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“Horrible HR Policies to Nuke in 2015”

I came across this article on Linkedin. If you’re on Linkedin, here’s the link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/horrible-hr-policies-nuke-2015-liz-ryan If you aren’t, well sorry but I couldn’t find it anywhere else (including the author’s blog) so I assume it’s a Linkedin exclusive.

Clearly I’m not going to copy it, but I think it’s reasonable to discuss it here.

Basically, it’s a list of terrible HR policies that are nevertheless common. One of the best things about being your own boss is not having HR policies. And I suspect that these, despite being terrible, are very common, especially among larger organisations. Put it this way, my previous employer, the giant professional services firm referred to on these pages (for reasons that are sort of apparent to anyone who has seen or read ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) as ‘JOLF’ was regularly in the top five in the Sunday Times ‘Best Big Company to Work For’ Survey. And I’ve encountered maybe nine of the ten practices listed here at that paragon employer.

1. No References

Basically, as a manager, you aren’t allowed to write a reference for someone who has worked for you who is leaving to get another job. Why? Because the firm is scared that you’ll land the firm with a defamation lawsuit. Ridiculous. (And yes, I did this once – wrote a reference for someone who worked for me without being aware of the rule, and yes I got told off for it.)

2. Old-School Attendance Policies

So you expect people to work unpaid overtime at short-notice and to stay away from home for nights on end, but think it’s a serious issue if someone turns up at 9.05 every now and again? Yup, definitely seen this brought up, especially in appraisal meetings (the annual meetings where managers get together to grade the people in their department).

3. Bereavement Pay

This is the policy of not believing that your employees really have a funeral to go to without actual proof, like a copy of the funeral notice. Never saw this at JOLF, but something vaguely similar was the assistant manager whose husband had cancer. The only correct answer to a question that starts “My husband has just called and isn’t feeling well…” is something that starts “Yes, of course, go now” and not one that starts “OK, but could you just…”

4. Gimme Those Miles

You make your employees fly all over the world, enduring nights away from home, jetlag and Paris Charles de Gaulle, but they don’t get to keep their Air Miles?

I honestly don’t know what the JOLF policy on Air Miles was. I don’t remember ever getting any, and I did fly fairly often, if only within Western Europe. However, they made it so that all expenses could only be paid for using a JOLF credit card and not for example, your own perfectly good credit card that paid 1.5% cashback. I mentioned this in a department meeting once and one of the other senior managers in my department (the sort of man who would have been referred to in my school as an “utter wanker”) suggested that I should give the firm the 1.5% cashback that I had previously earned.

5. Bell Curves for People

This is the principle that in any group of people being assessed for performance, the proportion of good grades, middling grades and crap grades should be fixed, regardless of the actual performance of those individuals.

JOLF was completely and utterly wedded to this principle. And the bell curve didn’t apply across the whole firm, or even a function of a few thousand people. It was applied at department level. Some departments had less than ten people. So if you’re in an elite team of say nine people, selected from the best of the best, guess what? You’ve got a one in three chance of getting a crap performance grade this year (and hence no pay rise, no bonus, no chance of promotion).

6. Strike Three, You’re Out!

This is disciplinary procedures that get progressively worse for the victim. (And yes, I choose the word ‘victim’ deliberately.) Less experience of this at JOLF certainly, but in one particular example it seemed to me that the disciplinary procedure was that once someone got to strike one, the decision had already been made and strikes two and three were just more evidence for the file.

7. Black Hole Recruiting

Using a simple computer system to decide who gets a job interview. No, can’t say I saw this at JOLF. Most recruits were at graduate level, and the numbers involved mean that some pre-interview filter is vital. However, JOLF did this with online aptitude tests. And the interview and assessment system was very good, very thorough and got a good diversity of applicants (unlike certain competitors if reputation is accurate).

8. Stack Ranking / Forced Ranking

Ranking employees in a given population from best to worst.

Like Bell Curves, JOLF was wedded to this. I’ve been in departments where this completely wrecked morale. And why would you want to install a system where it was in every employee’s interests to make every other employee look bad? And where the people who were best at this got rewarded for it?

9. Change Departments? You Wish.

Make it difficult for people to move to a different job in the company. What happens if you do this? They leave the company.

JOLF was very accommodating when I said I wanted to move from my first office to my second because the firm prided itself on this kind of mobility. Of course the second office didn’t actually give me any clients…

10. Tracking Keystrokes and Other Trivia

Tracking some odd measure of work as an approximation of how good someone is at their job.

I’ve never seen keystrokes monitored at JOLF, but that would hardly fit for a professional services firm. However, some parts of the firm obsessed about ‘utilisation’, defined as the percentage of your time that you spent on chargeable work. So improving your skills through training (even mandatory training) or doing other kinds of helpful work (like interviewing) were both BAD, but taking longer than you should have done to perform some client work was GOOD.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2015 08:23 am (UTC)
HR is an oxymoron. I've had several debates with HR folk who don't see their role beyond managing people. If people are the greatest asset of any business, then surely it's incumbent on them to get the best of out of people or to develop them to be the most of anything, even if that means helping them leave the company because they've gone as far as they can. I see so many examples where people are managed by manual, and all it leads to is a deep sense of frustration with the status quo. Give me a HR person who ditches the manual and listens and acts empathically any day of the week.
Jan. 15th, 2015 09:29 am (UTC)
Agreed. And then there's the related phenomenon of the HR department that exists solely to rationalise and legalise the actions of senior management. ("I want to get rid of this person. Tell me how to do that without risking a tribunal.")
Jan. 15th, 2015 09:41 pm (UTC)
I've encountered all of these - and been endlessly frustrated by them.

I think that (6) and (8) are the most toxic - anything where you tie other people's reward to being better than everyone around them is both morale-destroying and silly - but all of them cause real problems.
Jan. 16th, 2015 11:00 am (UTC)
Interesting Links for 16-01-2015
User andrewducker referenced to your post from Interesting Links for 16-01-2015 saying: [...] ) Horrible HR Policies to Nuke in 2015 [...]
Jan. 16th, 2015 12:19 pm (UTC)
Worst practices
User supergee referenced to your post from Worst practices saying: [...] You can't spell "horror" without HR [...]
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