Risky Business

I saw an article today. I didn’t follow the link, as I’ve seen the type before. If you work in HR, you will have seen them too: how HR can manage the challenges of the festive season.

I guess it included the usual advice. Maybe something about vicarious liability. Or a summary on what amounts to the ‘course of employment’. Dealing with absence the day after the big event. Dealing with the employee relations issues that can arise from having a little too much to drink. Dealing with the fall-out from an ill-advised Secret Santra present. Maybe a suggestion to remind all employees that the usual rules of work still apply at the party, the restaurant, the pub.

And herein lies my gripe. I may have mentioned this before. Too much time spent in work of low value, no value, and not enough where it counts. Not enough where we add the real value. Box ticking, procedure writing, policy obsessed, possessed. Absorbed with administration, governed by governance, preoccupied with risks. And all the time losing sight of the good people stuff.

It is easy to understand why HR professionals get like this. The employment tribunal looms large. The ACAS code of practice teaches us to tick every box. Much legislation, like the Health and Safety at Work Act, insists that risks are minimised as far as possible. Often, when things go wrong the finger is pointed straight back at the HR department for not having the right policies, not giving the right advice, not making the problem go away.

So we write long policies that try and provide for every eventuality. We try to treat everyone the same to avoid accusations of bias. We worry about setting a precedent so we say no to everything. We worry about managers wrongly using discretion, so we try to make all the decisions. We worry that the blame will come our way, so we put our energy into covering our backs.

We build walls in the bricks of no.


But this leads us to lose sight of what the right thing to do, the sensible thing to do, the right way to be. On the point about Christmas specifically, what does all of this risk aversion really achieve? If you have employees who decide to flail their fists on the dancefloor, or a couple who have a careless caress under the mistletoe, all the pre-event HR handwringing won’t make an impact. Not one single employee will suddenly stop, before they take the eight glass of something, and recall your Scrooge like disclaimer on the ticket that disciplinary action could result. They will do it anyway.

It’s time to lighten up and let go. Time to take a few calculated risks. To find some balance between the risky thing and the likely thing. And, of course, the right thing.

And if your Christmas party is coming up, can you resist the urge to include a disclaimer?

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