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What exactly are HR best practices?

They can be highly dependent on an employer's demographic makeup, industry, location and resources

By Brian Kreissl

We hear a lot about so-called best practices in human resources management. But I believe there’s some confusion around what the term actually means and just how universal those practices are.

It’s important to realize that while a handful of best practices can be applied more or less universally, what’s considered a best practice in one industry, organization, national or corporate culture isn’t necessarily a best practice in another. Best practices are also highly dependent on the demographic makeup of an organization, the socioeconomic factors, location, size and resources of an employer and the legal and regulatory environment.

What works in one place can’t simply be copied and used elsewhere. If something works for a small mom and pop shop convenience store, it won't necessarily work for one of the big banks.

A unique, zany culture

One organization that's often cited as an example of a best practice employer is online shoe retailer Zappos. The company is known primarily for its wacky culture and the way it believes in having fun at work. It also pays employees to leave the organization after a certain period of time if they decide working there isn’t for them.

One could argue the idea of paying disengaged employees to leave could or even should be adopted by other employers. However, one of the reasons Zappos has such a program is precisely because it has a downright zany organizational culture that isn’t for everyone.

This has been said before, but it’s important to remember that while being able to come to work dressed as a superhero is some people’s idea of a great place to work, it’s surely other people’s worst nightmare. So being encouraged to leave the organization might actually be a direct response to that unique and off-the-wall culture.

Factors such as an employee’s age must play a part in how engaging such a practice is likely to be (although great care must be taken not to stereotype people based on their age or to create an environment that isn’t tolerant of diversity). For example, even though I don’t consider myself particularly stodgy or old-fashioned, now that I’m in my early forties, I’m less likely to want to take part in something like dressing up as my favourite superhero than I was when I was younger.

And having days where people come to work in costume obviously works at Zappos. But could you imagine if a large Bay Street law firm adopted such a practice?

Best practices at Carswell

Yet, there are certain things that make a workplace more fun that can have a fairly universal appeal, regardless of age, gender or other demographic factors. For example, one popular activity here at Carswell is our annual ice cream day, where an ice cream truck comes to our office and employees can go downstairs and get their free ice cream treats.

While the actual cost per employee for such a program must be quite reasonable, employees really do appreciate fun little programs such as these, which can help drive employee engagement. People actually look forward to a social break with their fellow employees out on the lawn in front of the building while they eat their ice cream.

Surely that’s a best practice all but the stodgiest of organizations can adopt? Of course, we must be doing something right, having just been included among the 100 Best Workplaces in Canada for 2013, according to the Great Place to Work Institute.

And speaking of Carswell, we actually sell a line of books we refer to as HR “Best Practices.” Those books cover a multitude of topics, including recruitment and selection, training and development, job descriptions, employee retention and termination.

While I’m not trying to promote those titles, I do believe their existence speaks to the fact HR practitioners are really clued into identifying and following best practices, and hopefully fostering increased employee engagement and turning their organizations into employers of choice.

However, it’s important to remember when reading about best practices and case studies, that not every policy, practice or program will necessarily work at every organization. And some modifications and customizations may be necessary in order to implement certain best practices successfully.

Remaining compliant with HR best practices can be extremely helpful. But it’s also important to understand your employees and what’s likely to engage them before implementing such practices.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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