There is one word above all others associated with HR. No, not that one! This word always seems to come up in conversations between HR and a manager when they dealing with a particularly difficult issue. You can imagine the scene, two professionals wrestling with a problem. They talk around the issue suggesting different ideas but without resolution and eventually the HR person says “well you know what you have to do?” At this point they both know that special word is coming. It’s like a moment of calm before the storm hits. HR delivers its default statement, “It’s all about what is reasonable.” Bang, it’s like a shot being fired. Suddenly the conversation has fallen off a cliff. Lines have been drawn, knuckles are white and if there is a balloon anywhere nearby it has most certainly, gone up.
The manager is thinking, did that jumped up twerp just call me unreasonable? Hopefully the HR person is familiar with non-verbal communication given their chosen profession and knows how to spot the signs. But even if they are rubbish at judging body language there is no doubt that they will have not failed to notice the atmosphere in this meeting has just bombed. All the conviviality and good nature have left the scene. Nobody can poker face this level of tension.
The HR person has now two options, back pedal like mad or drive on regardless. But in truth it’s not going to make any difference. The moment and the magic have gone. What was a conversation between two professionals trying to solve a problem has been replaced by a much grimmer situation with one professional being told what to do. Pushed around by HR. Again.
Reasonableness as a word is to manager/HR meetings, what garage flowers are to romance. An absolute passion killer. What’s more the use of reasonableness as a term is expanding, exploding, it’s everywhere. It used to come up in disciplinary hearings under the “the band of reasonable responses” but it’s now in disability decisions as part of “reasonable adjustments”, or when looking for documents consideration will be given to the “reasonableness of the search” or even in cases of health and safety consideration of a “reasonable belief of danger” or the reasonableness of your best endeavours. See, it is absolutely everywhere! It’s as if there is no other word to describe our expectations of how employers should behave. I do hope somebody at the CIPD has copyrighted reasonableness as a term and is coining it in right now!
So why the one word answer. Or to put it another way what’s so great about reasonable. I suppose it’s not a term you can argue with. We might think of ourselves as team players, or mavericks or even as just one of the crowd. But each of us want to think of ourselves as well as others think of us, as reasonable people. Rational, good people making sensible judgements as we go about our work. For me the key issue to the word reasonable is that whatever decision you’re facing you approach the issue with an open mind. Seems simple, but you need to make sure you don’t already know the outcome before you had the meeting. So when exploring a new issue approach the question you are being asked in a genuine manner.
For example, if it a disciplinary hearing that is the crux of the issue. Will you be able to show others the thinking you went through that lead to your reasoned and reasonable decision to terminate the employee’s employment. He knew what he was doing, there were warnings on file, he had received training, in previous examples others had been exited for similar issues and therefore having considered all you terminated the employment. Or in another universe will your actions contradict the thinking that you are presenting. Did you already know that you were going to fire Dave before he came in the room? The evidence was a bit iffy, did he really know why he was in the room, and did he think he was going to get fired? Well if he did not do this he did do something. Bound to have. A wrong’un and no mistake.
Reasonableness. Dreadful word, perhaps. But a world without reason now that really would be unreasonable.