Jonathan’s preventive and corrective approach to employment/HR issues includes counseling, policies, training, agreements and audits. Areas of substantive focus include, for example: gender equality, wage and hour compliance, social media and employee engagement. When Jonathan isn’t counseling employers or dedicating his time to SHRM and the HR community, he can be found volunteering his time and efforts to animal rescue. Jonathan is also deeply committed to Holocaust remembrance. On the fun side, Jonathan is also mad about Mad Men, writing and speaking on the employment issues arising out of the MadMen Era! Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law.
I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.
Under federal and state laws (most or all), employers can have voluntary retirement programs. Of course, there is much litigation on whether and when an employee’s decision to retire is truly voluntary.
However, even if there is no pressure placed on an employee, think about the message that the program sends and/or likely will be heard as sending: we want to get rid of mature employees. This places “age in the air” and can be used to argue age bias when an older employee later is discharged or laid off (even where there is no bias).
Here’s the argument: you tried to incent me to leave; when that failed, you removed me involuntarily. And, how will a jury react?
Jurors have only one common denominator: everyone on the jury hopes they have gift of longevity; that is, that they, too, get older. So there may be sympathy and empathy for the mature worker.
There is an alternative, and safer, approach: a voluntary severance program that is offered to all or groups of employees regardless of age. Older employees with more seniority usually will be eligible for more by virtue of their seniority but the program is not aimed at them.
But what if someone applies and you want to say “No?” No material worries (absent saying “No” in a discriminatory way).
If a voluntary severance plan is properly drafted and distributed in accordance with ERISA, an employer should be able not only to exclude from consideration certain groups, positions etc., but also to reserve the absolute right to say “No” to any particular employee in a non-excluded position who applies for an exit package if the employer’s concludes that the employee’s departure is not in the employer’s best interests.
So this year, the 50th Anniversary of the ADEA, I encourage you to think beyond whether a voluntary retirement program is lawful. I ask you to think about the message it sends.
It is not only a legal issue. It is also a cultural one. What message do you want to send to workers with the experience you need to compete?
This blog is not legal advice, should not be construed as applying to specific factual situations or as establishing an attorney-client relationship.
I am pleased to share my latest post to Entrepreneur.
We read a lot about “boys’ clubs.” They are power circles of men, mostly white, who control, formally or informally, organizations or silos within them.
The gender demographics of the senior leadership team may be relevant but is not dispositive as to whether a boys’ club exists. I have seen organizations with senior leadership teams lacking in gender diversity that are not, in my opinion, run by a boys’ clubs. Conversely, I have seen organizations where the numbers at the top look good in terms of gender diversity but a core boys’ clubs calls the shots.
So, how do you know if you have a boys’ club? Of course, there is no test. So, I have created one. Warning from this lawyer — write your answers on a piece of paper and then throw it away. Don’t want your self-evaluation to be used against you in litigation by a plaintiffs’ lawyer.
Now, as for each of the five questions:
1. If you generally agree, answer A
2. If you are not sure, answer B
3. If you generally disagree, answer C
1. We don’t have a boys’ club.
Almost everyone knows that boys’ clubs exist. But many believe that they exist only at the employer next store. Certitude is a good thing. But, on this issue, a little doubt is a good thing. Indeed, if you are sure that you don’t have a boys’ club, you probably do. So give yourself:
– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B and C
2. We don’t need a system for raises or promotions. Merit will prevail.
Often the gender gap at the top is because women don’t have the opportunities they need to get there. Absence of meaningful opportunities also contributes to the gender pay gap. No one system works for all. But “no system” never works.
No system often leads to what the EEOC calls “people like me” bias. Those in charge of opportunities give them to those just like them — often other men. So some vehicle to measure equal access to opportunity is essential. Merit will prevail but only if there is equal access to opportunity. Time to score it:
– 2 points for A
– 1 points for B
– 0 points for C
3. More than a few informal meetings are held in bars.
Social inclusion is a form of business inclusion. Information is shared, strategies are developed and relationships formed and/or cemented. Of course, many men don’t relish business in bars. And, there are women who do. Bu the local watering hole is often the club house for the boys’ club. The same is true of the golf course. Let’s score it:
– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B and C
4. The pay gap is due to employer practices and employee choices.
There is no doubt that there is a gender pay gap. Those who doubt it sound as credible as men who deny the existence of labor pains because they never have experienced them. But the gender gap is not due solely to employer practices. If you step out of the game to be the primary caregiver, when you step back in, you will make less. And, women are still more likely than men to be primary caregivers. As for points, the pattern you may have predicted no longer holds.
– Subtract 1 point if you picked A (you have thought about the issue.)
– No points for B or C, but if you picked C, you may see bias in certain cases where it does not exist.
5. Women mentoring women is essential to shutting down the club.
No. And here’s why. There are fewer women at the top so women mentoring women will deprive women disproportionately of access to the top. The burden of gender equality cannot be put entirely on women (particularly since men and women alike benefit from gender equality). The benefits to cross-gender matching are significant in terms of what each gender can impart and learn.
– 2 points for A
– 0 points for B
– Subtract one point if you picked C (again, you have thought about this issue).
Now, add up all of your points, subtracting points where you have earned them.
If you have five points or more, you may have a boys’ club in your organization but don’t see it. If you have fewer than 5 points, you still may have a boys’ club somewhere in your organization, but you are primed to help dismantle it.
I am not alone. All over the weekend, social media—as well as print media and TV—was “all things Batman.”
For many of us, and our parents, Adam West was not “a”
batman but “the” one and only Batman that we all watched
Of course, there is the pure joy of nostalgia. Who can forget Batman doing the Batusi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiiuvtzK3SQ
And, there were brilliant lines. Remember: Some days you can’t get rid of a bomb: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIPZROBiNik
For the record, Batman did get rid of the bomb without hurting anyone. Sometimes
getting rid of the bomb just takes a little extra effort.
And, the villains were purr-fectly delightful. Who didn’t have a favorite villain among
Cat Woman, the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler?
The good “guys” were good and the bad “guys” were bad. And with bat magic, the good “guys” always won.
And, now we find out that Adam West and Burt Ward remained friends for 50 years. So the dynamic duo was not just on the reel but real.
It was a comedic fantasy in a time of both great turmoil and greater innocence. Once again, we find ourselves in a time of great turmoil. What we are missing is the “bat”
I am pleased to share my latest article written for the Philadelphia Business Journal.
We all know that employees do not leave their personal selves at the workplace door. The experiences we have outside of work inform who we are at work.
That is why we spend so much effort – or we should – on helping develop a culture that makes it easier for employees to manage work and life. But, there is one part of life that is often left out: death.
That brings me to Option B by Facebook COO and author of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, and her friend and psychologist, Adam Grant, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Originals. A fantastic collaboration, Option B is based on Sheryl’s loss of her husband, Dave, and her painful but inspirational journey forward.
Option A is the employee’s life with the loved one. Option B is surviving without him or her.
While the focus of the book is emotional resilience, the book is also a clarion call for leaders (and other colleagues) to be more supportive when an employee loses a loved one. The platitude, as Sandberg apyly calls it, “sorry for your loss,” is not enough.
Here are eight (8) recommendations for business leaders (and other colleagues) to consider that are based on the book (as well as my own experiences and observations.)
1. Bereavement Leave
Many companies provide a few days of paid bereavement leave. That may be enough for some, but it won’t for all. It was not for Sandberg. Consider offering more unpaid time, where feasible. Of course, if PTO is available, be flexible in allowing the employee to use it.
2. Talking with Employee
For some, it is easier to give grieving employees time off than it is to speak with them. Sandberg wrote about employees avoiding her so that she felt “isolated.” And, we are talking about one of the most successful and powerful leaders in America.
Sandberg states that people were afraid bringing up the subject would remind her of Dave. When I heard Sandberg speak, she said “you cannot remind me of Dave.” His absence is never absent.
Don’t avoid the person or the topic—unless you receive a signal to do just that (discussed below).
Talk with the employee. But what do you say? Or, not say?
3. Please Avoid
Be careful not to say things that you may intend to be comforting but may come off as dismissive or designed to make you feel better:
- “He is in a better place.” No he’s not.
- “With time, you will feel better.” That may be true, but bromides like this are not helpful at the time.
- “I know how you feel.” It’s not about you.
- “Everything happens for a reason.” And, there is a reason I want to get away from you.
4. Offer to Help But
Easier to know what not to say than it is to be clear on what to say. Well-intentioned people often say “how can I help?”
But, as Sandberg explains, this well-meaning gesture shifts the burden to the grieving person to find a way for the colleague to help them. No bad intent, but a bad result.
Don’t ask generally “how can I help.” Instead, ask “can I do X?” Or, just do it.
Pick up a task for the employee to get rid of a loose end. Do something kind, like buying them a cup of coffee. Do something specific!
5. And, Getting More Direct
So, now we have dealt with doing. It’s time to get to feelings.
Should you ask how the person is feeling? How should you ask?
As an initial matter, don’t ask if you don’t want to hear. Ask only if you sincerely care.
Avoid “how are you” and ask instead “how are you today.” Why?
Sandberg: “I described how a casual greeting like “How are you” hurt because it didn’t acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary had happened. I pointed that out that if people instead asked “How are you today?” It showed that they were aware that I was struggling to get through each day.”
6. Should You Relate?
Sometimes, in the act of caring, we share our own loss to let the person know we have a sense how the person may feel. But, we remember, we all grieve differently.
It is okay to share a loss and mention that you may have an idea of how the person feels. But don’t pivot to your loss. Not the time for person to take care of you or for you to work through your own grief.
This is delicate balancing act. I try to say: “I don’t know how you feel but I lost my dad and it was and is very hard for me. I am available to talk if you want to talk about the loss of your dad/mom.”
7. Be Careful How You Care
I know: caring can create legal risks. If an employee tells you they are depressed, and you later terminate them for poor performance, they could argue that you terminated them because you perceived them as mentally disabled.
But there is a real risk not caring, too. Employees who at their emotional nadir remember who helped them when they are emotionally stronger. If they don’t feel they were cared for when they needed it most, they may leave your organization.
Sandberg: “Providing support is both the compassionate and the wise thing to do.” The support engenders “a more loyal and productive workforce.”
Further, you can mitigate the legal risk but listening more than talking. That’s a good idea independent of the law.
Also, avoid clinical labels, such as “depressed” in talking with or about the employee. Again, this is good ideas independent of the law: you are a colleague; you are not the employee’s therapist.
So care. Just do so carefully.
8. Give the Employee What They Need
Not always obvious, it is not about making you feel good about helping. It is about trying to make the unbearable a little less so for your colleague.
And it’s not about the golden rule: Sandberg:
“Growing up, I was told to follow the golden rule … instead of following the golden rule, we should follow the platinum rule: Treat others as they want to be treated.”
Some employees may want to talk. Other employees may want to keep things private. Respect their wishes, either way.
There are a lot of ways as colleagues we can help with Option B. Thank you Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant for talking about the Elephant in the Living Room.
I am pleased to share my latest post to Entrepreneur.
People can debate the extent of the gender pay gap, but no one credibly can argue that it doesn’t exist. Some degree of gap might be due to factors outside of an employer’s control, such as time a worker takes off to serve as primary caregiver. Other factors, though, may be due to systemic or implicit (unconscious) bias.
The gender pay gap does more than expose an employer to legal risk. Closing the gap is a talent imperative, too. Individuals who are paid less for no clear reason usually know it. If they don’t leave your company, they’ll be less engaged during their continued employment.
Not surprisingly, more employers are conducting self-assessments to determine the presence and extent of pay gaps. If not done properly, however, these self-assessments could result in exactly what you hope to avoid: litigation.
Here are four critical steps to help you mitigate the risk that your attempt to do the right thing will result in a plaintiff’s lawyer on your doorstep.
1. Conduct initial analysis under privilege.
I wish an employer’s self-analysis was not discoverable in litigation. But my wish is just that — a wish.
The courts generally have held that self-analysis of this type is discoverable. Therefore, an employer’s analysis won’t be protected from discovery even as leadership tries to determine whether a gap can (or cannot) be explained by seniority, performance or some other legitimate factor.
Employers are well-advised to collect data at counsel’s request and then analyze the information jointly with counsel under the attorney-client privilege. If structured properly, the data still will remain discoverable, but the analysis itself won’t be.
2. Look beyond gender.
Don’t limit your analysis to gender. Your evaluation also must address potential bias in compensation based on race, ethnicity and other groups protected by federal, state or local law.
Imagine having to answer this question in a deposition: “Why did you focus only on gender bias and not racial or other kinds of bias?” There’s no good response.
As you learn more about root causes of any gaps, don’t limit yourself to possible legal wrongs. Employees sometimes are underpaid because they had a bad manager who suppressed salaries. Take steps to correct these types of inequities, too.
3. Prepare a discoverable-business document.
While it’s generally recommended to conduct analysis under privilege, you shouldn’t stop there. If you do, you’ll be faced with two rotten options in the event of litigation and this inevitable question: “Why did you make (or why didn’t you make) a change?”
- You could respond, “Privileged.” Think about your own reaction when a character in a movie takes the Fifth Amendment. Assert “privilege,” and a jury will assume you’re hiding something.
- You could waive your privilege. But how far does that waiver go? I have no choice but to answer with an annoying lawyerism: It depends. Judges have wide latitude in this area, so you could be waiving the privilege with respect to the entire subject matter — that is, the entire self-evaluation.
Prepare a discoverable-business document. It should summarize your “salary-parity analysis” (not a “gender pay-gap analysis”).
4. Make fixes without admissions.
If a pay gap exists with good reason — such as location, experience or others noted previously — no fix is necessary. Still, you should document your reasons for concluding the gap is justified.
On the other hand, you should adjust compensation where no strong justification can be made for an existing gap. Unfortunately, it’s rare to know whether that gap is due to an impermissible factor. Why speculate or concede such? Plus, if you do a robust pay-parity analysis, you’re sure to make some changes even where no legal exposure exists.
Rather than asserting, “This may be gender bias,” you might state something like this instead: “The employee is underpaid within our range for the position when we look at experience, performance etc., so we are going to correct that.” Fix the problem, but be thoughtful how you do it.
I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.
It is Asian American Heritage Month. As we celebrate the many contributions of Asian Americans, let’s also bury the “model minority myth.” The myth hurts Asian Americans and here’s why:
- If you are a model minority, you are not likely to get the help that you very well may need. When we assume all individuals in a group are stellar, the individuals who need support are less likely to get it.
- If you are a model minority, then there is an implication that you may be stronger than others. This can result in bias against individuals who are white or members of other minority groups who, in fact, are stronger when it comes to a particular job opportunity.
- With the model minority myth may come higher expectations. Being good is not good enough. We expect more: why isn’t this person as successful “as they should be?” This may result in bias against Asian Americans because of the inflated expectations.
- When individuals talk about Asian Americans as the model minority, there can be a tendency to focus on math and science. This may hurt Asian Americans when they apply for jobs that require strong interpersonal skills such as HR. That is, the myth may create silos for Asian Americans.
Let’s acknowledge how much better our world is because of the contributions of Asian Americans without stereotyping about them in a way that sounds benign but is anything but.
This Blog should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to specific factual circumstances.
Every year, I write a blog for SHRM on Holocaust Remembrance. Below, is this year’s post.
Today, April 24, 2017, is Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) .
During the Holocaust, more than 11 million human beings were systemically murdered. Plus, millions more died in battle. That includes our brave military forces that sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.
Of course, every life is a universe. Every loss of innocent life matters equally.
But, the Holocaust had a disproportionate effect on the Jewish community. Six out of nine million European Jews were murdered—the percentage is staggering.
I acknowledge this is personal to me. Most of my family was killed in the Holocaust and that forever informs my worldview.
Those who were saved also informs my worldview. My cousin’s mom was saved by a Catholic Church at great risk to those who were part of its community.
YomHaShoah is a painful reminder for many of us and that pain does not remain at home. HR can help.
One way to do so is simply to post on your Intranet a remembrance statement. You can find words and images all over the Internet.
This is also an ideal topic for a diversity and inclusion program. We can focus on the Holocaust but conclude with a universal message: We cannot tolerate intolerance against any faith, race, ethnicity, etc.
Invite a survivor to speak. Bear witness to someone who did.
There are many ways that HR can remember. I respectfully request that you find a way to do something.
I close by citing Elie Wiesel:
“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness. Not only are we responsible for the memories of the dead, we are responsible for what we do with those memories.”
I am pleased to share my latest Entrepreneur article on mistakes business leaders making regarding the use of Twitter.
My profession affords me the opportunity to work and talk with many entrepreneurs and other leaders about social media. Just as important, I observe their use (or nonuse) of social media.
Twitter remains one of the most popular platforms for people to exchange ideas, promote news and express opinions. I’m a social media enthusiast, but my work in employment law makes me all too aware of the risks inherent in these instant-post tools.
My Top 10 list of costliest mistakes might surprise you. Its entries stem as much from underuse as from misuse.
1. Not using Twitter.
Some entrepreneurs and business leaders still believe social media is a waste of time. Respectfully, they are wrong. This means of communication no longer is cutting-edge. It’s mainstream, and Twitter is firmly at its center. Use it to your advantage.
2. Only sharing.
Some leaders have exuberant spirits. They freely share ideas and thoughts. While sharing is wonderful, it’s only part of the equation. Social media is about connecting, not simply spouting or increasing your profile. Every leader should keep this in mind at all times.
3. Retweeting without reading.
Other people retweet articles or posts seemingly without reading the full content. In these circumstances, a user’s comment might not match the source material. Retweeting without understanding the context can be disingenuous. If there’s bias or offensive conduct in the underlying tweet, this practice also can be dangerous.
4. Following only like-minded individuals.
Talk about diversity often centers on gender, race and other groups (or classes) protected by law. But there’s another crucial aspect to consider. Cognitive diversity offers a different perspective or opinion.
Interacting with only like-minded individuals limits your vantage point. Following those with whom you often disagree will expose you to different views and possibilities.
5. Interacting intermittently.
At the risk of overstating it, you need to be a player. There’s so much social media activity that if you put a toe in the water only occasionally, you aren’t likely to make vital connections. You don’t need to tweet every day, but tweeting once a week isn’t enough to keep up your profile.
6. Attacking others.
From time to time, you’ll see something that produces a strong, negative reaction. It is best not to use social media as a way to attack others. There are polite ways to disagree. Just as in interpersonal matters, sometimes the best response is none at all. Why give more light to an idea you believe belongs in the dark?
7. Responding every time you’re attacked.
Anyone on social media who takes a stand has been attacked. If you counter-punch everyone who is critical of your stance, others might see you as thin-skinned. Pick your battles wisely so you aren’t labeled an insecure snowflake. Strength can come from silence as surely as it can from powerful words.
8. Failing to be transparent.
Federal Trade Commission rules require individuals to disclose when they are promoting products or services with which they are identified. For example, if you’re praising an item your employer manufactures, you must provide this disclaimer. Transparency, though, is much more than a question of satisfying FTC regulations. It’s good business.
9. Not separating the personal from the professional.
All business is personal and all politics are local, as the sayings go. In these hyperpartisan times, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone without at least one or two deeply held beliefs.
If you tweet on political issues or other topics that might be seen as controversial, you’d be well-advised to make it clear your views are yours alone — not those of your employer. It’s easy enough to include that distinction as part of your Twitter profile. Here’s an added caveat: Do not include the name of your employer or company. That only solidifies the precise connection you’re trying to avoid.
10. Tweeting only business-related items.
Social media is a pervasive form of mass communication, and you should be thoughtful about what you tweet. But if you spend all your mental energy trying to please everyone, you won’t really connect with anyone.
As you develop your brand, consider sharing your thoughts or posting articles on issues beyond your business focus. In my personal life, I’m very involved in animal rescue, I love Bruce Springsteen, and I’m mad about “Mad Men.” Expressing myself has led to meeting many kindred spirits — some of whom now are clients, too.
I am pleased to share my latest article posted in the SHRM HR Magazine.
Federal grassroots advocacy for HR is just as important as ever in 2017. The issues may change, but the need to support and represent the profession surely won’t. Plus, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”
For example, many ruby red states over the past two elections have raised minimum wages materially by way of the ballot box.
And let’s not forget municipalities. Expect the growing trend of local regulation to increase when it comes to matters such as “ban-the-box” ordinances, mandatory sick pay and predictable schedules.
Regardless of their political leanings, HR professionals must continue to be involved so that their voice is heard on workplace public-policy issues. Here are 10 suggestions to make grassroots advocacy more effective without annoying employers.
1. Follow proposed legislation. First, track bills at the federal, state and local level.
Be careful not to focus only on developments in the states in which you operate. To the contrary, be mindful of developments in other jurisdictions, particularly neighboring ones. Legislation spreads.
2. Evaluate bills critically. Avoid knee-jerk responses. Make sure you read the language of a bill before jumping to conclusions.
In evaluating proposed legislation, focus not only on the intent but also on the foreseeable consequences. Many a bill with laudable intent may produce adverse consequences for the employees it is designed to protect.
3. Know your representatives. The first time you need help should not be the first time you meet your representatives, either at the federal or state level. Get to know them and their staffs before issues arise.
Staff members are key gatekeepers for elected representatives. Treat them with respect—not only because they deserve it but also because if you don’t, you will not get access to their bosses.
4. Educate your elected officials. Advocacy is all about relationships, including with your representatives.
Meredith Nethercutt, senior associate for member advocacy at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), explains it well: “There are only a handful of federal members of Congress who have any kind of background in human resources. That is why sharing your personal stories and testimonials as HR professionals with those elected to represent you in office is so critical. After all, if you don’t speak up to those who are crafting and voting on workplace legislation on behalf of your organization and employees, no one else will do it for you.”
5. Get others involved. Usually, it is not enough for HR professionals to advocate on HR issues. It is important to get others to make the case for you, too.
Consider educating members of your C-suite on why a proposed bill might be helpful or hurtful to HR. See if they want to join in the advocacy efforts.
6. Consider legal issues. Do not forget that whatever you say to a representative is discoverable in a trial. This includes communication that occurs via letter, e-mail and social media as well as verbally.
I think of a letter I once saw that said something to the effect of “There is no way we could comply with this bill if it became law.”
In the hands of a plaintiff’s lawyer, a statement like that could be dynamite.
7. Assess personal dynamics. SHRM needs and appreciates the volunteer work of those engaged in HR advocacy, but you should check with a member of your executive team before getting involved. There may be reasons your employer does not want you to oppose a bill, even though the effects on HR could be negative.
For example, it is possible that the sponsor of the bill is also supporting legislation that would be helpful to the company’s business interests. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is that you have alienated the legislation’s sponsor.
8. Consider the impact on the workforce. When communicating with representatives, remember that what you say could find its way back to the workforce.
Sometimes proposed bills and regulations can cause you to become incredibly frustrated. Feeling aggravated is one thing; saying something that devalues your employees is another.
For example, in opposing the overtime rule, an employer might have been frustrated by the regulation but shouldn’t have said something like, “Our employees will just have to deal with it if we hire more workers to avoid unnecessary overtime.”
Be thoughtful in how you oppose suggested legislation that, on its face, would appear to benefit employees. Focus on the unintended adverse consequences that might apply to the workforce.
[SHRM resource: SHRM Policy Action Center]
9. Be practical. Pick your battles. There may be political reasons not to oppose a bill—if there is virtually unanimous support for it, for example.
Conversely, do not inadvertently give publicity to a bill that is going nowhere.
10. Engage in business meetings. Have a business focus in your meetings with your representatives or their staffs.
Acknowledge the pros and cons of the bill at issue to establish your credibility. Then explain clearly your position and ask for support.
Be prepared with bullet points, be sensitive to the representative’s time, be ready to shorten your pitch, and always be respectful and ethical. Last but not least, make sure to thank the representative for his or her time and always follow up with an e-mail reiterating your gratitude for the meeting and your key points.
“Remember, the crux of your engagement, and of these ongoing interactions with elected officials, is to build solid relationships,” says Mike Aitken, SHRM’s vice president of government affairs.
“While you may differ in perspective and opinion on various issues with your lawmakers, your ability to serve as a trusted and reliable resource to those in public office will be invaluable—now and in the busy months ahead.”
I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog on kindness and leadership.
I like to read and re-read blogs on leadership. They are helpful reminders on what I need to keep doing (or not doing) and where there are opportunities for personal growth. Although expressed from different perspectives, the articles often cover the same attributes or competencies that we rightfully expect from good leaders.
I am struck by how often we need to be reminded to listen. Sound too basic? If you are preparing your response when someone is talking, you are you fully listening? The answer is NO, and I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis.
And, of course, we are reminded that we need to express our recognition. But, too much attention is paid to recognizing concrete accomplishments and not enough to existential recognition: acknowledging someone exists by saying hello or non-verbally recognizing their presence.
I am glad to see more articles/blogs focus on caring. If you don’t care for your employees, they won’t care for you. So, some of our caring, if we are honest, in self-serving. .
But absent from the blogs that I have read is one attribute that feels endangered in our fast-moving, highly-polarized and sometimes cruel world: kindness. By kindness, I mean warm and gentle thoughtfulness with no expectation of a return on investment.
A casual smile. Picking up coffee for a colleague. Pulling back when you know someone needs space. Leaning in when you sense someone needs to talk. Asking someone if they are feeling better. Looking the person in the eyes with attention and not agitation.
We all have heard the expression “random acts of kindness.” That we need to be reminded to do them randomly speaks to their deficit in the ordinary course.
Being kind to people means more than caring about their concerns or appreciating their contribution. It means truly recognizing the humanity of a colleague without thinking about how what you do may benefit you.
As leaders, we need to do more than perform random acts of kindness. Kindness needs to be in our DNA. That does not mean being weak. And, it does not mean avoiding hard decisions. One of the best HR people with whom I have the pleasure to work was thanked after she terminated someone. The terminated employee thanked her for her kindness.
The antithesis of kindness is bullying. When I see bullies, I see weak snowflakes – those who can feel good about themselves only when they make others feel less than them.
When I see kindness, I usually see strength, someone strong and secure enough that they can risk being and being seen as more gentle. And that leads to the ultimate question: are you strong enough to be kinder?