Humans of HR is a bi-monthly blog series featuring human resources thought leaders committed to making work more human.
Although Robin Schooling has held most jobs a human can hold in HR, she says she “fell into it.” She started her career as an assistant at a recruitment staffing agency, where she gained experience in payroll and applicant testing, and then transitioned to recruiting in an in-house HR department when she realized she loved the industry.
Since then, she’s worked for both large, global organizations and small ones with 100-200 people, and she’s gone back and forth between in-house recruiting and HR generalist roles, many of which were in leadership. She also has experience in wide-ranging industries such as banking, higher education, healthcare, third-party logistics, and hospitality and gaming.
Here, we chat with Robin about creating human workplaces, helping entry-level and front-line employees, and why honesty and fairness are the future of HR.
Workhuman: Can you tell us about your current role?
Robin: My current organization is Peridus Group, a human resources consulting organization. I focus on taking this vast, expansive HR life I've led and working with other organizations to solve their problems and help them position themselves for the future.
Workhuman: What does working human actually mean to you?
Robin: I think it means looking holistically. We are thinking, feeling, emotional beings and there's more to our lives than whether we're going to hit the Q4 goals. I’ve worked at a lot of organizations with a massive entry-level staff – working human means remembering that everyone in every job should be entitled to the same consideration.
A human workplace is not just an imperative for the executives and the professionals and the ‘top talent’ – and I'm using air quotes when I say that.
Everyone – the people that feed us or care for us or produce the materials we need to live our lives – is of the same importance.
We tend to forget that sometimes when writing and disseminating many of our draconian HR policies. An example is our tendency to provide bereavement days based on familial relationships. You know, ‘We're going to give you one day to mourn and grieve because as a company we have decided what the depth of that relationship is to you.’ Of course, if Bob the COO has a family member pass away, he can determine how much grieving time he needs. But Sally, who’s a front-line call center rep, is told she gets one day because we've determined the meaningfulness of a particular relationship to her. But we need to look at everybody when we talk about working human.
Workhuman: Why do you think the shift has started to take place now?
Robin: At the beginning, there was a practical business reason the conversation started to shift – generally driven by the war for talent. There were benefits programs and working conditions that initially seemed jaw dropping because we wanted to recruit and retain that ‘top talent.’
Take sensible and enhanced parental leave as an example. The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nations that doesn't have paid parental leave, so from a talent-competition perspective, a lot of organizations said, ‘We're going to start offering that so we can hire and keep all these great engineers.’ Then more organizations started to say, ‘Why shouldn't that be the norm? Maybe I'm not in Silicon Valley and I don't have to compete for the same engineering talent, but damn it, that's a pretty great idea.’
So, it was built from competition initially, but it has infiltrated more and more organizations. I think that will continue because employees are demanding and expecting those things now. It’s somewhat crowdsourced – these changes and expectations are bubbling up from the people who are looking for jobs. Again, it’s usually the people with power or in-demand talent who ask for these things, but my hope is it trickles down to everyone – like Sally, the call center rep we talked about before.
Workhuman: In your day-to-day role, how do you help others work more human?
Robin: It's about creating a safe space for people to display the range of emotions that they experience every day.
We have busy lives, and that's part of being human.
When I worked in hospitality and gaming [at a casino] and our employees were on the floor with guests, they had to be chipper. Smile, smile, smile. It’s part of the job to provide a great guest experience, but it’s also mentally and physically and emotionally exhausting. HR lived in the back-of-house departments, so we were not 100% customer-facing, but I also made it an OK thing for my HR staff – and, by extension, our employees – to come into HR and breathe and cry and vent.
Workhuman: Can you tell me a story about a challenge someone has faced and how you helped them overcome it?
Robin: This is a long story, but it makes me cry when I think about it. At the casino, we had an older gentleman who had worked in the kitchen for about 20 years. He was so committed to getting to work – he rode his bike every day in any kind of weather – and he was the nicest, kindest, most caring man ever.
He had some hearing issues, so he experienced difficulties communicating with others. He needed to be able to hear his co-workers in the kitchen to avoid accidents with scalding hot pots, of course, but even getting to work presented obstacles. Riding his bike down congested city streets meant he struggled to hear cars, buses, and trucks. Every moment of his life he needed enhanced care and medical assistance, but he didn't have a lot of resources or know how to navigate the incredibly complex medical benefits, and he hadn’t had a hearing test in years. He was hesitant to ask for help. I think he felt it was his problem to solve.
It goes back to what I said earlier about treating everyone the same. If this had been a manager needing to leave for a medical appointment, it would be no big deal. Come and go as you want. This guy was a shift worker. He didn’t have a lot of free time, and he couldn’t get across town on his bike fast enough to get where he needed to go.
Over the course of about four months, two of my HR staff, on his days off, coordinated his appointments and took turns taking him to doctors. They worked with him to find something he could afford and even negotiated with the doctor.
He got this new set of hearing aids and it was the first time in five or six years that he could hear. He came into the office and we all sat in a group and we were crying because he was crying. He was so incredibly thankful. We spent quite a bit of time on it, but every moment was worth it. It helped him do a better job because he could hear in the kitchen, sure, but it also helped him live a better life. It helped him get to work safely. It helped him interact with people in a way he hadn’t been able to in years.
I’ve worked in organizations where it would have been, ‘Too bad, you can't do that for everybody, so don't do it for the one.’ I've been in organizations where it would have been, ‘No, your HR team should not be running people around town.’ In this situation, I said, ‘You know what? I don't care what we should or shouldn't do. It's the right thing to do for this person who has given 20 years to the company.’ Yes, HR is about protecting the business, but if six more people came in and needed the same thing, we would have done it. That was just how I approached what we did for people there.
Workhuman: What an incredible story. Yes, he can work better now – but we offer benefits to people so they can be well. Not just to work, but to live.
Workhuman: What do you think is still the greatest need in terms of making work a better place for the most people?
Robin: Being truthful. People – our employees, our candidates – can see through the corporate B.S. and the condescending false notes. Just as we’ve had this conversation about allowing people to be real, organizational leaders need to do the same thing. Don't say something just because it sounds good.
Where I see the disconnect most is when a company tells people how important they are – ‘Employees are our greatest asset’ – but treats them like crap.
Truthfulness will help us get far.
Workhuman: Do you have any hopes or predictions for the future of HR?
Robin: My hope is that we become known for creativity and compassion and agility in our thinking. That we don't just accept the status quo but forge a new path for our organizations.
Yes, we work on compliance and benefits. I want us to transcend that and become known for not just being able to write a damn good policy, but for how we interpret that policy. How we advise our organizational leaders on what it means to create a great place to work or a place that people want to spend their time. That we evolve our reputation from just ‘doers’ to true advisors to the business.
Workhuman: We’re thrilled to welcome you to Workhuman® Live in San Antonio next May. Why do you keep coming back?
Robin: I have been to every single Workhuman Live, starting with the very first one with just a few hundred people! I keep coming back because the content of the sessions and the conversations that follow and surround the attendees are focused on moving forward, not rehashing the past. Rather than talking about failures and problems, we discuss the possibilities that present themselves when we remember that our organizations are made up of living, breathing human beings.
It's an event that affirms why I went into HR in the first place and why I remain: We have the opportunity to impact people's lives and help them create their own success while simultaneously bringing value to our organizations by tying our HR strategies to the goals of the organization – whether growth in revenue, enhanced productivity, greater market share, or something else.
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