My New Year’s Resolution was to go to a gym. I’ve done that now. As a result, I have developed a posture better suited to an amateur dramatics production of Richard III, and a number of body parts which have worked quite adequately for over half a century no longer do.
Don’t let this be you. If you want to do something which is healthy and good for you this January, attack your too-difficult pile. Everybody in HR has one – the mound of papers sitting reproachfully in one corner of your desk containing all those things which are too hard, too dull or too depressing to be borne. Instead, you leave it there in the distant hope that if it is ignored long enough the older papers at the bottom will become irrelevant or, through the volume of newer documents on top, turn slowly into coal.
In law this is unwise, in HR actively dangerous. Each of those files is potentially someone’s career (maybe indirectly even yours) which could be rescued by your doing the right thing, or broken by your not.
So let us blow off the dust and see what you have got in there. Oh yes, that ghastly grievance – you had hoped that anyone so unhappy for so long would have had the decency to quit by now, yes? The grievance may be long and tortured and read like something by Kafka but with fewer laughs, but that is sadly not a defence to not dealing with it. Be robust – instead of investigating every complaint in an extended grievance, why not focus only on material matters falling in the last six months or so, safe-ish in the knowledge that anything older is probably no longer capable of effective remedy and cannot generally be sued for now anyway.
Or is it that ridiculous handbags-at-dawn spat in Accounts, still grinding on? Be bold – rather than trying to unpick who was responsible for some real or imagined slight so long ago that no one can remember it, why not propose a mediation looking to the future instead? Couple this with the threat that any party declining to participate might find him/herself deemed to be the problem, and huge progress can be made.
Perhaps your too-difficult pile includes an angry letter from an employee’s solicitor. Don’t worry. Remember that the degree of vicarious outrage and hyperbole in a lawyer’s letter is often in inverse proportion to the strength of his/her case. Angry letter-writing is not strictly an assessed part of formal legal qualification but it creeps up on you regardless, like dry rot. One day you realise that you have sent all your holiday postcards “without prejudice”, and then it’s too late. Respond calmly and the temperature will drop.
Or maybe you are trying gamely to ignore the need to raise a performance issue, knowing that allegations of discrimination or bullying will surely ensue, closely followed by the resignation of the highly-valued line manager and a summons for you to see the MD, “and bring your coat and bag”. Make this the year when you strap on your protective copy of the Acas Guide to Difficult Conversations and go into bat for your company, confident that you are doing the right thing and are not afraid to prove it.
Think how much weight you will take off your mind, how much straighter you will stand and how much less you will drink and smoke with these things dealt with – really, who needs the gym?