Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Confronting an empty desk – manager and HR, or manager versus HR

Posted in HR and personnel, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 4, 2011

This is my third posting in a short series on the issues and perceptions that arise when people leave an organization and gaps are created in teams, and in the human resources available to complete tasks and reach assigned priority goals.

I have looked at this from the perspective of employees and team members as they arrive at work to find a peer suddenly missing, will all of the uncertainties and functional gaps that can create for them. My second posting in this series looked at the issues and concerns that can arise from this for a team manager and HR perspective where there can be significant alignment in approach and perspective for them when dealing with lay-offs and related events. I focused there on areas of congruence, or at least of consistency of action and approach taken, in understanding possible sources of concern among remaining employees after a lay-off or downsizing, and in ameliorating them. I simply add that consistency in process is generally an enforced goal where either hiring, or firings or other lay-offs or staff reductions are involved.

I write this posting with a goal of breaking the stereotypic myth, as frequently assumed by hands-on employees and members of teams, that there is a single company-wide vision, perspective, understanding and way in place when employees are let go. That is rarely the case with managers losing employees taking a very different view of these events than would be taken by HR.

• When you are a manager and you lose an employee who reports to you, this creates a gap in your capacity to meet your agreed-upon tasks and goals that were assigned to you for your team to manage and complete. This is true whether motivation and decision for an employee separation came from outside of your team or directly from you. Your goal is to restore completion of your team with all of the necessary skills covered and with sufficient team members in place to do everything necessary to meet team goals and priorities and on schedule. And you see this as creating problems for you even if a replacement is immediately available as there are always delays while a new hire or transfer-in comes up to speed.
• When you approach employee separations from the Human Resources perspective you look at matters with a very different approach and understanding. You do not start out oriented towards meeting the needs of the specific teams that the departing employee belonged to, or from an ownership of responsibility position for completing those tasks. You are in effect required to take a “company wide” perspective where local factors and considerations are downplayed and overall organizational consistency with its due diligence requirements take priority.

As an extreme case for highlighting the differences here, I have see situations where a manager, and generally a fairly senior manager is told they have to meet a staff reduction quota, where it is up to them to decide the who and where but they have to reduce their staff by the right numbers, and by a set deadline, however they do it. This can ripple down through the ranks with a senior manager telling their middle managers and them telling their lower level managers that they have to find some X number of employees to let go – and still meet all of their deadlines, schedules and goals.

• From a rank and file employee perspective, it is important to understand and remember that the people they report to may be even more reluctant then them to see an employee go.
• From a manager’s perspective it is important to remember that the people who report to them probably do not see or understand that this is a last resort solution and sometimes not a positive solution for them at all – and even when they find themselves laying off a member of their team for cause and at their own separation-initiating suggestion.
• From a HR perspective, it is important to look at and understand the local, team level and employee level impact of any separations as well as thinking and viewing this from a more company-wide, detached perspective – a view too often taken in practice that can and does lead to distrust of Human Resources and its capabilities within the organization as a while.

I am currently planning on adding one more posting to this series, and will do so in a few days. I am going to switch gears and look as the situation of an employee leaving without anyone’s planning as a result of injury or death, and how this can impact on everyone and especially where that employee was seriously injured or died at work.

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2 Responses

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  1. Sandra said, on March 4, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Another perspective–that of the “canned” employee. I’ve got multiple sclerosis, and when my boss at a well-known multinational company found out, I went from the employee who received a performance award from the vice president the year before to persona non gratis. This particular boss had never managed people before, and in her desperation to force me out, would take me into her office and berate me after hours for as much as an hour at a time. “Why don’t you just admit you are a fraud?” was one of her more infamous statements. Then one day, she proceeded to tell me how, when she was in high school, she used to stand in front a a mirror holding a cigarette to see “how she looked.” I then realized, I had MS, but SHE was the sick one. She ultimately forced three out of seven departmental employees out of the company…and was “moved” to a position where she still had her manager title and fat salary. . .but NO REPORTS. Needless to say, morale in her department was pretty bad, although, in talking with the others, I found the verbal abuse was not an issue. Today, I write resumes. . .and in talking with clients have found my experience was not unique. What a waste of human skill and capital when bosses fail to understand team-building and diversity. And what a waste when they let their childhood insecurities rule their adult lives. . . .

  2. Timothy Platt said, on March 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Hi Sandra,

    Thank you for sharing this account of your experience with me and with this blog. I want to briefly respond to you here as a direct reply to your comment, but I will also be writing at least one posting on this and probably a short series.

    The “supervisor” you wrote about was almost certainly violating US federal law with direct and specific violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (see http://www.ADA.gov) if your accounting is even just substantially accurate, which I am sure it is. This creates tremendous liability and legal risk for the business, its HR department, this supervisor’s manager and others. This type of event can be like a stake through the heart for Marketing, and this type of behavior, as you noted, does and will have substantial and negative impact on every employee in the vicinity.

    I am currently approximately two weeks ahead in my postings and I do plan on developing this with some care for posting on here, breaking down and exploring some of the issues involved and from a variety of perspectives. I am tentatively planning to start posting on this on March 20, 2011. Meanwhile, I wanted to respond right away.

    I am sorry you have gone through this, and simply note in finishing this reply that way too many others do too. This is something I really need to address in my blog and I will.

    Thanks again for your comment, Tim Platt


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