What Being Strategic In HR Means – Real Life Case Study

Tim Sackett Compensation/Cash Money, The HR Profession, Tim Sackett

I was in Canada recently to speak at an HR conference.  Upon returning, I wrote a post regarding the differences in pregnancy leave policies between the two countries, and I got a strong reaction from the Canadian side.  Let me break it down for you:

United States Pregnancy Leave:

FMLA: 12 weeks, no pay to Mother or Father, upon eligibility of FMLA.

Canadian Pregnancy Leave:

A little more complicated, but here are some details:

– 17 weeks pregnancy leave for Mom

-35 weeks parental leave for Mom or Dad (divided as they see fit)

– 55% of salary paid to a max of $48,600 (from Government paid taxes, one part by employee, four parts by employer)

Very generous leave policy for our Canadian neighbors, especially when compared to what the U.S. mandates employers provide.  The Canadians called me “a dinosaur,” said I was stuck in the 1950’s, etc.  All because I raised this question:

How much pregnancy leave is too much?”

Then I asked: “What do you think? What is the perfect amount of pregnancy leave? If you were given the chance to design a plan taking into account both the employee and the company resources, what would you decide to do?”

My point being that I think the U.S. policy for pregnancy leave sucks.  Yes, I know companies can be more generous if they would like, and many are.  Also, that the Canadian policy could potentially put companies in a very bad position competitively having to lose great talent for 52 weeks. Canadian HR Pros pointed out finding a replacement for 52 weeks if much easier than finding one for 12 weeks.  Which sounds true, from my experience.

So, what does this have to do with being strategic?

Most people who joined the conversation couldn’t get beyond their initial argument that I was a greedy, middle-aged male, talking about this very personal relationship between a women and her child.  All of which is true.  But it’s also the vain of most HR pros existence.  They can’t get past the emotion of situations.  The reality was, I wasn’t saying either side was right or wrong.  I was asking what should it be, and what is fair for both parties?

Most people working in HR aren’t considered “strategic” for the simple fact they are unable to get themselves past the personal emotion of a situation, and move onto the business consequences of the decisions we make.  52 weeks without talent in your organization has impact to the business. Some of it bad, some of it good.  But you have to be able to see both sides, and ultimately come up with the best business solution.

Me asking the question if a 52-week maternity/parental leave policy hurts a company shouldn’t provoke a personal reaction.  What it should provoke is a conversation around real data and reason why the policy is good or bad for business.  What could be done better?  What things could be changed to make the negatives less of a negative, etc.?  Being strategic in HR means you can feel the initial pain or shock of something personally, but you are able to quickly put the greater good ahead of yourself.  Change maternity policy and replace it with a number of hot-button issues we face: life partner benefits, work-from-home policies, etc.  Your ability to be viewed as “strategic” is directly correlated to how you handle those policies that have the biggest impact to you personally.