Workplace Relations #4

A big THANK YOU for your lovely comments on Workplace Relations #3 – they so encouraged me! But I did leave out one important issue in that post.

Have you noticed how inhuman HR and the recruitment process have become?

Or the manner in which our dear managers and team leaders conduct themselves? Delusions of grandeur strip them of all kindness; they look away at any sign of conflict in their team, avoiding problems “too hard” to handle. 

Observe their body language: those side glances and facial expressions when they think no-one’s looking tell all. Maybe it’s your age, clothes, how you speak, your personality (if this clashes with the manager, you haven’t a hope), or even your postcode.

There’s also the “fear of being outclassed”. Notice how promotions go to those who don’t threaten managers’ egos? It’s so sad to witness. Shouldn’t we all feel comfortable and secure at work? 

Ironically, organisations preaching “collaboration, openness, respect and empowerment” with other core values of integrity, trust and accountability are often the ones that fall short when it comes to choosing the right leaders to set those examples.

The first introduction to a company begins with the dreaded interview. Your emailed CV may not always be acknowledged. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a call or text message with an interview time; no response after the closing date means you didn’t get to first base. 

After I began at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital in 1981 to the time I retired in 2016, I didn’t attend further interviews for any new positions. When I started, a friendly manager hired me for a temporary stint, which became permanent. It was the 80s – when positions were advertised in newspapers. People would walk in, fill out applications and wait for the response. If it was positive and applicants were interested, interviews were organised. If not, their forms were kept until other roles came up. Interviews were always with personnel and department managers. It was over a cuppa, there would often be some laughter, and the interview would end 10 to 15 minutes later. We’d call them back, and I loved hearing their voices lift when we said they made it. But we also called back the ones who didn’t, and encouraged them to apply again

When I later moved to payroll, I noticed that from the mid-90s human contact in HR slowly dwindled. Then from about 2012, time and cost-saving technology further changed how applicants were treated. It became arduous, frustrating and demoralising for them. Good luck trying to talk to someone today – anyone – to help you navigate several pages of questionnaires, devised to justify jobs of bureaucrats. And if you’re granted an interview, REJOICE! 

Now, personal contact is almost nil, and the entire recruitment process is done online with more forms laden with jargon. A multi-paged ‘Code Of Conduct’ is usually given to employees to sign if they got the job; disclaimers have become paramount to free employers from any legal liability. 

In payroll, I was twice asked to sit on an interview panel. We were given sheets of paper with specific questions – so many were irrelevant and had little to do with actually getting to know the person. People became more nervous and fumbled their answers; I recall them waiting in another room before interviews. I’d go up to them with a smile, make tea and tell them to take slow deep breaths. It was amazing to see how those few words gave them so much comfort! Human resources.

It’s now a cold, unwelcoming atmosphere – that may only warm up when a younger, smooth-talking applicant comes in. The panel nods in agreement: yes, that’s the “better” candidate, and makes its decision. 

As with virtual interviews, negative or positive assessments are already made in the first minute. Daniel Goleman sums this up nicely: 

“ … once a negative bias begins, our lenses become clouded. We tend to seize on whatever seems to confirm the bias and ignore what does not. Prejudice in this sense is a hypothesis desperately trying to prove itself to us.” 

(Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence, p.300. Random House Australia (Pty) Limited: Sydney, NSW.)

Does your actual ability or aptitude actually matter after that? 

A year after I retired at age 68, I decided to apply for a part-time position in NSW’s local health network. On the panel were people I knew well during my time in payroll. I greeted them with “Good morning, so nice to see you all again”, but not one smiled back. They muttered, stared at their sheets and were in disbelief as to why I’d apply for a job at my age. I knew I was wasting my time. Calmly I got up and said, “Sorry guys, I changed my mind. Please call in your next applicant”. 

In-person interviews

  • Arrive at least 20 minutes before. Take slow, deep belly-breaths for 10 minutes. You’ll feel a lot calmer.
  • When you’re called in, shake hands firmly and make direct eye contact with the interviewer/s. Now look around you. Is there something in the room that you can positively comment on? A picture, the view from the window? Flowers on the table? An honest compliment always helps, and breaks the ice.
  • If you’re asked a question you’re not prepared for, say something like: “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’m sure it’s something I could easily tackle once I’m in the job”.
  • How would you react to certain situations? (a psychological test no doubt!) Answer honestly, and don’t feel the need to fudge anything to impress the panel. If you need a little time to think of a particular situation, say so.
  • Be comfortable and at ease in the room, keep direct eye contact and never shift your gaze. Make your answers short and to the point – and only offer your opinion if you’re asked for it. 
  • Before leaving, shake hands with the panellists and thank them for their time. 

Zoom interviews

  • Decide in advance where you’ll be ‘Zooming’ from: choose a room that’s well-lit and free of distractions (including background noises which could disturb you or the interviewers).
  • Keep your virtual background simple: busy backgrounds are distracting. A clean and tidy space may not need a background at all (which may be a positive to show some of your personality to potential employers!).
  • Consider using an unobtrusive headset: it can help you hear the interviewer more clearly. Use common sense – AirPods are good, gaming headsets aren’t. A quiet space without ambient noise is even better.
  • Invest in a good USB mic.
  • Check your internet connection and ensure your camera and mic are on.
  • Double-check the interview time: especially if there’s a time difference. It’s wise to click on the Zoom link 5 minutes before.
  • Men and women: dress smartly and be well-groomed (hair, fingernails, teeth, etc.). 
  • Keep your arms on your desk: hand movements on video will be exaggerated and can be annoying. 
  • Limit your facial expressions: they can also be distracting on screen.
  • Speak clearly, not loudly: sound through the mic can be distorted; it’s fine to ask if your voice sounds OK.

Facing HR

  • No surprises: they prefer emails to personal contact and always take the side of department managers!
  • You might have no option but to directly meet with them for a difficult work issue (especially if it’s with your team leader/manager). Bring along a union rep and/or 1–2 colleagues (they might change their mind if you ask for their support!).
  • If you’re meeting HR alone:
    – write down what you want to say beforehand
    – give at least 1 example of an incident or behaviour you felt was unacceptable
    – if your team leader is #3 on the power grid, get the names of #1 and #2
  • Speak calmly: never raise your voice or show any hint of emotion. Smile. It helps to do 10 minutes of slow, deep breathing before you get there.
  • Make your intentions clear: e.g. you’d like HR to arrange a meeting with your manager and #2. Tell them to expect an email from you; send a copy to your managers, adding details of your talk with HR. 

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