Human resource management is a comprehensive support paradigm for both the employer (and his or her agents) and the employee. Most of the discussion regarding human resources revolves around problem employees and how human resources management can be used to deal with them. This week, however, we get to appreciate how human resources management can be effective at mediating employee concerns. Presented with two scenarios involving employee concerns, we will choose one and explore the fundamentals of human resources management as it relates to the challenges presented.
Throughout the past two weeks, Paul, a physical therapist, has been receiving in his work e-mail inbox some disturbing messages from an unknown sender. Many of the messages are sexual in nature and some even refer to Paul’s coworkers. Paul has reluctantly confided in the head of the organization’s HR department to help him with the issue. He is very embarrassed about the situation and is concerned that an investigation might jeopardize his relationships with coworkers and even his position with the organization.
As internet technology and systems management is a forte or mine, it is difficult for me not to take the easy path by selecting scenario 1. For this scenario, Paul would only have to enlist his manager in engaging the IT department to track the emails, which is a very simple process (most people do not understand how much information is generated in server logs and attached to email messages). The sender of the offensive emails would be found out and dealt with, and/or future messages of this type would be blocked by the email server, and Paul would no longer be distracted by these offensive emails.
However, as I stated previously, I prefer a challenge and will review the problems and some potential solutions regarding scenario 2.
For the past year, the nurses’ union at Good Health Hospital has been meeting to discuss grievances against Good Health’s management. In particular, the nurses are concerned with the way managers treat them; many feel overworked, undercompensated, and underappreciated. They have recently submitted a proposal to Good Health’s executives asking for better management practices, an increase in nurse staffing, and better compensation and benefits for nurses. The executives have enlisted the help of Good Health’s HR department in addressing the concerns in the proposal; they are concerned about budget constraints as well as the possibility of a nurses’ union strike.
Scenario 2 involves organized employees threatening a work stoppage if, at least, some of their concerns are not mitigated. Work stoppages, or strikes, are detrimental to any organization. The nurses’ union at Good Health Hospital have presented grievances that are typical in health care (Fallon & McConnell, 2007). It is a wonder why these concerns were not identified early. As Fallon and McConnell (2007) point out, “the best time to address a problem is before it becomes a problem” (p. 281). In this case, effective management would have identified these concerns early and developed a plan, perhaps integrating potential solutions through the organizations strategic plan, and prevented the growing acrimonious and bitter discontent amongst the rank and file employees. Though Fallon and McConnell discuss various types of organizational leadership, I prefer to lead with libertarian values in mind; ergo, both respect and responsibility must be virtues of both employee and employer, and both must work hard for the other. Fallon and McConnell discuss how trust and mutual respect lends to an effective, efficient, and rewarding work environment. Unfortunately, in scenario 2, it seems that we are beyond mitigation and prevention and, legally and contractually, they must be addressed.
Good Health Hospital administrators should take heed to the complaints noted in the nurses’ grievances. Although many managers and adminstrators dislike unions, ignoring them is not the answer. In this case, the concerns are probably real. Fallon and McConnell (2007) tell how information pertinent to employer-employee relations does not typically transcend the ranks, and this set of grievances may be the first indication to upper management that there is an issue. Still, the hospital adminstration, depending on the organizational schema (for-profit, not-for-profit, public, private, et al.), has a responsibility to its stakeholders and must ensure both operational feasibility and cost containment. Answering to these grievances could jeopardize one or both of these. A work stoppage would be detrimental to the operation and prove costly while meeting the demands in full would unrealistically obliterate the profit margin (note: the demands are not listed within the scenario; however, we can infer that they are significant).
If I were in the position of dealing with these grievances, I would, first, separate the demands by genre: safety and ethics, emotion, and economics. First and foremost, any ethical or safety concerns should be dealt with immediately, anyway. By identifying and dealing with these issues first, the perception of a receptive and action-oriented administration is gained. The solutions for these issues can also be highly visible and can be made to work for the organization by way of press releases outlining improvements in safety if not mere visible changes in the work environment and culture. Second, addressing emotional issues, such as poor treatment by managers and the perception of a lack of appreciation, can be solved by the employees, themselves. For instance, a “grade your manager” program might be cost neutral and provide some insight for future coaching. This would also give a sense of the prevailing attitude of the employees in the way comment cards give businesses a sense of the clientele. Another way of addressing emotion is to direct each manager to inquire of their staff periodically about any minor concerns they might have. This would give a sense of open communications, something that appears to be lacking. Finally, it is time to address the economical concerns.
Many times, the pay and benefits that are offered to unionized workers are stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement. These, fortunately (or, unfortunately) cannot be changed until the contract is renegotiated. Ethically and respectfully, the compensation package should hover near market levels. Fortunately for Good Health Hospital, we have already addressed a few concerns, so we have latitude in addressing the economic issues. As Fallon and McConnell (2007) state, working conditions are just as important as financial incentives, and employees may sacrifice pay and benefits for a decent working environment.
Regardless of the hospital’s ability to meet the nurses’ demands, I would insist on meeting with them, out of respect, to hear their concerns; however, the meeting would be official and the labor relations attorneys would be present to ensure compliance to the National Labor Relations Board regulations.
Fallon, L. F. & McConnell, C. R. (2007). Human resources management in health care: principles and practice. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.