Does HR Bureaucracy Get In Your Way?

by Michael Haberman on June 13, 2008 · 0 comments


I had a discussion with a department head the other day about his frustration with one of his employees and with the lack of help he is getting from HR. His frustration results from an employee who is frequently and consistently late. He is required to be there at 7 am and work until 4 pm. However, he often does not make it until 7:30 or 7:45 or even 8:oo am. Yet he leaves right on time everyday at 4 pm. The department head sat him down and said “you have to be here on time.” Guys response was I can’t I have children I have to get to school. DH respond he understood, but the employee needed to make other arrangements because the job required he be there on time, otherwise the systems needed by everyone else would not be up and working. So the employee cannot be late anymore or he will have to write him up. The employee says that the DH is making it an unfriendly place to work and goes and complains to HR. DH makes a note for the guys file and sends it to HR. (A note: the employee as been there a long time. The DH is relatively new and was hired to “clean up” the department left by the previous and fired manager.)

HR comes back and says to the DH you cannot put the note in the file. The DH asks why and HR tells him he has not verbally warned the employee. DH responds, duh, what do you think the note was about. HR asks how many times the employee has been late. DH shows them the attendance record of numerous absences. They tell DH he needs to sit down with the employee and ask “What do you think you can do in order to get here on time?” So frustrated DH sits down with the employee and asks the question. The response he gets is “I don’t want to get to work on time.” BTW, the employee wrote that down on paper and signed it.

DH, very frustrated by this time, takes this signed document to the HR department and says “I want to get rid of this guy.” HR asks if there is anyone else that can be assigned to that job or can the hours be changed. The answer to both of these questions is “No.” No one else has the training and the company doesn’t run correctly if the work does not get started right away. (It is the Department Head who has to take up the slack when the employee doesn’t show up.) HR then tells him he cannot terminate the employee, the DH has to put him on a 60 day “get well” program.

The DH leaves, totally frustrated, hating HR because he cannot rid the company of a poor performing employee, who has openly expressed his lack of desire to do the job correctly. The attitude of the DH is that he is being saddled with an employee for life and that he will never be able to fire this employee because HR’s bureaucracy is in the way. He has given up, hopes the employee will leave for another reason before he, the DH, leaves out of frustration.

So my question to you is “Do you have a similiar bureaucracy?” Are you the point of frustration? Do you hinder more than help? What would you do to change this situation?
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark June 13, 2008 at 5:41 pm

That’s an interesting account and certainly common from what I’ve seen, and experienced. In my last job we had a lower-midlevel employee who wasn’t late, but she performed tasks extremely slowly, taking constant time outs to walk around the office and socialize with other employees — taking their productivity down with hers. She was writen up, but never followed up properly by HR.

The advice we hear from the small business CEOs we work with is that leadership has to create a culture where the people who aren’t performing (especially if they openly admit to it, as in the case you put forth!) can be let go, and quickly. It sounds like this guy, if he’s not now, would eventually be a cancer in other ways for the organization. The fact that the DH has to pick up his slack should be enough.

Yes, the company you mention would have to incur some costs in replacing him, but if you can get a better-performing employee — and this job market is full of great people looking for work — that would be much better for both the DH and the firm in the long run.

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR June 13, 2008 at 7:03 pm

You are correct Mark. I think is already a cancer and is having detrimental effect. The Department Head is already discourage and he came in ready to run a productive department. Now HR can’t see the forest for the trees. In the name of not upsetting one employee they are throwing up roadblocks to effective management.

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HR Wench June 14, 2008 at 4:13 pm

In my experience this is not common at all. If we are indeed hearing the entire story and not just the DH’s side of things, I would be appalled by the HR departments behavior in this case.

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Wally Bock June 17, 2008 at 5:03 pm

I’m with Wenchie on this one. It seems like we’re getting a highly filtered and selective version of events, perhaps even with a bit of embellishment. In my experience, real world situations are almost never this cleanly drawn.

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