Back in May, Workforce released their annual list, Workforce 100: Ranking the world’s top companies for HR. Though the criteria change from year to year, many companies make the list multiple times, such as American Express, who topped this year’s list after having been included in three previous years.
Workforce judges companies in seven categories including workplace culture, employee benefits, diversity and inclusion, employee development and talent management, human resources innovation, leadership development and talent acquisition. They source their data from a number of agencies that rank organizations in those categories, as well as partnering with Glassdoor to ensure that employee feedback is taken into account.
An editor for Workforce interviewed several of the HR leaders at some of the companies that won again and again in order to figure out what they have in common and what others can learn from them. Predictably, many harped on their practice of putting employees first. According to Cynt Marshall, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer at AT&T, “At AT&T, we believe that every voice matters, and we want to give our voices access to our leaders so the employees feel they are being heard and so their ideas can be put into action.”
Marshall’s sentiment represents the ambitious goals of every company focused on employee engagement, and it’s no surprise that with an attitude such as hers behind the HR helm AT&T reached number five overall.
Human Resources is one of the most important pieces of any business, though it’s often overlooked in favor of the flashier side of a company, namely Sales or the product itself.
Yet without Human Resources, companies would cease to function and open themselves up to a variety of legal issues. Even small startups that don’t yet have a full time HR employee have to roll out the department’s core functions.
The fact that the CEO or others in such organizations have to fill the role of HR themselves should not be cause for alarm. In smaller companies this may be necessary, and managers in every size company should understand core Human Resources issues.
Great HR practices can add to companies’ bottom lines through increased employee engagement, productivity, and reduced turnover. Unfortunately, the flipside of that is that when Human Resources makes a mistake, it can cost their organization big time. Because it’s infused into the lifeblood of every single department, mistakes from HR ripple throughout a company. All eyes are on them to perform, even though the observers may not realize they’re looking.
Most Human Resources mistakes are easily avoidable. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that all companies are doing all they can to stamp them out, and many are still all too common.
In this article, I want to talk a bit about some of the most common HR mistakes companies make and why exactly they are such egregious offenses. Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and many HR issues are going to be company-specific. After reading this article, I strongly recommend you go out and learn more about HR best practices and what you can do to combat these errors. For now, I’ll stick to some of the most common and overarching problems that lots of businesses face.
So without further ado, here are 7 common HR mistakes you should be watching out for.
Bad hires that turn into worse promotions
Picture this scenario. Your company has just lost an essential member of a very important team, lured away by promises of a bigger salary and better benefits elsewhere. This is the worst possible time for them to go because a new initiative is launching for which they were supposed to play a huge role.
What happens now?
Unfortunately, lots of companies enter panic mode and hustle to fill the empty seat as quickly as possible. They’ve got no choice, and sometimes they’re so desperate that they rush through the interview process only to find out later that their new hire has far too little experience and doesn’t fit in with the company culture at all.
According to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, the cost for recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee averages $4,000 – and jumps to $7,000 if that person is a manager. Employee turnover is even more dire, with total costs for needing to replace someone coming in at up to 150% of that person’s salary.
With that kind of investment in an employee, it’s necessary to vet them well. To do this, you need to make sure that interviews are good indicators of future performance. That means focusing on how past accomplishments and struggles will translate to this job. No trick “gotcha” questions and no excess questions that don’t assist your judgement.
On a similar note, hasty promotions are also bad news. The trap that lots of companies fall into is recognizing managerial and leadership skills as separate from job performance. Just because someone is great at their job doesn’t mean they’ll be just as good at managing others. By all means, encourage and reward them, but maybe come up with a reward that doesn’t involve management if that’s not appropriate.
Disregarding training and onboarding
Companies that wait for a new employee’s first day to start getting them acclimated are shooting themselves in the foot. It takes months for a new hire to be fully functional or to reach the productivity of their coworkers.
Improper training only exacerbates the situation, and the sad thing is that many companies’ onboarding process is lackluster. Having a few standardized modules for workers to run through in their first day or their first week, maybe in addition to showing them the best place for lunch, won’t cut it.
Poor onboarding has far reaching effects that go beyond just the time it takes to make employees productive. As Interact’s Head of Talent, Amy Needham, says, “I think it can be hugely detrimental to employee engagement levels if this is done badly or not at all. This is the first real employee experience and, as such, needs careful planning and execution.”
Their data scientists, some of the best in the world, determined five actions managers can take to speed up the onboarding process by up to 25%! HR at Google now sends all managers a checklist with these items prior to their first day and encourages things like having discussions around roles and responsibilities and matching the new employee with a buddy/mentor.
The key to Google’s strategy is that they encourage managers to begin this process before an employee’s first day. Having important discussions and beginning to include new hires on team emails from the time the offer letter is sent gives people an idea of what will be expected of them and builds a sense of camaraderie between them and their new teammates. It also lets them get any questions they might have out of the way before being thrown into the deep end.
Not thoroughly documenting work history
This one is applicable for all sorts of reasons. For instance, when performance review time rolls around, you’ll want to have lots of materials to draw from. Documenting someone’s work will also let you know if they’ve reached an appropriate time for a promotion. But this paper trail comes in most useful when you hit that least fun of all HR related duties: firing.
Just because your company is an at will employer and can terminate someone for almost any reason does not make you ironclad. Lawsuits for wrongful termination are unfortunately common, and you never know who is likely to take you to court.
An ex-employee can say that they were fired for being a member of a protected class, which is a serious offense. In a case like this, you’d better hope that you as an employer have their work history well documented so you’re able to demonstrate the real reason why they had to go.
This is important because bad employees cost companies lots of money. That’s no secret. If someone is a real problem, is dragging down the rest of the team, and is causing the company to lose revenue, they’ve got to go sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, if you have poor documentation, this is easier said than done.
Incomplete employee handbook and policies (or none at all!)
All companies need rules of conduct. What many companies don’t do effectively is update these rules on a consistent basis. Small companies also may have the problem of not having their policies written down at all. Maybe they feel they’re too small to need this, or maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it.
This is a big mistake. All it takes is one employee causing problems or one case of harassment to completely change the mood at an organization. If this turns into a legal issue, the ramifications can potentially be dire.
If and when someone is disruptive or negative in a way you need to address, it’s paramount that you already have policies in place. This means not just rules of conduct but procedures to follow when those rules are broken.
Not sure of where to start? No problem! Xenium, a Human Resources consulting firm out of Portland, Oregon, recently put together a podcast on the subject. In it they go through what’s typically in an employee handbook, how often employers should update that handbook, and what types of policies and procedures to include.
Lack of adequate management training
Remember how we touched on the need for proper onboarding and the consequences of not having it? That doesn’t just apply to regular employees.
Managers need training too. In fact, if their performance isn’t up to snuff, that will arguably be felt in a much bigger way than other types of employees.
When employees are promoted to a managerial level they need to be trained to handle the new responsibilities, even if they showed excellent leadership beforehand.
Joseph DiCarlo, HR Director for a medical group in Westchester, New York known as WestMed, recently gave an interview to Westchester Magazine in which he touched on this as well as a number of other HR issues. The magazine describes WestMeds approach to management training: “At WestMed, that means a formal, in-house, management-training curriculum that covers both ‘soft’ skills, like how to assess different personalities and how to develop and be aware of your management style, as well as ‘hard’ skills, like understanding the legal implications of management, based on state and federal laws.”
Not developing and rewarding good performance
No one wants to feel stagnant at their job. That’s a recipe for low engagement. Yet not everyone is ready for a promotion either.
So how can you make sure that all employees stay engaged and satisfied in their roles?
Employee recognition here is key. When someone does a good job or progresses in their abilities, show them that you noticed. Talk to them about their goals, about where they want to go with the company, and about skills they want to develop! Don’t be afraid of a raise if the company can afford it and they deserve it.
Maybe a promotion is the right move for this person, and maybe it’s not. Regardless, make sure they know they have forward momentum. When they express a desire to move to a certain position or learn new skills, make sure they’re provided with the resources to make that happen. That means access to learning materials and the time to spend honing their talents.
Thinking that an “open door” policy is enough
Every company, every manager, and every HR department likes to think their employees trust them. They see themselves as people their employees will come to if there’s ever a problem and they need to speak out.
Unfortunately, that’s the case far less often than most people in positions of authority care to admit.
People are naturally wary of telling on a peer who’s causing problems or expressing concern with their boss’ conduct or decisions. We have this engrained in us from an early age. We think that speaking out in this way has consequences and that those consequences won’t look good for us.
That’s why companies who rely on an open door policy, the idea that employees can come forward to speak to management or Human Resources, probably miss a lot of issues they shouldn’t.
Rather than putting an open door policy in place and moving on, establish a path for your employees to anonymously report HR violations. Keep your ears open as well. You can’t count on yourself to catch every issue, but you can certainly be proactive.
Human Resources is one of the most important jobs in any business. It’s also one where it’s easy to put policies in place and then let them play out without oversight. You should be constantly auditing yourself, keeping abreast of relevant laws, and making sure your policies and procedures are updated when they need to be. If you do that, you’ll learn what mistakes beyond the ones we just discussed are relevant for your company. More than that, you’ll learn to avoid them.