Health and Human Resources

Current issues in the newspaper refer to poor public health services, serious traffic congestion, spiralling crime rate and double digit inflation. What can we do as Human Resource Professionals to assist our employees in dealing with the current socio-economic conditions?

The newspapers have numerous articles on the public health care services in Trinidad, where citizens are reporting on the poor services received and the medical professionals reporting on the staff shortage, poor facilities, equipment and scarce resources and where the Government, by way of the Minister of Health has continued to debate these allegations.

In today’s Trinidad Daily Express (September 30th 2008), there are two articles that refer to poor health care. One article refers to lack of follow up when baby Justin Paul was burnt in his incubator at Mt Hope Maternity Hospital. Another article speaks to a young boy’s scholarship achievement and he attributes his inspiration and choice of study (maxillofacial surgery) to his brother who suffers with cerebral palsy. His brother has been placed on awaiting list for surgery for three years at Mt Hope, so he hopes to be qualified to reconstruct his brother’s jaw.

How do we protect our employees from suffering similar fate? Quite often, the view to these issues tend to be one-dimensional but it should be noted that a 360 approach may yield substantial results in the long term health of our employees.

We can explore making arrangements with private health institutions and our health insurance providers to ensure our employees get the care needed with the adequate health care coverage. We have negotiated to increase our major medical limit to five million renewable over three years. Also, review the preventative schedule of benefits to ensure adequacy and or acceptability against the premiums being paid. The key recommendation is to discuss needs and costs with the various stakeholders to get the best deal possible to assist employees in times of a medical emergency.

Another option is to organise a subsidised or free vaccination programme within your organisation for the employees. This may encourage employees to get vaccinated since they would not have to be inconvenienced to visit the local health centre and they can enjoy decreased costs or none at all. This preventative measure may result in decreased absenteeism levels.

We can also encourage our employees to live healthy lives to avoid lifestyle diseases. There are some diseases we may be predisposed too and others we may increase the probability of its occurrence when we smoke, drink alcohol excessively, lack of exercise, improper diet, excessive stress and the like. We can engage the services of a nutritionist and or a dietician to assist our employees and their families with eating right. We can also subsidise the fees to attend a local gym to encourage exercise.

An employee assistance provider (EAP) can also be quite helpful by targeting stress areas and also by providing therapy sessions on an individual basis for those that may need it. The EAP is a great network of resources that can be tapped to help improve our employee’s ability to capitalise on day to day character building opportunities.

Many articles have been written on the benefits of a mother’s breast milk to her baby; yet, we ask that our new mothers return to work after three months of giving birth. Returning to a workplace that provides a private area or at least twenty minutes to express breast milk would encourage a new mother to express milk to feed her baby and thus decrease the probability of partial or full transition to formula. Breast milk is said to improve the health of the baby and a healthy baby means that the mummy will spend less time worrying or by the Paediatrician and more productive time at the office. This may also re bound to the claims made against the company’s health plan and thus improves the claims loss ratio.

One final suggestion is a committee that is focussed on encouraging healthy lives, bodies and mind. At Guardian, we have a committee called “Life Pulse” and the committee promotes healthy living through hosting fun walks/runs, hosting various health weeks, where employees can get screened for specific illnesses, sight tests, cholesterol tests, blood sugar testing, blood pressure testing and the like.

The above are merely a few ideas and suggestions to provide care to our employees. The suggestions may serve to build employee commitment and engagement where employees exercise increasing levels of discretionary behaviour and result in improved productivity.

Denise Ali

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Line Managers and Documentation

Human Resource Professionals have a responsibility to advise our clients (Line Managers) on the practices of good industrial relations.

This role has many challenges. There are times one may come across a Line Manager that really grasps the importance of managing people and does not shy away from difficult or character building conversations with employees.

Then there are times, when one may come across the Line Manager who complains about how they are doing the job of the HR department and refuses to accept responsibility for their own hiring decisions.

I recall one manager who opted to hire an employee from a sister company, after being warned about peculiar behaviour by this said employee. The manager experienced many challenges with the employee. However, nothing was well documented or even properly discussed with the employee according to the rules of good industrial relations. When the manager had enough of the alleged poor behaviour, the manager wanted the employee out of the department. At the late stage, the manager sought to involve HR to dismiss the said employee.

Does the above incident sound familiar to any of our readers? Too often, our line managers are hasty, they don’t document any critical incidents and they want to terminate at will.

Training the line on the value of HR is a critical component to the line manager’s success. The important of documentation, how to have performance related discussions and how progressive discipline works are crucial elements of such training. Usually, the line is more receptive to such training when they are the reason the organisation must pay an ex-employee hundreds of thousands of dollars for a wrongful dismissal. Sometimes, the consequences have to become a reality first before we can truly appreciate the value of HR.

Denise Ali
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Front Line Managers as People Managers

According to a CIPD  report in 2003, one of the keys to managing performance through people is triggering discretionary behaviour in employees so that employees go the “extra mile” for the organisation.

People are more likely to engage in positive discretionary behaviour when they feel motivated, are satisfied with their jobs and are committed to their employer. These outcomes are usually a result of many factors. One factor relates to the Front Line Manager and if they embrace their people management role and how well they execute this function.

The People Management function is often thought to be the sole responsibility of Human Resources and any people problem a manager experienced, the employee would be quickly referred to Human Resources. This view is quickly changing to one that holds the Line Manager responsible for people management as well.

People Management comprises activities like employee relations, performance appraisals, coaching, mentoring, developing, training, recruitment, absence management, work life balance, career management, problem solving, listening, communicating, enforcing policies and the list can go on and on.

Promotion from within is an excellent motivational tool (career mobility) and organisations sought and still seek today to ensure a proper balance of internal promotion (consistency) with external recruitment (creativity). However, when an employee is promoted to a manager role because of the great job they did in the old position, hoping they will perform equally well in the new position regardless of the fact that the new position requires a different set of knowledge, skills and abilities, this leads to a misfit and the results are disastrous to all concerned. You gain a bad manager and lose a great technical expert.

In the past, the Line commented that the people management activities made up the Human Resource function and “why Human Resources wanted to pass on their work to them, they have enough work as it is, no time to manage people”.

How do we move from the Line expressing the above sentiment to a complete turnaround of embracing the people management function with complete ownership and accountability?

One of the first things, I would recommend, is to refine the role of the manager with a specific emphasis on people management and decreasing their transactional role as a normal worker.  Traditionally the job details for a manager include processing duties like that of his /her employees plus the management duties. Hence, a re-definition of the job, the expectations and the requirements to fill the role with an emphasis on the behavioural competencies are needed. Keep in mind, this must be consistent with the company’s core values and people philosophy. Anything we do in Human Resource, organisational alignment is critical.

We don’t have the luxury of starting from a clean slate, what do we do with the candidates in manager’s roles who are not best suited for those jobs? Well, we systematically compare their performance and their tool kit of skills, abilities, behavioural competencies and knowledge to what is listed in the re-defined job. We may also want to solicit some feedback on the people management aspects from their staff. This can be anonymously done and it would serve as a great source of data on the actual people management skills of the manager. The results will help identify varying degrees of job fit or gaps. A decision will have to be made on which candidates can be trained to perform or maybe from the onset, a candidate maybe seen to be a clear square peg in a round hole and may perform better in a highly technical role. It is important to note that the manager who does not perform well in the people management role but was great in the technical role may be suffering great internal chaos and may welcome reverting to one’s comfort zone.

By now, we would have identified candidates that need to be trained on how to perform their people management role. In my company, we developed a “Management Development Programme” which is aimed at training our managers according to our re-defined manager profile (emphasis on people management). Our programme is staffed by an internal faculty, that means our own Executives and selected managers are intended to deliver the training. This allows for increased networking among the staff and Executives. It gives the Executives an opportunity to showcase their knowledge of the respective discipline or area of expertise and also provides a sense of satisfaction knowing that they are helping the staff develop.  The key about the training is not only about the “what” but more importantly about the “how”. The “how” speaks to the soft skills training of handling performance challenges, grievances, discipline problems, communication and the like.

Measures of success may range from turnover rates with reasons, absenteeism rates, employee feedback scores, number of employee relation issues escalated for resolution at a higher level, percentage of training gap among team, percentage of new employees confirmed on time among others that can be aligned to one’s won situation.  In my company, we have a 180 degree feedback form completed by a manager’s direct reports on the manager and we also include people measures and targets on the people perspective of their respective balanced scorecards.

Line managers should specifically pay attention to conducting frequent quality performance appraisals where performance feedback is exchanged periodically. Training, coaching, guidance, involvement and communication are key areas for the manager to invest time in. One’s direct reports must feel a sense of openness to discuss matters easily. Work life balance is becoming increasingly important and as such should be respected by the manager and finally recognition is critical, a simple “thank you, great job” does not cost much. It will be wonderful if the organisation has a reward and recognition programme that is easy to use without any bureaucracy and too many authorisations to slow down the process. Rewards should immediately or as close to the action being rewarded.

Managers are people too  and as much as they have a huge responsibility of managing their staff, the organisation must recognise that the managers also have needs. Too often, the organisation may take the middle level managers for granted, where they are expected to turn stone into cheese with little or minimal resources. Lack of resources, unrealistic deadlines, with conflicting tasks and deliverables only serve to manifest itself negatively in the way the employees are treated by the same manager is stressed.  Organisations are well-advised to listen to their managers and treat them in much the same way they would like them to treat the general staff.

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Why Did We Ever Go Into HR?

I just read an interesting article in the July-August Harvard Business Review.

The article entitled “Why Did We Ever Go Into HR” is an interview with two recent Harvard Business MBA’s who chose human resources as a career.  Essentially, they make the case that the field of HR is the “next big thing.”

They argue that with the baby boomers nearing retirement and the Millenials bring new expectations to the workplace, the management of talent is going to become increasingly important.  They felt puzzled that CEO’s that came to the business school to speak shared that they spend 10-20% of their time on this part of their job, but shared little about how to actually do it in practice.

It was interesting to hear their observation that there is a shift away from the monetary levels of HR (compensation, benefits, etc) and a move to measuring the “asset value of human capital” as measured by intangibles such as employee engagement.

They also said that they see an undervalued and under-priced asset in the HR function itself, and that they believe that the value of the function is “poised to appreciate significantly.”

This article is worth reading — in my years of reading the Harvard Business Review, it’s the first article that has explicitly mentioned the HR profession as a whole.

Click here to be taken to the article.

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Caribbean Millenials

I read an excerpt from Claire Raines’s book “Connecting Generations” (2002) and found it to be outstanding in describing the characteristics of each generation — she is spot on.

However, I have found that our new recruits who fit the Millennial profile (age) with first degrees have certain characteristics that have proven to be a management challenge to generation-x managers.

These new graduates have just received their Bachelors degrees and are already aiming to their Masters Degree right away with little or no work experience.

When they enter the new organisation, their department is populated with a cross section of generations working at various tasks; this poses a diversity management challenge in itself. Apart from the obvious differences, the attitude, work ethic and expectations are so far removed from the other generations.

With minimal work experience, they expect to be placed in high level jobs. Organisations need to determine the candidate’s ability to do the job at a lower level first before entrusting the candidate with higher order responsibilities. They think they are much better than they really are.

On way of managing such situations, is to give the candidate projects that they believe they can deliver, while allowing for time to do any necessary re-work. I have found, after much time, and many excuses for non-completion, an admittance of ignorance and a request for assistance with a humbling demeanour usually follows.

The humble, open, attitude is welcomed by all co-workers and now the substantive on the job learning can take place without the inhibitors of “feeling of this is beneath me”. This usually builds competence, experience and ability.

The notion or the perception of a false sense of ability coupled with an air of arrogance can be addressed with a sobering dose of “on the job reality”.

Compensation is another high expectation that follows from an inflated sense of ability. Millennials benchmark themselves against their peers and expect the same status and or compensation even if they as individuals are not as competent in their respective fields as their peers. Long ago, I (Gen X) was told by my parents (baby boomers) “don’t look at what other people have, you don’t know what they had to do to get it”.
The Baby Boomers in our organisation also complained to HR about the lack of manners by the young millenial employees. The comment was “they don’t even say good morning, good day, please, thank you, excuse me”. We are in the process of addressing this in our orientation and diversity management workshops leveraging off our Guardian Angel programme here at Guardian Life.

The older generation considered it an honour to have a job and worked for work’s sake. Baby Boomers characteristically have worked hard because their self-image was based on their career. The teenagers and the twenty something year olds are in the “no fear” category, they are not motivated by threats, progressive discipline or loss of job and this comes across as arrogant and disrespectful to the other generations.

Claire Raine identified unique and compelling messages fed to the Millennials. They are: be smart, you are special, don’t discriminate, 24-7 connectivity, achieve now and serve your community. As I reflect on this, I tell my one year old son, he is smart and special all the time and I chose a pre-school for him to start attending in 2010 by placing his name on a waiting list since he was one month old.

In conclusion, the key is to get to know each individual and what drives him/her to be able to determine the best work plan and style that will achieve on time deliverables. It would be interesting to know if any other organisations in the region experienced similar behaviour.

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Top 100 HR Blogs

When I first conceived this blog and the idea of inviting other writers to contribute, I thought that I should require that the writers focus on content that was specifically Caribbean in orientation.

A few bright souls suggested that that would cut us from the world… and asked “is that a good thing?”

I not only got rid of the requirement, but I also embraced the essence of the idea.

In keeping with that sentiment, here is a very useful list of the top HR bloggers in the world. Maybe one day someone from our region wil gain the prize!
P.S. My favorite blog is “Evil HR Lady” which also appears on CaribHRNews, and is rated as number 6 on the list.

Why Does CaribHRForum Need a Website?

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If you are a long-time subscriber to the CaribHRForum discussion list you may well be wondering to yourself — why does CaribHRForum need a website, a blog and all that stuff?

Well, as useful as the CaribHRForum discussion list is to have, it’s a tough idea to describe to someone who has never experienced a discussion list before.

I decided based on the feedback from HR professionals to provide something more tangible, and something more welcoming. I especially had in mind HR professionals across the region who aren’t all that computer savvy, and who still want to network and connect.

This blog and website are a way to expand the conversation we have been having on the discussion list to include more of our colleagues, and to provide other ways for them to share the information, discussion and other good things that we on the CaribHRForum discussion list have been sharing for several months.

Thankfully, this site can be expanded easily, and new content can be added with just a few clicks, ensuring that our information remains timely, relevant and fresh.

So, welcome to the new, expanded CaribHRForum!

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