I was on vacation last week – Yea Me! I got to spend a ton of quality time with Kim and the boys as we hit Northern Michigan and pretty much just laid around for most of the week. One thing happened during the week that stuck with me, and with my kids as we were hanging out in one of the small sleeping towns up north. First, most of Northern Michigan closes down during the winter – shops, restaurants, etc. They’re mostly summer towns that open up between Memorial Day and Labor Day (you get a peak into life in Michigan – we only get 90 days of temps warm enough to wear shorts). So, as we were walking in between the 3 shops that were open all year – we decided to cut across the street, instead of walking the other 100 yards to the next corner. A car stopped to let us cross, very neighborly, and that caused the person behind them to also stop – a local plumber/repairman (he was driving a van with his name and number on the side). We crossed and the local repair guy yelled out his window as he passed “that’s what cross walks are made for!” in nasty-jerk tone – which wasn’t missed by my kids – who were concerned – I laughed – since it was funny someone would put one ounce of energy into caring that a family didn’t use the crosswalk in a town where we were clearly the only ones walking around and no traffic!
He was being a jerk. Probably he is a jerk – most people don’t just act like a jerk – you either are a jerk or you’re not jerk.
I’ve run into quite a few HR folks in my life who tend to be jerks. They don’t have to be jerks, but they let their informal and sometimes formal “power” in HR to turn them into jerks. You know these people – they tend to be black and white – in a world full of grey. These are the people who love to exact punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. They are the ones who won’t let somebody sign up for insurance because they missed the deadline by a day, and gosh for bid, if they let one person, than they have to let everyone, right!? These are the ones who won’t hire someone who had a DWI on their record when they check their background – 15 years ago – because well come on when they were 19 years old – they never got a DWI. These are the ones who use their progressive discipline to fire a solid performer, because again – you were 15 minutes late and when we started the process 18 months ago we told you, you couldn’t be late again – ever, or you would be fired. They are jerks.
HR Pros – don’t kid yourself when you do something stupid to an employee and you try and justify it by saying “that’s the policy/rule” or “that’s the process” or “well, I can’t do anything about that” or “that’s not up to me” – more than likely you’re being a jerk. You don’t have to be a jerk – you’re choosing to be a jerk. In almost everything we do in HR, we can chose to help someone, in one way or another – but to many of us make the decision not to help and be a jerk. You don’t have to be a jerk to have accountability and consistency within your organization – you have to have the guts to say “no” when the time calls for it.