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Human Resource systems health check

Human Resource systems health check

This article is a synopsis of a much longer document/module from training course developed by the author. PLEASE NOTE: There is no provision in the Act which says that a second (or even third, or forth!! attempt) to clean up the company's systems and procedures are not allowed. Companies are, therefore urged to use the checklists supplied in this article to review whether their systems are in deed (as opposed to in word) really compliant and equitable. Thereafter, revise your action plans and second reports as needed.

In 2000 many companies, large and small, simply used a check and tick approach to auditing their documented (and hopefully their undocumented)people management systems to hit the deadlines for compliance. But, in truth there has been very little attention paid to correctly identifying barriers to advancement or cleaning up companies' people
management systems and policies. This was specifically pointed out in the Director General Of Labour's speech at the launch of the equity Register in 2000.

This article attempts to provide a clear set of definitions and guidelines of what is meant by "equitable" and "fair" people management systems and practices. Model audit questions are provided for the correct analysis of these systems.

The predominant cause of racial and group differences in the application of employment practices is discrimination, conscious or unconscious, by the individuals and functionaries that are gatekeepers of employment opportunities.

1. Plan the Human Resource Systems health check in consultation with top management, employee representatives and the Equity and Development forum to ensure buy-in and endorsement of the information gathering process; where feasible have the forum members assist with information gathering and information analysis.

2. A comprehensive and thorough HR health check must go beyond a "sit at your desk" audit of a Human Resources manual (which in many instances does not exist).

3. The scope of the health check needs to cover the following areas of HR practices:
++ Recruitment procedures
++ Selection criteria
++ Appointments
++ Job classification and grading
++ Remuneration and benefits
++ Terms and conditions of employment
++ Job assignments
++ Work environment and facilities
++ Training and development
++ Performance and evaluation systems
++ Promotions
++ Transfers
++ Demotions
++ Succession and experience planning
++ Disciplinary measures
++ Dismissals
++ Corporate culture
++ HIV/Aids education and prevention programme

4. Companies must pay adequate attention to areas where significant, racial and gender under-representation occur. It is still an issue for some companies to get the statistics that is applicable in their region and in their sector. We still find companies that try to compare themselves with the National Demographic statistics, which in most cases include the total population (including children and the elderly). They then wonder why they find it difficult to find suitable candidates. Ultimately, the goal of establishing a barrier-free work environment should make sure that your workforce represents the demographics of suitable and possible candidates.

5. Identify and list policies and practices to be reviewed. This inventory is particularly important where departments have significantly adapted policies to suit their own operating context. All such adaptations need to be examined from an employment equity perspective to determine whether they may be contributing to under-representation in the occupational groups. For the most part, however, departments will be focussing on practices, both formal and informal that could affect the equitable participation of the designated groups. Sometimes the informal practices do not accord with stated policy. Departments should refer, where relevant, to past reviews, evaluations, studies, opinion or organisational climate surveys, etc. that have been carried out within the organisation.

6. Use the workforce analysis and profile as a useful starting point to audit the HR systems as they apply to areas of under representation and to formulate action plans to deal with the gaps identified. In other words identify where "the numbers" need to change for the designated groups and start to ask questions about how things got to be as they are. Identify HR systems causes and find solutions. PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO OVERHAUL YOUR ENTIRE HR SYSTEM AT ONCE (unless of course it is completely rotten to start with as was pointed out by Linda Human, an eminent academic and consultant).

7. An alternative method to conduct a health check is to do a rapid audit using two questionnaires:
a)use a qualitative survey/interview on a representative sample of the workforce to gather information about the more 'subtle' aspects of the company's people management practices that are not widely known or understood to affect employees in designated groups. These interviews would be conducted with relevant staff functionaries and line managers to find out about the day-to-day personnel practices in use as opposed to the espoused practices.

b). A structured questionnaire is used for the more widely known and 'straightforward' issues amenable to being surveyed. The literacy levels in the organisation will also determine the feasibility of using paper and pencil surveys.

8. Data from both surveys are then analysed by occupational categories, race and gender and action plans are formulated to verify the findings and to close the most critical gaps/barriers identified.

9.The most difficult task facing those responsible for conducting the employment systems review would be to analyse unwritten and often unspoken employment policies and practices. The following methods may prove useful in reviewing unwritten employment policies and practices.

+++ Focus groups
+++ One on one interviews
+++ Reviewing the outcomes of behaviours or profiles of occupational groups or levels within these occupational groups. e.g. board of directors
+++ Surveys

10. The are a number of criteria which can be used in determining whether an employment practice is fair and equitable (that is, achieves the purpose of the Act in that it does not unfairly discriminate and that it promotes affirmative action). As you examine each system, remember that the goal is to ensure equality for all employees through the implementation of non-discriminatory policies and practices. This basic question can be subdivided into six specific criteria for determining whether your employment policies and practices comply with the law and with employment equity goals:

+++ Is it legal?
+++ Is it legitimate (or valid) in the eyes of the stakeholders?
+++ Does it impact adversely on EE beneficiaries?
+++ Does the issue/criteria/system relate to being able to do the job?
+++ Does the issue/criteria/system prevent reasonable accommodation?
+++ Is the system applied consistently across the board?
+++ Is the system or procedure documented and accessible to all?
+++ Is there a business plan rationale/reason for the system being in place
or does it serve the HR functionary's needs?

The checklists are available as standardised questionnaires. Only 3-5 questions/items are included for each HR function for illustration purposes.
The questions are designed to assess adverse impact and go well beyond what is merely and generally seen as equitable people management practices. The EE Act is interested in redress (of past negative impacts) and equity (progressive people management practices)!!

+++ Recruitment system checklist
+ Do all job advertisements accurately reflect bona fide qualifications and skill requirements for the job?
+ Are you creating a pool of qualified designated group members that possess the types of skills needed by departments?
+ Is the participation rate of designated groups tracked?
+ Are the rates of referral of designated group members monitored for fair share of employment opportunities?

+++ Selection systems checklist
+ Are frontline staff, i.e. assessors, interviewers and staffing specialists knowledgeable about human rights and employment equity legislation vis-à-vis employer obligations as well as diversity issues?
+ Is the selection process, including interviews, fully documented and monitored for adverse effects on designated groups?
+ Does your organisation include designated group members on selection teams, especially where designated group members are in the candidate pool?
+ Does the selection process have an unusually high factor for "personal suitability"?

+++ Appointment systems checklist
+ Are departmental staffing practitioners knowledgeable about the staffing policies and procedures, and the values that they represent, i.e. equitable access, fairness, and merit?
+ Do you monitor the promotion rate of designated group members versus that of non-designated group members?
+ Are staffing practitioners and managers who exercise delegated staffing authority adequately trained in staffing and EE matters?

+++ Retention Checklist
+ Do persons in the designated groups leave at disproportionate rates compared to other employees?
+ Does the organisation have information on why its employees are leaving?
+ Are lay-off and termination decisions based on clearly defined, job-related and objective criteria?
+ Are alternative opportunities available and communicated to designated group members affected by terminations?

+++ Training and development checklist
+ Do designated group members participate in training and development opportunities at lower rates than other employees?
+ Is information on training and development opportunities disseminated to all employees? Is this information accessible to persons with disabilities?
+ Is the selection for training and development solely at the discretion of supervisors?
+ Do designated group members and other employees have access to a redress mechanism if they feel that they have been unfairly denied access to training and development opportunities?

+++ Upward mobility systems checklist
+ Have you identified formal lines of progression or career paths for each occupational group?
+ Has this information been made available to all employees as part of a career counselling or performance appraisal session?
+ Are there entry level jobs in each job category from which employees have the opportunity to advance?

+++ Lay off, recall, disciplinary action and termination systems checklist
+ Are lay off and termination decisions based on clearly defined, job related and objective criteria?
+ Have your company's employees been provided with information on the organisation's policies and procedures about lay off, recall, disciplinary action and termination?
+ Does management in your company follow an established procedure when taking disciplinary action against an employee?

+++ Job evaluation systems checklist
+ Have you eliminated the use of market value as the only criterion in your job evaluation system(s)?
+ Do your systems focus on job content, instead?
+ Does your job evaluation system incorporate pay equity principles in order to eliminate gender-based pay discrimination?

+++ Compensation system checklist
+ Have pay ranges been established for all jobs?
+ Are your company's pay scales publicised or accessible to employees?
+ Are you confident that any existing pay differentials are based on such factors as skill. effort, responsibility and working conditions, and not on sex or race?

Benefits systems checklist

  • Are you confident that the policies and practices governing your benefits system are equity-based and are in compliance with applicable legislation?
  • Is there an effective communications plan in place to ensure that employees receive relevant and timely information concerning the organisation's benefit plans?
  • Are benefits available to part-time employees on a pro-rata basis?
  • Are requests for non-majority religious holidays accommodated?

Conditions of employment checklist

  • Are your workplace rules applied consistently?
  • Is your working environment hospitable to designated group members?
  • Do your conditions of employment allow for reasonable accommodation of differences among employees?
  • Does your organisation have a health and safety committee that has 'teeth'/real authority and power?

It is important to recognise that the employment systems review is a two phase process. The first phase entails determining whether the employment policy or practice does not support or enhance the organisation's employment equity plan or fails to achieve the objectives of the Act (both Chapter 2 and 3 objectives). This is the 'easy phase'.

The second phase entails the implementation of remedial action to remove the employment barriers. This will be dealt with in a future article.

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

Managing Director


C: +27 (0)82 416 7712

T: +27 (0)10 035 4185 (Office)

F: +27 (0)86 689 7862

Website: www.workinfo.com
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