Got a call from a colleague the other day to talk about some issues she was facing with a client she'd just taken.
Without going into too much detail I can tell you it didn't sound good: yelling in the workplace, intimidation, threats, insults, the rote reference to the attorneys, foul language, and on and on. Like Animal House minus the saving grace of John Belushi.
We traded ideas back and forth and she has a plan. It'll be hard work, and most not pleasant, but she'll do a great job.
As we neared the end of the call I said, don't they have an HR dept? Yeah, they do. Oh. Okay, well, what do they think? Here's what got me.
They don't really work on things like that
Things “like that” to me are culture.
You can call them norms, standards, values and so forth but I call that culture because culture comes with this unique early warning system. Culture will tell you whether language, acts, behavior, etc are within or outside of the tolerance limits.
Straining those limits can be a good thing – it tests their relevance today. Obliterating them = bad.
I believe by definition HR works on things “like that” – we don't create, foist or control culture. We nourish it, protect it and extend it. To me its a fundamental part of our essential function:
to find, develop and retain talent
Who wants to join, or stay, in an organization with a toxic culture.
Every organization deserves their own distinct culture. How we value time, language, dress, behavior, interaction with each other, problem-solving, openness and so on. There are indeed examples where foul language and yelling are accepted as part of that (don't fool yourself into thinking its blue collar either – ever been to Wall St?)
So I'm not suggesting we all need to look like each other. It does seem though like there's a page missing when HR is just out of the loop. Unaware or unconcerned with the actual temperature vs the desired one. That's not what we do.
What I am saying is this. Be engaged. Know your organization and its culture. You are an ambassador. It is your right and responsibility to extend that culture.
That is what we do.
By the way, ostriches do not really put their head in the sand.
Neither should we.