A Surprisingly Common Misconception of HR

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

For those of you also working in the Human Resources (HR) profession, I’m curious to know if you’ve come across the same surprisingly common misconception when explaining what we really do for a living – unless your job, in fact, is to fire people all day long*.

One story in particular comes to mind:

In my final semester at Kwantlen University I was tasked with writing a research paper for an Organizational Development class.  The topic: Organizational culture.  With a new connection to a local IT management company, I decided to reach out to the firm’s Operations Lead. For the sake of this article, let’s call him Jake.  After a quick introduction, Jake and I proceeded to discuss the business’ company culture and how it is modeled for employees in order to drive change and improve performance.  By the end, I knew I had some great points to write a solid paper.

But then (and I have to laugh) before I knew it, the interview took a turn.  After discussing what an organizational culture is and how it benefits the workplace, Jake asked me why I want to work in HR “given the reputation it has”.  Now, I don’t know how you would have reacted to this question but I became seriously confused – haha!  I took a minute to respond but soon decided to explore his query instead. So, I asked: “What sort of reputation does HR have?”  His response: “Around here, employees are scared of HR.  When someone from HR visits our facility it’s because someone is getting fired. Otherwise, we don’t really see them around.”  Now, as an emerging Human Resources Professional, and someone who is very passionate about improving the ’employee experience’ I felt it was necessary to ‘clear the air’.

I am a firm believer that Human Resources Management (HRM) is an important, strategic partnership used to help achieve future business goals.  It is not only responsible for developing, implementing and evaluating programs or initiatives but also responsible for organizational leadership and culture.  So, I asked the following questions:

  1. How does the organization engage its workforce?
  2. How is performance evaluated (formally vs. informally?
  3. Does the organization have any health or wellness programs?
  4. How are employees recognized or rewarded for a job well done?
  5. Are employees asked whether or not they are happy with their compensation?
  6. Does the organization offer any perks that are unusual, creative or different from other offices?

After answering each question (all positives) Jake quickly realized that HR was more than just the ‘Career Grim Reaper’.  In fact, the company’s HR department contributed a great deal to successful employee relations initiatives, including reward, recognition and continuing education.

That day, I was surprised to learn what “Human Resources” looked like to someone else.  Since then, I have made it a point to shatter their misconception and explain the real notion behind HR and how it contributes to an organization’s and employee’s success.  From friends and family to colleagues and potential network connections, I love sharing my passionate views of HR because I am proud of what I do. I hope more people can learn to appreciate the true value of Human Resources Management and its implementation in the workplace.

* If your job really is to fire people all day long, send me a message – I would love to pick your brain!

I give this book five stars easy. “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge was published in 2007 and has become an international best seller. It is an outstanding work that explains a number of remarkable and insightful discoveries from the fascinating world of neuroscience that has led to one of the biggest paradigm shifts in the field. Whilst many of us take a natural interest in the brain pausing at times to think about the rather small piece of meat that’s sitting within the top of our skulls powering our consciousness, it is difficult to gain a great deal of insight from the rather impenetrable scientific literature that surrounds human brain research. With the curious, non-expert in mind, Doidge takes us on a scientific adventure that is easy to understand, laying the fundamental groundwork of our previous and current knowledge about the brain and its ability to change itself. During the journey we encounter numerous eccentric, inspiring and insightful researchers, doctors and patients who were part of this revolution and many of whom were told they were crazy for doing so.

The word is neuroplasticity and the consequences of this discovery are immense. We are now beginning to understand the inner workings of previously Inconceivable recoveries –  paralysed stroke victims learning to walk and talk again, a blind person given “sight”, a woman born with severe learning disabilities graduating from college with a PhD. By discovering the brains capacity to adapt and change itself, Doidge shows how best practices for rehabilitation and medical therapy have improved dramatically and how this impacts the quality of life for those suffering from brain trauma, sensory deprivation and other neurological disorders. Furthermore, he explores how this leap in understanding has helped us to readdress questions in psychology and how this may help us to optimize the ways we live and learn.

By demonstrating that our brain can help us to understand more about ourselves as individuals, “The Brain that Changes Itself” becomes an evidence-based tool and directory for how we can improve the functioning of our own minds and what we can expect in return. It provides reasons for why we should not feel condemned by the fifth grade teacher who told us we would never amount to anything nor the colleague who is convinced we lack a dynamic approach to tasks that require creative thinking. Where many of us have been brought up within a society and culture that has focused more on our genetics, our “IQ” and intelligence as a child, implying this notion of predetermined abilities – that we were either “naturally gifted” or not, research is suggesting that our intelligence, capabilities, “gifts” and “talents” are something that we have the power to develop ourselves despite genetic setbacks or initial challenges. This is not for the sake of a more progressive, considerate or “likeable” ideology or belief but because of the hard evidence that suggests our experience and how we “exercise” our brain as a child AND as an adult, has a much bigger impact on our brain than we had previously realized.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the early pioneers of the ideas surrounding our mind’s ability to adapt. Way back in the 18th century, Rousseau suggested that “the organization of the brain” was affected by our experience. As Doidge explains, Rousseau thought that the brain’s development depended, at least somewhat, on what we exposed it to and how we exercised it, just like the muscles in our body. In the 20th Century, Donald Hebb’s research began to prove that this was indeed the case, and the law he developed, Hebb’s law, is often summarized as “neurons that fire together, wire together”. In other words, this means that our outer experience affects how our brain is wired and rewired. As Doidge explains, this capability introduces exciting avenues for progress in clinical psychology and the management of conditions, such as character disorders including sociopathy, which we have had little success in treating with other conventional routes.

Lauren Kress

Lauren Kress

Reading this book made me laugh and cry, it left me feeling empowered and it gave me hope for the future of our world. Not only is it exciting to see such positive steps in the field of medicine and read about how this has changed people’s lives, it was motivating to know that I can overcome things at work and in my personal life that I may find initially challenging by taking advantage of my brain’s ability to change. I think this book is for those who are curious about how our brain, mind, behaviours and experiences interact with one another and are interested in understanding how scientists, patients and doctors have worked together to unlock some of the secrets of the brain in the 20th and 21st Century. It is for those who seek motivation and want to know what neuroplasticity means for them, whether it be for their own rehabilitation and/or personal psychological growth and well being or for a loved one. This book is also for those who believe that the future progress of the human race lies in our ability to continue to learn and teach throughout our lifetime. It is for those who want to understand the wealth of hard evidence available and utilize this data to encourage others to continue to grow and make positive changes to their own life and the world around them.

How to Welcome Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

Imagine a world without negativity. Smiles everywhere, acquiescence everywhere. You’ve got an idea? It’s a great one! Let’s do it!

In a world free of negativity, we’d do everything. We’d never question anything, we’d just get on with things, and do them. Yay! Positivity! Hurrah for positivity.

But after a while, things start to go wrong. That idea that nobody questioned, that project that everyone thought was going to go brilliantly – well it all went badly awry. But hey, we’re all positive and we bumble on, smiling happily, until the whole company falls around us and we smile on into our next jobs.

Without negative attitudes, all of this will happen – you have been warned.

Of course, this is a small exaggeration. Without positivity, nothing would ever get done. Positive attitudes are good. However, the negativity is what makes us question what we’re doing, and if we can’t make good of this negativity within our workplaces, we’ll never see the potential pitfalls in what we’re doing.

Few businesses realise the potential in negativity. They attempt to manage negative attitudes out of the workplace, or beat some positivity into them. Hey, wear a smile! Not happening.

I believe there’s a better way of handling negativity, of turning it around for the greater good. Let’s break it down into the different types of negativity, and see how we can get more out of negative attitudes in the workplace:

I hate my job but I’m not leaving it

 Now, we’ve started at the extreme, but let’s not dismiss it. A quit-stay has the potential to spread dissatisfaction around the business, and a quit-stay has to be turfed out at the very first possible opportunity. I can say that. I’m not in HR.

Nevertheless, you can at the very least glean some vital information about the way your business is run. What is the reason for dissatisfaction? Is it that person’s eternally negative personality? In which case, you have questions about your recruitment processes to answer. Is it line management or colleagues? Is it something stemming from the employee’s personal life?

There’s nothing that you can’t manage, one way or another. Problems at home can’t be resolved at work, but work can go some way to helping address those issues. No company can’t afford an employee assistance programme of some form or another – they’re cheaper than a Chinese takeaway at their most basic. It’s a no-brainer.

This project will never work

 I always like to surround myself with people who question, people who doubt. Those who say “this will never work”, even when it appears to be working.

They might be wrong – but at least they question the workings of a system. They question the processes, they question the results, they question how the results were obtained. There is never a right answer for them, and these negative attitudes may be construed as unhelpful by many businesses. I view them as the most helpful views of all.

You don’t have to take them at their word, but you should listen to them carefully. Their opinions are very often considered, thought through, and worthwhile – they’ve explored every angle, and they see the problems that you might not have seen.

I’m not doing this

 You might get frustrated by employees who act like three-year-olds, but like every three-year-old, there’s a reason behind their negativity. Here’s an opportunity, therefore, to sharpen up your act.

Why are they refusing to participate? Why are they not doing as you asked? There’s a chance that they haven’t fully understood why you’re asking them to do things, or that maybe, they just don’t agree with it. We’re not kids, we can have grown-up discussions and air our views, we don’t have to continually do everything we’re told to do in exchange for our monthly salary, do we?

Blindly believing that everyone will continually follow every order is naive, at best. A negative attitude may reflect on the way you’re managing that person, and can be managed better.

So – negative attitudes in the workplace. Perhaps it’s time to be more positive about them?

My Internship – Part 2

Jessica Lau, CHRP Candidate Vancouver, BC

Jessica Lau, CHRP Candidate
Vancouver, BC

So I’m slowly approaching the end of my HR internship, it’s been more than ten weeks since I’ve been doing this. Though the drive between Whistler and Vancouver every weekend may be tiring but let me tell you, it’s really worth it. My experience so far has been very good and when you are so involved in what you are doing and learning along the way, time flies by very quickly. I can’t believe there’s only a few weeks left.

During these ten weeks, I have gotten the opportunity to take on HR project such as the Colleague Engagement Survey and initiated “Game of the Week.” Taking on the Colleague Engagement Survey, I was able to utilize my organization skills and persistent trait to execute the survey with 98% completion rate. I would have loved to help the hotel reach 100% completion rate but learned that a lot of factors play a big part in this big organization. In particular, with this location being a resort location so a lot of the colleagues are away during this time of year and a lot of them are casual. It was a very fun project!

To add some fun for the colleagues, I created “Game of the Week” to help the colleagues stay positive, engaged and involved during the slower season. Last week, I put up “Guess who?” for the colleagues. It was very fun to see the colleagues surrounding the game and trying to guess the person. Every day, I had colleagues coming in and emailing me with guesses. Though it is something very small, I really enjoy being able to create something to help the colleagues have fun while at work, which is what Whistler is about.

To help better understand the hospitality industry and the operations of this organization, I took on many opportunities to cross train in different departments. I cross trained from banquets, sales to front desk just to name a few. As I mentioned in my last blog article, the colleagues in this hotel have been helpful and great to work with. When I cross trained with them, they were very willing to help, teach and work with me.

During these ten weeks, I supported various HR professionals in different areas and now have an even better understanding and clarification in the area of HR I’m truly interested in.

I am very excited for the work I have planned for the next few weeks like preparing for the HR audit and job fair.

Managing Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Michelle Yao

Michelle Yao

As someone who is a positive person by nature I often find it challenging to deal with negativity and negative people.  This is particularly difficult when I face it in the workplace because it is an environment that I need to be in daily.  So when I am in a negative situation at work I tend to step back and assess what is happening, who is giving off the negative vibes and what their point of view is. I tend not to react right away to negative attitudes, I’ve found that taking a breathe and reminding myself of my own frame of mind lessens the impact of another person’s negative attitude.

Early in my career I worked with an individual who was constantly a “negative nelly.”  She would complain on a regular basis about how much she hated work, her role and her responsibilities.  While initially I didn’t react I found that over time her constant complaining crept into my own frame at work.  The old adage ‘you are who you hang out with’ comes to mind.  Not saying anything, combined with constantly being around this negative attitude was affecting me and my view of my workplace.  Once I realized this I made a decision to speak frankly with this colleague.  I encouraged her to get proactive about why she was feeling how she was feeling.

She was surprised that her attitude was influencing me and dragging me down too. She apologized and we talked through some options.  She ended up speaking to her manager, enlisted the help of human resources to connect with a career counsellor and identified areas in her work that were making her unhappy.  After a few months of seeking support and talking more frankly to her manager, she slowly but steadily became a much more satisfied and happy colleague.

The lessons I’ve gained from this experience are lessons that I’ve brought forward with me in my career.  I’ve learned that if you stand by and just listen to negative attitudes eventually they will start to affect you. We need to be proactive in fostering our own healthy attitude at work.  It takes effort, time and it’s an ongoing process, but it is well worth the reward.

Negativity happens.  It’s a reality, but it is up to us to manage its impact on ourselves and in our workplace.

Managing Negative Attitudes in the Workplace

This blog post was written in response to the Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How do you manage negative attitudes in the workplace?”

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Sandy Arseneault, CHRP

Negative Nancy and Negative Neil. I’m sure the majority of us can agree that we have come across one (or a few) in our careers. Now how do you properly manage their negative attitudes in the workplace? Before you answer “get rid of them”, as some managers commonly respond, let me ask you this: Are they really the problem? Nine times out of ten – No.

In my experience, a negative attitude is a result of one or more underlying sources. Of course, you cannot solve these issues without fully understanding them. How we do that is to dissect them. In our case, your first step is to identify the source. Your second step is then to develop ways in which to manage negative attitudes accordingly.

Identifying the Source of Negative Attitudes

It can be very difficult to understand negative attitudes without first discussing why these feelings exist. I suggest you start by having an open and honest discussion with the employee exhibiting negative behaviour. At this time, it is important to remember three (3) things:

  1. Give specific examples of the negative attitude(s) or behaviour observed over time,
  2. Use probing questions to identify what is causing the negative attitude and how any unresolved issues can become resolved, and
  3. Use active listening skills to clarify both the employee’s and the employer’s responsibilities moving forward.

If you use the above approaches, it becomes much easier to understand negative behaviour, and opens the floor to collaborative problem solving. Here, you want to discuss how the source can be improved (or best managed).

As you can imagine, or have seen first-hand as I have, negativity in the workplace can have dramatic affects on employee performance, the performance of colleagues and the profitability of an organization. Some sources you may have uncovered in your workplace include dissatisfaction or unhappiness with performance evaluations, leadership or management, working conditions, organizational practices or personal challenges. A negative attitude can also be the result of a misunderstanding or lack of information.

Managing Negative Attitudes

Although there are many sources of negative attitudes, I can attest to the fact that your strategy in approaching them must start with communication and follow up. To be clear, managing negative attitudes and their sources highly depends on your commitment to communicate with employees on a regular basis, to offer timely actions that improve the situation (i.e. follow up), and involving them in the process.

During my 6 years of experience as a stand-alone human resources professional in both the construction and manufacturing industry, I have encountered a colourful array of positive and negative attitudes. By far, the most common issue is dissatisfaction with performance management – “the continuous process of identifying, measuring and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization” (Aguinis, 2009). Contacts who work in other industries have also asked me how they should deal with or manage similar issues with performance management systems of their own.

It is important to note here that there are several advantages to having a performance management system. These include increased motivation, self-esteem, and commitment; clarified expectations and organizational goals; organizational change; and timely differentiation between good and poor performers. However, many disadvantages can arise if a performance management system is poorly developed, implemented and/or maintained. An inadequate system can result in increased turnover, the use of misleading information, lowered self-esteem, wasted time and money, damaged relationships, decreased motivation, employee burnout and job dissatisfaction, unjustified demands from managers and employees, unfair standards and ratings, emerging biases and unclear rating systems (Aguinis, 2009). Do any of these drawbacks sound familiar?

Finally; no matter how many cases I have come across, the number one complaint is that employees feel their performance is not being assessed or documented correctly, or being evaluated consistently (if at all). Without fail, those feelings caused many employees to exhibit negative attitudes in the workplace. My advice in improving these  attitudes was (1) to obtain employee feedback through communication, (2) to seriously consider employee feedback, (3) to make changes wherever possible, and (4) to involve employees in the progression of change. In time, my advice helped managers develop new assessment tools (using employee feedback), better training for evaluators and evaluation schedules, and held managers more accountable. To everyone’s surprise (but my own), turnover became retention, attitudes were more positive and employees showed higher productivity – making the organization more successful.

So, to answer the question “How do you properly manage negative attitudes in the workplace?” I say, make a commitment to communicate with your staff, to take action in a timely manner, and to involve them in the process.

An article by: Sandy Arseneault, BBA  CHRP


Works Cited

Aguinis, H. (2009). Performance Management (2nd Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

“Small business, Big vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-made Entrepreneurs who did it right” by Adam Toren and Matthew Toren (4.5 Stars)

Small Business, Big VisionThe Toren brothers are passionate about helping others achieve their professional dreams. Published shortly after their award-winning book “Kidpreneurs: Young Entrepreneurs with Big Ideas!”, “Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who did it Right” provides an excellent guide for new entrepreneurs taking their first leap into business. Ok so yes, there are a ton of business development and management books out there, but this book is unique and offers a fresh perspective in a to-the-point manner with case studies of how entrepreneurs applied the techniques discussed throughout the book successfully.

After explaining the need for a big vision to provide the foundation for a “spark” to grow into a fully functioning business entity, we are taken through a number of business planning and development lessons in seven easy-to-read chapters. First they explain the danger in getting tied up with a lengthy, weighty business plan and suggest a one-page plan for self-reference. In Chapter 4 the Toren brothers turn their attention to the pros and cons of hiring employees and offer a convincing argument as to why outsourcing may be a better alternative for many small businesses.

Lauren Kress

Lauren Kress

First we are told that in the best-case scenarios “hiring the right employees can be the next best thing to cloning yourself”. Some sage advice on the need to consider the expense and risks associated with hiring in-house employees is provided soon after with an explanation on the required financial investment and the HR nightmares that can occur and could destroy a company. For resolution they suggest that outsourcing can be a great solution for many businesses enabling great advantages with reduced financial and managerial burden. They also give useful tips on how to avoid problems that can stem from the lack of control, ready availability and emotional buy-in that can occur from outsourcing work.

Another lesson provides an insightful overview of the world of social media and the four keys to utilising it successfully including strategic planning and the need to monitor measurements to adjust tactics accordingly. Lesson 5 focuses on achieving expert status by building an information “empire” whilst Lesson 6 encourages entrepreneurs to focus on their social responsibilities including ethics, sustainability and consideration to local and global community outreach. The final lesson provides sobering advice for when the going gets tough explaining the importance of embracing flexibility especially in a time of crisis in order to turn a business around, what to do before giving up and when to throw in the towel.

I challenge anyone to walk away from this book without greater drive, empowerment, understanding and appreciation for business in both real and ideal terms. Whilst this book risks romanticising the life of the entrepreneur the case studies featured as part of each chapter help to keep it grounded. The delicate balance between the big picture and the attention to planning and detail is maintained so that the reader is left feeling inspired and equipped with a nice juicy list of resources at the back.

Though this book is targeted at entrepreneurs, “Small Business, Big Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who did it Right” carries lessons within its pages for employers, employees and freelancers with all sorts of role and responsibilities from front desk service to middle management to company director and CEO. This book is a great read and a great resource for help with how to approach, tackle and resolve many work-related problems. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who has a big vision in sight for their future and is interested in better understanding the psychological, social and economical aspects and motivations of business entities and other organizations.