We are all familiar with the story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in which Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser of a boss, is visited by his dead partner and then three Christmas ghosts that help him see the error of his ways in order to turn over a new leaf before its too late.
In 1988, the film “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray took a modern spin on the story with Murray starring as Frank Cross – a cynical television programming executive who found great success and wealth, but only by becoming cold-hearted and cruel. As his station recreates the story as a live play, Cross finds himself living out the play in his real life – mirroring the storyline.
Whether or not it was the intent of Charles Dickens when he wrote the story (which is actually loosely based on his real life and feelings regarding his father), audiences have always found themselves viewing Scrooge as the villain and his employee as the victim. Especially in today’s job market where so many are working for low wages along with grueling hours, and thanks in part to the introduction of the Internet and social media/email keeping us connect to work 24/7, many workers find themselves feeling as if they are living the part of Bob Cratchit/Grace Cooley. Many may even dream, this time of year, that their bosses would be “visited” and suddenly have a change of heart!
So one’s first inclination to discuss how HR plays a role in a situation like this would be to say that HR needs to address the boss and let him know just how unfair and disgruntled his employees are.
If, as an HR professional, those are the questions that first come to mind, then you aren’t doing your job right.
Remember: every situation has two sides to the story and one’s “perception” based on only some of the information can result in the wrong answers. An HR professional truly is in a position to help garner change at a company so you need to first look at both sides.
Employees only see part of the situation at work and focus on what affects them and their lives. Managers normally have to deal with much more that is rarely revealed as part of their decision process.
When people are placed into management roles, it is for a variety of reasons: based on skills/experience needed, to fill a need for someone to lead, because they are a family member, because it seems the next logical step in their career, and so many more. Point is: not all those that go into a management role are ready for it and almost all bring with them some sort of baggage that affects the decisions in their new role. One of the biggest factors is the manager’s past experience at the employee level – some work to change things for the better in their new position but some will use their position to control what they couldn’t control before…the ones we say are on a “power trip.”
So, when you come across a situation where the employee is complaining about their manager and “unfair treatment,” are you focusing on the solution they want….or do you try to uncover why their manager is acting the way they are or making the decisions they have made? Employees aren’t going to focus on the manager or their problems…they only care about themselves which is, in a way, the definition of a “scrooge” even though we don’t automatically think that. They are acting just like the person they are complaining about…do you see?
What both “A Christmas Carol” and “Scrooged” show is that the lead character didn’t start out the way he was…at one time, he was loving and hopeful. Circumstances in his life caused him to change – and without having anyone to talk to about it, he changed for the worse instead of finding help and healing. The ghostly visits eventually bring him down that path.
HR needs to remember that their role in the workplace is “human relations” which includes ALL employees of the company: from the owner to the managers to the employees. All deserve the same consideration and treatment and not be labeled based on assumptions or skewed perceptions. Remember: your job is to listen to both sides and help them see the others’ point of view so that both sides can work together – regardless of their role – to create a happy and profitable workplace.
You – Mr/Ms HR Professional…are the Ghosts of the Past, Present and Future all rolled into one! Happy Haunting!
This post was written by Barb Buckner. Barb Buckner is has over 15 years experience as a HR professional across a wide variety of industries including: banking, retail, pharmaceuticals, professional services and real estate. Read more of her writings and connect with her at her blog “Chicago HR Coach”