31 October 2007

Link: Halloween and Terminations

The wonderfully evil, wonderful Evil HR Lady posted a great article about how HR can support managers who need to terminate somebody.

Trick Or Treat Training (Or How to Train for Terminations)

She starts by describing how she trained her 4-year old daughter for trick or treating and then adapts the learnings to terminations.

For HR professionals, I also recommend to have a quick chat with the manager just before the termination meeting and to check up on him afterwards. Being fired can be traumatic, but having to terminate somebody isn't exactly a walk in the park either.

After all, one of the reasons why HR people are so highly paid (uh, what?) is because we sometimes have to share the emotional burdens of others.

But who shares our pain? Well, this could be a topic for another post. How does "The Bottle: an HR professionals best friend" sound for a title?

26 October 2007

Lifehack: HR and dirty pans

Lets assume you're a hard-working HR professional. Or just hard-working, period. You come home late at night, you're hungry and you don't want to eat microwave food.

Coming home late, tired, lemme watch some TV...

So you use a pan for meat and a pot for pasta or rice. Or just a pan for meat and an egg. Once the food is finally ready, you sit in front of the TV and watch something enjoyable because you think you've earned it (or you're just tired and want to watch TV).

Your dirty pans are still sitting on the stove. But by now you're watching a movie and afterwards you'll be too tired to do any cleaning. The bad news is that tomorrow morning you'll rush out the door so you're not late for work and on the weekend you'll be faced with dirty, crusted, and just plain disgusting pans.

The best and the almost "bestest" solution

The best solution is to become a better person and to clean up everything just after you've used it.

The second best solution is to fill up your pans and pots with water, to add some dish cleaning stuff (takes 10 seconds or less) and to enjoy the movie.

Face the consequences

When you finally decide to spend some quality time with your beloved kitchen (i.e. cleaning pans and pots), it will take you only seconds to clean the greasy pans since they're not disgustingly crusted with stuff.

Perfection is for... somebody else

Just so we're clear: it's not about being perfect human beings, it's about making life easier and more enjoyable ;-)

25 October 2007

Recruiting: Send regret emails efficiently (1/2)

Part 1 is a walk down memory lane that leads to today's challenge: how to process hundreds of regret emails efficiently.

In part 2 I'll describe how you can send a regret email within seconds.

A recruiter is unlucky if he gets only 3 applications in response to a published job ad (especially if none fits the required profile). But he's also a poor sod if he gets 50 or even 100 CVs per position.

The illusion of personalized regret letters

At my very first HR job the HR Director instructed us to send personalized regret letters to each and every candidate. For some time, we were hiring up to 30 Customer Care Representatives per month. One day, we actually bothered to analyze the available data and realized that we hired around 5% of all applicants. This means that we processed close to 5'000 applications to build up a call center with 250 representatives (by then we already had to replace the first leavers, of course).

Needless to say that we silently ignored our orders (of course, this was never held against us). I also became an expert in using the MS Word "mail merge" function.

The cyber age: more bits, less paper

Back then we received most applications on paper. Personal email accounts or even Internet connections at home were brand new and revolutionary. Applications were measured in piles (start a new pile when the current one is starting to keel over). Best practice: start a new pile when the old one reaches 24.5 centimeters [1].

Jobsites and email applications

I love the Internet and I love email (except when I get 50 emails per day and 2/3 of them require some action from my part that can take between 2 min and 2 hours).

It's so easy to send an email application. Either you already have a profile on a job site or you just send an email with a copy-pasted text (if at all) and a few attachments. 3 years ago I used to get a lot of applications from India, nowadays it's often Romania, Poland or Russia.

Warning, here comes an ugly word: BACKLOG

If you don't have an efficient recruiting tool that allows you to automatically send regret emails, you might know this situation: you're at your desk at 1 am, feeling very, very guilty because you still haven't said "no" to dozens or even hundreds of hopeful job applicants and you're asking yourself when too late is "too late". After 1 month, 3 months, 6 months?

Automated regret messages?

From a job seeker's point of view: it's tough working on your CV for hours and trying to come up with the perfect motivation letter... and then you receive a well-drafted, polite, but still standard regret message.

But I'd say it's still better than receiving no answer at all. As mentioned above, applying is becoming almost too easy nowadays. Some applicants don't even bother to write "Hi, here's my CV. Regards, Billy" anymore. Some just send a CV without any text and even without mentioning the job title in the subject (this is really annoying if you have 10+ open positions in different departments and maybe even in several countries).

Automated regret messages: YES!

The next part will be about sending regret messages very quickly and very easily.
Stay tuned...

[1] 24.5 cm = 9.65 in

22 October 2007

Do you work in HR, Personnel Administration, HCM, or something like this?

It's funny how words can mean a lot sometimes and become void of any meaning other times.

Call a geek a nerd an he might forget about his conviction that non-violence is the way to go.

HR, Personnel or HCM?

Ask an HR, Personnel or HCM professional what HR, Personnel or HCM means and they might just look at you blandly.

Now is this important at all? I don't think so, but I've decided to post a dozen articles before I told my friends and family about this blog, so here are a few random thoughts.

From what I understand (this is what I usually say when I'm too lazy to research the actual information), this is the history of the terms:

Personnel Administration

This term was used way back when HR only drafted contracts and termination letters. And they did a lot of filing. Actual recruiting was too important, so it was handled by the head of department or the direct manager. Payroll was about money, so it had to be handled by responsible people (Finance). Therefore HR meant mostly using a typewriter and filing paper.

Human Resources

Employees were now considered a resource, meaning they were valuable to the company. Sounds good. But resources are also timber or oil. But still: valuable.

Human Capital Management

This is a designation that many companies started using a few years ago. Funny thing is, most of them went back to "HR". I think the main idea was that "capital" is something you invest in or that you use to invest while "resource" is something you use. Somehow capital sounded better, but it didn't stick.

A bit of psychology?

We could analyze the deeper psychological meaning of the words "resource" and "capital" and try to match them with studies about the psyche of CEOs, managers in general and the mindset of the general public in the western world during the last 10 years.

Conclusion, happy me and fun fact

But lets make it easy: sometimes you launch a new product or brand name and it becomes a trend. Sometimes it just fails and everybody forgets about it after some time.

Me, I'm happy with "Human Resources". I'll choose it any day over "Personnel Administration" (I hate filing).

Funny fact: I noticed that companies providing financial services like to use HCM in their job ads. Does "resources" sound too industrial?

Excel functions every HR professional should know

Although my cute widdle heart beats for HR, it's true that I'm a bit of an Excel geek. I probably shouldn't have spent so much time with my good friends over at Finance.

But it's a fact that a handful of Excel functions learned from helpful colleagues have made my life much, much easier and I'm now using many of them on a daily basis.

Before it gets interesting: how to learn Excel

I can't sit down and learn something if I don't already know how to use it. Maybe you're the person who can sit through a training or read an online tutorial or book and remember a special function 6 months later when you need it. Unfortunately, I'm not like this.

So here's what I do. When I realize that my current skills can't help me solve a problem, I look for tutorials. For example, today I needed to create a waterfall chart but didn't remember how to do it, so I googled "tutorial excel waterfall").

Another strategy is to talk to your friendly friends at Finance (they're weird, but they're also the masters of spreadsheets). Have a coffee with them. They're usually happy to share their knowledge. If you're not comfortable talking to the bean counters, try to find an HR controller somewhere.


I already hear the duh's in the crowd. I know they're not difficult to use, but I think that many people could benefit from using filters more often.

I use them everyday in my "Entry process follow-up checklist" where I have always a few dozen active lines (one line per new hire, active until the very last step of the entry process has been successfully concluded).

Need to work on one line? Use filters so the other lines don't get in the way. And instead of scrolling through the list of names, filter first for "department", "country" if you work for an international organization or "job title" if you hire many people for the same position.

Once the entry process is over and the person in question has become a "real" employee (from an HR admin point of view), exclude this line. One way to do it is with a column you can call "status". Add "okay" in this line's status column and filter for "blanks". You will then only see the "unreal" employees.

Or you might have a list with several dozens or even hundreds of employees and need to look up all female employees in Marketing with a car allowance sorted by last name? Too bad, Excel only allows to sort for three different criteria, but you need four. And you don't want to spend hours scrolling down the file anyway.

So lets use a filter for gender (it's quick because there's only two possibilities), then department (if you have departments with only male employees some departments will already have been excluded, so the list gets shorter) and then use a filter for "yes" or a custom filter ("car allowance" not equal 0) if the column contains amounts (e.g. "0", "200", "500", etc.). Finally, you can sort by last name.

Vlookup [1]

The vlookup function can be useful in the following situations:
you need to combine two lists with different information, for instance one list with entry date and salary and the other a list provided by the department heads with the annual bonus results. You need one cell that contains the same information in both lists, and then you can combine them to a single list (possible information is "employee number" or "name").

And maybe a Concatenate might even come in handy.


If you have "LastName FirstName" in one list and two separate cells for last name and first name in the other list, use the Concatenate function.

Example: Last name in column A and first name in column B: add the following formula to column C (assuming the title of the column is in row 1):

=A2 &" "& B2

This will combine "Benson" from column A and "Steve" from column "B" as "Benson Steve" in column C with a nice space in between. Then copy the formula in cell C2 to the following lines (C3 to Cx).

To avoid problems, I recommend to remove the formulas (mark column C, select "copy", then click "edit", "paste special" and "values").

Finally: in case I've offended you...

If you're an HR professional and still think that the title of this post is too strong and maybe even offensive, or if you're offended by this post because you've known everything for years: please accept my apology.

I'm aware that not every HR professional needs advanced Excel skills, but I never had the opportunity to go to an "Excel for HR peeps" training.

One late night experience

One experience I'll never forget is how I tried for hours to get some budget figures ready. At 1 am I walked over to Finance because I needed a clarification. The graveyard shift guy gave me the info and said: "Great, in this case I'll get the HR figures in 10 minutes." When I told him that I needed at least 2 hours he taught me the secrets of pivot tables. This is why I think that many HR people could benefit from additional Excel skills.

And if you're still offended... well, you know, it's hard to get any attention as a new blogger. So please tell all your HR friends about this rude new blogger and don't forget to include the link ;-)

[1] for more information on vlookup's, lets google "tutorial excel vlookup"

18 October 2007

The Happy Employee: because it sounds cool

This is one of the reasons I chose "The Happy Employee" as the title of this blog. It's catchy, it has to do with HR and it mentions a feeling, which hopefully makes me look more human (it may often not be obvious, but this is a secret desire of many HR professionals).

Fact or wishful thinking?

Although it's my job to represent my employer, I'm also an employee at the same time. I'm a happy person and most of the time a happy employee (except when Pinocchio completes an employee satisfaction survey). So "The Happy Employee" is both a description of myself and the expression of my longing for more of this enjoyable feeling. Happiness is like Haribo's Gold-Bears [1], eat one and you'll want more of the stuff.

An agenda

This blog's name automatically opens a can full of questions like: Are you a happy employee? Really? What makes an employee happy? Lots of money, a manager who loves you, free lunches [2] ? What can a company do to make their employees happy? Are happy employees really something a company should strive for?

And my personal favorite: Should we try to achieve perfect bliss or is it more important to learn and grow? Don't we usually achieve the latter during tough and often unhappy times?


I love acronyms. All the better if they're silly. GNU stands for Gnu's Not Unix [3]. THE stands for The Happy Employee.

Maybe I should start referring to this blog as "the THE blog".

[1] Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo.
[2] There's no such thing as a free lunch (TINSTAAFL). Except at Google (see no. 10)
[2] GNU is a Unix-like operating system which is free as in freedom (not as in beer)

Don't wait until it's too late

Sometimes I have a great idea. So I write it down because my brain is like a Swiss cheese, full of holes.

A good wine needs time to mature

If it's a really great idea, I'll think about it for some time. Sooner or later I'll want to write it down and make it available for others to read. But is it good enough yet? Better not rush, let the idea grow and mature slowly. Good things come to those who wait. Good wine and all that.

Don't let life pass you by

Let a good wine mature for too long and one day it will taste like vinegar. I admit that I'm no wine expert, so I might be wrong about the good wine maturing for too long. So lets go with another analogy. If you wait in front of a train for too long, the doors will close and the train will leave without you.

Grab life by the horns

Paraphrasing a former boss: when you have too many things to do, don't think it through to the nth dimension. Make a quick decision and go for it. In case you were wrong (which is usually the exception) you can still correct it later. Just don't waste time instead of getting things done.

Good enough is good enough

Sometimes it's the obvious things that are the most helpful. Six words in a Dan Kennedy book [1] really opened my eyes:
Often, good enough is good enough.
Or to use a few lines from "The Zen of Todoist" [2]:
The longest journey starts with the first step.

Celebrate any progress.
Don't wait to get perfect.
What I learned today

I've been thinking about several articles I could write. But now I decided to just start writing about how I approach the process of writing. Results: my 2nd blog entry is almost ready and I had fun. Of course it won't make Digg's most popular, but did I mention that I had fun?

Sometimes it's about results - sometimes having fun is the result

The end. For now.

[1] Kennedy Dan, No B.S. Time Management For Entrepreneurs
[2] Todoist, an awesome, fully intuitive online ToDo List (click About Todoist)

12 October 2007

The Happy Employee: fact or fiction?

Some say that "happy" and "employee" are contradictions. That's absolutely right. And completely wrong. Plus everything in between.

As an HR Manager, this is a topic I'm often confronted with and that I like to think about, especially under the shower, while walking to work or when participating in boring meetings.

I'm aware that I don't know much (yet) and I'm always trying to learn new things. So tomorrow I might say something different, but today I believe the following to be true:
  1. It's not the employer's responsibility to make their employees happy
  2. It's possible to be a happy employee and your employer has both the possibility and the responsibility to contribute to this.
Confusing? Hah... Nobody ever said that HR was simple. But it's also incredibly fascinating. And if anybody ever told you different, then I suggest you stop listening to this person.

Now I'm just thinking out loud, but this blog will probably feature some or all of the following topics:
  • HR from the point of view of the dreadful HR Manager I am
  • being an employee who needs to pay the rent but also expects more from his employer
  • time management, because it's such an important topic for information workers
  • lifehacks, because they're so cool
  • links to other people's articles and blog entries, because it's so much easier to make smart comments about other people's work than to create something yourself
And to get the typical / obvious / maybe a bit boring question out of the way: Why am I creating another blog?

I think it's fun. I love the Internet, I enjoy reading great blogs and I often have ideas that I want to write down so I don't forget them. A blog can be some kind of diary, but it's much more enjoyable than using a text file that you hide in an encrypted file somewhere on a USB stick.

And although I pretend that I don't care if nobody reads my blog because I do it for myself in the first place, it would be nice to get some tough comments that challenge my opinions and convictions as this is the best way to learn and grow.

The next post will be about...
Well, you better stay tuned ;-)