Street Level Influencer – Meet Aly McKinster

Aly McKinster.

“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.” — Robin Sharma

For the first time in almost 10 months, I bring you the Street Level Influencer series! It’s been a minute, that’s for sure! Now more than ever, we need reminders from those individuals at the ground level making an impact in our daily lives – many times without us knowing it – that life is overwhelmingly good, even when it’s “bad.”

Street level influencers provide that for us.

COVID, social unrest, systemic racism, insurrections, hatred from seemingly all over. These things have caused cracks in even the most tempered of personality foundations. Concrete, eventually, will crack under the weight of the burden.

When I began my idea of the Street Level Influencer, I had no idea how positive people would respond to it! I’m excited that it struck a chord with people. Remember, the Street Level Influencer is a reminder that everyone has the ability to radiate positive light in the world around them, and light is brighter when surrounded by shadows.

So far in the series, I have shared stories from:

  1. Kirk Hamsher
  2. Kristy Freewalt
  3. Sue Oswalt
  4. Okie Smith
  5. John Newton
  6. Olga Piehler
  7. Blake Quinlan
  8. James Woods
  9. Anthony Eaton
  10. Jane Murtaugh
  11. Rhonda Owens
  12. Dan Huber
  13. Shenise Cook
  14. Scott McCullough
  15. Kim Bozeman

One of the most consequential lessons I learned in workplace life (or just life in general) is the importance of relationships. Relationships guide and direct all we do, especially in an HR context. If the relationship sucks, chances are the experience will suck. If the relationship is awesome, chances are the experience will be awesome.

The next Street Level Influencer is a MASTER of the relationship! Aly McKinster is a Client Manager at Wipfli, Inc., and her expertise is in the Predictive Index (PI) behavioral assessment.

I first met Aly in 2021 when we were bringing PI into my workplace. The main reason we wanted PI was that it offered a comprehensive tool to strengthen relationships, communication, and development of our staff.

I could not be happier to have Aly by my side as I took on the massive undertaking of introducing PI to the organization! Aly was kind, patient, understanding, and pretty much an amazing human being the entire time! Since I first met her, I can honestly say that she’s now a good friend. She has challenged me to think differently, and she has been an advocate in my corner – propping me up when I want to slump! She is simply, awesome.

So, without further ado, here is my interview with Aly! ENJOY!

So, tell us about Predictive Index. What is it about PI that you find so valuable?

I am a scrappy human that likes creative solutions that solve problems quickly, without a ton of pain. I also like anything in life that helps bring people closer to their authentic self. PI’s tools support this from multiple facets.

I’m also an artist so a lot of business things are challenging for me, so I like to remove as much friction as possible and then teach other teams how we achieved this.

I HATED team sports growing up. I am a perfectionist; I over think literally everything (including all parts of human behavior) so the chance that I could perform in a way that would ever affect others negatively is really tough for me. I have never found a tool that works as quick and well as PI as it relates to understanding teams.

My Why is to help as many people not feel the way that I have in multiple dynamics in my life. I like to remove any friction I can between people, systems, and technology. PI empowers humans to have better relationships and team dynamics where open communication is encouraged.

The tool also encourages diversity of thought which is so so important in today’s world. If we come at a problem only viewing it from a few degrees, we are missing the totality of the issue. We therefore cannot create the best solution and outcome.

I care a lot about mental health, more on this in a later question… but poor mental health is either enflamed by or originates from stress. When you stop making people work in a way that drains them, they can have more energy for their work, families, and communities. These tools help identify the things that really drain and stress each person out. When you’re working with your gifts you feel valued.

Do you have any stories you’re willing to share of you using PI to improve a workplace relationship?

PI has improved all of my workplace relationships. We use the tools internally at Wipfli when we have any discussions around people. Often, when two people are very similar, or completely opposite, they can have the most dissonance. It’s human nature to form connections between data (people’s actions) and then assume things based on previous experiences. These tools break down the barrier of communication and allow people to objectively describe themselves so that they feel more comfy discussing the more subjective topics with their colleagues.

PI doesn’t solve all things in relationships, but it does pull back the curtain so that deeper topics that need to be discussed can be discussed.

I have too many stories with my clients to share here, maybe that could be another blog!

We’ve discussed before the importance that mental health advocacy has played in our worlds. Why do you feel mental health conversations need to happen more frequently?

This is a topic I am deeply passionate about! I believe every situation is an opportunity to find strength and use our gifts in unique ways.

If we’re talking from a pure business standpoint, mental health issues critically affect team dynamics and the way we engage in peer relationships and client engagements. But it doesn’t need to be a negative.

For example, one employee may have had challenging family dynamics. These folks may often turn to people facing roles with lots of collaboration. They can have gifts in assembling teams and noticing literally everything no one else sees as they often had to find creative ways to get their needs met in their family dynamic. They will also bring that strength to their clients, no one will care about clients more than these people.

Business is about relationships. Relationships between people, processes, and technology. When a product is broken, it’s noticed and fixed. When a process is broken, it’s noticed and fixed. And hopefully, the pain points are minimized due to addressing the needs.

When a person is broken, though, a lot of times no one sees it. Ultimately, when someone can’t get help or get an opportunity to get a fix (like a process or product), the organization has unattended, unseen pain points.

People need time, space, and opportunity to heal. Some of the smartest people you have ever worked with in business have been through some very complicated things mentally.

Being open and talking about mental health is the only way to address the pain points – it’s not only the human thing to do, but it’s good for business as it allows people to address and hopefully fix their pain points. They can then get back to sharing their gifts with the company and world.

Something that is also close to my heart is the connection between neurodiversity and mental health. It is so important to talk about neurodiversity from a mental health context in the workplace. Neurodiverse people have special gifts and special challenges. For example, I have ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and OCD, which leads me to overthinking.  I need quiet to best focus and reset, but the gifts I’ve been granted are hyper-creativity and the ability to quickly connect and share stories with people. I’ve been able to build communities and teams rapidly. The blind spots, well there is a lot of them, so thank goodness for PI tools and great mentors!

You mention that Wipfli has been such a great company to work for. What makes them a great place to work?

I truthfully never thought I could sustain working in the business world as the creative that I am, until I met Wipfli. Wipfli is the first company I have worked with that’s truly seen my gifts and allowed me to use them without putting me down when I fail. Wipfli lets us use our gifts to best serve our clients. They support growth in a nurturing way like something I haven’t experienced before.

Leaders in this organization saw things in me that I had yet to discover about myself. Example, aligning me to the nonprofit industry. Employees in nonprofits have a level of empathy that a lot people cannot understand. They often serve people that are just like them growing up. This means, they really, really get it. Sometimes too much. There is no lack of passion, people all care so much about others that they sometimes need someone to remind them to care about themselves. Back to my why, I love to help empower others to be the best version of themselves and this includes a ton of self-care (communication tools are self-care).

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I get to be myself. I feel seen. I feel heard. I could not sing better praises about Wipfli, and I plan to retire here if they will let me. 😊

What is one simple thing that HR leaders can do today to make their place of employment a better place to work?

Bring tools to the workplace that can help people feel seen and heard – tools that highlight individual strengths. These tools allow us to bring the human to the forefront. When people feel seen and heard, they feel safer, they form better relationships, and they do better work. Period. We are all humans that ultimately seek connection, love, and acceptance. Start with figuring out how everyone in the org can have the opportunity to feel these things if they so choose.

What is one book you’ve read that has influenced your leadership style? Why?

Start with Why by Simon Sinek. I have always been an incredibly curious person. I have found if you can discover what motivates everyone at their core (their why), you can connect with that person much quicker and discover what they actually need and what can help them. Life is so complicated at times.

Oddly enough, Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie is another one. I have always struggled with being in an environment where others are upset because I am a “people feeler” myself (naturally inclined to respect feelings).  Especially in the workplace because I know how hard it is to get things done when people are feeling disconnected and/or are in a space where they are not open. This book allowed me to realize that I cannot change others’ feelings. All I can do is become the best version of myself. Don’t adapt to the room – influence the room!

Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

I have to pick 2, and this is hard as I have been blessed with more mentors than I could have ever hoped for at Wipfli.

First, Marcie Bomberg. She is my mentor at Wipfli, and my life has been completely transformed by her brilliance, kindness, generosity, and time. Marcie leads strategy for our organizational performance sector. If you have a business or organizational strategy, just call Marcie. Marcie is a master in helping people and businesses/organizations reframe the way they think so that they can become the best versions of themselves. She has helped me change the way I view myself as a professional and has empowered me to bring my gifts to the world. She taught me that being myself is my power, what I’ve been through is my power, and that I do not have to dim my light to uplift others. She has helped me reframe the way that I view myself in business, which was needed for a hippie like me! 😊

Second, Kathleen Dubois. She is the leader of our Non-Profit sector at Wipfli. She cares about people in a way that is incredibly rare to find in business these days. If you have an issue, Kathleen is the guide you need to find the solution because she just simply gets it, and cares. Everyone feels better after being in a room with Kathleen.

I know some people say that work should not be family, but for me it is. Being around energy like what Kathleen and Marcie bring to work helps me in all areas of my development and life.

What do you feel is HR’s biggest challenge going to be over the next six months?

People are burnt the F out. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. Many studies have shown that our brains are literally short-circuiting short-term memory situations as our brain is trying to the pandemic from our memories as a defense mechanism. The pandemic changed the way that people look at the world, how they relate, and fit into it.  Business changed; relationships changed.

Not everyone fills their cup and regains energy the same way which is also why I love the PI tool set. It helps you understand, quickly, what motivates, demotivates, and drains a person. It also shares what will help people gain their energy back (for me it’s getting in with a team, helping them all figure out their best and highest use and how to make work easier so there’s more energy for them outside of work).

How can people connect with you?

Message me at! I would love to hear from you. I am also on LinkedIn.

What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I’ve been writing music since I was 4! I play 8 instruments and have written over 1,000 songs. I try to use my knowledge for song writing in the way that I engage with business. I also love to create food without recipes as part of my neurodiversity. I literally cannot read directions! 😊

Oh, and I’ve sang at Carnegie Hall, and also fell asleep singing for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. It was a long flight over there. 😊

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

It’s Not About the Tattoos

Photo by cottonbro on

“When you dominate other people’s emotions, the time has to come when you have to pay, and heavily, for that privilege.” – Ethel Waters

“Force can overcome force, but a free society cannot long steel itself to dominate another people by sheer force.” – Dean Acheson

I got my first tattoo when I was 18. My father wasn’t too keen on the idea. I had made up my mind when I was 16 or 17, so it didn’t matter. It’s an Irish cross on my left shoulder. The ink, it has held up well over the years. I am lucky that my skin takes well to tattoos. One never knows, right?

I’ve gotten many more since. I like them all. No regrets. I have two half sleeves. They can all be covered up if I wanted to. And that was by design. I didn’t want them to interfere with my professional advancement. Tattoos were (and still are in many circles) seen as unprofessional.

Originally, this blog post was meant to discuss why tattoos shouldn’t factor in any definition of professionalism. However, a recent conversation on Twitter made me rethink the meaning and reasoning behind what I was writing, and why.

It’s not about the tattoos.

Laurie Ruettimann recently posted an unprovoked message she received from Brad, who disapproved of her tattoos. Apparently, Laurie needed to work in a gas station, and not in HR.

As an admirer of Laurie’s, and fellow tattooed professional, I jumped to her defense. “Tattoos are OK for the workplace, yada yada yada,” was essentially my response. Laurie kindly pointed out that this isn’t about tattoos. It’s about policing women’s bodies, in her words.

Wendy Daily piggybacked:

The light bulb went off.

I used to be obsessed with finding the meaning of the word “professionalism.” The more I dig, the more I’m beginning to believe it’s a made-up word used by power mongers to get people to act the way they want them to, not by any true means that deliver impact in a community or organization.

Professionalism, in these folks’ definition, is about power over others. I mean, think of these sayings:

  • Working certain hours isn’t professional.
  • Working remote or from home isn’t professional.
  • Wearing hoodies isn’t professional.
  • Tattoos aren’t professional.
  • Black hair styles are not professional.
  • Short skirts aren’t professional.
  • Colored hair isn’t professional.
  • Piercings aren’t professional.
  • African-American Vernacular English (AAVE, Ebonics, whatever) isn’t professional.
  • Men acting feminine and women acting manly isn’t professional.

None of these things has ANYTHING to do with the actual WORK that is being accomplished. The output, the results are what I thought mattered, not how it got done, much less the physical appearances of the folks DOING the work.

Shame on me.

Also, notice to whom most of these unprofessional attributes are directed towards… Women and persons of colors. Those demographics bear the brunt of these unwarranted and ruthless attacks because they had the audacity of being born different from the traditional powerholders.

It’s not about the tattoos.

Franz Oppenheimer was a German Jewish sociologist and political economist. His main works centered on the area of the fundamental sociology of “the state” – specifically, how states, or governments, are formed.

In his seminal work, The State (1908), Oppenheimer rejected the idea of the “social contract” (as put forth by John Locke) and espouses the “conquest theory of the state.”

“The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad.”

Essentially, governments come to be because on group dominates and conquers another group. One group of people dominate another and force their views, their customs, their ideas on the vanquished.

Take this idea to the microlevel, say the workplace, and one can see clear parallels. The victorious group of people, namely White males, dictate the rules of the game, most of the time at the expense of other player, which is the point of power. Power ensures a clear winner to determine what works and what doesn’t, or what is and isn’t professional, even when there is evidence to the contrary.

Flexible work arrangements? Nope. You need to be in the office.

Dress for your work “dress codes.” Nope. You need to look a certain way.

Expressing your culture and heritage. Nope. Not on my watch!

It’s not about the tattoos.

All these overused and annoying buzzwords – the Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, or whatever the next “it” thing will be – have a foundational cause. It comes from people being treated like garbage at work. People being treated like garbage in society. People are sick and tired, and they won’t want to take it anymore.

I hope the following quote from another famous Oppenheimer isn’t true, but I’m not so sure anymore. The creator of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, said:

“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.”

So, what should be done? Well, it depends on what organizational leaders want. Do they want results, growth, innovation, respect, kindness? Then they will build an organization that lends itself to these ideals. This means using privilege to give up privilege. Put another way, those leaders will let go of power. Thy will allow others to be themselves, and they will hold those accountable who want to police other folks’ bodies, ideas, attitudes, experiences.

Easier said than done because ego is the enemy. And ego wants power.

If organizational leaders want a harder time hiring folks, a bad employment reputation, harassment and EEOC lawsuits, unhappy workers, and lower profits overall, then they will keep the historical infrastructures in place. They will enforce dress codes. They will enforce work at the office mandates. They will enforce no tattoo policies, no piercing policies, no diversity policies. They will allow Brad to call out women online for having tattoos – despite never having met the woman, knowing what she’s about, or how much good she’s done for the world.

They will give into their egos, and allow the world to be the “best of all possible worlds” despite it being able to be much better.

So, after all my years of looking for the perfect definition of professional, I believe I have found my definition.

Professionalism, to me, is about allowing other people to be themselves. It is about non-judgment. Being a professional is about treating other people the way they want to be treated, so long as they get the work assigned to them done at the appropriate and agreed upon quality. Professionalism has nothing to do with dress, or hair, or gender, or tattoos. Professionalism is about anything but superficial garbage.

It’s not about the tattoos.

Nine Quotes by Thích Nhất Hạnh That Could Change the Way You Do HR (and Life)

Thich Nhat Hanh fake oil painting by Alvin Alexander

“Thích Nhất Hạnh is a real poet.” – Robert Lowell

I have maintained since day one of writing this blog that philosophy offers professionals a difference making outlook on life, work, love, and everything. To me, philosophy is about living one’s best life and acting on what is right.

Doing HR right is an act of philosophy to me. It is always important to create space to think, put things into perspective, and act well and correctly.

Buddhism straddles the line between philosophy and religion. The religion has monks, prayers, rituals, sacred texts, and all the things that make a religion a religion – well except a god (or gods).

Still, in many respects, its teachings are incredibly philosophical in ways other religions aren’t. The Buddha said:

  • “If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”
  • “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
  • “Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”
  • “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”
  • “If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?”
  • “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live.”
  • “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh is one of the most prolific Buddhist teachers of this age. Along with the Dalai Lama, no one individual is so influential to 20th and 21st century Buddhist thinking.

Thích Nhất Hạnh passed away this past January. I wrote about it here. While I am no Buddhist, his teachings have deeply influenced my line of thinking – personally and professionally for neither can be separate. The way one acts personally is how one acts professionally. I learned that from Thầy (Vietnamese for “teacher” – Hạnh’s nickname).

As such, here are nine powerful quotes from Thích Nhất Hạnh that can help us all become better professionals, and people!

  1. “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

It’s been said ad nauseum. HR is a hard job. People are messy. Empathy has its limits and takes its toll. I’m not saying anything that isn’t new. One of the few ways to combat this is to live a life of peace. Live a life that is so full of peace that even how we walk represents our love and affection for the universe.

  • “Because you are alive, everything is possible.” Living Buddha, Living Christ

It’s a mistake to say you only live once. You live EVERY DAY. You only die once. While alive, remember that anything is possible. Don’t put limitations on yourself. Don’t tell yourself it cannot happen. If you do, you’ve already lost. Don’t do that to yourself.

  • “Many people think excitement is happiness…But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.” The Art of Power

I believe many have a warped understanding of happiness. Happiness is not a feeling, like joy. Many folks confuse joy and pleasure for happiness. Joy or pleasure are not happiness. They can help create the condition for happiness, but ultimately happiness is a state of mind. In the ancient context, happiness meant “a flourishing life.” Peace is the ultimate in flourishing. Work for peace – internal and external – and happiness follows.

  • “My actions are my only true belongings.” Understanding Our Mind: 50 Verses on Buddhist Psychology

Everything we have will disappear. Our cars. Our jobs. Our families. Our hair. Our health. Our feelings and emotions. Our lives. Everything is ephemeral. All of life is change. The only things that never goes away, never changes are our actions. The things we do. The echo in eternity. Remember that before each action, and hopefully, the right action follows.

  • “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” Being Peace

The old saying, perception is in the eye of the beholder, rings true. But how true are perceptions? Can you trust your eyes? Can you trust your ears? Can you trust your thoughts? Maybe. Maybe not. Ultimately, the truth often lays somewhere in the middle void – the middle path. Few times are things so concrete that new information or new experiences cannot make us think again. To let things become clear, we need to let go of our ego, and let go of our attachments to what we want. This can allow space to allow what is.

  • “Our own life has to be our message.” The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology

A poetic, beautiful way of saying – walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.

  • “It is my conviction that there is no way to peace—peace is the way.” The Art of Power

Often, humanity makes simple things complex. Peace is not hard. Pease is rather easy. Treat others well. Do not harm others. Be kind. Be nonjudgmental. Be grateful. However, human history, despite having many examples of these actions, is dominated by people treating others poorly, harmfully, unkindly, judgingly, ungratefully. Ultimately, we want peace (at work, in our lives, in the world), we need to embrace the simplicity of peace.

  • “What you are looking for is already in you…You already are everything you are seeking.” You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment

“When I get that new job, I will be happy.” “When I get married, I will be happy.” “When I get respect at the office, I will be happy.” The world is littered with people saying, thinking, feeling such phrases. However, as I wrote earlier, happiness is not a thing that can be brought from external sources. It can only come from internal sources. If one is not happy here, now, no amount of anything will bring it about.

  • “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Peace Is Every Step

Truly, a revolutionary insight. Why do people stay at a toxic workplace? Why do people stay in toxic relationships? Why do people stay in communities they are not invested in? It’s because change is harder than doing nothing. Familiar pain is more comforting that unfamiliar happiness.

Bonus Quote:

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.” The Art of Power

I don’t need to add anything. This is beautiful as is. 😊

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved

#HRUnite! Conference 2022: Key Take Aways from an #HRAwesome Event!

Me at the HRUnite! 2022 Conference in Frankenmuth, MI. I’m excited I found it!

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” – Chinese Proverb

There are those rare events that reinvigorate you, inspire you, help you remember why you do what you do. This is the point of “conferencing!” It is meant to help attendees learn new things while helping them recharge their batteries.

Remember, motivation doesn’t last. But neither does bathing, and it is recommended to do it often! 😊 So, conference going, learning, motivating events should be our norms! If we don’t nurture our growth, we stop growing and eventually whither.

I recently attended #HRUnite! Conference 2022 in Frankenmuth, Michigan. For those unfamiliar with HRUnite!, it is the adventure of Tina-Marie Wohlfield (who has quickly become one of my favorite people in the HR Community, nay, favorite people I know). From the website:

HRUnite! brings together HR professionals at all levels and specialties to provide opportunities to connect and build powerful professional relationships with others in the #HRcommunity. It is an outlet for those trying to enter the profession, advance their careers and surround themselves in a judgement free and supportive community with a purpose to share knowledge, resources, ideas and professional development opportunities in a non-sales solicitation environment.

I have admired HRUnite! from afar the last few years, and I was thrilled to join their conference live and in person. I got to hang out with longtime friends, friends I haven’t seen in real life for years, and new friends I have yet to meet in real life!

Writers take liberties from time to time, but this is not hyperbole – This was one of the best conferences I have ever been to! It was simple, which made the learning much more impactful. It was intimate, which made for better networking. Overall, I highly recommend HRUnite! Conference for any HR pro willing and able (Conference Committee deliberately caps attendance to maintain intimacy) to attend.

In fact, I am incredibly excited to announce I was asked to be a speaker at HRUnite! 2023 July 12-13, 2023! What topic will I speak about? I have a while to decide, but you know it will be, as Tina-Marie would say, #HRAwesome!

Until 2023, however, here are my top key takeaways from the HRUnite! Conference 2022.

  • Always remember that FMLA/ADA overlaps. Any seasoned HR pro knows that just because FMLA ends doesn’t mean that it’s time to terminate the employee. ADA likely kicks in! And let me say, any HR professional worth their weight in gold knows it’s not about terminating and moving on from employees anyway! It’s about HELPING them, SUPPORTING them! But that’s an aside. James Reid reminded attendees that if it is not an undue hardship, additional leave of absence following FMLA exhaustion can be a reasonable accommodation under ADA. What is reasonable amount of time? Well, in classic lawyer speak, it depends. But this reminder is always important to keep top of mind.
  • Leave people better than when you found them. This prompt from Terry Bean can never be said enough. It is a reminder that leadership is for the follower, not the leader. How you do that is through better questions! Terry reminded us of the Toyota Five Why technique.  This is a simple but powerful tool for getting through the symptoms of a problem to reveal its underlying causes, so that one can deal with it once and for all. A lot like an inquisitive toddler, continually asking why is a simple approach to finding the root cause and then addressing it. See below chart for an example. When coupled with active listening, leaders can craft ways to treat people well, listen to them, show them they care and are valued, and hopefully leave them in a better place.
  • HR needs to be on a Performance Improvement Plan. Dear HR, according to Tina-Marie, you’re now on a PIP. Please sign the form after adding any commentary of your own. We will meet again in 30-60-90 days to ensure you meet the plan! Here’s your PIP:
  1. Create processes that correct and support your people.
  2. Make every interaction with your stakeholders incredible regardless how small.
  4. Avoid complacency – inaction costs more than action.
  5. Hold HR to the same standards you hold other leaders/departments.
  6. Acknowledge opportunities, and learn from failure.
  7. Embrace your #HRCommunity (support and network).
  • What’s new on LinkedIn in 2022. Anyone who knows me knows I am a HUGE social media proponent for ALL HR folks! I give talks on the subject! There is so much untapped potential for HR professionals on social media – LinkedIn in particular. Brenda Meller gave an awesome presentation on how HR pros can use LinkedIn as a platform to expand networks, get their name out there, and have fun! For 2022, she discussed that LinkedIn had a lot of new features including profile videos, name pronunciation, gender pronouns, newsletter links, and so much more. I purchased her book Social Media Pie and I cannot wait to dive in and learn more from her!
  • Agile doesn’t mean HR needs to be all things to all people. Dr. Melanie Peacock is one of the most authentically wonderful people I have ever met. She is genuine, positive, warm, funny, and encouraging! She gave a talk about change management for HR professionals, which she wrote a book about. Agility and change go hand in hand. To be agile, we need to not fight against the current of change. To be agile is to be like water. Change is neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so. You can’t deny that we’ve seen A LOT of change these past few years, and it’s not stopping. We are all likely going through some sort of change fatigue. Even those who embrace change need some stability from time to time. The human mind evolved to rely on stability. But to be leaders, HR needs to accept changes are always going to occur, and we need to embrace helping our employees through the journey! This doesn’t mean HR needs to be all things to all folks. It means we help people where they are through vision, creating dissatisfaction with the status quo, and encouraging first steps. Remember, you can lead an employee to the water fountain, but you can’t make them drink. Do your part. That’s what matters!
  • It is NOT hard finding people. It IS hard convincing them to join your company! Tim Sackett is a great follow for those in the recruiting and talent acquisition space. His years of experience and innovation are meaningful. I always try to listen to what Tim Sackett is talking about. His talk at HRUnite! did not disappoint. His point is well taken that there is a lot of talent out there, but it is increasingly hard to convince them to join a crappy company for crappy pay to work with a crappy hiring manager. I can’t say I disagree with him. It’s about managing the disease, not the symptoms. Can’t hire folks? Start with the “why” – like Terry advised – with what’s wrong with your company, and not what’s wrong with the talent.
  • Before you ask how DEI shows up at work, ask how it shows up in your life. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful folks over the years. At every conference, there is always at least one person who shocks me at how awesome they are. Niki Ramirez was that person for me at HRUnite! Her genuine warmth and care was evident the moment she greeted you. It was even more evident in her conference presentation. You could easily tell how much she cared about her fellow human beings, and she went out of her way to provide personal stories to break down walls of vulnerability to make her point. Ultimately, I learned so much from her in such a short amount of time. For one, she reacquainted me with the idea of “discretionary effort,” or the effort one reserves for those they care about. This is a great concept for work. We don’t have to like one another at work, but it does make it easier to work with other people when you do! Ultimately, though, some people don’t deserve respect, but we must always act civilly to others. I agree. And lastly, she mentioned that for many disadvantaged communities, knowing how to show up to a job interview isn’t something they learn. She mentioned that when she is scheduling an interview, she sends candidates an email with a note saying “if you wish to prepare, please review some of these questions which may ne asked.” I thought that is a game changing tip that can help lessen the gap between those who know and those who never had the opportunity to know.
  • HR, be unapologetic! One of the best for last. Dr. Lee Meadows closed the conference with his slide-less presentation. It was old school, and I loved it! His message was one EVERY HR PRO needs to hear. He wants us all to know that sharpening our swords through the daily grind makes us all much better wielders of the steel! HR issues – issue with an “s” – make us better! And, others need to recognize this! He wants HR pros to have a mantra of being unapologetic about our value as professionals (and people). Remember, YOU KNOW HR! You know what you’re talking about! Do not accept being undervalued, being under-recognized! No more apologies. Other leaders in the organization need to know what WE KNOW, and we know people! I am doing Dr. Meadows a disservice by typing this here, as I cannot appropriately or adequately state how his delivery added to his message. It was powerful, inspiring. It made me want to stand up and proclaim loudly: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Thank you, Dr. Meadows. Your talk has reminded me – I know my shit. I’ll make sure I speak up to let others know.

Ultimately, HRUnite! did what it was supposed to do – it refilled my cup! I’m reenergized in a way I haven’t been in a while. The love, positivity, and kind no-nonsense talks were infectious. I’m hooked again on our profession. It was the message I needed to hear. Thank you, Tina-Marie, the Conference Committee, and all HRUnite! speakers.

Next year I humbly get to take the stage… 😊 July 12-13, 2022… see you then, but until then, remain #HRAwesome!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Random Thoughts as the World Burns

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” — Leo Tolstoy

Note: I wrote this as a random scattering of thoughts following a tumultuous June. Mass shootings, the end of Roe v. Wade, January 6th Hearings – a United States in crisis. It was therapeutic to write… if not projecting any solutions other than continuing to work on myself. I can change nothing but myself. If you want to change the world, change yourself. I learned this from a very intelligent source.

I had a whole bunch of new blog post ideas that I was working on. I was reaching out to folks to discuss their ideas, work on some collaborations, and tease out some really cool posts.

All that just seems… I am unsure… pointless? That isn’t the right word. It’s too strong. I will eventually write about the ideas I had. But for now, there seems to be bigger things going on in the world, and I lack motivation… that’s a me issue, though.

I am an amateur historian. I majored in it in college; and though I didn’t pursue it in grad school, history has always remained with me in spirit. If one studies it intently and purposefully, you will realize there is nothing new under the sun.

Marcus Aurelius reminded himself:

“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.”

As far as American History is concerned, we never were one country. The divide we now see has been with us since 1776 – probably longer. It’s just been masked at different times, subdued during different eras, magnified in others.

South of the Mason-Dixon Line, this territory has always been what it is today – conservative, slow going, religious. Racism has existed here since the advent of chaining Black folks into Constitutional bondage simply because they were Black.

North of the Mason-Dixon Line isn’t “pure,” however. Slavery existed there, too, sometimes well past the time it was abolished. Chicago, for example, is considered one of the most segregated cities in the US, north or south. One of the worst race riots in history happened in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1917.

If you look at the political lines today, they almost mirror the political lines from the Civil War. America was never a country of E Pluribus Unum. Likely, E Pluribus Divisa makes more sense, or turbat societatem – “uneasy alliance.” Like Aurelius had wrote, more eloquently, America today is the same shit, just different century. Our tumultuous time isn’t new. It isn’t a changing America. This is and always has been America.

This recent article by the Atlantic does a superbly better job than I could at outlining this Country’s complex (and sometimes overlooked) history.

Our world continues to appear shattered at the seams, but I am not so certain it was ever tightly woven to begin with. I don’t have answers. All I have is my actions, how I behave. I’m not perfect, but I continue to try as hard as I can to behave with compassion, courage, kindness towards our fellow communities.

Ultimately, I circle back to myself. Where am I? How am I? What am I doing to make myself better, and thus the world around me better? I try to have a micro-focus as anything I do will not change the world. Anything I do will not end racism. Anything I do will not end hatred. Anything I do is ultimately nothing but dust in a universe that is large, unforgiving, and careless.

However, I focus on the micro because I may not end racism, but I can end racism around me – my world. I don’t have to tolerate it, and thus it becomes weakened in my presence. The same for hatred.

“I am convinced that people are much better off when their whole city is flourishing than when certain citizens prosper but the community has gone off course. When a man is doing well for himself but his country is falling to pieces he goes to pieces along with it, but a struggling individual has much better hopes if his country is thriving.” — Pericles, Athens 431 BC.

I believe this quote by Pericles. It seems like this is where we are now, and it’s a place many of us have forgotten. I want only me me me me, and I want it at the expense of everyone else. When the bee suffers, the hive suffers. When the hive suffers, so does the bee. Humanity has seemingly lost sight of this fact. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

I cannot change the world, but I can change myself. I can’t stop the world form burning, but I don’t have to spread the flames. And sometimes, maybe through my actions, I can help put out a little bit of the flame.

Maybe I can start by pushing through and writing those other collaborative pieces I discussed earlier on.

As Ryan Holliday writes:

Be good to each other, that was the prevailing belief of Marcus’s life. A disease like the plague, “can only threaten your life,” he said in Meditations, but evil, selfishness, pride, hypocrisy, fear—these things “attack our humanity.”

“Which is why we must use this terrible crisis as an opportunity to learn, to remember the core virtues that Marcus Aurelius tried to live by: Humility. Kindness. Service. Wisdom. We can’t waste time. We can’t take people or things or our health for granted. 

“Even if we may now lack the kind of sacrificial leadership who can show us the way by example—we can turn to the past to tell us what that leadership looks like and to teach us about all these things we must cherish.”

In other words, be good to one another. We’re all we really have – for now….

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Changing Careers

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

The Great Resignation is a lot of things. Some of them true, some of them REALLY true. One stat, in particular, strikes me as incredibly interesting!

Last year, 53% of those who quit did so for a career change. That’s incredible to me. Over half of those who quit didn’t move on to the same or similar role – they outright said “NOPE! See you later [insert industry here].”

Have you ever changed careers midstream? I have – sort of. I began my professional career as a nonprofit program director. My job was to ensure the senior citizen bus ran on time. However, along the way, I discovered this little thing called human resources. I nudged my way into a dual role of program director and HR Director. Eventually, I shed the program to focus solely on HR.

My wife changed careers – twice! She was a daycare director, then a nonprofit director, and now she’s a FT early learning teacher.

The point is, I have been around career changes, and I know it’s not without scariness, nor is it without stress and uncertainty.

A friend recently messaged me on LinkedIn. She told me that she left a highly stressful job doing the only thing she’s known her entire career. Unfortunately, the toxic culture led her to lose her love of what she was doing. She wrote:

“You should write a piece about mid-career changes. How does one move from a role they have done for 15 years but has burnt out on. How do they transition? How do you build a resume to help highlight the skills necessary for a new kind of role, etc.. current situation and I think an HR perspective would be cool!”

The HR perspective isn’t that different, I would say, from the general one. HR professionals leave the industry and enter the industry same as other. But one thing we may (or should) have over others is a perspective that skills make the person, not the industry experience. It’s hard to break into new careers without getting someone to give you a shot. Hiring managers get too stuck on “industry” knowledge, instead of focusing on how this person’s skill set or personality will add value. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes.

HR can help hiring managers get past this by vetting and presenting talent that can be great additions to any team. I think HR professionals should stress skills and personality more with hiring managers than focusing solely on “industry.”

I don’t want to give the impression industry experience isn’t valuable. It is. But in the context of career change, it’s an artificial construct that keeps many from hiring incredible talent simply because they lack “industry” knowledge. Industry knowledge can be taught and learned. It is a concern, but it doesn’t register high on my list. Skills, attitude, thought process, innovation, ideas – these things register higher on my “wants” list. I think we need to focus on potential more than we do. These things are transferable. It just sometimes takes some clever marketing to showcase that having a skill that served X-Industry can also serve Y-Industry. Sometimes BETTER than one would have thought. Unique perspectives cannot, nor should be, overlooked by employers – especially in today’s employment market.

Another thing I think that gets lost is the importance of NETWORKING! People make hires base don relationships. Is it 100% fair? Maybe not always, but it’s not as bad as it many make it out to be, in my opinion. If you know someone and you trust them, of course you want to work with that individual. Nothing wrong with that. So, get out and build a network of people you can lean on in good times and bad.

Another thing that networks do oh so awesome at is offering up their wisdom and guidance and mentoring!

I took to Twitter to ask some of my favorite HR pros their thoughts to get the “HR” perspective.

Here’s what many had to say:

Highlight how your transferable skills can make an immediate impact. Make a plan to deal with the PTSD from your old role. Think deeply about what type of leader you need, & the type of organization you want to join. Clearly define what brings you joy. – @BozemanKimberly

Be very clear on what you want and what you won’t sacrifice on.  Know thyself.  That being said, be realistic and if you have to take a job to pay the bills in between do it. – @mjmullady

Stay #Curious and have a #BiasForAction – the rest will fall in place #Career. BTW #CareerPath is a lagging metric for most humans 😉 – @anisharavind

If it was me and I had an idea of what kind of work would bring me joy, I would make a list of obvious transferable skills, and a sub-list of outside the box transferable skills. Reach out to old pals, and network with new pals. And most importantly do all the things that make you happy to refill the cup that the toxic place drained from you. Family time and silly dog videos on YouTube work wonders. — @TheRealGappa

Is it really a desire for a career change or was the toxic workplace driving need for the career change?

Why? What are you wanting to do now? Are you realistically qualified to make that change? Transferable skills? Can you take the potential hit to salary if the change requires a comp decrease to start? Who do you know in the career to info interview with? Are there prof associations to join and build your network? Are there current connections in your network to chat with? – @murtaughj

Go to therapy to get closure from the toxic work environment and then hire me as their coach to help them move on to the next best thing. — @iamjulieturney

To an extent, the advice depends on factors like: do they know what profession/industry they want to pivot to, do they need to maintain a certain income level while they’re pivoting, etc. Maybe I’m getting too granular? Sorry to answer a question with a question. 🤷🏻️ — @KeithCEnochs

Leaving a toxic place is liberating. Tomorrow is full of possibilities. Take a deep breath & relax. Next, reflect on what worked & didn’t work, and identify your needs for your next role. Reach out to mentors, learn, and read. Be diligent in finding the next role and move on. — @baski_LA

Be realistic about your financial situation. Do you need a stop gap to pay bills? That’s totally okay. Take it and then take the time to decide what’s next. — @mfaulkner43

Overtly understand what U don’t like in current circumstances & ensure that new org won’t have same issues. Be sure 2 compare salary, learning opps & benefits, i.e. total rewards offered. Investigate culture of org you move to. Don’t romanticize current or future situations. — @doublempeacock

1st Visualize: What would your dream job be? Research companies & positions. Who do you know in that company or industry? What are the key requirements? Do you have those skills? If not, develop a plan to gain those new skills. Brush up that old resume. Develop a 90-day plan to land a new job: Outline how many jobs you will apply for each week & how many people you will connect with each week. Update & use #LinkedIn to learn new skills, find new jobs & connect w/ recruiters. #HRCommunity #HRPhilosopher — @ebonyagrey

@RobDromgoole posted a quote by @mikeroweworks

Heal first so you can make good decisions about what you want. Right now, you are clear on what you don’t want, which is also important but not the same. Also, the question is not what you want to be or do; it’s what would you like to try next? — @heatherbussing

Make a list of what you want in your next role & company. Also, make a list of what you want to avoid. Have that laid out before you start looking. Stick to your lists !! It’s just as important for you to interview the company as they are interviewing you. Get a meaningful network of people to help you now AND remain as a resource for you (and you for them) going forward. #Networking is a #Business skill – NOT a #jobseekers skill. Great folks give you encouragement, a sounding board and support. #HRCommunity – @sbrownehr

I was just about to say what Steve said. I say make a list of the “energy givers” – the things you most look forward to doing & that give you energy. Then make a list of the “energy suckers” – the things that suck the energy from you. Once you have your lists, identify the non-negotiables – the things that must absolutely exist & the things that must absolutely not exist. This will help you look at your skills in a new way- what’s transferable – and the type of environment/company you want to work in/for. And in the words of one certain mentor/friend: “Don’t underestimate your ability to create your own position in a company…” — @KyraMatkovichHR

Is it what they did or where they did it? Focus your interview with new orgs on examples of them living their mission, mission & values. An aspect of the former job they loved, that they can be focus of next gig. Transferable skills they can use for a role that will bring joy. – @JeffreyWShapiro

Some thoughts:

1) what is it you want to do and what are the skills/competencies you need?

2) what skills/competencies do you already have – and what are transferable?

3) if you aren’t already, network (and never stop)

4) share your interest and skills with that network. — @tomrdaniels419

So, themes I am seeing:

  • Truly ask yourself what is making you not like where you currently are. Be honest with yourself.
  • Identify those things that bring you joy in work, or things you at least don’t mind. Focus on the next phase of your life through those “life givers.”
  • Focus on the value your skills and attitude bring to an organization.
  • Do not forget the HEALING. Sometimes, if not often times, a toxic workplace stays with you for a long time, much like pollution of the ocean. It takes time to clean that all out.
  • Organize your social media to highlight your value and what you bring to the table.

Ultimately, this is amazing advice. Much of it was brought to you by folks who went through similar situations as you! I’d like to add, based on my own experiences switching careers:

  • Do not go into it thinking it will be quick! It took me over a year to finally find a place to take a shot on my skills (I didn’t have their industry experience). Be patient, as hard as that is when you need to shed toxicity.
  • Don’t forget your value. Don’t convince yourself that you are not what you lack. You are what you are, and that has value!
  • Get used to rejection, but don’t take it personally. Every rejection is a redirection. Easier said than done, but you will end up where you need to be!
  • Don’t settle. Sometimes, you need to be OUT. If that is the case, do it. If you can wait, then ensure you’re getting in with the right folks.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Do what you do that gives you life – cooking, reading, exercising, vegging out(within reason). This is needed more than we like to admit.

For those looking to change careers, do it! Life is short. It’s brutishly short. Why use the limited amount of time we have hating your existence. The only person we need to answer to every single day is the person in the mirror. If the Great Resignation has taught me anything, it’s that making that person feel better will make your life (and the people in it) that much better.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Amplifying Voices

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

My parents divorced when I was seven. Raised by a single mother, my three brothers and I had a challenging life. Was it horrible? No. Not at all! But one cannot discount the negatives that affect fractured families.

Still, I honestly didn’t think much of it. It didn’t matter to me a whole lot. Despite these challenges while growing up, I made it out OK in the end. Not entirely without wounds, but certainly living a life many would consider thriving.

I say all this for one reason. These setbacks I mentioned, none of them were due to my race. Being a White male did not add more burden to an already burdened life.

This is the definition of privilege.

I’ve learned that having privilege doesn’t mean I am a bad person. It doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle or get hurt along the way. I just know that my race played no factor in my struggles.

I didn’t have to worry about being pulled over driving while Black. I didn’t have to worry about having weed I didn’t own or have on my possession mysteriously show up on the ground next to me during a suspicious arrest. I didn’t have to worry that my name held me back on resumes. And, most of all, I didn’t have to worry that I wouldn’t come home that night while getting groceries.

The more I read, the more I listen, the more I research, I am convinced that I need to use whatever means I must educate others, speak up, and ensure I am being a positive influence towards a more just tomorrow. What injures the hive, injures the bee. I want to be good for the hive.

So, this blog post is about amplifying voices. Specifically, it is about amplifying voices of Black and brown professionals for White ears. For anything to change, my fellow White folks need to acknowledge a great many things about American history – about world history. The narrative isn’t what many have been taught. Racism isn’t just real. It’s what this country was built on. Sometimes implicitly. Many times explicitly. Always destructively.

Racism must end, and I am only one man, but I cannot sit idly by and do nothing!

I have a voice and platform. I want to use them to enhance the voices of individuals from whom I have learned. These folks have something worth saying, and I want to share that with others. I am a better person for hearing what they have to say, and many of us will be if we open our minds and silence our own biases and assumptions.

To all White folks – Read. Learn. Get uncomfortable. And then change things.

Note: Apologies for the links. I wanted to embed these posts, but LinkedIn and WordPress don’t play nice together! If anyone knows anything I don’t, happy to learn, but I didn’t want technology to stop my sharing these posts!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast: A Story

“Personal values are the measuring sticks by which we determine what is a successful and meaningful life.” – Mark Manson

How do you know you “made it?” Depends on what you value.

Personally, I value relationships. I value being of service to others. I value trying to make the world a better place. How did I know I made it in the HR community? It was the day Jon Thurmond reached out to me to ask if I’d be a guest on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast!

I remember exactly where I was when we spoke for the first time. I was in my office and this big voice says “Hey there Paul! So nice to get in touch with you!” I hadn’t met Jon prior to that, but it felt like we had known each other for a long while! I was active in the monthly (at the time) HR Social Hour Twitter Chat. I had listened to him and Wendy Dailey on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast.

Their guests taught me so much. And many were HUGE in the HR community. Steve Browne, Jennifer McClure, Katrina Kibben, Laurie Ruettimann, Mary Faulkner – these were “HR royalty” in my mind. I admired them and was deeply influenced by them. And Jon and Wendy wanted ME to join their podcast, the same podcast where they conversed with these giants in the industry?

It meant so much.

I never told Jon and Wendy, but when they asked me to be on the podcast, I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life. I’m not sure I hid it well or not, but during the interview, I was going through a deep depression. Having this interview helped me. Jon and Wendy helped remind me, even if briefly, that I had value. I had worth.

Being an HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast alumnus means a lot. It means, I made it!

I asked Jon where he thought the podcast was going when he and Wendy started it. He told me:

“I expected to do 50 episodes with the people we knew from the Twitter chat, we’d have fun talking to them and be done.  I never would have imagined that we’d go on to be pushing 300 total episodes with listeners in more than 125 countries and have guests from literally the other side of the globe take part in our conversations.”

“It’s truly changed my perspective on our profession and community.”

It changed my perspective, too. The HR Community is unlike any other I’ve been a part of. HR pros care for one another, look out for each other, and want what is best.

I’ve had the honor of being on the podcast not once, but twice! I’ve been on other podcasts, as well, and I value all those conversations, but you always remember your first time! 😊

You can listen to all the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcasts where you can download podcasts. Here’s a link to the complete list, but here are some of my favorite listens! Make sure you download as many episodes as you can, listen as often as you can, and don’t forget to connect, give back, and network!

Tiffany Toussaint

Key Take Away: Tiffany is an X-Files nerd. Also, she’s great at talent acquisition and knows the ins and outs!

Best Line: “Anything related to baseball. Whether it’s coaching my son’s team, cheering him on, trying to cheer him on without yelling at someone from the stands is always enjoyable!”

Anthony Paradiso

Key Take Away: DEI from the LGTBQ+ point of view is one we cannot lose sight of!

Best Line: “If a company is not inclusive, people are not going to stay there.”

Claire Stroh Petrie

Key Take Away: Claire went “the opposite” direction most go in! From corporate HR recruiting to third party HR talent acquisition! More proof to show she’s one of a kind and does things by the “Book of Claire!”

Best Line: “The biggest thing is to explore your options early and network!” (On how young professionals can break into HR).

Jennifer McClure (Disrupt HR Edition)

Key Take Away: Jennifer’s story about founding HR Disrupt is just fascinating! As someone who had the opportunity to present at Disrupt HR event, it’s worth attending and learning more about!

Best Line: “Water is boring.”

Mike Spinale

Key Take Away: Mike changed majors several times in college, which is an amazing reminder that not knowing what you want to do is fine! Just keep doing, and you’ll find what you want and need!

Best Line: “Speak up more. You know what’s right in these situations, and don’t be afraid of who else is in the room. Let them know what you have to say.”

Kim Bozeman

Key Take Away: Kim is a huge advocate for small businesses – she especially feels public policy is skewed too far away form helping them!

Best Line: “Maybe I’m a freak of nature! I love the craziness that is California (HR practice). It keeps me on my toes!”

Shenise Cook

Key Take Away: Her Twitter origin story is the best of all time.

Best Line: “I did one closeout [in payroll processing], and I decided that was not the route I wanted to go again!”

While I chose to highlight these episodes, let me tell you, it was incredibly difficult to do so! The breadth of interviews and people they’ve talked to is staggering! I had to leave out so many episodes I loved listening to!

Again, make sure you download as many episodes as you can, listen as often as you can, and don’t forget to connect, give back, and network!

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

Stockholm Syndrome, Toxicity, and Work

“You, what do you own the world? How do you own disorder? Disorder.” – System of a Down, Toxicity

I first heard of Patty Hearst in high school. Her story is an interesting one, if not tragic. She was abducted and held hostage by a terrorist group in San Francisco in the 1970s. The group began robbing banks to fund their activities, and police were baffled when they saw security footage of Patty helping her captors with the robberies! She eventually came to identify with her captors and joined them.

This is a phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome, named after events from a 1973 hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden, where the captors came to identify with and support those who held them hostage – going so far as to not even support the police investigation into their captivity!

Sociologists are not unanimous with their support that Stockholm Syndrome is a legitimate illness, but the condition tends to have the following traits, according to Sundaram’s “Stockholm Syndrome” (2013):

  1. A hostage’s development of positive feelings towards the captor,
  2. No previous relationship between hostage and captor,
  3. A refusal by hostages to cooperate with police and other government authorities, and
  4. A hostage’s belief in the humanity of the captor, ceasing to perceive them as a threat, when the victim holds the same values as the aggressor.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, people who have Stockholm syndrome have:

  • Positive feelings toward the captors or abusers.
  • Sympathy for their captors’ beliefs and behaviors.
  • Negative feelings toward police or other authority figures.

I recently began wondering why people don’t leave jobs they hate. It certainly isn’t the same, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s some sort of workplace Stockholm Syndrome going on with folks who refuse to leave toxic jobs. There may not be positive feelings, but there is little to no action towards leaving a toxic workplace for many folks.

I know you know someone, or have known someone, who hates their job. Yet, they remain rather than find new work. Bitching and complaining register the emotions rather than determination to better their experiences.

Not everyone stays, obviously. What’s the old saying? Something to the effect that the best leave toxicity while those who don’t, stay and underperform causing the toxicity to spread further and deeper until it permeates all facets of the organization.

And isn’t the Great Resignation driven at least partially by folks no longer willing to tolerate toxic work environments?

All true! For the first time in, well, probably ever, employees are not tolerating horrible working conditions. They are leaving in droves, and rightfully so! No one should be subjected to shitty work environments.

But still, what drives people to stay! Because not everyone is leaving, and until the COVID-19 Pandemic, people were not leaving workplaces as quickly or as readily as they are now.

So, why are these folks staying? Is it generational? Is it cultural? Is it something else?

Richard Chambers from the Audit Beacon had a pretty interesting blog post on the topic. He feels people stay because:

  1. People believe they are doing good work despite the culture.
  2. People feel it would be disloyal to leave those who are suffering along with them.
  3. People feel trapped by their circumstances.
  4. Some people don’t want to be held accountable.
  5. People become infected by the culture.

“Some workers are attracted to a toxic culture because it provides protection and advancement for all the wrong reasons.”

This makes sense to me. Many people feed off negativity. It helps them scratch whatever itch they have. Similarly, Thich Nhat Hanh once put into perspective that:

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

Still, some of this sounds like Stockholm Syndrome. Like, folks know something is off, but they aren’t sure. So instead they buckle in and begin aiding and abetting.

I used to be like this. I had stayed in some past jobs despite the toxic work environment and despite my heath suffering. Why did I do this? Partially because, I think, I didn’t know I was in a toxic place. I was still young and just trying to earn a dollar.

Do you know anyone like that? Maybe it’s you. How is someone to know the environment they are in is bad unless they experience it first? If you were like me and didn’t know, you can turn to others and learn!

Brigette Hyacinth has a good piece she wrote with her 10 Signs of a toxic workplace culture.

  1. Company core values do not serve as the basis for how the organization functions.
  2. Employee suggestions are discarded. People are afraid to give honest feedback.
  3. Micromanaging -Little to no autonomy is given to employees in performing their jobs.
  4. Blaming and punishment from management is the norm.
  5. Excessive absenteeism, illness and high employee turn over.
  6. Overworking is a badge of honor and is expected.
  7. Little or strained interaction between employees and management.
  8. Gossiping and/or social cliques.
  9. Favoritism and office politics.
  10. Aggressive or bullying behavior.

I’ve experienced a lot of these in the workplace over the years. And yet, I stayed. So, maybe my point in exploring this topic is less about other folks’ motivations, and it’s more about mine. Regardless, isn’t that why we read and write? To learn from mistakes of others and to make sense of the world?

Ultimately, why folks stay in toxic environments should not be any of my business. It’s interesting to me, but there really isn’t anything for me to do about it. People make their own way in the world, and that sometimes means staying in situations that are self-harming.

The only goal I have is to ensure I use whatever influence I have to build positive, supportive, and kind workplace cultures. I can control what I do for others – and for myself. If that means leaving a shitty workplace, then it means I’ve grown and learned. It means I’ve become aware of being kinder to me, by not allowing others to destroy my inner sense of self-worth.

Self-recognition is the key to avoiding Stockholm Syndrome at work. Recognize who you are. Recognize what you can control. And recognize that you always have a choice. Always.

Marcus Aurelius wrote that we should “Leave other people’s mistakes where they lie.” Our job as HR folks shouldn’t be figuring out why folks stay in bad work environments. We should figure out how to destroy bad work environments so people don’t have to leave.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.

People Leaders, Beware the One Ring of Power

The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it. – Galadriel, The Lord of the Rings

Something is indeed in the water. It is in the earth, the air. Something was lost, and people in power do remember it and are trying to get it back.

Is it the One Ring of Power? One ring to rule all employees? Kind of.

What a lot of employers seem to want back is their illusion of control – where people work, how people work. They care more about these artificial things than what actually matters – the work results themself!

This is conjecture. I haven’t done any deep dive studies. I just notice things. I pay attention. There just seems to be a attitude of “when we all get back to the office….” Hell, even the President of the United States stated something to this effect during his State of the Union!

But those folks are wrong, as is the President. Returning to the office is about calming an ego. It is not about “culture” or “symbiosis” or any other word thrown out there. Return to the office is about control and about ego.

That’s it. That’s the tea, that’s the tweet, as some may say.

I recently shared a post on LinkedIn about work from home. It went viral!

See original post here.

Over half a million views, almost 11,000 reactions, almost 1,200 shares, and over 200 comments (and counting) – obviously, it struck a chord with folks.

And why is that? Overwhelmingly, the comments and reaction has been SUPPORTIVE of allowing folks the work flexibility they’ve adapted to. Ultimately, if the work is being done and at an acceptable level, then what’s the issue with continuing down the path of work flexibility?

“Love this! When did we lose sight of paying employees for results instead of their time?”

“Am I the only one who finds it odd that results weren’t the measurement of success to begin with?”

“I was discussing this concept with a colleague late last year and they weren’t grasping the concept at all. I couldn’t think of an easier way to explain it. People are so focused on, ‘But what if they finish all their work in less than 40 hours? I should give them extra work! That is how people eventually get promotions!!!’ But that isn’t, is it? That is how people get overworked, and taken advantage of for years with no advancement because they’ll do more work for the same pay as their peers.”

“One more time for those in the back! Focus on results, not the clock – such an important point!!”

“I’m also convinced Managers don’t like people working from home because they fear they are going to have to manage differently. They can’t just look up and see that they are at their desk. They may have to engage more directly and make individual contact to see how people are going, what they need to succeed, etc.”

These were some of the comments. Not all were supportive. Some comments were sarcastic strawmen arguments against allowing work from home and flex scheduling. Thus is the internets, so spoke Zarathustra. Regardless, the overwhelming majority supported the idea of allowing employee choice.

I am an optimist. I never used to be, but I trained myself to be one over time. I do believe in people. What I don’t trust is ego and power. Both corrupt. So, this optimist hates to think it, but Laurie Ruettimann is right. Work is broken. It’s beyond repair if people leaders cannot figure out how to get work done in new ways, only to try reverting back to the old paradigm the moment an opportunity presents itself.

Like Russia invading Ukraine, old world people leaders are trying to hold onto a past that no longer exists. They are trying to force THEIR world views on a world that doesn’t want that outdated view, nor can support it.

And we wonder why people don’t want to go back? Who wants to be around a system that is broken? Much like the KGB of old, these misguided at best (and failed at worst) leaders want to force breadlines, bank runs, and obtuse morals on their people against their will for no other reason other than it satisfies an ego that cannot be controlled.

Work Sucks. Here’s The Real Reason You Hate Your Job

26 Shocking Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Statistics [2021 Update]

Being a Working Parent Sucks Right Now

Why many Black employees don’t want to return to the office

Why Managers Matter

Why forcing employees to return to work can be a bad idea

This isn’t necessarily new. It has been simmering for decades. The Pandemic just brought this environment to the consciousness of employees. And guess what? Employees are no longer taking this abuse laying down.

No More Working for Jerks!

Starbucks union campaign pushes on, with at least 16 stores now organized.

Restaurant workers find greener pastures in coding, hairstyling and auto manufacturing

A Two-Year, 50-Million-Person Experiment in Changing How We Work

And worst of all, there’s a seemingly larger than should be contingency of people leaders covering their eyes, plugging their ears going “Nah nah nah nah nah! I can’t hear you! Nah nah nah nah nah!”

Fed-up managers declare WFH is over, as 77% say they’d fire you or cut your pay for not coming back to the office

This self-imposed childish ignorance is laughable – if it wasn’t such a threat to the overall wellbeing of workers. It’s fact, not fiction, that flexible work provides people with health and wellbeing that the old ways of working could not, so long as it’s done right. But then again, work is broken. If workplace leaders are truly concerned about the health of the employee, then flexible work schedules, work from home, hybrid scheduling, all of it, would not be under attack.

Forcing folks to come back to an office is not about the work. It never has been. It’s about control! It’s about ego! It’s about power dynamics. It’s about managers that don’t know how, nor care to know how, to manage a dispersed, empowered team.

Ultimately, yes, the employer needs to ensure that work is being done, that it’s being done well, and it is bringing value to an organization. I am not saying that those things should be ignored. No! I am saying that those things can be enhanced when an employee is allowed freedom, control, and creativity! This comes from the aforementioned work arrangements.

And honestly, good managers can get good work from their staff under any circumstance – in office or at home. The workplace matters not. It’s about results. Manage the person where they are, not where you want them to be – both physically and metaphysically speaking.

When organizational leaders refuse to entertain different ways of doing things simply because it’s easier to revert to old habits, then they take the risk of destroying their organization. People will leave. And those that don’t leave will not be motivated to provide the best quality of work.

Organizational leaders need to challenge themselves to think beyond what they know. They need to embrace the difficult. Let go of the ego, or it will convince you to jump into Mount Doom after a One Ring of Power that has been cast into the  volcanic fires – forever destroyed, yet foolishly held onto as one melts away clutching a Precious that never was.

© 2022 HR Philosopher. All rights reserved.