The other day I met a man in fear (and no, for a change I wasn’t the cause of it, har-de-har-har.)
This man employs people; on a basic level, he equips them with the funds to pay their bills and have nice evenings out in return for their time, skills and labour. But he also recognises that he has a duty of care to them that should be reciprocated all the while he keeps up his end of the bargain. He’ll be fair but he expects them to behave in similar fashion. “Do as you would be done by”, basically. That’s how he sees the relationship.
Regardless of whether HR professionals reading this are beginning to foam at the mouth and are fighting the urge to scream “WHAT ABOUT ENGAGEMENT?” and emit the other squeaky noises we often make when faced with someone who 'doesn't get it', I kind of see his point. There’s a duty on both parties to play nice. His fear comes from the fact that he’s got employees who aren’t. Not one bit.
Confidentiality prevents me sharing the details of course, but the crux of the problem is how much he has done on trust, how supportive he has been- and how some little scamps will abuse that.
It doesn’t help that along the road key documents have been lost (including one employee’s contract) and key meetings have gone unrecorded. Things haven't been signed off. Conversations that were had are suddenly twisted, half-remembered or denied entirely. Others have been manufactured, and there are some real dirty tricks being deployed.
So, fear. He’s afraid that by not being as ‘up’ on the admin as he admits he should have been he’s been left exposed, and that it will have a drastic impact on his business. He’s afraid that he can’t act to resolve matters without leaving himself open to a tribunal claim. Mostly, he was afraid to admit all this out loud. So what superb and mega-psychological HR technique did I deploy to make him feel secure enough to let it all out? Simply sticking the kettle on, shutting the door and not doing the sharp intake of breath thing as he set out his position created the right space to let him release the tension. (What? I’m not Freud and never claimed to be.)
I love what I do as an HR professional, but sometimes I get a real sense of the difference I can make by doing it well.
What do I hope he took from our meeting? Well, some peace of mind for starters. I hope he feels that he does have some control in this situation, and that those who think they’ve cornered someone have often simply chosen another corner. When the bell goes, the two parties come out swinging, and that’s about as helpful as rice-paper shoes in monsoon season.
I hope he’s seen that a proactive, realistic HR advisor can put things in place (documents, policies, processes and recording systems) that protect a business and the employees who do play fair. I hope he remembers me when he needs help or guidance.
But I hope more than anything that he’s not afraid now. If he’s anxious, he knows where to come. The kettle’s on.