World HR Congress Day 2: Bad HR Management Kills

By Martha Frase Oct 17, 2014
Alessandro Carlucci, CEO of Brazilian costmetics company Natura, speaking on employee retention.

SANTIAGO, CHILE—“Are you killing people in the workplaces you are overseeing?” asked organizational behavior guru Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford University, starting off his presentation at the World Federation of People Management Associations’ (WFPMA) 15th World HR Congress on Oct. 16, 2014.

He explained that companies are failing to pay attention to human health and well-being, when this should be an employer’s “sacred responsibility.”

What makes some employees get sick, and even die? he asked. His answer: broken leadership and bad organizational decisions—such as lack of health insurance, poor job design, long hours and shift work, no social support in the workplace, poor work/life balance, perceived unfairness and injustice, and layoffs and job insecurity.

For healthy people, according to Pfeffer, losing a job increases the chance of a new health condition arising by 83 percent. The health effects of job loss do not dissipate even after an employee finds a new job, he said.

Pfeffer pointed to research showing that layoffs do not improve company economic performance, profitability, productivity, innovation or stock market price, inferring that they are often unnecessary. Referencing suicide and alcohol-related mortality related to job loss, his next comment brought gasps from the room: “HR is complicit in the murder of human beings.”

Bad HR management practices that ignore employee health are costly in lives and profits, he asserted, citing 120,000 unnecessary deaths per year and $180 billion in turnover, absenteeism, medical costs and lost productivity. “When people go to work, they are trusting their lives and well-being to their employers. We must find ways to measure employee health and hold leaders accountable” for employee well-being, he said, just as employers are accountable for safety and environmental impact.

Other happenings on Day 2 at the Congress included:

*Jean-Michel Caye, senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), presented the findings of the annual WFPMA/BCG “Creating People Advantage” survey. Finding and keeping top talent is still high on the list of challenges facing employers in 2014.

*Lynda Gratton, organizational theorist, consultant and professor of Management Practice at London Business School, was honored with the WFPMA “Award Georges Petitpas.” The award is given biannually to an individual who embodies the spirit of, and dedication to, the HR management profession. Attendees were treated to a video of WFPMA President Pieter Haen presenting the award to Gratton at her London office and the pair sitting down for tea and a chat about the future of HR.

*Antonio Prado of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Patrick de Maeseneire of Adecco, Lucas Van Wees of Dutch airline KLM, and Roberto Jana of Oracle Chile gave their unique perspectives on the challenges of running a global business in a culturally fragmented world in a session titled “Work Without Borders.”

*Alessandro Carlucci, CEO of Brazilian cosmetics company Natura, talked about global connectedness and employee retention in his presentation. When studies show that 60 percent of people are not happy in their jobs, “retention is the wrong strategy,” he said. “People want to go, and you are not going to be able to use a program to keep them. You have to make them want to be there every day.”

The key is connecting them to their work, he stressed. Our lives today are characterized by alienation and fragmentation of our daily roles. Work is separate from play, family, nature and so on. “But everything in life is connected. What we do in this room today is having an impact in China. We may never know how, but we can be assured that it is.”

Natura’s motto is “Bien estar, estar bien.” Harkening back to Pfeffer’s theme, Carlucci noted that being well enables people to do well.

Check back in on Monday for our last report from Santiago!

Martha Frase is managing editor of WorldLink, the magazine of the World Federation of People Management Associations. She can be contacted at

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