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December 26, 2005
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

The Baggage Handlers

I’m sure you have shared the experience with me of preparing for a long trip. You pack either with great care days in advance or throw things into the nearest duffle bag at the last minute. Whatever style you may have, when you arrive at the airport, or cruise ship, you encounter the baggage handlers. They gracefully (usually, that is) take the baggage off your hands and take care of it for until it is ready to be picked at that the right place at the right time (again, usually, that is).

The handlers take what we bring to them and take on the weight, the bulk, and the risk of back strain or hernia which accompanies the hand off of our baggage. They relieve us of the care and the lugging around of all that we have packed, or over-packed. "Lugging" must be the origin of the word "luggage."

Most human resources staff members are similarly employed Ñ spending considerable portions of their careers engaged in a related form of baggage handling. Not a day goes by when employees or job applicants do not unload an array of personal items on the desk or at the feet of the HR professional, fully expecting or even demanding they be relieved of what they regard as excessive burdens.

This same is true of managers who may drop off packages in the form of poorly behaving employees, hoping to leave them for somebody else to deal with until they can be picked up like dry cleaning, when some magical process of transformation has been applied. In the world of the early 21st century, many job applicants and employees bring to the table expectations that developed, perhaps, early in their childhood centering around unrealistic expectations, entitlements and less willingness to accept personal responsibility for their own actions.

Every one of these folks and, in fact, everyone reading this article, as well as the person writing it, carries around "baggage." The baggage may include lead weights in the form of financial, family or health problems. They may feel weighted down by insecurity at work or, although they may not realize it, by their own bullying attitude toward others. They may seek actively to avoid work and responsibility or to shift the blame for any failures on anyone walking around in their work neighborhood, but especially their supervisors or their coworkers.

The continuing and negative effect of such baggage carriers in any workplace is damaging and wasteful. This is especially true of a public agency where the workers in a civil service or merit system often come wrapped in the body armor of a wide array of appeal rights and entitlements far beyond what is found in private sector "at will" employment.

All were created for very noble purposes, including insuring that employees are treated with respect and equity in workplace. Unfortunately, the baggage carrier represents a chronic challenge to managers who are often untrained, inexperienced and insecure in handling the issues presented by this type of person.

When confronted by the requests or the demands to take away other people’s baggage, the managers often retreat, tolerate or "walk by" poor behavior or performance. An alternative strategy is to expect or demand that someone else assume responsibility for what the managers themselves should be doing. That someone may be their own supervisor, HR staff, or even family members who may suffer because of the attitudes and frustrations brought home after work by the person unable to cope under the strain of excess baggage.

As with many things in life, including work life, the treatment begins with a vow to "not walk by" problems and to not let others hand off to you as a manager, or as a parent or spouse for that matter, all or even significant amounts of their own personal baggage. If we don’t take a coaching and clear communication of expectations approach, we will all find ourselves no longer serving as elected or appointed officials. We will all become qualified to work as either adult day care providers or as airport baggage handlers

The HR Doctor hopes that you don’t strain yourself carrying your own or other people’s baggage!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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