HR’s Unwritten Rules!

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

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

Dallas Cowboy’s, Tony Romo was injured at the beginning of this season and potentially could have come back this past week, but his ‘backup’ Dax Prescott has done such a good job this season, that the coach and GM now have a really difficult decision to make! This has 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?

This has 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, and legally 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!

4 thoughts on “HR’s Unwritten Rules!

  1. I see what you are saying, Tim, but the reality is that most supervisors will look at someone taking extended time off and, no matter what kind of rock star they were when they were present, suddenly, that person isn’t as dependable or as committed to the organization as this other person who HAS BEEN HERE and didn’t take time off to have a baby or care for a family member or care for themselves. I deal with this on a daily basis, explaining over and over again to my supervisors that someone who is on a leave that WE approved cannot have that count against them. That you are not allowed to ding them on their annual evaluation for not being dependable because they have been on an approved leave and no this isn’t the same as calling in sick every day for a month.

    Should Tony Romo get the starting job back? I don’t know – from an HR perspective, I don’t need to bring him back to his exact job, just a similar one and I can’t cut his pay. I guess you could make the argument that starting QB is better than back-up but if your new QB is better and the old one has a history of “calling in sick” (injuries) …

  2. No, the moral many employees take from this story is don’t miss work. There is inherent mistrust in leadership who will use any excuse to move a favorite forward – regardless of performance. Why are women and single parents struggling to get ahead? Because HR helps leadership justify sketchy decisions about performance. I agree – performance is important. But you’re turning a blind eye to the reality of work if you think this isn’t being abused on a daily basis.

  3. I always enjoy it when you write about a topic that could get you slammed. Because really, you just described EXACTLY why women feel discriminated against for taking maternity leave. Or why people put off surgery as long as they can. Yes, technically companies “follow the rules” but the black mark on their record that you described is the insidious bias that follows people throughout their career. And that’s why there ARE rules. Do personal leaves make opportunities for others to step up? HELL YES. And I think companies are remiss if they don’t leverage that in some way. But you’re describing “moving on” from someone who very well may have been a star player. A performance culture is one thing. But are you analyzing who’s disproportionately hurt by that mentality? I’m guessing it’s women. I could be wrong, but we all make up stats, right? 😉

    • To be fair, Mary, I actually just brought back a female employee who went well past her 12 weeks. She was a rock star employee and it was never in question that I wouldn’t bring her back. The reality is, though, if she sucked and went past 12 weeks, I would have had a decision to make. The morale of this story is don’t suck. I think people who suck get most disproportionately hurt by this mentality.


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