Flying in Turbulence

In my opinion, the first island to conquer is sincere communication. HR is supposed to be at the forefront of communication with employees. They are supposed to assist them decipher organisational change at a time when employees are worried about their career, job and pocket. In practice, the problem varies from being tight lipped to irritating noise.

Candy Floss

A few years ago in my cubicle of sheltered employment, I had to rely on a communications consultant that was engaged by the organisation as a gatekeeper for all employee communication. It was always an uneasy relationship between my desire to communicate authentically (even if it was difficult gritty stuff) and the consultant’s attempt to hide it in candy floss. I think it had something to do with the consultant’s hefty monthly bill and justifying ‘value add’.

I was reminded of it last month, when an agitated employee wrestling with HR over their remuneration package for nine months, sent me the following e-mail from their HR Manager:

“ Following our discussion on your package last week, I believe that you were in agreement with my explanation for your package not being adjusted. I’m glad that you are agreeable and your patience over these months is appreciated by management. Your performance has been brilliant and we look forward to your continued contribution in future”

This employee has already disengaged from the organisation and is now exploring positions in the market.

Sometimes it is better to be silent and leave employees to think better of HR than frustrate them with shoddy communication that only serves one purpose: don’t talk to HR about your problems.

Flushed down the drain?

I recently attended a presentation at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandown and had to briefly stop at their lavatory. I ended up spending a few extra minutes wondering why they had decided to have ‘HR Care’ posters on Employment Equity in such a place. They are not alone in this practice but perhaps as the financial powerhouse of our economy, I expected better. Dozens of other organisations have also filled their call of nature places with HR communications. I doubt that employees are hearing about the message for the first time in the lavatory, that would be even worse to contemplate. If the objective is to reinforce a message by interrupting you at an important moment, it may succeed for a second or too but then you simply switch off again. Effective communication needs to recognise the issues that matter to employees and address them in ways that speak to them personally. Or it gets flushed down the drain together with hours of work and thousands of moola.

Lights out

The case of Christaans versus Eskom attracted widespread attention from the print media, online forums and employees on the ground. Eskom hired a black engineer over a coloured engineer and their decision was upheld in the Cape Arbitration Court. However it does cast a shadow about their communication with employees. I speculate that poor communication between HR and the affected employee was the real source of the problem. The onus is on HR to communicate the implications of organisational policies so that employees are not stunned when they apply for an internal position, negotiate with a supplier or take any other decision in the workplace. Even more disturbing is that we have a skills shortage of professionals including engineers and cannot create opportunities to retain those that we have in our organisation. 

See you on the island.

Rattling the Cage is an irreverent column written to amuse, inform and explore work behind the corporate glass.

(HR Future, July 2006)

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