Brenda Reedy, SHRM-SCP, discusses why being brutally honest with employees, especially when they’re trying to overcome a difficult personal situation, is critical to succeeding as an effective HR professional. Reedy, human resources manager at the Wyoming Supreme Court in Cheyenne, joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.
In this episode of HR Storytellers, Brenda Reedy, SHRM-SCP, discusses why being brutally honest with employees, especially when they’re trying to overcome a difficult personal situation, is critical to succeeding as an effective HR professional.
Reedy, human resources manager at the Wyoming Supreme Court in Cheyenne, joins host Tony Lee to share her HR story.
HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR.
Brenda Reedy: So I had one supervisor, you know, she was getting ready to have a difficult, um, performance conversation with one of her employees and she said, “Well, I'm gonna talk about this and I'm gonna talk about that. And, you know, she kind of had this plan laid out and I said, “Well, when are you gonna tell her that she's not performing the job duties to your expectations?” And the supervisor stopped and she goes, “Am I supposed to say that?”
Speaker 1: HR Storytellers is sponsored by BambooHR. BambooHR is easy to use HR software that helps your employees know they can count on you, whether it's through on-time, every time payroll or asking for unflinchingly authentic feedback.
Tony Lee: Welcome to the HR Storyteller Podcast series from the Society for Human Resource Management. I'm your host, Tony Lee, head of content here at SHRM. Thank you for joining us. Our HR Storyteller podcast feature practitioners and thought leaders in human resources, sharing stories about why they love HR, what motivates them, and what's moved them in their careers. Today, we are joined by Brenda Reedy. She's the HR manager at the Wyoming Supreme Court in Cheyenne. Brenda, welcome.
Brenda Reedy: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
Tony Lee: You have an interesting story you'd like to share.
Brenda Reedy: Well, I probably have a lot of interesting stories, so I'm not quite sure which one you'd like me to share.
Tony Lee: Whatever motivates you.
Brenda Reedy: Whatever motivates me. Well, I guess as I was thinking about this interview today, I was thinking about what is one lesson that I've learned over the years? For me in HR, it's important to just be straightforward and honest as you can with people. My stories today kind of relate to those situations. I had one employee who was going through a really tough medical condition. She had been a really good employee in her role, but then had this unexpected medical condition that just... She had this medical condition that she was just struggling with in her work performance. We went down the typical path of HR. We started with FMLA, met the serious health condition requirement.
We exhausted her intermittent leave. At the end of the intermittent leave, we transitioned to that ADA accommodation process. As we were talking with her through that interactive process, her question to me was, "Am I going to lose my job?" My answer to her was, "Where we're at right now in the process is working on reasonable accommodations, but the expectation is that you will be able to perform these essential functions of your job. We're going to work with you. We're going to do our best. As we go through this process, I'll keep you informed, you keep me informed. But at the end of the day, if it gets to the point where you cannot perform the functions of the job, you could lose your job."
I felt it was important for her to know the situation she was in. I think sometimes your gut reaction is to tell someone in that situation, "Oh no, that'll never happen." And then when it does happen, they think you lied to them. I was pretty straightforward with her, even though it was a difficult situation. I wanted to be honest with her about where she was at. Eventually, after lots of work performance improvement plans, and a progressive discipline process, we did end up having to dismiss her. Two months after she was dismissed, she called me to thank me. She thanked me for, one, being honest with her, and two, because she didn't realize really how bad she was until she got out of the situation.
She was able then to really focus her energies on her health and her recovery and not trying to hold onto a job that she just couldn't perform anymore. She thanked me for that. She said, "You treated me with dignity and respect." That just stuck with me. And then about a year later, she called me back to say that she was well on the way to recovery. She was starting back to work part-time. And then about a year after that, she let me know that she was back to work full-time and that she was back into the job that she was so passionate about originally before this medical condition sidelined her.
I don't know, it was very gratifying to know that even though that was a difficult situation and she was dismissed from employment, that she was still willing to call and thank me for how that happened and how I treated her.
Tony Lee: That must make you feel good despite the situation.
Brenda Reedy: Right.
Tony Lee: HR spends a lot of its time dealing with difficult conversations. How do you get good at that? I mean, some people just can't face it.
Brenda Reedy: Yes. I am one that has always tried to shy away from conflict. It gets you that gut feeling. But I think to myself, if I were in this situation, how would I want someone to talk to me? I try to make it as painless, I guess, as possible. I try to make sure the person's comfortable. I want to understand where they're at and know what I need to do certainly to be compliant with federal law and all those things. I just think about what I need to say and put on that empathy hat and try to say it in a way where they feel like they are heard, but that they understand their situation.
Tony Lee: One of the great challenges for HR are line managers who seem to have difficulty with difficult conversations. Any tips on how to train them better or to train HR to train them better?
Brenda Reedy: Oh goodness! Well, I'm kind of working through that right now as far as helping my supervisors have those conversations. I have an open door type policy. They can call me anytime and just talk through. I actually do role playing with them. I had one supervisor, she was getting ready to have a difficult performance conversation with one of her employees. She said, "Well, I'm going to talk about this and I'm going to talk about that." She had this plan laid out, and I said, "Well, when are you going to tell her that she's not performing the job duties to your expectations?" The supervisor stopped and she goes, "Am I supposed to say that?"
I said yes. I said, "And you don't have to say it in a mean way. You just have to let them know that these are my expectations and here's what you've done and where there's a gap." I said, "It doesn't have to be confrontational. It doesn't have to be mean. It can be very straightforward. Here's where we're at today, here's our gap, here's where we want to go in the future, and right now you have some work to do to get where you need to be." That supervisor did go through her conversation. I always like to debrief with them afterwards too.
I think supervisors need that sometimes where they can just call and say, "Okay, I think I messed this up, or I think this went well," or any other kind of reaction in between. She called afterwards and I asked her how it went and she said, "It went really well. The employee understood when I told her that she was not currently where we needed her to be." I said, "Good." Actually the employee ended up moving on shortly after that, because I think the employee realized it just wasn't a good fit.
Tony Lee: I'm curious, as an HR person, you have difficult conversations with employees. You have difficult conversations with line managers about what to do. What do you do when you have to have a tough conversation with someone in senior management?
Brenda Reedy: That is a little more challenging sometimes. I like to put a lot of thought into where would senior management be coming from? I recognize that their time is limited, so I try to make sure that's scheduled out. I go in with an agenda to say, "Here's the things that I am seeing, here's where we're at," and listen to where they want us to go.
Tony Lee: The Wyoming Supreme Court, what a cool place to work. What's that like as an HR person?
Brenda Reedy: It's very fluid. I was kind of surprised. I've been in state government for more than 20 years. The majority of my time, I did work on the executive branch side in one of the law enforcement organizations. I've switched over to the judicial branch of government. In the executive branch, it was very policy driven, very clear about what we needed to do, but the judicial side was a little more fluid. They're judges that manage their courts. The needs for each court might vary, so having strict policies and procedures may not really work for the variety of needs that are out there. It's been a shift for me to go from a very rule driven, policy driven process to be a little more gray and fluid around what we need to do.
That's actually been fun and exciting to just put on a new hat and try something new. It's been really good getting to know the judges and the justices. It's good to know that HR is HR. Really no matter who you're doing HR for, the needs are somewhat similar. They need people. They need people who are going to do the job. They need to have conversations with their employees and make sure that we're providing equal access to justice. It's a big lofty goal, and yet the needs are still kind of the same. It's been a fun journey. It's been definitely challenging trying to get a lot of different people who want to do things their own way.
Moving in the same direction has been a challenge, but it's been a good challenge. It's really made me use all my tools in my toolbox over all these 20 years of employment in HR. It's been good.
Tony Lee: Oh, that's wonderful. All right. I'm very curious, being in the public sector, a lot is going on from post-pandemic to talent shortages, inflation impacting compensation, all sorts of things. The private companies and even public companies are moving pretty fast to try and address this stuff. The public sector is not known for moving fast on anything. How do you deal with that? I mean, what do you try and do?
Brenda Reedy: Well, it is a definite challenge and we're experiencing more turnover than we ever have before. We had started experiencing turnover before the pandemic, but obviously that has accelerated. The benefits that public sector typically offer are not the kinds of benefits that people entering the workforce are really looking for, that steady job that you're going to go to everyday. At the end of that, you're going to get a retirement plan and be set up. You'll take a little bit less in monthly pay because you know you're going to get this nice retirement plan at the end of that employment.
The younger generations, that's really not in the cards for them because they're not planning on staying in a job for 20 or 30 years. A retirement is way down the road for them. It's really hard when you don't have that flexibility to offer a lot of different benefits because your benefits are on the taxpayers' dime. You have to be really thoughtful about what you offer your employees and what you don't, because you are spending taxpayer dollars to do that. It does make it very challenging. Again, it is a very rule driven process in some ways to change how that happens. Sometimes you have to get a law changed that's in state statute.
I mean, it can take time to adjust and move that forward. We're trying to be as creative as we can with the budget dollars that we have, being mindful of who we have to be accountable to, which is that taxpayer. It's a little bit challenging and slow. We don't really have the opportunity to offer like, "Hey, we'll get you this gift card, or, oh, if you stay for a year, we'll give you a bonus." We don't have those kinds of flexibility. How can we package total compensation? Because I mean, the state pays 18% into my retirement plan. That's pretty good, I think.
How do you package that total compensation when right now people just want money in their pocket? They don't want money for the future. It is challenging and it is hard to move that needle, so to speak.
Tony Lee: Is there something that you're doing that seems to be working? I mean, I know it can be as simple as Blue Jean Fridays or preferred parking spot. I mean, is there something you can get creative with?
Brenda Reedy: We can get creative with those things. We get creative a lot with leave time and work-life balance. Work-life balance is definitely one thing that we can drive. Obviously the pandemic has taught a lot of employers that you can do work remotely for most positions, not all, because we do have clerks that need to be in our courtrooms meeting with the public. But for those that could do remote work, we're looking at hybrid ways of doing things and how you can have that work-life balance. You can come in and work Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00, have holidays off and not have to worry about work 24/7.
Tony Lee: Is there a do well by doing good philosophy as well? You're working to help the common good. Does that appeal to a certain group of people?
Brenda Reedy: It does appeal to a certain group of people. I mean, when you talk about our goal is equal justice for all, I mean, that's a super lofty goal. Understanding that the rule of law is what makes our country great. Ensuring that we have a strong, robust judicial branch that stands up for that rule of law is really important. It is a big driver for a lot of people that come into this work to be a part of that bigger picture and something bigger than yourself.
Tony Lee: Yeah, that's great. Caused the effect.
Brenda Reedy: Yes.
Tony Lee: Can you think of an example of when maybe you caused the effect?
Brenda Reedy: Well, besides my first story, where I might tear up a little, but recently I became responsible for a business that I had not intended to be responsible for. My brother owned a business and he passed away very unexpectedly at the end of last year. I was his executor and ended up being responsible for his business. It was a shock for the 12 employees that he had at his business. A few days after the funeral, I called a meeting with all of the employees and I let them know that I was going to have to close the business without my brother there. He was the owner. There was just no way I could run his business. I let them know that. We had a tearful meeting.
They got to share stories about their memories with him, because he had been in business for 25 years. Some of the employees had been with him for 15 or more years. They got to share a lot of memories about working with him. And then there were two employees that I worked with directly after that because they didn't know what to do. They were losing their job. It was right before the holidays, and they weren't really sure what was going to happen. One of them I sat down and we talked about her work. She's like, "Well, I just don't know what else to do. I don't know what kind of job I can get."
I said, "Well, let's talk through your skills that you've learned in this job. Let's talk about the fact that you know the legal field, that you've worked in accounting. You've done some case management." We talked through all of the skills that she had, she hadn't really thought about. And then we talked through what kind of jobs might be within those skills. She'd never thought about any of these other kind of jobs before. She just started putting a resume out there and she got hired fairly quickly. I think she was on unemployment for two weeks, and she started a job in human resources actually. She's now an emerging professional.
Tony Lee: Oh, isn't that wonderful?
Brenda Reedy: It's new. Something positive came out of something so tragic. The other employee, she was kind of lost too. We really talked. She was a very close relative to my brother. I was very familiar with her. I said, "Well, you've always had this passion for medicine. She worked on the files that dealt with medical problems and why they had come to my brother's practice. I said, "You've always been passionate about medicine, and they need nurses. We need nurses so badly. You should see about going back and getting your nursing degree." She did. She met with the local community college and she just started her first class.
Tony Lee: Wonderful story. Thank you so much. Thanks to Brenda Reedy for sharing some great stories with us. You can hear all of our HR Storyteller Podcast by visiting our website at shrm.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.
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