An Open Letter To HR On Behalf Of All Employees 📩

Putting the HUMAN into Human Resources 🙍

Drew Stegmaier
6 min readJul 27, 2020
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In my career I have worked for a large public university, health care, Big Tech, Chick-Fil-A, consulting, and neighborly lawn mowing. While it may come as no surprise to anyone who has ever applied for a job, the HR experiences at most of these organizations have been abysmal. After pointing out shortfalls and sharing nightmares, I’ll offer some solutions.

Lawn Mowing- this was the simplest and most human of the jobs and happened without an HR department. An acquaintance needed help cutting his grass, we had an interview, and I got to work. Being a naive high school kid, one day I flooded the man’s mower when trying to replace the oil- I thought it filled the same as a gas tank. Wrong. I told the man immediately. Repairs cost hundreds of dollars as the large piece of equipment had to be sent to a shop, lifted by a crane, and turned upside down. I couldn’t mow for a few weeks. After that, he paid me better than he ever had before. He’d had many prior workers who used his tools. After they left work, often he’d go into his shop and the tools didn’t work quite right. Upon asking them, the answer was always “I don’t know what happened.” Lesson for HR- reward employees for owning mistakes. Creating a culture of hiding mistakes and only sharing good news is the beginning of the end. Employees who point out flaws in the system are giving gifts.

Public University- After speaking with a number of administrators, I was told that a role would be created for me. I had to apply online along with others, do an interview as a formality, and then I would simply get the position. Voila! It felt cool to “create” a job. But, I wondered how many times I was the sucker who applied and wrote a cover letter for a position already filled. Lesson for HR- create roles for people and be honest about it, or, don’t create them at all. If you’re worried about breaking the law, guess what, the above method is doing it anyway! It's just harder to prove.

Chick-Fil-A- this was my first corporate job. I filled out the application process as requested online. Heard nothing. Called. Nothing. Waited. Nothing. Went to the restaurant, spoke with a manager, filled out an application again, was interviewed on the spot, and asked to start immediately. Lesson for HR- don’t provide an online application form if it's not actually being used. Simply put on your website, “please apply in person.”

Consulting- I applied for a job at a company during college and was rejected after an onsite, being told that the position was only for MBAs. Of course I didn’t have an MBA nor was it on my resume when I applied. The bullshit filter went off easily there. Approximately one year later I was given the same role. Still no MBA. Upon joining, I was told by the manager of a ~60 person team to lie to customers about proprietary data. I raised my issues with managers of 100 and 200 headcounts, respectively. Neither one did anything about it, and I quit the company. Lesson for HR- don’t lie to candidates, don’t lie to customers.

Health Care- I worked at a family medicine practice where I happened to be a patient. Employees weren’t allowed to be patients, but patients were allowed to become employees. If out sick, we were required to present a doctor's note stating that we couldn’t come to work. As in, I was required to go to work to give my employer a note stating why I couldn’t go to work. SMH. Despite having health insurance, a single sick day could easily cost me >2 days wages due to high prices, a double whammy as the work was hourly. We were not allowed to use our phones at work, reasonable. Later, even books were banned. Yes, any and all books. I met with management and we agreed that any job has some amount of downtime. During that time, its hard to think of activity better than reading. Its quiet, educates, and doesn’t disturb others. 🤦‍♂️ Lesson for HR- treat employees like children and they will act like children. Treat them like adults and they will act like adults.

Google- I applied for a role on a team where I had met all of the PMs personally and trained a number of them. I was given an internal referral. Someone inside reviewed my resume. I sent a personal note to the hiring manager. I was rejected by a recruiter, without even reaching a phone screen. This person wasn’t an employee but a contractor, in a completely different office. I was later told privately that they went with a diversity hire. Lesson for HR- If you’re going to do diversity hiring, be explicit. Say so in advance. Ex- “We are going to hire a woman for this role. Males need not apply.”

These are but a small number of headaches from a single person when dealing with human resources. A quick browse of Linkedin shows plenty of viral posts penned by frustrated job seekers and employees alike.

Potential Solutions-

Pay HR more. If people are truly the most important part of an organization, it makes sense to compensate those who handle the people function as much as anyone else. Compensating them less signals that they aren’t valued. How many engineers would go into HR if it paid the same?

Use blind auditions- give candidates numbers rather than names. This allows them to get further down the funnel before bias creeps in, or allows in less of it. Evaluate candidates objectively as best as possible. Ex- TripleByte’s code tests.

Give candidates the information of candidates who were given positions. It doesn't have to be personal contact info, but if for example, 90% of your employees are Stanford grads it helps candidates understand what the cover charge is to get in the club

Companies frequently give candidates zero feedback about adjusting their application, combined with invitations to apply again. This is dumb. Either don’t ask them to apply again or give them a concrete adjustment to make.

Tell candidates how many people applied. Ex- 2, or 2,000? If I lose out to one person, that’s different from going head to head with many others and may give some peace of mind. Many people enjoy basketball while understanding they will never make the NBA. With job applications, the odds are often closer to getting in the NBA, while candidates view the stakes like getting chosen to run 5 v. 5 at the local gym.

Find good people and train them. Its often said that employers and employees no longer have loyalty. Amidst today’s changing landscape, employers lay off employees without notice while complaining about turnover. Often this isn’t due to hard times, but a “restructuring of the org chart”. With uncertainty about whether a job will still be around, employees are forced to constantly be on the lookout for other opportunities.

Take notes from Semco, Buffer, and others leading the charge.

The best candidates are incentivized to leave their companies. This is the best way to increase total compensation over a career. This causes talent migration and generally occurs when one company offers a candidate more than their current employer is willing to pay. To keep the best talent, talent must be given compelling reasons to stay. Short on ideas? Ask the people, and do so in a way that honesty is rewarded.

Get rid of exit interviews. If the person is leaving, it's too late. Allow for anonymous feedback and pay for it. $1,000 is pennies for an honest review that decreases future turnover.

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