HR Policy Paralysis – Fair Treatment vs Same Treatment

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on June 29, 2014

“Managing people is more difficult as compared to machines as each one is wired differently with no process manuals to guide!” Managing Diversity among human capital has made it all the more difficult. Diversity is defined as “variety of perspectives which arise from differences in culture, caste, creed, mental or physical abilities, education qualification, geographic location, age, gender and other characteristics. From HR function point of view it is important to ensure that the policies and practices are framed in a way to nurture diversity. Right from recruitment, selection, compensation, to promotion, development and separation, HR policies must be fair and aim towards nurturing diversity.

In this era of globalization, organizations have offices in multiple locations and employees hail from diverse backgrounds (geographically and culturally). In such scenario, HR policies and practices play a crucial role to keep the work force bound together as a cohesive team and motivated.

Many organizations, today, are suffering from “policy paralysis”. In such organizations policies are treated as laws to be adhered by, at times, at the cost of harming the reputation of the organization. What is also surprising is that, in the name of fair treatment, employees are harassed or their interests totally ignored and unheard.

Source – publicfinance

A humorous fable will drive my point home – Once upon a time, there was a competition in jungle to decide the King of animals. Many animals participated like dog, cow, lion, elephant, giraffe etc. Monkey was the Judge and he announced that for a fair selection, everyone has to take the same exam. The monkey announced that whosoever climbed the banyan tree without falling will be announced the King. Elephant’s strength, Giraffe’s agility, Lion’s bravery, dog’s loyalty – everything was overlooked by the myopic monkey (read HR policy) in pursuit of so called fair treatment.

Malaria or Jaundice may have a certain cure but does that mean all the patients suffering can be treated by same medicine? NO. Doctors treat each case individually since human physiology differs from individual to individual. Research journals and books of medicine only serve as reference point. Similarly organizations cannot have “one size fits all” policies and practices if they have offices in different countries or even regions of the country. It is important to identify how each policy, practice and action may have different impact on different groups. Each group may respond to them differently.

Some organizations that have their major client base in USA or Europe tend to give mandatory 10 days off during Christmas and no off during Diwali – biggest festival for Hindus. How unthoughtful? How dumb would it sound if an Indian organization announces a forced holiday during Diwali but no break in Christmas in regions of Europe or USA? Sounds similar to announcing a paternity break for bachelors!!

Cookbook approach in HR is a sure shot formula for failure. We cannot have “straight jacket” policy approach for employees of different type of set up. For example – a reward strategy for sales staff will definitely not motivate the scholars of R&D set up. Movie or shopping vouchers may help to motivate the sales staff but the scientists would want something like financial assistance for higher studies. Even the degree of autonomy that a scientist would need for research will vary from what a marketing employee would want for sales pitch. An investment banker would prefer astronomical annual bonus for slogging 14-16 hours a day while a 9 to 5 clerk in the same bank may not prefer the same.

Can a global conglomerate with presence in different industries and different types of set ups like R&D, Manufacturing etc afford to give same treatment to all its employees? Can one imagine using methods like wage settlement (generally used for workers in manufacturing) for Research scholars also in R&D in the name of “uniformity” or “same treatment”. Job description of an employee in Quality control section of a manufacturing set up clearly states to not to budge from the defined processes. But for a scientist in R&D, wouldn’t it sound fool hardy to stop experimenting and follow same process over and over again. Policy of Mobility across the globe may be readily acceptable to westerners with nuclear families or no family ties but the same policy may back fire in Asian countries which propagate joint family system and compromising professional interests to nurture family ties.

Source – Humanworkplace

Organizations need to understand that the way job description differs, so do the required skill set and the way of managing and motivating them. In the name of “same treatment” to all employees, somewhere the “fairness” is lost in the process.

Since childhood it is hammered in our brains – “Treat others, the way you want to be treated”. But let us look at this teaching from the lens of diversity. What I appreciate, others might not. What do rewards mean? Do they mean same for all? What does motivation mean? Can we motivate the entire workforce through same treatment? A blue collar worker will appreciate bonus during Diwali instead of cupcakes distribution. The famous motivation theory by Maslow clearly states how different needs motivate different people. A reward has no value if the recipient does not appreciate it.

Even if the employees share similar values like respect, integrity etc, they may mean different to different people. Bowing down to touch feet may look like respect to employees of Gen X but Gen Y would prefer to be called by first name. It is time for HR to move to newer thought – “Treat others the way they want to be treated”. Instead of age old idea – “my way is the best way” to diversity sensitive thought – “let us pick the best of the variety of ways” will help us foster more inclusive work environment. Taking Cognizance of the fact that diversity can be threaded through every aspect of management is the need of the hour.

“Sense of Judgement” is an absolute essential quality needed for HR folks to appreciate the Human Capital.  Issues like “policy paralysis” or “same treatment syndrome” can be overcome by practical approach and treating men like men instead of machines to be operated as written in process manuals (read HR policies). Fair treatment is a must while same treatment is an old school farce.

This article has been authored by Abhilasha Lunia, Assistant Manager – Human Resources, Torrent Research Centre (Torrent Pharmaceuticals)

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