace, get a paycheck, and go home.

And of course, only an idiot employer would relish these skirmishes.

So why do we keep perpetuating them?

Is it that hard to look your employee in the eye and see a person? Geez.

Okay then. Let em’ go away angry, and you continue to live in fear.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Looking for Work? Then Lay Off the Drugs, Shut the Hell Up, and Do as You’re Told

Bob Funk, president and founder of Express Employment Professionals, says that "anyone who really wants a job in this country can have one.”

Yup, you read that correctly. Unemployment numbers be damned, Funk asserts that if you have integrity, a strong work ethic, and an ability to pass a drug test he can find you work tomorrow.


But there’s more. In "Bob Funk: Where the Jobs Are—and How to Get One," author Stephen Moore writes:

“The primary jobs problem today, Mr. Funk says, is that too many workers are functionally unemployable because of attitude, behavior or lack of the most basic work skills. One discouraging statistic is that only about one of six workers who comes to Express seeking employment makes the cut. He recites a company statistic that about one in four applicants can't even pass a drug test.”

Well, according to Funk, that “primary” problem has a couple of strong seconds, and those would be Obamacare (I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?) as well as laws like the EEOC and the “Dodd-Frank monstrosity.” Because of these laws, Funk says, “employers are living in a state of fear."


Don’t do the crime, and you won’t do the time, okay employer? And I don’t want to hear anything about how people file frivolous suits and employers have no control over that. Sensible policies and a skilled HR professional or two (plus a good attorney on retainer) can nip all that junk in the bud. I’ve done it multiple times.

Perhaps it would be better for everyone if we returned to the days when employees hardly had any rights? Then business leaders could be happy and carefree and spend their days playing the ukulele instead of gaining worry lines over this EEO crap.

People, I’m trying here.

I’m really trying to give this argument a fair shot. According to its website, Express Employment Professionals has been in business since 1983 and in 2012 generated 2.3 billion in sales, and you can’t argue with success, right?


Here’s the thing. I can believe Mr. Funk might be able to get “anyone” who’s willing to relocate and accept temporary work at whatever pay rate a job.

But so could a lot of other people in his business. Isn’t that what everyone’s been saying for many months now? That companies are creating more and more part-time jobs instead of full-time, good paying jobs with benefits, leading to a boon in the temp agency industry?

While some say this phenomenon is nothing more than a demonstration of corporate greed, others say it’s a reasoned and expected response to uncertainty about the future. But regardless of the reason, few dispute that it’s happening.

So great. Mr. Funk can get anyone but a druggie with a bad attitude a temporary job.

Kudos to you, dude.

Friday, September 20, 2013

House Votes to Defund Obamacare

My oh my, what a day.

A few hours ago, it was announced that the House has passed a spending bill defunding the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” just a few days before the exchanges are scheduled to open for business on October 1.

The bill is now on its way to the Senate. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already made his prediction concerning how well it’ll fare there. "In case there's any shred of doubt in the minds of our House counterparts," Reid said. "I want to be absolutely crystal clear. Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead, dead.”

The Republicans who supported this action (which would be all but one, apparently) seem to think they have a shot at shutting the whole thing down. And by “whole thing,” I mean Obamacare and um … the government.

Bill O’Reilly, taking the words straight out of the mouth of Your Black Friend™ , told his buddy Lou Dobbs that this would not play well with the American public, who would just blame the Republicans if the government shut down. O’Reilly said he agreed with Dobbs that Obamacare is not good for the country, but if Americans continued to perceive the Republican party as the “party of disarray” it isn't going to survive.

Hold on while I get a hanky, okay?

What a mess. I’m all for about fighting for your principles, but its hard to believe that there is anything going on here other than a big ole’ tug-of-war between the Democrats and the Republicans. In fact, who am I kidding? It’s impossible to believe anything else.

Among all the many things that I am not, I am not a political analyst. But, I’ll take my cues from those who are.

Come on, Republicans! This is a flippin’ waste of time and resources. There is no going back. The horse has left the stall. The ship has left the port. Obamacare is the law of the land, and it might be a wonderful thing for many Americans or it might be one stinkin’ mess, but you all need to let this one go for the moment.

Even Bill O’Reilly agrees with me for crying out loud.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Think Twice Before Posting Job Ads Like These, Please

I surely wish the economy would turn around, because as it stands, when it comes to talent acquisition many employers seem to be in a vigorous race to the bottom, and honestly, it makes my head hurt.

As a consultant/freelancer, I spend a lot of time scoping out companies and reviewing job postings and such, and I always come across some doozies that leaving me scratching my head. It seems there is no end to the amount of something that some folks expect for nothing, and there’s also no end to those hiring managers who are as proud as can be to publicly call attention to the fact that they’re assholes.

For example, here’s an ad for a company seeking a marketing expert. Among the list of candidate do’s and don’ts is this gem:

“How do I say this politely? I have no desire to work with crybabies."
The poster then goes on to say that what he or she does want is someone who comes to work ready to “kick butt."

God help you new employee the first time some puffed up corporate bully stomps all over your boundaries and you have the gall to object. At that point I imagine you’ll get reminded quick, fast, and in a hurry that “ain’t no stinkin’ crybabies allowed here.”

Geez. (Of course, if you are a puffed up corporate bully, then I suppose you’ll do just fine.)

Then there’s the company seeking a writer to produce “several posts per day” for $7.00 each. Yes, your eyes are working.

But hey. In the writing game, there are lots of bottom feeders, and I see these ads all day, every day.

Still, even I was surprised by the phrase “Knowledge of X” under “Skills Required.”

Never you mind what type of knowledge the poster is seeking. Suffice it to say that for roughly $3.50 per hour absolutely no knowledge of anything other than breathing should be required for this job. What a nerve. You want knowledge for $3.50 an hour? Hah!

While I’m at it, I also find the various “vanity” ads I run across rather tiresome. You know what I mean, the kind that declare:

You are awesome. A verifiable superstar. You speak fifteen languages, can leap tall buildings in a single bound, and are adept at reading the minds of cats. We’re a young, cool company made up of badasses just like you looking for those special people who will blow us away with their amazing wonderfulness. If you’re up for the challenge (and if you’re truly awesome you are) click here to apply today!”
Or some such crap.

And then there’s the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink job ad, in which applicants are told to respond with a resume, cover letter, salary requirements, three references, a writing sample on the topic of the employers' choosing, and information from your last six jobs (as God is my witness).

(Okay, those last two weren’t specific advertisements, but you get my point.)

And finally, there’s the old borderline discriminatory ad such as this one for a Benefits Consultant:

“We’re seeking a recent college graduate who is enthusiastic, career-minded and self-motivated. Must have a vibrant personality and professional presence. Prior … experience not necessary.”
No old people, high-school graduates (since you didn’t go to college you’re clearly unteachable and not qualified for our no-experience-required position), introverts, or serious-minded folks need apply … ever.

You know what? I just realized I could do this all night, as there is an endless supply of problematic job ads out there. And really, what does it matter? It’s a buyer’s market. Employers can publish all the dumb ads they wish and still be rejecting applicants by the hundreds.

So, I’m back where I started. I can’t wait until this economy improves, which I pray happens sooner rather than later, although I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What HR Pros Can Learn from the Naval Yard Shooting

Like a lot of people, I watched the news reports last night about the shooting at the Washington Naval Yard in D.C.

Aaron Alexis, now dead, is believed to have murdered twelve civilians before being shot and killed by police officers. Alexis was a former Naval reservist who was working as a military subcontractor.

I listened to the testimony from some of those Naval personnel present when the chaos erupted, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with the level of calm and professionalism they exhibited during what certainly had to be a trying time. Their superiors should be proud.

There are still lots of questions that beg answers, and while the professionals are digging for those answers, I’m focused on what we’ve already learned from this tragic incident, because, frankly, that's all I know to do.

Crisis Management Is Not a Waste of Time
We never want to have to put these plans into action, but every organization needs an active crisis management plan. Most of us hate those fire alarm drills that interrupt the work day and take us away from pressing duties that need to be attended to now, but they’re necessary.

There Are Good Reasons to Conduct a Background Check

Some companies routinely conduct background checks on all potential hires, others will conduct checks for certain positions, and still others hardly ever or never conduct any sort of background check. A thorough check is an investment of time and money, but the cost of not doing your due diligence and having something awful happen that could have been avoided is too high to count. And while I don’t know whether Alexis’ employer checked out his background, I do know his background is questionable.

You Need an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
I’ve written before about my support for EAPs. As benefits go, EAPs are cheap, and they’re beneficial in ways that may surprise you. I once had an employee tell me that she and her fiancée contacted the EAP about premarital counseling, since neither was religious or affiliated with a church and wouldn’t be receiving pastoral counseling.

Let’s face it. It’s a troubling, chaotic world, and stuff is always happening within our workplaces, communities, and families. An EAP can help.

Behavioral Interviewing Is Not Just for the Birds
When I read the news reports that Alexis had been discharged from the Navy for “misconduct” and that a 2010 incident with a gun may have been a factor, what immediately came to mind is the behavioral interviewing mantra that “the best predictor of future performance is past behavior.” While I’m not suggesting that “Tell me about a time when you discharged a firearm” should be added to your checklist of interview question staples, I’m saying, look—there’s something to this behavioral interviewing thing. If you aren’t in the habit of asking candidates questions using this technique, you might want to start.

It’s hard if not impossible to make sense of why anyone would do what Alexis is said to have done.

My thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Study Says Rich People Got Way Richer Last Year, But the Rest of Us ... Not So Much

If you’re not looking to get depressed quick, fast, and in a hurry, don't read this article about a recent economic study showing (among other things) that in 2012, the top ten percent of earners took home more than half of the country’s total income. Regular folks saw their incomes rise a paltry one percent.

(Well, as a member of the "regular folks" group, I think this is depressing.)

Experts say that the tax structure and the stock market have contributed big time to the gap. However, I’m no economist, so I invite you to read this article by Matthew O'Brien for his analysis of the situation. Meanwhile, I do understand this—the government has instituted certain policies for the purpose of promoting a “trickle down” effect that hasn’t quite caught on.

Earlier this month, Melissa Francis, host of "MONEY with Melissa Francis" asked whether the huge disparity between CEO and worker pay mattered. On her panel were Forbes Media Chairman Steve Forbes, Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor James Freeman, and’s Jonathan Hoenig. They each said, “no,” it doesn’t matter, and CEOs are paid a premium because they’re worth it.

Forbes added “The real crisis for this economy is not CEO pay, it’s the fact that we’re not creating good jobs. And that lands right at the desk of the US government and their taxes regulations dollars policy, not to mention Obamacare and the cost that’s imposing on companies.”

Again, I’m no economist, but I’m having a hard time getting my head wrapped around this statement (and so I welcome comments from any reader who knows more than I and can help me out) because if the government’s policies are so terrible, then why are companies making so much money and therefore in a position to pay CEOs so well?

Seriously, I’d like to understand this a little better, because right now it sounds like some folks are just spouting nonsense to justify the status quo, and I know that can’t be right.