'Dear Helga' Returns to Offer HR Guidance

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 20, 2017
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Michael S. Cohen, Esq.

​NEW ORLEANS--Dear Helga, I try and I try, but nothing is working. My managers simply do not understand the documentation process. I don't know if they don't get why it matters or don't know how to do it, but they are creating massive problems. Could you possibly provide me with some tips on how to get the critical message of documentation through to them?

Losing My Leaders in Las Vegas

This query was among the challenging, hypothetical HR questions Michael S. Cohen, Esq., considered during the concurrent session "Dear Helga Returns (Again!) with New and More Complicated HR Problems" at the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition.

Cohen fashioned his talk as an advice column for HR professionals. He used "letters" as a jumping-off point to talk about the do's and don'ts of performance management, what legally and practically to consider when faced with an employee relations dilemma, steps to a better hiring process, and conducting investigations.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Difficult Employees and Disruptive Behaviors]

For example, don't make stereotypical assumptions about a job candidate based on his or her marital or parental status—such as thinking married individuals are more stable and more mature than unmarried individuals, he said. And he recommended avoiding the following language when terminating an employee because it can sound demeaning, false or unnecessarily apologetic:

  • "We had no choice."
  • "I'm sorry."
  • "It had nothing to do with your performance."
  • "You have no one to blame but yourself; you didn't try hard enough."
  • "I know how you feel."
  • "Someday you will thank me when you find a job that matches your gifts."
  • "Pardon the impersonal nature of this e-mail, but you are fired."
  • "I didn't want to send you an impersonal e-mail, so I wanted to leave you a personal voice mail letting you know that you are fired."
  • "This is harder on me than it is on you."

For Tina Flint, SHRM-SCP, HR manager at international insurance company Enstar (US) Inc., headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., the session was "an opportunity to align the law with best practices in HR."

Flint will give a presentation on what she learned to hiring managers at her company. She said one of the things she can share is that the session validated that her HR team is handling performance management properly.

"We have it nailed. We are solid," she said. That includes following a process for documentation of performance management and obtaining employee signatures that acknowledge receipt of that documentation—the very things "Losing My Leaders in Las Vegas" wants her managers to embrace.

Flint will also use her presentation to make sure HR is training the leadership team not to ask certain questions when interviewing job candidates. While it's commendable to try to get to know the person, some questions, such as the candidate's national origin, can quickly veer into equal employment opportunity protected-class areas.

"I want to provide the tools for the leadership team to have effective interviews and make better hiring decisions," Flint said.

Thanks to Dear Helga, she's on her way. 

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