Polly Jeanneret's HR agony aunt: Chartering a new course

Polly Jeanneret By Polly Jeanneret
from a leading London-based firm, HR expert and employment lawyer

This article was also featured as a HR agony aunt in the February 2016 issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM

Can you recommend something HR-related to revamp 2017? 


Press refresh on your firm’s org chart. No, I am not recommending major restructuring (though that may well be necessary), I am talking about really looking at your org chart and asking yourself whether or not it is accurate, up-to-date and, dare I say it, useful. Most org charts are feats of engineering and reflect perfect hierarchies when the reality is that the firm’s structure is more fluid and more complex. Practice departments make way for sector groups, and strict management reporting lines get lost among other ‘lines’ which link senior staff members to junior ones. It is highly likely that your org chart is out of date, that it features some people in it who shouldn’t be there, and others who aren’t but should be. While updating the chart, you could even open a discussion about whether or not it is actually a good thing at all to have this hierarchy or structure, and whether the traditional family tree depiction is really the best way to approach it. Do millennials take any notice of it? Is it to make the partners feel more in control than they are? News has spread of one organisation which takes more of a Venn diagram approach to its org chart – think Google’s circles with ‘spheres of influence’ or introducing matrices for different projects. Revamp means ‘do things differently’, a perfect mantra for 2017. 


A recently divorced solicitor is spending a lot of time on social media at work. Do we show some latitude while she gets over personal difficulties? 


If you and this person think that social media is going to help the solicitor get over her personal difficulties then I may have to pass you both on to a psychiatrist. But if you are asking whether or not you need to show a degree of flexibility as this person readjusts to her new life, then I would answer: yes. Any employee going through a divorce deserves a bit of time to work through it, so you could establish particular areas of difficulty and what might make life easier (are there problems with childcare, or are there doctor or court appointments?). Spending hours on social media at work is definitely not something you should allow. If she needs time off, then give her the time off. Otherwise, you are distracting her and others from what being at work is about. Lastly, while no one would recommend you engage in long conversations with staff about their personal problems (that only successfully happens in the movies), a genuine “Is everything okay?” every so often will be much appreciated – but not via Facebook. Obvs.
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