Policy Problem

by Evil HR Lady on October 20, 2008

I had asked one of our HR ladies via e-mail 3 different times to supply me with the tuition reimbursement policy our company has. After waiting over 6 months I went to our companies intranet site and searched “tuition reimbursement”. I found the policy and sent her the link since she obliviously didn’t know where to find it.

A few minutes after finding it I received an e-mail from our evil HR. Manager asking where I found it and that it because it was not to be available to the public. How is that right? How am I supposed to follow policies that I am not privy to? Is he being evil or are HR policies not for employees to view?

Of course he’s being evil. That’s what we HR types do.

You’ve got several different issues going on here. Let’s talk about issue number 1: HR not returning e-mails. You have a simple question—what is the tuition reimbursement policy? Now, depending on the size of your company the person you know as “HR” may not (and judging from the lack of response, does not) know what the policy is. So, she ignored your e-mail. Or she forwarded it and that person ignored it and she didn’t follow up. This is completely unprofessional and downright rude.

If she didn’t know the answer and didn’t know whom to ask, the proper response is to e-mail you back and apologetically tell you she doesn’t know the answer. Then the other proper response is for her boss to fire her because she should either know the answer to that question, know who to ask, or be willing to wade in and find out who knows.

The second issue is that your intranet security stinks. If there is a document that you shouldn’t have access to, you shouldn’t be able to get to it without some serious hacking skills. It sounds like you just surfed around and found it. Bad intranet security.

The third, and really most important point, is that your HR manager is paranoid and wrong. I’ve never understood the desire to “hide” information from employees. Do you have a tuition reimbursement policy or not? If you do, make it available to everyone. Do you have a vacation policy or not? If you make it available to everyone.

I know, the “little people” can’t possibly understand big, complicated policies! Plus, the world will come to an end if we change one of them, so we should keep them secret. Well, we can let managers know because everyone knows managers can handle that information, whereas individual contributors cannot.

If you haven’t guessed, I hate this attitude. In any organiztion that doesn’t hire teenagers (and even in those that do, but I’ll grant you this much), everyone should be able to handle policies and even handle the knowledge that not all policies apply to all people. Get this, people even understand that sometimes policies change.

I’m a big fan of openess. If you can’t justify why you have a policy in place, you probably shouldn’t have it. If a policy is so complicated that posting it would lead to confusion among the masses, perhaps you should revise your policy so that it makes sense.

I realize that initial posting of policies can cause phone calls. I get that. (I’ve also been the recipient of many dumb phone calls, including ones that went someone like this: “I’m looking at the tuition reimbursement policy and it says that in order to be reimbursed, I have to get at least a C in the class. So, if I get a D can I be reimubursed?”) I also think that if someone’s knickers get too twisted after reading a policy you’ve got a management issue.

And that is why HR is afraid of posting policies. We’d rather avoid the issues of having someone question. We’d rather avoid having managers manage their people. In short, we’re wimps.

We shouldn’t be. We won’t be respected as an organization until we stop being wimps.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris - Manager's Sandbox October 20, 2008 at 5:20 pm

GREAT response! I wish I could say this individual’s experience is unique, but I’ve seen this kind of stuff happen time and time again in companies large and small.

Follow-up question for you: Was your recommendation to “fire her” a hyperbolic one or do you stand by that? For all we know, this individual could be an entry level admin who is need of some (serious) coaching on how to address HR questions.

- Chris

Reply

Evil HR Lady October 20, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Chris–

I am full of hyperbole. This isn’t something I would fire for, but I would address it.

Reply

Steve October 20, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Love your ending about being wimpy. No wimp ever gets respect in any circumstance. Great post.

Reply

HR Maven October 20, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Wow, in my HR world, I answer questions in hours, less than 24 to be exact. Six months? That’s crazy.

We are a service industry. When HR services lets down people like the poster here, we are all tainted.

Hang them. Or fire them. :) Jeez, I hope it doesn’t take as long to get your money!

Reply

The Office Newb October 21, 2008 at 3:15 am

You forgot the “we used to have a policy but changed it without telling you” scenario, which is how the HR dept. at my old company handled a policy change from allowing telecommuting to not.

I think HR could be really great if there weren’t so many bad HR employees out there giving it such a bad name.

But Evil HR Lady, you’re awesome.

Reply

The HR Store October 21, 2008 at 6:12 am

Good post!

Maybe HR folks need to be tested during interviews for application of common sense before a company hires them!

I dont think they are many intentionally 'bad' HR employees, they could only have been ill-equipped to handle situations…as you suggest having an'Open' environment makes it easier to train, learn & operate.

Reply

Anonymous October 21, 2008 at 4:26 pm

“Maybe HR folks need to be tested during interviews for application of common sense before a company hires them!” Amen I say to you, HR Store!!!!

Also, great post oh evil genius! I have a husband who works for a company whose HR head could not be more incompetent. The company really does not have a true appreciation for what good HR can do for them and therefore just sees them as doing a good job if they continue to act as cheerleaders, spend recklessly and continuously ignore the company’s bottom line. It’s also unfortunate that company employees are actually sufffering because of HR’s lack of general common sense, not to mention a lack of even basic business acumen.

HR’s “seat at the table” factor is not helped by individuals such as those referenced in this post. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned common-sense anyway??

Reply

HR Godess October 21, 2008 at 6:14 pm

I’m all for a test for common sense if someone can find one that actually works!

Here’s my example: We make packaging for the food service industry so on the production floor, you have to wear hairnets, have closed toe shoes (in some instances, steel toe) etc. Our policy for the whole company is no open toed shoes. You have to walk near production to enter and exit the building.

A new employee starts and has been here for a little over 30 days. I have had numerous requests to allow her to wear open toed shoes because she has a lot of them and she promises she won’t go near production. Uh, yeah you will if you enter or exit the building and our policy is NO open toed shoes. I even got “but I’m asking nicely”. Oh, in that case, sure, go ahead!

If I could teach common sense, I certainly would!

Reply

Wally Bock October 21, 2008 at 9:20 pm

Great response, Evil. I find there’s often a difference between HR pros, the folks who write blogs and such and HR frontliners. The frontliners often don’t know how to do their jobs. Their often poorly supervised. And, also often, they are dinged if they share information, so they, quite sensibly don’t.

Reply

DrinkingTea October 22, 2008 at 1:06 am

Playing Devil’s advocate, if the company is anything like mine has been until fairly recently, there’s a chance that the company president said that the policy is changing without telling HR what it was. When the question came up, HR could have gone to the president to find out what it was, only to be told, ‘I’m still thinking about it’ every time the HR person went to the president for five months straight. Or maybe the president said, ‘I’ll call the employee myself’ (and never following through) after dismissing all potential solutions to the policy and/or the specific employee with the question.

HR should have gotten back to the employee with a ‘I’m sorry, but upper management is in the process of changing the policy and I hope to have an answer for you on x date.’ But I can see how the question never would have been answered in the first place.

Reply

Trends in Human Resources October 22, 2008 at 11:15 am

Great Post,
Am HR person is the brand ambassador of the organization. He should ensure that people are able to access information which needs to be shared and strictly can’t have access to unauthorised documents.
Rather than complicating issues, the HR person must ensure that the person goes through all policies at the time of his induction and should be updated on any changes or additions in the same.
One has to be well connected and informed.
Loved your last quote :-)

Reply

Emily October 22, 2008 at 9:33 pm

You’ve got several different issues going on here. Let’s talk about issue number 1: HR not returning e-mails. You have a simple question—what is the tuition reimbursement policy? Now, depending on the size of your company the person you know as “HR” may not (and judging from the lack of response, does not) know what the policy is. So, she ignored your e-mail. Or she forwarded it and that person ignored it and she didn’t follow up. This is completely unprofessional and downright rude.

If she didn’t know the answer and didn’t know whom to ask, the proper response is to e-mail you back and apologetically tell you she doesn’t know the answer. Then the other proper response is for her boss to fire her because she should either know the answer to that question, know who to ask, or be willing to wade in and find out who knows.

This is exactly how our HR contact person is. She absolutely refuses to respond to emails or phone calls. And if you hunt her down in person, she’ll act like she’s going to do what you ask, but never does. Would that she could be fired, but I work for the gov’t, so that’s not going to happen.

I just added your blog to my favorites today. I’ve actually had your blog come up several times in google searches and you always have good answers. I look forward to reading more.

Reply

Career4Change October 23, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Evil,
I just found your blog and it is hilarious (I used to be on the corporate HR world!). On this particular entry it is very frustrating to find the ‘ball’ on the HR side for soooo long with no response, whatever kind of response would have worked better than the actual e-mail got from HR explaining how suddenly a benefit that should be explicit and well known by all employees, suddenly becomes secretive and confidential. I just imagine the implications of it. Some people getting the reimbursement due to their ‘HR contacts’ and some others completely discriminated against due to the secrecy of a policy!!!!

Reply

Just another HR lady... October 25, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Yikes, I would hate to tell people that I’m in HR after some of this, apparently we all suck and are useless to anyone! lol.

I totally agree with everyone’s comments about the poor customer service and just plain lack of courtesy involved in the original posters story. It seems a simple situation (just answer promptly and give the policy!!) was made much more complicated than required.

However, I would like to just comment that every profession (not just HR) has individuals who are low-performers or who are not the right fit for the job. Because HR deals with every single person in the organization at every level, HR low-performers or those who make mistakes/errors/missteps are much higher profile in the company than someone who only deals with one department. Every decision, communication, project, or process is reviewed and commented on by the entire company, and when someone is not happy with HR for whatever reason, valid or not, everyone knows. Clearly though, someone out there is not managing the HR low-performers properly for our profession to get such a terrible review.

Anyone have a positive HR story to share that will help restore my self-confidence and motivation to go to work on Monday? lol. And by the way, the rule I have set for my HR department on response time to employees is within 24 hours, even if the only response they are able to give initially is “I received your message, am looking into it, and will get back to you by DATE/TIME X”. You’d be surprised at how often that’s all people need to know to be satisfied.

Reply

Anonymous October 26, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Guess we got a little too negative for a few posts. To point out a positive…I credit my years of HR experience for shaping the person I have become today – someone who respects policy and procedure, who sees the benefits of providing policies as a source of uniform application, someone who knows that knowledge, and sharing of it, is a good thing, someone who completely respects confidentiality and the privilege we have of access to sensitive emeployee data. Lastly, I have become more appreciative of the business side because I have seen what not aligning HR objectives to business goals can do to the bottom line.

Regarding HR employees….Because of the reasons listed, it is absolutely critical that HR hires be of the utmost calibre. HR professionals need to see themselves as critical to the success or failure of an organization and treat recruitment of our open positions as important as those that we fill for line managers. If we make a bad hire, we also need to be the ones to lead by example and initiate a performace plan asap to address the issues presented and get that person back on their feet or, if necessary, out the door.

Reply

Anonymous October 27, 2008 at 6:58 am

Interesting post. I wonder if the reason why the info was posted publicly to begin with was because there was a high non-response rate from the HR person herself!

Our company doesn’t have an intranet so we rely on our website to relay info to all stakeholder audiences – including employees.

So our rule of thumb around HR communciations is – if you want to post it, it’s public. If it’s confidential, find another means to communicate it.

Our PD policies (vacation, sick days, etc) have always been available online. I think it’s a positive sign of how clearly you want your employees to find the information if it’s easily accessible.

Reply

Corey J Feldman October 28, 2008 at 3:13 pm

No response is a problem. Since there were 3 emails I doubt it was something as simple as his/her question getting caught up in a spam filter, unless there was something in the language of each email triggering the spam filter. As a rule if someone doesn’t respond to one of my emails I tend to follow up with a phone call. But chances are HR dropped the ball.

EHRL I totally agree with you on the intranet security, if you don’t want something read by your employees, make sure it is not accessible. While not being privy to the actual email he/she received from the HR Manager, or what’s in her head, I can think of a few reasons a policy might not be meant for the “public”. Maybe it was still in draft form and not yet implemented. Maybe it is for corporate staff only or for a particular business unit. Maybe it was a history file and was revamped or removed. Either way someone certainly dropped the ball. But I can certainly see situations where you may have policies that are not applicable to everyone and would only create issues if publicly posted.

Reply

Jason November 18, 2008 at 5:35 am

Just wondering why it took six months for the individual to take the initiative to go online to look for the document himself…? Poor HR responsiveness notwithstanding, letting someone else’s shortcomings unnecessarily hamstring him for over 1/2 a year is not exactly the sign of a winner

Reply

interestingly average September 17, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I am just wondering about the HR Manager's reaction in this situation… is it possible that the manager overreacted to the link, for some reason assuming (or possibly having been told by the e-mail recipient) that the employee found the information on the company web site/extranet/Internet instead of on the company's internal network?

Reply

Leave a Comment

Current ye@r *

Previous post:

Next post: