Never too early to distrust HR

2009

No department gets as much blame (unfairly) or credit (also unfairly) for employee engagement as HR. While I am usually one of its stouter defenders (of course I'm one of the stouter people so that's no big deal), I recently watched something happen that was dispiriting. This was partly because it didn't reflect well on HR practitioners, but mostly because it involved my almost-16 year old daughter, Her Serene Highness.

A couple of things occurred that have resulted in my daughter having a very low opinion of the Nice Lady in HR (the culprits here happened to be female but this is a competency issue, not a gender thing) before she'd even started her first shift. I won't share too much because while a blogger who gets fired for airing their opinion is a fearless and stalwart defender of free speech, a blogger who gets their kid fired is just a big fat idiot. Still, it was not fun to watch.

It all starts with one critical piece of information. My daughter turns 16 next week, so she was still 15 when she started her quest for her first real part-time job. With more pluck than good sense, she applied at a large department store among other places and, against the odds, got an interview where she dutifully disclosed her age and was offered a job in spite of that fact.

"What a mature young woman," the Nice Lady in HR thought (and she's right). "She must have amazing parents, of course we'll hire her." (I'm guessing, but what other conclusion could she draw with the evidence at hand?).

So despite the fact that company policy forbids anyone working there who hasn't reached their 16th birthday, they decided to offer her a job with the provision that she could begin her training, but wouldn't actually start on the sales floor until after her birthday.

So mistake number one, was that NLIHR had no business offering her a job - and certainly not scheduling her training - until the time was right. You'd think if anyone would know that, it would be someone in HR. Nevertheless, it was done.

Her Serene Highness showed up for her first day of training dressed far too maturely for her father's liking but looking every bit the young sales professional. She was one of half a dozen new employees- all about twice her age so while she looked cool, she wasn't exactly in her social element.

Still, everything was fine until she went to input her vital information into the company's computer, which was done in a corner of the room in front of everyone. The infernal machine started beeping annoyingly whenever she tried to put in her birth date. Mortified, she asked for assistance.

NLIHR said, "Oops, I guess it won't let you log in because you're underage". (Note to HR professionals, when you are facing a flustered, embarrassed teenager: "Oops" is not the best word to use). She then informed the poor kid (in front of everyone in the room) that she'd have to go home and not come back until after her birthday.

Another Nice Lady said, "Oops (again oops!) Didn't I call you about this?" Ummmm, apparently not. I'm pretty sure she'd have remembered that.

The two of them then escorted her from the room, because that's what you're supposed to do when asking someone to leave training. (They couldn't remember the 15 year old thing, but they remembered how to frog-march someone out of the room in full view of her would-be coworkers, all of whom could be her mother).

Shaken and embarrassed, she was told to go home and await a phone call about when she could reschedule her training. That phone call came 48 long hours later with no apology for the embarrassment and a vague promise to reschedule sometime after her birthday.

"Why did they hire me if I couldn't start?" No answer to that one kid. "Why do they have these stupid rules?" There are probably reasons but nothing that will help.

"What were they thinking?" They probably weren't- but you can't really say that to someone who assumes anyone over 30 is in early stage Dementia anyway.

So this was a job she was proud to accept- in fact she turned down three other job offers to keep this more prestigious position. She's gone from pride at being selected to wondering if this is a company she wants to work for. How competent a place is this? How will her co-workers treat her now that they know how young she is? What other unpleasant surprises lie in wait for her? Is it too late to go back to K-Mart and take that job?

She's been frustrated, embarrassed, confused and contemplating other employment and hasn't even worked a single day yet. You have to work pretty hard to make someone that excited about a job be that dispirited that quickly.

I know these are isolated incidents, and anyone can have a bad day. My tolerance for human error is usually pretty high (if you were me, you'd be quick to forgive weakness too- it's just basic Karma). I can forgive a lot, but there's a special place in HR Hell for anyone ruining my kid's introduction to the workplace.

She has years to learn good work habits, lots of time to separate good managers from the poor ones (and learn to cope with them as best she can), but apparently it's never too early to distrust HR.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.

Older Comments

I think you're being too hard on the employer - sounds like a honest mistake to me. Your daughter is obviously an impressive young lady to have been offered the position in the first place, so I'd take that as a positive.

Linda

Linda, I agree about the initial mistake- things happen. I told the story more as a way of pointing out how critical the HR role is to employee engagement, and how it could have been so much different. Oh, and I feel better having gotten it off my chest. Thanks for writing...how about the rest of you? What do you think?

Wayne Turmel

I don't agree. I think it was handled badly. They didn't have to march her out of there as if SHE was the one who was at fault. HR should have flagged this one and handled what they needed to handle ahead of time. If she wasn't going to be able to participate in the training until she was 16, they should not have scheduled her to do so until then. I can only imagine how horrified she was.

Pat

I have been a over an HR department for over 30 years and was saddened when I read your story. Linda is correct, in that there was a possible error. However, in my department when errors were made, all were treated with respect and dignity, i.e., the employee making the error and the person affected by the error. (Because errors happen!) Anyone working in the HR department must have exceptional interpersonal, problem solving and judgment skills to deal with the variety of 'people' issues they confront daily. Unfortunately, these skills are not taught in a classroom. I have taken personal situations like this, as a reminder of 'how to treat others'.

Carolyn