CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Problems in the workplace are on the rise. A 2012 survey published by Fortune Personnel Consultants indicated 79 percent of workers are planning to change jobs if the economy improves.
A good example of the problems workers face is found in the media's coverage of West Virginia's DHHR and Sharpe Hospital in Lewis County. Sadly, state taxpayers are as much a victim in this situation as disgruntled workers.
How the role of Human Resources (HR) has evolved over the past two decades is instrumental to understanding why workplace problems are on the rise.
My HR career began in 1980 with the Miller Brewing Co. and then Kraft Foods. Our role in each company was made crystal clear. We were expected to build and continuously improve the partnership between employees and the business. If we did a good job, our union-made products would make it to market and consumers would have no reservations about buying them. Would you feed your kids Kraft Mac n Cheese or drink a Miller Lite if you thought workers in those companies were being mistreated? With so many great products to select from, you probably would not.
Starting in the early 1990s, the HR function began to modify its traditional role. HR began to position itself as a "Partner to the Business." The idea was to shift from a transactional role with employees to a more strategic role in advising management on organizational redesign, and reducing costs to compete in what was fast becoming a global economy.
In hindsight, the shift to being more focused on the business left employees to fend for themselves. This was arguably the start of record downsizing, layoffs, off-shoring jobs, reductions in pay and benefits, the elimination of retirement programs, and the end of loyalties between workers and employers. It gets worse.
In a 2008 study funded by the Ford Foundation ("Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment Laws in American Cities"), researchers found widespread evidence of workplace violations that HR must have overlooked or allowed. This included poor working conditions, wage theft, forced and unpaid overtime, and other forms of worker mistreatment. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg resulting from HR turning its head.
Another emerging trend in worker mistreatment involves "Corporate/Institutional Bullying." This is when employee bullying becomes entrenched in an organization and accepted as part of the workplace culture. Here are some examples, supplied by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries:
* Placing unreasonable expectations on employees, where failure to meet those expectations means making life unpleasant (or dismissing) anyone who objects.