10 Ways that HR can have a happy Christmas


There are plenty of articles currently available providing invaluable HR and employment law advice just for the season.  So, just in case one more is needed, here is my holiday related wisdom for HR folk everywhere.

  1. Employees sometimes do stupid stuff. At Christmas time and otherwise.
  2. Just deal with it.
  3. Resist the urge to worry too much about vicarious liability, discrimination and constructive dismissal.  Although it is probably a good idea not to put any mistletoe up in the office.
  4. Resist the urge to write any sort of policy.
  5. Resist the urge to put any sort of disclaimer about behaviour in any Christmas party related literature. If someone wants to punch Bob from Accounts on the dance floor after 12 pints of beer then they will do it anyway.  See points 1 and 2.
  6. Resist the urge to write special rules about absence from work after social events.  See point 2.
  7. Apply Christmas common sense.
  8. Avoid sprouts in an office environment at all times. This is especially important in small or poorly ventilated offices.
  9. Never, ever, buy Secret Santa presents from Ann Summers*.
  10. Enjoy yourself. Put a tree up. Eat some Quality Street.  Wear a Christmas jumper.  And if you feel yourself turning into the HR equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge, then just watch this…..


*Yes, this did happen somewhere I used to work. Yes, it resulted in a formal grievance.
 Snowman picture courtesy of @AATImage

You know you’ve been at a conference when…..

A just for fun blog post inspired by being at #cipdnap14

You know you’ve been at a conference when……

You’ve had biscuits. Lots and lots of biscuits.

You are flat out of business cards. All the ones you had are now languishing in glass bowls trying to win you a bottle of champagne.

Your feet ache.

You’ve eaten more Celebrations than at any other time since Christmas.

You are listening out for statements you can tweet in less than 140. Even when you are having lunch.

You’ve got a swag bag of conference stuff. Half of which you will never look at again.

You’ve talked to people you didn’t want to buy anything from, because they had cupcakes on their stand.

You have a new mug. And some pens to go with it.

Your phone battery is in the red.

There’s been coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Especially on day two….

And if it’s been a good one, you are both tired but inspired.

The Worst Interview in the World, Maybe

Yesterday, I was sharing some recruitment war stories with colleagues. Discussions of interviews and applications that didn’t go so well. The one that stands out in my memory was an application I received years ago for a position in the security team of a well known bank, in which the offer letter confirmed three day’s notice would be required for any interview, as they needed time to arrange a day pass from prison.

I guess most people have at some time applied for a job or been for an interview that didn’t go well. The one you would rather forget. But as they say, everything is a learning experience, and I certainly learnt from mine. So I thought I would share the story.

It was about twelve years ago. At the time, I was working as a HR officer in a mainly employee relations role. My job revolved around discipline, grievance, employment tribunals, personal injury claims, dismissals and trade unions. A typical day might involve hearing a grievance in the morning, an appeal against dismissal in the afternoon, and a little accident investigation in between. It was the kind of job in which you became completely immersed. I did everything from counting pallets at the top of a scissor lift in the stocktake, to being called out to a serious accident at 4am on a Sunday morning and climbing all over the scene. We had the it all going on there. I remember a call one morning that went a little bit like this. ‘Gem, can you come to site as soon as possible please? Someone has just tried to deliberately run over his team leader in a fork lift truck’. I loved it, but it burnt me out. So I started looking. And got an interview for a HR Consultant role in an outsourced call centre.

I got a new suit. I polished my shoes. I set off early, and arrived in plenty of time. And then, it all started to go wrong……

I knew as soon as I walked in, I didn’t fit there. They were all about motivational quotes. There were clouds painted on the ceiling. Bean bags in the training room to lie down on in between sessions. Let me tell you that this never happened during training on how to drive a fork lift truck. I was a fish out of water.

And then, the interview. There were no meeting rooms. It was all done on squishy chairs in an open plan space. On the next table was someone having their lunch flicking through a magazine. To the other side, what appeared to be a performance review going on. Over the way, someone I actually knew, which was a little awkward.

And once the questions started, I could think of nothing sensible to say. Whatever the interviewer asked me, I could not say anything that did not involve the words grievance or disciplinary. It just kept coming out.

Interviewer: How do you manage your team?
Me: I try not to discipline them.

Interviewer: Give me an example of how you have delivered change
Me: I taught all the managers how to do really good grievance hearings

And so on. And downhill. The more rubbish I talked, the more rubbish I talked.
The rejection letter came the very next morning. I suspect it was being typed before I hit the street. I can almost imagine the interviewer running to the post room, waving the letter aloft ‘quick, get this in the post – get rid of the discipline freak!’

But I did learn some things from the process.

I learnt that I should just have called it. We both knew I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t right for me, but we carried on with the questions and answers, regardless.

I learnt the importance of putting a candidate at ease, and explaining the process to them in advance, especially if it is going to be a little outside of the norm.

I learnt the importance of cultural fit. On paper I had all of the things. But I would never have been at home there.

I learnt that sometimes, you should just stop talking.

I learnt that there are no circumstances in which one can rise in a ladylike fashion from a bean bag whilst wearing a skirt.

Now, I’ve told you mine, so tell me yours……

Crimes Against the HR Department

This is an old blog post. I took it down a while back, as it ended up on Facebook, and got a lot of comments from people who, shall we say, weren’t too keen on HR, which wasn’t really the point, it was just a bit of fun. But people keep asking me where it went, so here it is again, in all its glory.


Sometimes HR gets a fair bit of stick. We are called ‘Human Remains’, and get the blame for everything from the annual pay rise to a decision to the latest restructure. There is however one thing in HR frustrates more than most. It’s that line manager who thinks that somewhere in my desk drawer, underneath the policy manual, employment law books and my spare pair of tights, is a magic wand. You know the wand I mean; the one that I wave around, magically sorting out the tricky employee issues, without that manager having to too much at all.

Well I’m sorry folks, but I’m not Mavis Cruet. (Readers younger than 30 may find a Google search of this term helpful).

So just for fun, here are my top ten line manager crimes against the HR team.

1. The Line Manager with the major, long term capability issue with an individual in your team. Only you just haven’t mentioned it to them in any of their appraisals or 121s, but it’s now urgent. Can HR sort it, like, today?
2. The Line Manager who has someone in their team with a body odour problem. And they think it is better that the nice lady HR tells them about this, rather than them. You know, their actual line manager, someone they know, rather than someone in HR that they don’t. Making it much more formal for them, but easier for the manager.
3. The Line Manager who wants to make someone in the team redundant. Only they want to replace them too. Because this is easier than dealing with the real issue (see point one).
4. The Line Manager with a hiring requirement. They know the right person for the job, so they don’t want to go through any sort of recruitment process malarkey. And then when they turn out to be not so good after all, they want HR to deal with it.
5. The Line Manager who wants to do something risky. They get the advice but decide to go ahead anyway. It all goes a bit Pete Tong and then miraculously forget our conversation.
6. The Line Manager who wants HR to ‘make an employment tribunal claim go away’. Yes, because the ET system works like that. I just ring up the Judge, have a chat and then Bingo! No legal costs.
7. The Line Manager with a team member who something wrong (Uploads some Facebook pictures in work time, takes a smoke break too many, take your pick) so rather than deal with the individual problem, they want a blanket ban company wide, on whatever it is. Because that is a much better way of dealing with things.
8. The Line Manager who give a recruitment agency that we don’t have any terms with the details of all their vacancies, and then moans at HR when the process breaks down and they try and charge 25% after the fact. Just because they agency tells you that they are really good and have loads of suitable candidates for the vacancy.
9. The Line Manager who thinks that HR extends to managing expenses (please see Finance), the coffee machine (that will be the Facilities Manager), updating the intranet (IT) or car parking arrangements (anybody, please).
10. The Line Manager who thinks employment law is ridiculous and wants me to find a way round it. Without spending any money, or presenting the business with any risk.

Ahhh. That feels so much better.

So what was the point of this blog post / rant? Only this: your HR department can only do so much. You have to work with them, over the long term. We are there to advise you, support you, provide the tools, coach you, and generally help you achieve your strategic goals. We don’t do magic wands, sadly.

We are only human (resources).

The HR unAwards 2013

A totally frivolous, just for Christmas fun, blog post. I shall most certainly now have to write something intelligent in the New Year……

I have decided that the awards industry is nonsense. Which is my way of saying I have never won one. I’m never likely to either, as even if I did something noteworthy, I wouldn’t be able to afford the table at the dinner and the trip down to London.

So, I have decided to host my very own, hrgem unAwards13. To acknowledge super awesome HR type folk everywhere.

(Disclaimer. Recipients of a hrgem award should not assume that there is any actual award of any kind. It is just this, being in the blog. There is no certificate.)

Blogger of the Year Award
A tough choice due to the amazing nature of the writing that we see in the people related blogosphere, and there is a tie this year!
The unAward goes to – Simon Heath (@SimonHeath1) and Neil Usher (@workessence). I read lots of blogs, often on the go. Whilst traveling, between meetings, walking around the office sometimes. But when I see blogs from Simon and Neil I have to sit down and savour them. Usually with a biscuit. Both write really awesomesauce work. If you haven’t read them, then you should. More please, gentlemen. Blogs here: http://workmusing.wordpress.com/about/ and http://workessence.com/

Most social, social HR person of the Year Award
Goes to Perry Timms. Let’s face it; he would go to the opening of an envelope if it had the words ‘HR’ on the front. And glad we are too, as no event would be the same without his Tiggeresque bounce. As Samuel Johnson said, if you are tired of Perry Timms, you are tired of life.

International Man of Mystery Award
Who other than @HRTinker could win this award? Only the privileged few know the real man behind the face palm. We have signed in blood never to tell. But if you buy me a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at the next tweetup, I’ll let you into the secret.

Best HR Social Event Award
#ConnectingHRMcr. All three of them. Because they are the only ones I went too. But they have the best crowd.

Best Twitter Chat

#nzlead. That is all.

HR Tweep with Best Music Taste Award.
At Tim Scott HR. And he is rather a lovely chap too.

Social HR Person of the Year Award
Michael Carty of course! The man who is always in our feed when we wake up, and without whom the HR twitterverse might implode. Winner this year and every other!

Special Recognition Award
Goes to – David D’Souza. For Humane, Resourced. Which was an amazing example of crowdsourcing, the power of twitter and good people doing good stuff for free. Jolly good show.

Utterly Fabulous Award.
This one is for Julie Drybrough, or as she is known to us all (and my mom) as @Fuchsia_Blue. Because she just is, utterly fabulous and I am chuffed to call her a friend.

If you have your own HR award – feel free to put it in the comments!

Further disclaimer. Some people might read this and consider that it is just a list of my friends. Such allegations will be strongly refuted. There was a formal shortlisting process (conducted by me) followed by a panel review (comprising of me). And there is an appeals process. It is called wine for hrgem.

Happy Christmas friends and tweeps!

On the 12th day of (HR) Christmas…..


Just for fun.

On the 12th day of Christmas, my HR business partner gave to me…

12 Disciplinaries for scheduling
11 Employment laws a changing
10 Policies and procedures
9 Employees moaning
8 Grievances a raising
7 Contracts of Employment
6 Performance meetings
5 TUPE transfers
4 final warnings
3 Training courses
2 Exit interviews

And an annual employee engagement survey

Seasons greetings to you and yours!