HR Practices that may be Giving us a Bad Reputation

Posted in : HR Updates on 3 November 2013
Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting
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Angela Schettino writes:

We read an interesting blog on LinkedIn recently, written by a woman pondering the bureaucratic world of HR and the grave impact some HR practices can have on people’s perceptions of their workplace and their attitude towards their employer.

We can’t help but agree that there are some practices out there that have become a little ingrained which even we, as HR practitioners, feel a little bit uncomfortable about at times...but we just soldier on, sometimes for fear of risk. Perhaps we carry on for lack of an imaginative alternative?

We offer some examples below which may resonate with you and we extend an invitation for readers to offer us any comments or other examples of process / policy that you think may need a revisit...

Forced Ranking

This is the process of essentially putting your employees in order by performance, thus using such lists to decide who gets promoted and may be getting dismissed. Admittedly this is often the practice of large organisations, made famous by General Electric, but it is still very much in use.

This practice is often perceived by employees as the annual death knell and as well as causing high levels of annual anxiety, also creates all sorts of dysfunctional one-upmanship during the year. Is this method one which employees can really embrace? More importantly does it add value? Surely a robust approach to coaching and performance management is more than enough?

Performance on the Bell Curve 

Linked with the idea of forced ranking, the idea of the Bell Curve is that we prescribe to our managers a ‘normal distribution of performance’ in which 60% of employees are ‘average’ and 20% are not cutting it...about 5% of those really should go.

Essentially performance pay tends to go to the top 20% of the group. Whilst this is an interesting concept, it just doesn’t pan out in the real world, does it? It takes all sorts, good teams, bad teams, exceptionally good line managers and so on...

The Bell Curve is a tricky idea to push to exceptional managers who are doing a fantastic job of assisting ALL of their reports to perform at an outstanding level. Rather than impose a curve...lets relook at how we assist managers to set robust measures for performance, both tangible and intangible and look at a wider definition of reward.

Prescribing Limits on Grief 

We all have them (or have seen them), the policies which state exactly how much time an employee is allowed to take in the event of the death of a loved one. We go as far as to state differing periods of allowable leave relating to the closeness of the family relationship, be it immediate family or someone ‘remote’ like ‘your best friend’! Do we really need to prescribe this? Imagine for a moment that your partner or a similarly close relative had died and you read in the handbook that you will be allowed up to four days leave. It simply doesn’t bare any relationship to the gravity of grief for many at that particular time, does it?

Death and other devastating major life events are your opportunity as an employer to demonstrate your compassion and the value you place on the relationship you have with your employee, having their best interests at heart. Simply stating that you will support employees in line with advice from themselves (and their Dr if appropriate) and given their particular circumstances will be enough, surely?

No References Policies

This is a controversial one and we understand the legal reasons why many employers have adopted the practice of no longer providing references. The problem is that statistically, more employees choose to leave your employ as relatively good performers than the number that choose to leave you having wreaked havoc during their employ and therefore cause concern in terms of what a manager (who doesn’t understand the implications) might write about them.

Is name, rank and number all that ex employees really deserve after many years of loyal service? What does this say about you as an employer if you cannot extol the virtues of your ex employees? In some cases, the good ones might even come back to you...

Time For Change?

We are already seeing a bit of a sea change in terms of how modern HR practitioners are approaching policy, on the basis that we are ‘human’ and therefore highly intelligent, complex and multifaceted.

Imagine if all HR policies were highly intelligent, complex and multifaceted...where would we be?

Are there any other policies out there which may be giving us a bad reputation?

This article is correct at 04/11/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting

The main content of this article was provided by Angela Schettino. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email

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