I’ve known Warren Young for many years now, and our paths have criss-crossed across different roles and organisations. He’s a good man and well respected in the rec industry. Currently the Recruitment Manager with one of New Zealand’s largest Government departments, you can find him at many recruitment-related events in New Zealand and on Twitter (@warrenyoungster).
It’s been quite a year. Some highs and lows, some surprises – good and bad, and some hopes not yet realised (still holding out). One of the most rewarding aspects of this year for me has been the people I have encountered along the way. Those I work with and those I’ve collaborated with on various assignments. One of the less appetising aspects of this year has been…well, again, some of those I’ve encountered along the way.
It’s been a challenging year for those of us in the people professions. Quite aside from the ongoing need to justify our existence there have been some big let downs from within our profession.
Now since I was a disgruntled student of “personnel management” I swore I wouldn’t work in this domain but here I am still, now many years later. I’ve trod my own path and created my place in the world of the work and the people and stuff. But what I see around me just makes me embarrassed to be associated with the people professions.
Game keeper turned poacher?
This year we seem to have been regularly hearing news stories of the failures of leaders and officials acting outside of the bounds of decency. In my organisation earning the trust of our customers is a daily requirement. Not only do we have to be beyond reproach said my retired banker father, we must be seen to be beyond reproach.
So regularly do we hear reports of inappropriate behaviour by leaders and politicians it’s become normalised – almost expected. “It didn’t happen if the ref didn’t call it” as one ex-All Black put it.
I can’t think of a time when these misjudgements, slips of integrity and missteps have been so prevalent in HR. It’s getting beyond sloppy. It’s gone well past managing a reputation. This is a crisis of integrity. Never has the need for a lifting of standards been more apparent in the history of the HR professions.
Over the past few months I’ve seen not only widely reported examples of leadership misdemeanours, but I’ve personally witnessed HR management caught with its pants at the ankles from low standards (although not in my own organisation I hasten to add). The wall of shame includes:
– An HR Manager apparently censured for breaching the privacy of a disgruntled former employee, an amateur cake decorator. Distributing images (retrieved on demand from controlled social media access) and sullying people’s reputation is beyond provocative and given the lengths gone to, beyond the pale for an HR professional in my view. What outcome could possibly have been sought other than to harm someone?
– In a similar motive an HR Manager attempted to disrupt the subsequent employment of an ex-employee by sending disparaging emails to the employer. We see regular use of cloaking referee comments legitimately under s29 of Privacy Act, but is it fair and reasonable to demean people under anonymity who have asked them to speak on their behalf as a referee?
– When an experienced HR Manager is caught snooping on staff emails and stalking an ex staff member we see a profession in trouble.
– Some of our most senior guardians are showing highly publicised signs of selective memory loss. So is this just a case of personal failings or has this extended to a systemic issue? A reliance on situation ethics rather a framework of standards of behaviour and practice makes it incredibly easy to justify almost anything.
– We see a liberal interpretation of employment law to justify layoffs, re invoking 90 trial periods, and returning staff to minimum wage.
– Recent criticism of recruiters using foul language, is hardly new. Variously they have been accused of everything from opportunism to unethical behaviour and general yobism.
Ironically of course, in many organisations HR is the upholder of codes of conduct. They are called upon to investigate employees who breach standards of behaviour.
(I’m sounding like a unionist here which I’ve never been since they were voluntary. But under these circumstances they sound like a bloody good idea!)
Professionals have to abide by professional codes. Standards of service, accuracy, advice, and ethics are all governed by bodies who govern the standards of our most respected professions and offices. So where are the likes of the RCSA and HRINZ in these debates? They have professional codes of ethics/behaviours.
Maybe it’s time we looked at adopting the establishment of an employment ombudsman here. In Australia, South Africa and Canada the Labour Ombudsman acts as an appellate office, to review decisions that affect employment in the wider public sector. This includes processes around matters relating to employment legislation including restructuring.
We could rely on rules and governing bodies if they are empowered to monitor and enforce accountability. That’s at the formal – and costly one end of the spectrum. At the other we could rely on individuals to take responsibility and set the standard. Seeing an example such as #Illridewithyou in the past few days, a standard setting individual making a stand and leveraging social media, the courage shown by exemplars like Rosa Parks is more immediate, more compelling and has far wider impact. If only we stand for what we believe.
How important are values and ethics if they never challenged?
Perhaps we are guilty of becoming blase about the initiatives we work with. But if they are to be worth any more than the paper we wrote them on, we must place some importance on adhering to our values. They are not trade-able commodities. What worth do we place on behaviour that supports positive culture and values if we won’t pay the price – which is upholding them even under fire?
But in the meantime it’s time to stand up and be counted – show some leadership. Even if it makes us unpopular.