Pulling Back the Covers on HR Risks

February 8 2018 | by Kristi Weierbach, Ph.D., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, FPC

Regularly we talk about “peeling back the onion,” because in our experience we have found that the immediate or known issue is only surface deep. Just like an onion, to discover the root of a problem you often must pull back a few layers, hopefully with fewer tears. When diagnosing an illness, repairing a broken-down car, or finding the source of a leaking roof, you need to research the issue while minimizing the trial and error journey that sometimes happens. It is no different with HR, but do you know where to begin?

It is not uncommon for a key individual in a company to be given the responsibility of Human Resources (HR), without extensive knowledge or experience in the field. Unknowingly these individuals may put the company at additional risk due to their inexperience or lack of knowledge. I have seen employee issues escalate, companies lose top talent, and tens of thousands of dollars spent on unnecessary lawsuits because symptoms were treated, but the underlying problem was never solved. Consider the following scenarios, are you willing to take the risk of not knowing?

Scenario #1 – Best Friends

Over the past several years two employees developed a friendship both professionally and personally. It was not uncommon for these coworkers to attend sporting events several times each year, sometimes including spouses and children. The two friends would joke around with each other regularly at work, making the office environment more fun. Recently a new employee started who was a similar ethnicity as one of the best friends, but different than the other. The new employee initially brushed off their joking, in an effort to “fit in,” even though there were often references to different ethnicities.

One day the newly hired employee had enough and spoke up, asking the best friends to stop making comments about different ethnicities. Initially, they seemed to respect his wishes, and while their supervisor was aware of the situation, he thought the issue was resolved after assigning the employees to different projects. What the supervisor isn’t cognizant of, is that during lunch the banter increased and included additional employees. The issue escalated to the point that the newly hired employee quit, not knowing what his options were. He had no idea what to do when an issue is not resolved after multiple conversations with his supervisor. The harassment/bullying not only continued but escalated after concerns were expressed, including comments that could be considered discriminatory due to different ethnic backgrounds. This is the perfect storm for a lawsuit, and it’s not a situation you ever want to be in.

Scenario #2 – Mediocrity

Employee A (EA) is about five years older and a position higher than Employee B (EB). EA interviewed well and demonstrated what appeared to be healthy knowledge and experience in the field of study. However, EA frequently asks EB questions, sometimes repetitively. Not only is no credit given to EB, but EB is often given the tasks that EA doesn’t want or know how to do. It’s assumed that EA earns more, yet does not perform a higher level of work or increasingly difficult work.

EB becomes more and more frustrated and less engaged. EB has a tremendous amount of potential and has been approached multiple times by competitors. Even though EB has expressed frustration to her supervisor, nothing appears to be done to address the issue. This is a prime example how top talent is stolen away, which is not something companies can afford.

Next Steps

In both scenarios:

  • Do you think that the person responsible for the HR function knew the depth of the issue?
  • Do you think that the leadership team knew the risk associated with each of these scenarios?
  • Did anyone truly have a pulse on their employees to quickly identify points of weakness?

Are you an Executive who isn’t sure what is lurking under the covers in your organization or are you currently responsible for HR and unsure if there are any hidden issues about to explode in your company? If so, you will want to attend our next webinar on Tuesday, February 20 – Pulling Back the Covers on HR. We’ll help you to identify human resource risks that can significantly impact your company.

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