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Putting your human resources department to work for you.

Putting your human resources department to work for you

Laboratory supervisors depend on their human resources departments or HRDs to recruit new employees and explain benefit packages. However, most HR directors report that laboratories and other departments seldom take full advantage of the services and expertise available.

Besides playing a key role in recruitment, HRDs can support managers through exit interviews, training activities, employee assistance programs, guidance on counseling and discipline, and handling of employee complaints and grievances.

Let's look at how your HRD stands ready to help:

Recruitment and selection. Get advice from the HRD on determining minimum job qualifications. Naturally, managers and supervisors want to hire the best available person, but they often tend to set standards too high and overlook adequately qualified candidates. This leads to excessive recruiting costs as the search drags on. In addition, the longer it takes to fill a position, the less likely it is that the departing employee will be on hand to help train the new employee. Some productivity is thus lost.

Hiring overqualified individuals leads to low morale and high turnover. They may expect a salary based on credentials, not on duties, and become bored if daily tasks are not challenging. They are apt to quit or cause problems in the department because their skills exceed the demands of the position.

More important, hiring such individuals risks charges of discrimination from minority candidates who are qualified for jobs in your lab. Although someone with a Ph.D. in chemistry may know more about the subject than a person with a B.S., the latter may satisfy a court that he or she is the better choice to operate a chemistry analyzer.

A vital part of the recruitment process is the interview. Before you meet with candidates, get a list of legally forbidden questions from the HRD. Among the things you cannot ask: What is your religion? Do you have children? Were you ever arrested? What does your spouse do for a living?

Unless we interview frequently, we tend to forget the dozens of questions prohibited by equal employment opportunity laws and regulations. If possible, have an HR specialist sit in on your interviews to help you avoid asking the wrong things.

Exit interviews. Chances are your HRD interviews depating employees, but you don't. Much can be learned from exit interviews.1 For example, you may find out about staff morale problems or how a job can be improved to make it more attractive to employees. Sometimes you can discover the real reasons someone is leaving, as opposed to the brief formal reason you were given.

At other times, a departing employee may tell you how to increase productivity in the job. Not many employees planning to stay with an organization will say: "You only keep me half busy. I need more work.' Only from someone on the way out will you hear that a job doesn't require a full-timer or that more work could have been taken on.

If your HRD doesn't routinely provide you with records of exit interviews, ask to see these documents. When human resources personnel realize that you care, they may conduct such interviews in greater depth, which will give you even more insight into your operation.

Training. Most hospital education programs are under the aegis of the HRD. Your responsibility is to conduct periodic assessments of training needs for your personnel. The HRD's responsibility is to help you provide the necessary educational services.

One way to assess training needs is through questionnaires to employees, asking what they would like to learn to help them do their jobs better, prepare them for promotion, or make them feel more comfortable on the job. Supervisors can also be surveyed or interviewed about their sections' requirements.

Alternatively, someone in the organization can examine performance reviews for employee deficiencies. These reviews often contain comments on the order of, "Dave needs more experience or training in this area.'

In addition, hospital committees, such as safety and infection control, may identify areas where further training is needed. The infection control committee may schedule an in-service program on AIDS precautions, for example.

Continuing education programs are most effective when they respond to needs perceived by department heads. If those in charge do not request any new programs, HR directors worry about possible neglect of staff training. Then they may unilaterally initiate educational programs that lack managerial support. Such programs often fail to reach the right employees or do not address the right deficiencies.

Employee assistance programs. Progressive HRDs now offer free, comprehensive assistance to personnel who have alcohol, drug, or psychiatric problems. Employees who voluntarily seek help before they get into trouble usually can obtain completely confidential professional help. Not even family members or supervisors are informed.

Usually, one person in the HRD handles these matters. This individual does not actually provide treatment but arranges for in-house or off-site counseling. Many institutions refer employees to outside counselors in order to insure confidentiality; the expense often is borne by the institutions.

In some cases, a supervisor noticing an employee's work drop off may suggest that he or she see the designated person in the HRD to discuss any problems. The supervisor should not, however, accuse the employee of having a specific drug or alcohol problem.

Employees with personal problems whose job performance has deteriorated may be given the choice by supervisors of accepting help or facing dismissal. In these cases, supervisors are aware of treatment and often cooperate with counselors during the rehabilitation process.

You must insure that your staff knows of these services. Where there are no formal employee assistance programs, the HRD can still direct employees to outside treatment sources.

Counseling/disciplinary problems. Most counseling on job performance is handled by supervisors. If this counseling is ineffective, disciplinary measures (usually administered by higher management) may become necessary.

Once suspension or firing is mentioned, managers are sailing into hazardous waters. Individuals often file grievances and torts following disciplinary actions. Employees may go through the official grievance procedure outlined by the institution, get a lawyer and sue, or do both.

Frequently the charge is discrimination. A manager may fire an employee because of low productivity, excessive errors, or habitual lateness, but the employee can claim that age, sex, or race was the true reason for the dismissal.

Then the organization must prove it has not discriminated. That involves documentation, which is often poor. The individual adjudicating the case may finally decide there is not enough evidence against the employee.

Even when these cases are won in court, they are costly, time-consuming, and unpleasant. They involve extensive use of legal advisors, and staff members must take time off to testify.

HR directors, through the literature in their field and relationships with colleagues, have a database that enables them to recommend sound and appropriate action in particular situations. In other words, they can keep you out of hot water.

We recommend consulting your HRD before you give the first written counseling or disciplinary document to an employee. HR personnel can serve as mediators --a useful role since many problems with employees are based on misunderstanding or lack of communication.

At an early stage, obtain advice from your HRD on how the disciplinary process should be implemented, what documentation is needed, and what you must avoid. Unless a manager has experience in such matters, an HRD member should direct the disciplinary meeting, or at least sit in on it.

Complaints/grievances. Serious complaints and grievances represent the flip side of the disciplinary function--the response from employees. If you have a manager who is constantly disciplining his or her staff, you will also have a department where many grievances are being filed by workers.

Unionized organizations spell out procedures in minute detail. Their contract includes a highly structured grievance process. But in both union and nonunion facilities, the supervisors' reactions are critical to the timely and satisfactory resolution of problems.

Sections with good supervisors have fewer disciplinary actions, complaints, and grievances. These supervisors keep morale up and coach and counsel employees before problems erupt.

Managers cannot run to the HRD with every trivial employee gripe. On the other hand, employees do not usually file grievances over petty concerns.

Supervisors must recognize persistent or legitimate complaints, especially in areas where they have little or no control. They must also be familiar with the organization's official policy for dealing with these complaints. The chances of resolving a problem increase when the human resources department gets into the act early.

For example, staff members may complain about inadequate parking at the hospital. The supervisor probably cannot act to eliminate the problem, but he or she can pass the complaint on the higher management for consideration. Sometimes simply investigating new possibilities leads to a viable solution.

Federal labor regulations let even nonunion employees band together to voice their complaints. When supervisors refuse to allow a group of employees to do so, they may mire their organization in legal difficulties.

So when you have an uneasy feeling about a personnel problem, or find yourself wondering what the next step should be, see your friendly HRD representative. You may already have waited too long.

1. Umiker, W.O. A helpful good-bye: The exit interview. MLO 14(2): 65-72, February 1982.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.; Conlin, Thomas J.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1987
Words:1546
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