In the corporate rush toward automation and information technology (IT), human resources (HR) departments continue to play tail-end Charlie, say the experts. Cost and executive prejudices continue to stand in the way of delivering the benefits enjoyed by most other business operations, reported the National Post May 9. “Traditionally, line management looks on HR as an expense and not a strategic asset,” said Ric Irving, a professor of management science at York’s Schulich School of Business. “HR was a place where you would stick middle managers when you couldn’t find anything else for them to do,” he says. “HR just wasn’t a strategic asset so executives didn’t see any benefit in spending money on it.”
Irving said the development of IT within organizational HR units followed a well-defined path. Step one was to use computer systems to replace tedious and repetitive tasks such as payroll and benefits. The next step was the realization that all corporate employee-facing documents such as policy brochures and procedures guidelines could be placed online and offered to staff in electronic rather than print formats. “When it really began to change was when the federal government decided to put its telephone book online to save the cost of printing,” he says. “Organizations suddenly found that using IT to disseminate corporate and employee information presented really major cost-savings.”
Treat employees fairly – it’s cheaper, says Burke
When it comes to terminating employees, Canadian courts have applied a heavy thumb to the scales of justice. A string of court decisions has tipped the balance strongly in favour of the worker, reported the National Post May 9. Ronald Burke, professor of behavioural sciences at York University’s Schulich School of Business, remembers an instance at a Canadian university. An acting dean wanted to get rid of a female instructor. As part of his campaign he suggested to others she was sleeping with another faculty member. When the instructor heard the rumours, she sued and won a year’s pay. “She was planning on leaving anyway,” Burke said. “If the acting dean had just sought the HR department’s advice and followed procedures, it could have been settled smoothly and for far less money. The entire issue of termination, whether it is firings or layoffs, has shifted to favour employees. The simple rules are to treat them honestly, fairly, equitably and with compassion.”
Calls to disinvest from Sudan are misguided and self-serving, says Wheeler
Last month, Peter Kinder, a leading player in the United States’ “socially responsible investments” community, called for a complete investment boycott of all firms operating in Sudan, wrote David Wheeler, professor at York’s Schulich School of Business in The Globe and Mail’s online comments section May 9. Presumably this would include British Airways and Lufthansa who fly there and Nokia and Motorola whose mobile telephones are widely available in the country. The justification for his new campaign, familiar enough to Talisman investors in Canada and the US, is that firms operating in Sudan are complicit in the pain and suffering of Darfur. Many believe the dire situation in Darfur is being exacerbated by elements in the new national government. Indeed, in common with some of the more lurid commentary emerging from the US, people like Mr. Kinder argue that the “genocide” in Sudan is an even more compelling reason for divestment in that troubled country than was the case in apartheid South Africa, and that the tentative peace agreement signed by the government on Friday is no guarantee that the killing will stop, wrote Wheeler.
These people may be right about the last point but, even if peace does not break out in Darfur, that is no reason for the kind of disinvestment Mr. Kinder is calling for. As the president of KLD Research, the longest established and most influential social investment firm in the US, we can expect his advice to have an impact. We live in a world where opinion about corporate performance – ethical or economic – is socially constructed.
- York history professor at Glendon, Suzanne Langlois, spoke about the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s constitution on Radio Canada’s CJBC-AM (Toronto) May 8.