HR’s Unwritten Rules

Welcome back! How was your long holiday weekend?  I ate too much and watched a ton of sports – so mine was wonderful!

For those NFL/Professional Sports Fans out there I give you one of the dumbest unwritten sports rules that is out there:

You can’t lose your starting spot due to injury.

San Fransisco 49’ers starting Quarterback, Alex Smith, was injured recently and potentially could have come back this past week, but his ‘backup’ Colin Kaepernik did such a good job in the one game he started in place of Smith, that the coach decided his starter wasn’t quite ready to go and let’s give the backup another game! This got sports news, radio and fans talking about ‘the rule’ – if you’re the starter and you get injured, once you are better, you automatically get your starting job back.  But, why?  Where does this come from?

I can think of a couple of reasons why an organization might want to have this type of rule, in sports:

1. You don’t want players playing injured and not wanting to tell the coaches for fear if they get pulled, they’ll lose their job.  Thus putting the team in a worse spot of playing injured instead of allowing a healthy player to come in. Also, you don’t want the player furthering injuring themselves worse.

2. If the person has proven themselves to be the best, then they get injured, why wouldn’t you go back with the proven commodity?

I can think of more ways this unwritten rule makes no sense at all:

1. No matter the reason, shouldn’t the person with the best performance get the job?  No matter the reason the person was given to have his or her shot – if they perform better than the previous person, they should keep the job.

2. If you want a performance-based culture, you go with the hot hand.

3. Injuries are a part of the game, just as leave of absences are a part of our work environments, the organizations that are best prepared for this will win in the end – that means having capable succession in place that should be able to perform at a similar level, and if you’re lucky – at a better level.

It’s different for us in HR, right?  We have laws we have to follow – FMLA for example, or your own leave policies.  But is it really that different?  In my experience I see companies constantly make moves when someone has to take a personal or medical leave, and go a different direction with a certain person or position. Let’s face it, the truth is our companies can’t just be put on hold while someone takes weeks or months off to take care of whatever it is they need to do.  That doesn’t mean we eliminate them – we can’t – but we do get very creative in how we bring them back and positions that get created to ensure they still have something, but at the same time the company can continue to move forward in their absence.

I wonder if ‘our’ thinking about the NFL’s unwritten rule of losing your position comes from our own HR rules and laws we have in place in our organizations.  It would seem, like the NFL, most HR shops figure out ways around their own rules as well!

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