Blog: HR rites of passage

by Angela Atkins17 Jun 2014
After a fascinating and at times hilarious discussion recently with HR people from around the world – we got to discussing the first time we had to dismiss someone. One HR Manager admitted to crying after it happened, I remember just sort of feeling numb. And one person very honestly admitted to doing an air punch!

I was once meeting one of the younger HR people that I mentor for lunch. She came flying out of the building to meet me, a huge grin on her face and told me excited that she’d just done her first disciplinary meeting where she led it and had to give the employee a warning. Then her eyes widened and she grabbed my arm and pulled me around the corner. It seemed that the employee she’d given a warning to had just come out of the building too. She hoped he hadn’t heard her bragging!

Such are the moments of HR.

Which made me think back on the HR rites of passage that many of us go through in the HR world. So do you remember the first time you had to…….
  • Advise an employee that they were being given a warning. Funnily enough it’s often the HR person that actually has to say this as managers don’t want to, or freeze up at the critical moment. And sadly, it’s something you do get better with the more you do. However that does mean the employee often feels like they’ve been treated fairly as you’ve gone on with it and don’t sit there discussing the weather.
  • Dismiss an employee and then had to walk them out of the building.
  • Make someone’s role redundant and have them break down crying.
  • Deal with an employee death at work – not just the Health & Safety/HR processes but all the other people stuff that no-one else may think of.
  • Meet with an employee who has cancer or had had a heart attack and advise that they were being terminated for medical incapacity (obviously this is at the end of a long process). If you’ve worked with them a long time and they know they’re dying this is particularly hard.
  • Present a paper to the Board. Mine was when bird flu was a serious risk and the Board asked me to prepare a special paper. Often it’s only about remuneration you’ll go to the Board, but it is a rite of passage.
  • Present in front of a room full of managers or employees about an HR process especially when you don’t really think the HR process is any good but it’s been forced on your company by a global parent (I’ve unfortunately had this more than once!).  I also hadn’t had any training on how to do presentations or training so it wasn’t my most engaging session!
  • Deal with your first office affair issue – over the years I’ve had managers complaining about things happening in bathrooms, people taking restraining orders out on each other and much more.
  • Deal with a bullying or harassment case. Then having the CEO say they aren’t going to raise it with the bully because they’re a top performer.
  • Discuss with your HR team about them sleeping with an employee or and what needs to happen around being professional. On that note, I’d like to say that I did meet my husband before we first worked together (and having now worked in more than 6 companies together, we’ve always been fairly professional…. J)
I think a lot of these are unique to an HR career but most of us have to go through them.

Angela Atkins is the general manager of Elephant HR. The published author has worked in HR for more than 17 years in a variety of sectors. This blog posting originally appeared on Atkins personal blog hrmanagementbites. To read the full posting click here.

Do you remember the first time you had to sack someone? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

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