This week’s big FT workplace talking point is Pilita Clark’s column about tattoos now being widely accepted in professional settings. There are hundreds of reader comments. Everyone, it seems, has a VERY STRONG opinion about visible ink at work, with self-declared older people least tolerant. (And then there’s reader Happy Ever After: “I find tattoos disgusting.” 🤢) I keep my upper arm tattoo under wraps at work — but I am of course firmly on the “pro-ink” side. Every piece tells a story, and many of them are fascinating. Send (safe for work) opinions on tattoos, your furry co-worker photos to cleanse my palate, and anything else that you think we should be covering here to email@example.com. What does ‘good’ HR look like? Whenever the FT covers workplace disputes, employment tribunals and allegations of sexual harassment, one theme often emerges: the shortcomings of human resources departments. Here’s FT special investigations editor Madison Marriage, on the Working It podcast: “Every story I’ve ever written to do with bullying, harassment, HR has been a malevolent force, not a force for good. So I would advise people to be very wary of HR.
My experience is that they are there to help the company, not the people lower down the ranks.” The HR department has an inherent tension because it “serves two masters”, as it’s often put: first the company, and its best interests, and second, the human capital (aka “talent”, but probably not called that when there’s a dispute going down). When powerful organisational interests, money and fear collide, things easily go wrong. One big change that would help stop this rot, as we discussed last week, is having human resources executives on every company board of directors, so they have far more influence to make sure matters of corporate culture and staff satisfaction are taken seriously — and measured — at the highest levels. Brand new research from the CIPD, the UK HR sector’s professional body, shows a bleak situation
In all, 99 per cent of boards have a chief financial officer or a finance director among their board members, but just 2 per cent have an HR director as an executive board member.” 😳 That’s big-picture thinking. But what does “good” everyday HR look like? By this I mean the kind that will create a healthy corporate culture and help to prevent catastrophic situations. I put this question to Meena Anand, incoming chief executive of the City HR Association.
Good HR, she says, is about “creating some guardrails around organisations — being clear about what is expected from individuals”. Meena had a long career in global HR and saw many situations where internal communication was . . . less than clear 🌫️. “Whenever there is a disconnect it is always mismanaged expectations. I have done loads of disciplinary and grievance issues and the one thing that comes up time and time again is that the manager has a set of expectations and the employee or their team has a different set of expectations.” One of my own issues with HR is that there’s just so much of it. Are these poor people being asked to do too much, meaning they can’t focus on their best work? No, says Meena. “The whole thing about HR is that it is about people, so it can’t just be about one thing.” HR, in other words, reflects the whole beautiful, messy world we inhabit. By way of explanation, Meena sent me the photo below.