As HR professionals, we are always trying to make sure everyone is treated the same – that no one feels slighted or left out; that everyone is treated equally. In certain instances that is a really good idea, especially if it keeps you out of legal trouble, (e.g. male/female, old/young, black/white). But, is HR neutrality in the workplace becoming a one-size-fits-all?
Let’s take a step back. Examining our motive for treating all employees the same should give us some insight as to whether this is a constructive practice. Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly:
- Am I afraid of a claim of discrimination or retaliation?
- Am I trying to avoid conflict by applying policies the same way to all employees?
- Am I ignoring an underlying employee performance issue that needs to be addressed?
- Is treating all employees the same taking the easy way out?
If you answered, “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be practicing HR neutrality in the workplace. Obviously, some policies must be applied the same way to all employees, like no smoking in the office. But, must our top performers be treated the same as our mediocre or low performers? No, but we must treat them fairly. In fact, our treating employees fairly sometimes mean we treat them differently. How? A high performing employee doesn’t want to be treated the same as one they view as a slacker. They want to be treated differently, because they deserve it. There is nothing illegal about treating a high performer better than you treat your employee that is not meeting your expectations. So next time you encounter a situation that previously the one-size-fits-all HR neutrality has been applied to, examine your motive for doing so, use empathy by putting yourself in your employee’s shoes, and always keep the human in Human Resources. Oh yes, and you must deal head-on with the perceived slacker; they may just need clearer expectations, but you won’t know if you don’t ask!
Source: Sackett, Tim. “HR Neutrality: Everybody Seems to Hate It – Except, of Course, HR.” Available here.
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