Thursday, November 6, 2014

Human Resources 4 Dummies: Do not use the anonymous hotline

From our Management Insights series.

Do you work in a company that boasts of an anonymous hotline for complaints and delicate questions?


You may have missed out on a fun human resources experience.


Don't use it unless you have nerves of steel, as in strong enough to rival a cable on a modern suspension bridge. You will also need to have earned a good reputation on the job and never have been grumpy or obnoxious towards your chain of command.
Finally, use the hotline only when you are prepared to resign from the company.

Here is the deal with the anonymous hotlines major U.S. companies have set up for various reasons.

The main reason being that they were mandated to.

Scandals in management and operation of public U.S. firms led to the institution of  Sarbanes-Oxley Act based processes and guidelines. While it is known mostly for rules around record keeping, there is a governance and fraud angle, too.
The operation of the hotline is outsourced to a third party. It is brisk business in the States, so there are outfits that specialize in this service.

While the hotline is for customers as well as employees, this post illustrates how it works on the employee side.

How it is supposed to work:
A public company with a hotline will tell its employees they can use it. They will describe the process in this way: You call the anonymous hotline, they will not ask for your name or identifiable details but give you a code word, like a password. The hotline personnel will route the issue to the company, which will answer it, and provide the answer to the hotline folks.

You call after a couple of weeks or so, you get the answer, and you are fine.

No employees get hurt in the process.

How it does work:
Say, you are being tortured by a manager in the wonderfully underhanded way that takes ten or more years in a job to learn. For example, your performance review sits in his or her inbox until the subsequent review is due. The note that the new review is due does not make the manager process the previous one. You complain to the next echelon, the old review gets processed, and you have even more fun on the job. Co-incidentally, your direct manager, a decent person is demoted and the team gets a new manager, like, well a guy who plays golf every Sunday morning with the bad guy.

So, you call the hotline. A nice lady takes your call and notes the issue/question.

It's always a nice lady, by the way. She tells you to call in two weeks.

Write down the date, make a calendar entry for the callback. Then watch what happens between about 48 to 24 hours before that call.

The bosses buddy, the one who shares a golf ball or other balls with the boss, will go negative.
Expect to hear something like: all contact with management and HR need to go through me from here on out.
Also expect telephone conversations to switch channels from work phones to private cell phones. Your new boss is going to be in and out of the office for the next few weeks, so the cell phone is going to be the best way to contact him.

On the agreed upon day, call the nice lady, give her the password and receive a non-committal answer.

Next, expect a call from human resources. They will say that they would like to help with the issues your manager has described to them.
Tell them this is very nice, and that you will resign in say a month or two and would like to ask for a severance package.

Are you still breathing?

Give the HR person time to explain that they don't do that if an employee resigns, severance packages are only given to people laid off from the company.

Respond very nicely with something along the lines oh, yes, I understand that's the normal process, but, you know, I have been expecting your call.

You need one of two reactions, described below, to be fairly certain that your cynical attitude to the hotline was accurate. Namely, that the company would know exactly who called the anonymous hotline.

Reaction one would be a long pause and a deep breath, good.
The perfect reaction, number two, would be a shriek and something like "What are you trying to say?" or a plain but incredulous "What?"

Do not gloat, do not rub it in.

Sometimes, timing is a coincidence, and sometimes - well [or short pause] - it is not.

This should be sufficient. The company should now offer you a severance package despite the fact that you are leaving utterly, totally, out of your own volition and on your own schedule.

Disclaimer: Success is not guaranteed, but we know it does work. Really, absolutely. A three months package should be doable without debate. On the flip side, you may feel very alone during that period. When even your spouse looks at you as if you went bananas. If he or she uses the word "bananas", explain  how many tons of bananas the severance package can buy.

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