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National Association of Counties * Washington, DC            Vol. 30, No. 20 * October 26, 1998

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Fine Whines in Human Resources

HR professionals, especially those in the public sector, quickly become experienced in recognizing many different types of whines. Hardly any area of our work these days is free from exposure to cases of whines by applicants, managers, union leaders, a variety of employees in the organization, and even some of our own colleagues in the HR profession.

This whine tasting has increased in volume and intensity in the past decade. The problem stems from, or if you prefer, has its roots in several phenomena we witness daily in both our personal and work lives:

    — less willingness by individuals to accept personal responsibility for their behavior and performance; i.e., the search for a scapegoat — someone else to blame.

    — the rise of third party interveners, such as attorneys, whom, inadvertently or not, provide service and support for the "blame others" paradigm. Ironically the HR profession itself is also a "third party intervener" and, therefore, owes a lot to the impact of whining on our society.

    — managers and other elected and appointed officials who are insensitive to the human effects of their policies, actions and behaviors and failing to recognize that arrogant management behavior often gives rise to the whining of those who feel victimized by a lack of respect.

    — a decline in peoples’ goal setting — a lack of a focus on building a better future. Without goals, people tend to move through work and life like directionless zombies — or pinballs bouncing first against one obstacle and then another. Their lives are controlled by others and they retreat to blaming others for their lot.

    — overly rigid traditional civil service protection — exacerbated by the trends described above

    — needing reform to better balance the need for reasonable protection from arbitrary discipline against an organization’s increasing need.

There are other causes and effects, of course. However, taken collectively, these symptoms have produced an atmosphere of tolerance and even reward for whining behaviors — an atmosphere where "entitlement" can exceed contribution.

It is increasingly clear to the HR professional, who witnesses and confronts these behaviors in the workplace, that reform is needed. While there are no simple or non-controversial cures, three basic steps are readily available:

  1. Make a personal commitment to practice a "no whining" mindset yourself.
  2. Understand the underlying causes of whining at work in order to improve the advice and service HR renders in the organization.
  3. As a manager or supervisor, make the causes, symptoms and treatments for whining a focus for staff training and development. It will not only be valuable for enhancing staff understanding of the work environment, but also serve as a reminder of your expectations for the organization and the behavior of subordinates.

Whining is infectious and, like other threats to health, requires recognition of the problem, its symptoms and causes. Professional "first aid" and treatment is also needed. Let this treatment of whining be one strategic role for 21st century public personnel management.

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)



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