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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Concept Workplace, Meet Reality

There are all manner of new-concept workplaces written about in on-line and print media.  From Google to Zappos HR professionals are forever getting articles, some of them sent anonymously, about the rule-less workplace; where performance is all that matters and policies are so last-gen.

New Concept, Meet Reality.

As much as I would like to build a workplace where the rules are minimal to non-existent, there is a huge looming presence that makes that irresponsible in the form of Federal, State and Local Governments.

The various laws and regulations promulgated and enforced by various government agencies at all levels comprise a bureaucracy that can be used as a weapon against employers.  Some of these are staffed by true believers who honestly feel that greed and discrimination are institutionalized in every workplace and its their job to use the full force of government to set things right.

HR's job is multi-faceted, but it is primarily to build a fair workplace where good people want to come to work, stay a long time,  and can advance as their talents and efforts warrant.  Implicit in that same system are controls built-in to make sure that poor employees not hired, not promoted, or let go don't use the bureaucracy and its true believers to extort money from the company.

The way this is done is a system of job descriptions, performance records, disciplinary records and work rules designed to identify similarly situated people.  This is a fundamental concept that cannot be overlooked or omitted.  If a current employee complains about treatment, we must be able to identify the rules and see if they were broken by employee or management, and know what we've done in every other similar situation, i.e. with other employees who were similarly situated.

If the accusation or complaint comes through a government agency, such as the EEOC, we must be to able to provide the agency with information on every similarly situated employee and include their race, age, gender, disability status, national origin, etc...  If we can (and we always can) then we can prove that we manage by policy and not by discrimination.  If we can't (and shame on us if we can't) it gets expensive.

So as much as I'd like to make it into Fast Company or WSJ for our innovation, until there is a change in governmental structure and policy (don't hold your breath) it will be the duty of any responsible HR team to administer a system that, among other goals, protects the enterprise from all enemies foreign and domestic.

And yes, that's necessarily bureaucratic at times because that's the government-induced reality of HR.

The new concept workplaces are mostly less than 5 or 6 years old and have a small number of very young highly-educated employees.   All the major social media companies combined have about 80 employees.  As these workforces grow and their employees mature, it remains to be seen how many bogus $100,000 settlement checks are written before equity ownership mandates more traditional HR programs. Meanwhile HR pros have to put up with looking old-school and behind the times while we continue to win cases and protect the workplace.

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