• Heidi Thompson
  • 15 May 2012

How do you sleep at night?

As often happens when working in HR, mention your occupation at a social event and someone usually wants to discuss an issue they have. I had this recently where an MD of a small organisation discussed a recent dismissal they had made and how this was now leading to an appeal and likely Employment Tribunal case.

In this case the reason for dismissal was sound and reasonable, but the process they had followed was rather long winded, overly complicated and unfortunately was likely to greatly weaken their case should they wish to defend it in an Employment Tribunal.   

The MD’s words to me following my advice, which I hope were meant positively, was that it must be ‘very hard’ to deal with such issues day after day.  He confessed that he hadn’t slept well since this happened. He felt that his business was at threat from such a claim and that this was unfair when the employee had committed an act of Gross Misconduct. I reassured him that whilst I took no pleasure in dismissing employees, my years of experience enabled me to navigate successfully through such a process and as a Consultant I was able to make less emotive decisions. Likewise, I did not have the level of experience he had in running his business and as such could not understand why he felt he needed to be an expert in HR.

In this case, providing he follows the advice I gave and corrects some of the areas through the appeal, I suspect he will be ok. But this experience could have affected his views of managing employee issues in the future. Would he be more careful when managing such a process, or would he instead lack confidence and shy away from managing such issues? In my experience it’s unfortunately often the latter.

This conversation really made me think about what keeps other managers awake at night in terms of employee issues. The Government’s Red Tape Challenge and proposals for reviewing Employment Tribunals and possible non fault dismissals all aim to help these smaller organisations, but how effective will they be? 

I feel employers need more reassurance that many of their fears and the myths surrounding dismissing and managing employees are unfounded, and that they should not feel they have to face these problems alone. Organisations are unlikely to try to battle on regardless if their problems are IT, financial or sales based, so why do some employers struggle with seeking help with HR issues?

The answer often seems to lie in the thinking from organisations that HR is less strategic than these other functions and perhaps for smaller organisations that it is a resource that they ‘cannot afford’. This of course cannot just be considered in view of smaller organisations alone, especially given the CIPD’s report today of recent research that shows HR professionals are ‘almost completely absent’ from the boardroom in top firms, with less than 1% of directors in the UK’s 50 largest listed firms having a background in people management.

One Director, Stephen Menko from Ortus, reporting on the research stated that:

“It’s astonishing that while HR directors are pivotal to an organisation’s growth and long-term success, they are almost completely absent at Board level in some of the UK’s largest companies.”

HR professionals must play a role in changing this viewpoint by continuing to voice their opinions and show their worth to organisations.  They must also ensure their advice is commercially based and suitable for the needs of the business – there is nothing more frustrating than a HR professional stating ‘the computer says no’, or perhaps more likely ‘employment legislation says no’. 

Employers, large and small, must also recognise the importance of effective people management and the role HR can play in achieving this. 

The level of HR support needed will vary greatly and the availability of outsourced and ad hoc support from providers such as Workplace Law has enabled organisations to benefit from this support in a more cost effective way. I would also hope that the Government doesn’t just focus on supposedly ‘easier’ dismissal processes but also encourages organisations to seek HR services and proactively deal with their people issues.

The MD I mentioned above has discovered through his experience that with some support at the outset he could have managed the whole process more effectively, with much less risk.

He has now taken the option to get this support when he needs it and ensured a much better night’s sleep in the future!