Honouring Humanity in Human Resources: It Matters.

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No matter what you do for a living or where you work, you are likely involved with a human resources division in your organization. These departments are centrally focused on the management of people – how they are hired (and fired) – how they are paid and how much – how they are provided with the tools to meet the requirements of their job descriptions.

Nowadays, many organizations are committed to supporting the training and wellness needs of employees. It’s like we are actually starting to get it – that healthy and happy people are capable of high quality service. Smart.

People Trump Paper and Process Every Time

Why do we spend so much time and energy caring for equipment, processes, policies and procedures than we do for human beings? We’ll spend countless hours cleaning our computers of viruses while we ignore the slow poisoning of our relationships?

We expect employees to grieve the loss of a loved one in 3 – 5 days and get their butts back to work at top performance. We say that we want employees to take risks, to be creative, to stretch themselves and contribute at their highest level, but when this happens, we buckle under the threat of change and take steps to put that person back in their place.

I think this happens because it is easier. It’s that simple.

In the field of helping professions, this takes on even greater importance. We are talking about people working with other people to provide services to people. It is one big pot of humanity. And humanity can be messy at times. Messy and unpredictable. And ultimately divine.

The Shared Human Experience

Many of the challenges that often lead people to access social services and health care can be the same kinds of challenges faced by those people providing the services. This is the truth.

But, we continue to go by the old adage telling us that as helping professionals we need to compartmentalize these challenges – don’t bring this into the workplace – put it on the back burner. What if we took the time to sit with our challenges – to see the connection between what causes us despair and what breaks the hearts of those who come to us for help? How can we do this without losing sight of our role as a professional helper? How do we maintain integrity in the face of struggle? What can our organizations do to support the human experience of their employees?

Struggle and challenge aside. How much time do you spend cultivating your unique gifts – looking for opportunities for meaningful contribution? Do you have the opportunity to live from your source of inspiration – to serve from this source of inspiration?

Want to be an Organization that Celebrates Your Human Resources?

One of the most powerful things that human services organizations can do is to honour and uplift their human resources. Create opportunities for self-expression and personal fulfillment for employees. I am convinced that people who feel inspired and fulfilled in their work are people who live on the cutting edge of their creativity. Who wouldn’t want a workforce filled with those people?

The most valuable resource contained in health care and human services organizations are human.

How does your organization care for its human resources?

Hiring and Potentially Unlawful Employment Practices

Twice in the last week I’ve been confronted by the issue of asking employment applicants whether they have any health or disability-related needs or requirements. First at a Human Resources Institute diversity event, and then on the application form for a part-time position I have applied for.

The practice seems quite prevalent among employers, who seem unaware that it is a potential breach of human rights. Based on the four years I spent working for the Human Rights Commission, let me explain what the problems, risks and solutions are.

Disability_symbols_16The Problem

Section 23 of the NZ Human Rights Act 1993 states:

Particulars of applicants for employment

It shall be unlawful for any person to use or circulate any form of application for employment or to make any inquiry of or about any applicant for employment which indicates, or could reasonably be understood as indicating, an intention to commit a breach of section 22.

Section 22 of the Act says that, if an applicant is qualified for the particular job, an employer cannot refuse or omit to employ the applicant; offer or afford the applicant or the employee less favourable terms of employment, terminate the employment of the employee, subject the employee to any detriment, or retire the employee, by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination, of which disability/illness is one.

The employment application I filled in asked:

  • Do you have any health conditions that may affect your ability to effectively carry out the functions and responsibilities of the position you are applying for? If yes, please give brief details.
  • Please list any special requirements, on health or personal grounds, you may need us to consider if you are employed with us.

The Risk

By asking these questions, and by my answering them, the employer puts itself at risk. If I do not get an interview, I may reasonably suspect that I have not been shortlisted because of my answer. I could then complain to the Human Rights Commission that I was not offered an interview because the employer did not want to employ me because of my disability. The onus is on the employer to prove I was less qualified than the person they employed.

Even if I do get an interview but not the job, I may reasonably expect that I wasn’t chosen because of my disability. A further mistake employers make is to ask these questions at interview — again, it puts the employer under suspicion of disability discrimination and, if faced with a complaint, they must prove the person employed was more highly qualified than the disabled candidate.

The Solution

Mitigating the risk is quite simple.

For the candidate:

  • You are under no obligation to answer questions about your health or disability status on application forms, so don’t. I simply wrote, for both questions, “I will be willing to answer this question when and if an offer of employment is made (refer s23 Human Rights Act 1993-NZ).”
  • If you are asked similar question in an employment interview, say the same thing.
  • If you are offered the job, be willing to discuss your needs openly and honestly and, if need be, offer solutions to any problems that may impact on your ability to do the job.

For the employer:

  • Do not ask questions about health or disability status on application forms or in employment interviews.
  • When you come to offer to offer a candidate a position, this is the correct time to ask about health and disability status — for any candidate, as not all illnesses or impairments are visibly obvious.
  • An employer has a responsibility to offer reasonable accommodation of an illness or disability, but only if the accommodation does not cause undue hardship to the employer’s operation or other employees. Accommodations may be things like flexible hours, a slight change in duties or, in some cases, assistive equipment. (See more about being an accessible employer here.)
  • Working out whether an accommodation is reasonable or not can best done in a transparent conversation with the favoured candidate. Remember that, if they are your preferred choice, making changes will be balanced by having the best person for the job. Remember too that a qualified candidate will most likely have developed ways to manage the impact of their illness or disability. Take notes about the discussion, the suggested accommodations, whether or not you consider them reasonable and why.
  • If, after discussion with the candidate you feel there is no way to accommodate their needs without undue hardship, you may need to withdraw your offer of employment. The candidate may disagree and complain, but a clear record of the discussion will help you prove that you have been reasonable in considering the candidate’s needs.

How To Be A More Ethical Manager

The surly, unfriendly boss has long been a corporate stereotype and the butt of many jokes in the workplace. However in modern businesses, organisations, and charities, the manager is increasingly responsible for the wellbeing of staff which means finding modern ways to motivate.

How to Be a More Ethical Manager
How to Be a More Ethical Manager

From the CEO to the project manager, every supervisor in a charity has a role to play in motivating staff and keeping morale high. There are various skills you can develop to make yourself more effective as a manager in your charity or business, and we’ll look at a few here.

Flexibility

Managers are increasingly having to learn to be flexible. The information age has introduced a huge range of challenges for the modern boss, from the use of social media (authorised or not) to the monitoring of staff performance in the cloud. Managers need to teach and learn. Most importantly, they must accept that other team members may have more to contribute on certain topics. The ability to be part of a team, as well as its leader, will serve any manager well as they strive to be more ethical in their leadership.

Generosity

The modern manager needs to be confident in their appraisal of a situation, yet willing to bend and adapt – and willing to admit when they’re wrong. An ethical approach to leadership means letting others lead when they are in a better position to do so, then stepping up to help when others struggle. Charity employees are in an ideal position to recognise opportunities to give more of themselves and realise when energy can be conserved for other tasks.

Motivation

Modern bosses are increasingly asked to motivate staff using positive methods rather than correction. That means finding the employee’s trigger and using it to lead them towards positive change. For some employees, that might be an extra break, an early finish or a bonus. For others, simply recognising their achievements is enough.

Managers are increasingly aware that punishment breeds resentment, and in voluntary jobs or charity work, the ability to motivate is a critical skill. The very best managers and bosses inspire a willingness to learn and a desire to work hard, and are able to discover the things that make their team members ‘tick’ in order to foster a positive, productive working environment.

Keeping With the Times

According to this blog by Sue Brooks, a human resources expert, our modern, ethical bosses need “great learning capacity and the boldness to try new ideas”. Bosses also arguably need the confidence to tackle problems in the team, or the organisation, and willingness to admit to their own flaws before blaming others.

Breeding honesty, transparency and trust is a great way to ensure your team stays motivated and united in its aims: to do good work for your charity or non-profit and approach each task with a can-do attitude. Sure, it’s a matter for HR, but it’s also a matter for any business or charity that employs people and needs their commitment to the job.

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