Does Your HR Policy Really Matter?



It was in August 25 years ago – give or take – when the whole family was preparing to attend the Michigan Renaissance Festival. August in Michigan is pretty hot, and usually pretty humid, so summer clothing was the choice I expected my kids to make when they were getting dressed.

My oldest daughter Amy, about 4 at the time, showed up at the station wagon wearing a typical summer shorts outfit but with a strange footwear choice. She was wearing winter boots.

Not those cute little suede Uggs that celebs and other fashionistas wear today, but kid’s Michigan winter boots – rubber with fake fur linings and toppers, suitable for snow and slush. I think they were pink.

My husband told her to take off the boots and put on more appropriate footwear, like sandals or tennies. She refused. I chimed in and said I didn’t give a damn what she wore on her feet and let’s just leave already, which, of course, caused a massive argument between me and the hubby.

We went to the Festival with my daughter in her winter boots, my husband and I barely speaking.

It didn’t really matter to anyone but my daughter what she wore on her feet, did it?  She wasn’t in danger of injury or illness or inability to perform her duty to enjoy herself. If her feet got too hot or she was embarrassed – it was her problem to learn from, not mine or my husband’s. And she was old enough to learn that lesson if necessary. And having our family “firm” slowed down over the footwear of a 4 year old was, in my opinion, unnecessary and counter-productive.

But many employers  have decided that their business somehow cannot function properly if they don’t tell you what to wear, how to behave, or what kind of pictures you can have on your wall. I once interviewed at a law firm where the lawyer hid his child’s colorful crayon drawings behind a door, so they wouldn’t “offend his partners”. (I didn’t go to work at that law office!)

In other words, employers treat their employees like 4-year-olds – or in ways that parents can treat a 4-year-old, even if they shouldn’t.  And HR is forced to write endless policies trying to control behavior that doesn’t really matter to the successful operation of the business.

Remember the Serenity Prayer?  It was plastered all over dorm walls and offices when I was young:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

HR should go through every single policy and ask, “Does it really matter if employees do or don’t do this?” Then they should look on their wall or divider and recite my version:

God (or whatever works for you) grant me the serenity to accept the behavior that doesn’t matter
The courage to write a simple policy only when it does
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Do you still think I should have made my daughter change her boots?

All of the footpaths at that Festival were wet and muddy, and it turned out that, despite the fine summer weather, she was the only one who came home with clean, dry feet.

Think of that when you analyze whether your policy really matters to the bottom line of your company.



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Women, Weddings, and WTF?

When I was ten years old, The Detroit News announced at my elementary school that it was holding a meeting for kids who were interested in becoming newspaper carriers. When I attended the meeting, I was very promptly told to leave, because I was a girl, and girls were not allowed to deliver newspapers.

The year was 1965, and that was the world I grew up in: a world where girls and women were not given opportunities and choices. We did what we were told we were allowed to do, and didn’t do what we were told we could not. Several years after this incident, when I was in junior high school, I was almost forced by my mother to take a typing class, because she told me that I needed to have a skill that would allow me to support myself. Although women were encouraged to become teachers and nurses, secretarial work was a sure-fire way for women to work if necessary, and my mother knew and accepted that.

I tried to raise my daughters differently, and to help them understand and accept that they could have, and should demand, a different world. So when my oldest daughter got engaged, my reaction was

copyright 2011 kat berger photography

Yes, this picture is me at her April wedding, telling the story of why I was so dismayed when she got engaged. Dismayed because I felt that marriage was a betrayal of all of the things I had worked to change, and a dismissal of all the opportunities she had that I didn’t have.

So when Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, told the graduating class of Barnard College last month that her generation of women “blew it”, and that equality for women was now on their shoulders, I totally understood. It was the same reaction, more elegantly stated, that I had to my daughter’s engagement. I felt that women’s equality was her burden, and the burden of her fellow Gen-Y-ers, and that marriage was an obstacle, not an assistive device.

I am hoping for the day that she and other Millennials prove me wrong, because they are going to do exactly what Sheryl Sandberg told them to: they are going to lean in. Their husbands or significant others are going to help, so I don’t have to hold up a sign that says WTF? at anymore weddings.


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We Have No Secrets – or do we?

I’ve spent the past 30 days trying to decide how to resume blogging after a long, unintended absence.  Being an open and straightforward person, I considered a highly personal “here’s what went wrong” post.  Since I am also an apologist, I was certainly going to include profuse offers of regret, and promise to never let it happen again.  Another consideration was to post as if I hadn’t been gone at all.  Or maybe just say “I’m back” and drop it.  What to do, what to do?

Finally, I consulted the best expert I know – my daughter Amy.  Being a professional writer and long-time blogger, she is highly qualified to advise me.  I know she has my back.

My daughter pointed me toward some resources, and advised me that there are a whole lot of blogs out there that are apologizing for not blogging. In fact, blogs that resume after extended absences generally follow one of the formats I’d already considered: explanation, apology, or acknowledgment only.  Good information, but not the kind of “do this” kick-in-the-butt that I was looking for.

Finally, while listening to one of my old albums, I made my decision.  I’ve been gone, and now I’m back.  I’m not going to explain, because Carly Simon told me not to. :-)

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The Social Media Ladder

“You really ought to be on Facebook.”

My daughter, Amy Elliott, spoke those words to me in early 2009.  I don’t recall my exact response, although I am sure it was something like, “you’re nuts”, or “what for?”, or “isn’t that for kids like you?”  I probably said all three.  She knows me well, though, so I took her advice and signed up anyway.  I enjoyed it immediately, and I remember becoming SO excited when I actually had a dozen Facebook friends.

Two months later she persuaded me to sign up for Twitter.  I again did as she suggested, but like many people,  I didn’t understand Twitter at first.  Then I read an article in HR Magazine, published by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), about using Twitter.  It included some links and people I could follow.  One of those people had a Twitter instructional video, which included other links and ideas, which led me to  . . . well, you get the picture.  I was hooked.  Addicted.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was climbing  Forrester‘s The Social Technographics Ladder.

SocialLadder Starting out on the very bottom as an inactive non-user, I went to the top, as a blogger, in less than a year.  I may not be doing everything well yet, but I am doing it.  All it took was intellectual curiosity, patience, and the willingness to step outside of my comfort zone.

I began writing this blog with the idea that I was going to encourage everyone to start climbing their own social media ladder.  To quit lurking or listening on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and to start commenting and interacting.  But I realized that not everyone wants to climb a social media ladder.  People have different levels of contentment for different things; who am I to push my passions on someone else?

So instead of encouraging you to climb a social media ladder, I am going to encourage you to find some ladder that you are passionate about – whether it revolves around work, family, friends, hobbies, or charities – and start climbing.  Get better, or smarter, or more involved, or more interactive, but START CLIMBING.

Need an incentive?  I’ll give you one, as suggested by the songwriting team of  John Kander and Fred Ebb:  “boost me up my ladder, kid, and I’ll boost you up yours.”*

I am offering a cash prize of $100, and the book “Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon” to a lucky reader who boosts me up my (or my daughter’s) social media ladder by commenting, tweeting, adding to a blogroll, following through Networked Blogs, etc.  Details in the video below.

Don’t understand what bacon has to do with social media and HR?  Look here.

The Social Media Ladder VIDEO

*I’ll put your name in the raffle drum an extra time if you can tell me (in your comment) the name of the song and the show it is from without looking it up.  Be fair.

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