Medical Documentation – Let’s get it right!

 

Colin Finlay

“There is no better feeling than knowing what you do matters.” – Colin Finlay

An employee comes forward and tells their manager that they have a note from a medical professional…

In my experience this is how what should be a simple conversation often turns into an emotionally heightened state of confusion. Let me illustrate how this happens.

  • Medical professionals typically write a medical certificate that illustrates what solution they believe is in the best interest of their patient’s physical or mental health. For example: “Unable to work from [date] to [date].”
  • Employees often come forward with the impression that whatever the doctor has written must be adhered to, while at the same time and understandably so, prefer not to disclose details related to what was written on the paper supplied by the medical professional.
  • Managers at times are left in a state of ambiguity, uncertain of what to do with the information the medical professional has provided on the documentation, and at times with good reason question the validity of what was written.

Countless times I have seen this scenario unfold not because the employee is trying to manipulate a system that is designed to help people get back to work and not because a manager isn’t sure what to do with the information that was provided on the medical certificate. The reason for all the confusion is most often because the wrong information is being provided by medical professionals.

In today’s world very little privacy is left for people, but when it comes to medical information we can count our lucky stars that under most normal circumstances this information has legally been protected. In most circumstances a person is not required to disclose a medical diagnosis to anyone unless they decide they want to. The reality in the context of “accommodations in the workplace” is that people shouldn’t have to. Employers simply don’t need this information to assist someone in the workplace or through a return to work plan.

It’s also my experience that most medical professionals don’t seem to understand what information they can provide. So in light of not understanding what information they can share, they simply more often than not write down operational directions for employers explaining what the employer should do for the employee/patient. Unfortunately the reality is also that medical professionals don’t dictate the operational functionality of every business in existence, nor do they have the contextual understanding of every position to make such uninformed decisions.

Perhaps medical professionals focus so heavily on what not to write, they don’t get enough practice writing the information they can share?

I’m not sure what the root cause of this is, but I do know that this consistent lack of understanding between employees, employers and medical professionals is troublesome and causes increased levels of stress to everyone without need. It also robs time away from the medical professionals who could be helping someone else rather than re-writing a note that needs clarification because a patient is upset in their office. It’s frustrating for everyone.

In the interest of helping everyone understand how we can all help each other allow me to clarify some differences between a diagnosis, a restriction and a solution for the general purposes of medical documentation for employment purposes:

  • Diagnosis – This is the actual medical condition that the employee/patient has been found to be facing. Examples may include the following:
    • Broken leg
    • Depression
    • The flu
  • Restriction – This is a limitation related to the diagnosis that may prevent an employee/patient from functioning at full capacity both in and out of work. Examples may include:
    • Must keep leg elevated when seated. Unable to stand for periods greater than 20 minutes without sitting for 1 hour.
    • Must not work in isolation for more than 2 hours at any given time. Should be allowed 3 periods of at least 15 minutes of natural light within an 8 hour period.
    • Must have bed rest for extended periods through the day for the next 5 days.
  • Solution – This is an idea that should be discussed between the employer and employee to overcome the restrictions that have been put in place by a medical professional. It should take into account both the medical restrictions of the employee/patient and the operational requirements of the position(s) in the employer’s organization. Some solutions may include:
    • Unable to come to work or the employer could provide a leg rest for the employee when they are seated and ensure they do not stand for periods more than 20 minutes in length without being able to sit for 1 hour in between these periods.
    • Unable to come to work or the employer may situate an employee in an office space to ensure the employee/patient is not left in isolation. During the employee’s coffee and lunch breaks they should also make an effort to go outside in order to get periods of natural light that are needed.
    • Unable to come to work or … well sometimes it might just be best to not come to work.

So what should a medical professional include on the medical certificate? The answer is restrictions and only the restrictions.

A medical professional should not be sharing the diagnosis of their patient. This information is protected through legislation in most areas, but also, it just isn’t relevant information needed to work towards a plan to help a person stay or return to work.

Nor should a medical professional write what their opinion of what a potential solution might be. While they may have a good idea, they do not have the contextual understanding of the work environment, nor do they understand what possible accommodations may be available. It’s irresponsible to make such an uninformed decision and set the stage to contribute to higher levels of stress for everyone involved.

When employers and employees/patients understand what the restrictions are, this can lead to productive discussion to meet the needs of everyone. An employer may be able to assist someone continue with work and lessen the burden of time away without pay. An employee/patient may be able to remain in a social environment which has been shown in studies to enhance the healing process for most people. Meanwhile, medical professionals would have more time to assist people with more urgent needs than re-writing medical documentation until it is “deemed satisfactory to the employer.”

So next time you find yourself seeking the advice of a medical professional and asking for a medical certificate for your employer, remember to ask them to write down the specific restrictions related to the circumstances being faced.

Posted in Employee Relations, Human Resources, Wellness | Leave a comment

Don’t Recruit Like a Wallflower, Get Out and Dance!

I'm no Wallflower copyRecently I’ve been given the challenge to pause and consider my experience in recruitment and what I’ve come to realize is that in some ways this aspect of the Human Resources profession is not given the credit that illustrates the challenges of actually actively scouting and recruiting talent. This is something I think in today’s North American labour market will become a vital component to the success of organizations and impact society in ways beyond simple economic measures.

The concept of attracting talent is going to take a new turn. With a growing gap in the number of jobs available and the people who are qualified to fill them organizations are going to need to seek talent in ways that fall outside their traditional spectrum.

By traditional I mean this:

  • Analyze the job; what does the job do, and what KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) are required to perform the job successfully
  • Create and post an ad hoping that talent exists that may be interested in working for you
  • Collect resumes from those who are interested and begin screening them
  • Interview your short list and evaluate your top candidates via reference checks
  • Make and/or negotiate your offer to the most qualified candidate
  • Onboard the successful candidate into the organization

The challenge that we face with traditional means of recruitment is that we count on a hiring decision to be made based on the talent that is actively searching for work. In other words, we are waiting to be noticed like a wallflower at a Jr.High dance hoping that someone will want to dance with us. Is this really how we are going to find the top talent in today’s competitive market? I remember Jr.High and how competitive it was when everyone wanted to dance with “that person”. I also remember how those who sat on the bleachers waiting; often ended up listening to the music all night, not dancing.

While the traditional methods described above are certainly what I would consider a good hiring process, I don’t really consider waiting for something to fall in your lap, “recruiting”. Pushing some paperwork, placing some ads and asking a few questions don’t mean that you are going to end up with the top talent on your team or as Jim Collins might say in the famed book From Good to Great, “Getting the right people on the bus”. Imagine if the top sports teams out there waited to see which hockey, football or baseball talent were interested in playing for them; would some of these teams even be able to compete? No, they wouldn’t. Some of these organizations have to bend over backwards to attract the talent they have in order to just get in there and play the game.

Too many organizations out there have faltered over the years by relying on their marketing, without considering how they are going to close the sale. The difference between a good hiring process and recruitment comes down to sourcing top talent, and building lasting relationships. It’s selling the benefits of working with your organization so people can understand why they would be better off working for you than any of your competition. It’s about getting out there and talking to people about the culture that exists in your work environment so both of you can make a decision about the prospects that are before you. Most importantly, it’s about always being on the lookout for talent that may show itself at any time in any number of ways and then recognizing when to seize the opportunity to convince the talent to consider a career with your organization.

I recall a time when I was tasked with recruiting over 200 technically inclined people in a 7 month period of time. There was no way that simple job ads would suffice. I put on job fairs and attended career fairs but they just weren’t bringing in enough talent on their own, I had to do more. Determined to meet the targets that were in front of me I found myself in a state of mind that I describe as “always on”. It so happened that during a hot summer day in Winnipeg I decided to head out to a local convenience store to purchase some slushy drinks as a form of recognition for how hard my team was working. I brought trays of drinks up to the cashier who greeted me with the most amazing attitude I had ever encountered at the store.

He was kind, courteous, and articulated himself incredibly well. He tried upselling other products at the counter, by providing examples of complementary items that might go well with the drinks I was purchasing. Then he offered to help carry the trays to my car. That’s when I knew there was a person in front of me who valued the provision of an exceptional customer experience, which was a key aspect of some of the roles I was trying to fill. I asked the person, “Do you know anything about computers by chance?” He then indicated that he did and in fact was once a computer engineer in the country he originated from. That’s when I handed him my card and let him know about the positions we were hiring for. I learned in that instant that he also had a family and so I spoke to him about the benefits available through the organization and explaining all the ways this organization values family and the events that provide opportunity for families to share in our success. I then suggested that he consider learning more about us on our website and encouraged him to come in and run through our technical testing.

A few weeks later, I found myself in front of this same person, having made it through the technical testing, the preliminary screening and a phone interview; he was now sitting in front of me for a final interview. By the end of that interview I knew we had found some amazing talent that would perform well in our organization and who would also appreciate the opportunity we were about to give him.  Had I not recognized the talent at the time I was buying slushy drinks for my team, we may not have been so fortunate as to have him become part of it.

It’s easy to buy a book online based on the synopsis you read; maybe you test it out by reading a test chapter and read some of the reviews of others who have read it. In essence you are buying based on some very superficial information, but would you buy a car in the same way? Not likely. When making an investment of this magnitude a relationship is often formed. Most people will go to a multitude of venues sourcing the vehicles they are interested in, but also evaluating the trust they feel with the sales person, the integrity of the product and service available, and testing, thinking, and coming back. Sometimes the talent we run into behave the same way about organizations they may be interested in working for.

This is another advantage to “recruiting”. When you run across talent in the world you aren’t in a position where you have to make a decision right away like in my previous example. In some cases you may meet someone who sparks an interest, but perhaps only enough to make you curious. Opening a line of communication is what helps both parties decide if joining the organization is the right decision. Sometimes time is required to understand what the needs of the talent are that you are sourcing and likewise they may need time to decide if there is benefit to joining the organization. The late Stephen Covey might describe this as “finding that win/win,” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I recall another situation when someone was introduced to me by a friend at a restaurant late in the evening. The party I was with was just waiting to be seated, and she was just leaving. We had a few moments of conversation where I was able to learn that she did similar work to what I was recruiting for. I was compelled by my desire to meet our targets to ask if she knew anything about us, or had ever thought about applying with our organization. I learned she had not lived in the city for long and didn’t actually know much about us. Then the hostess informed us that we were about to be seated and we parted ways, but before she left I handed her a business card and suggested that should she like to learn more about us she should call or visit our website.

She was certainly someone who definitely did her research before making a decision. Over a number of phone calls I answered questions about our organization and the roles we were currently trying to fill. I spoke about the different benefits to working with us and the hiring process that would be required of her to ensure she met the criteria for any role she was interested in applying for. Then the call came where she indicated she thought a particular role was interesting, but because we couldn’t guarantee a particular set shift, she thought it would be best to stay where she was. I’ll admit, I was disappointed; but then I asked, “why” the set schedule was so important to her. She explained that her current schedule allowed her to work a second job occasionally.

The conversation took on a new life. After she let me know how much she would earn and how many hours she would work at both jobs I was able to determine that a role with us, would actually allow her to earn more on a full time basis with us, plus allow her some degree of work life balance.  A week later I learned that she had applied for an advertised full time role. Given my ongoing conversations with her, I recused myself from the process and had a colleague of mine interview her. If this person was going to work with us, I wanted her to know it was because she was qualified, because she deserved the role, not because she had spent time speaking to me. I later learned she would be joining us. In my heart I knew not only would this be good for us, but would also be good for her and as time went by she excelled in the organization; I have to admit, I like it when I’m right.

As Human Resource practitioners move forward; the practice of building relationships with people and understanding how to align the needs of our organizations and the needs of top talent in industry is going to be a vital component in recruitment. If you haven’t considered how vital it is to ensure your existing staff act as ambassadors to your organization then you may already be falling behind the competition. In a time when many organizations are looking for more efficient and cost saving ways of running the business, don’t lose sight of the value of the people that fall in the cross-hairs of doing so.

Do you think your business could benefit from a more active recruitment strategy?

 

 

Posted in Human Resources, Recruitment | Leave a comment

Exploiting Young Workers is Wrong

IMG_0505Recently I had the opportunity to read an article in The Winnipeg Free Press by Brianna Heinrichs called “Labour Laws are hampering our youth

Some of the points in the article were interesting and it is understandable that restricting the age of workers under the pretense of safety or the need to complete homework does not make sense. In the end however the solution about moderating wages dependent on the age of the worker seems to be an attempt to justify the exploitation of children in our labour force.

Moderating wages based on one’s age is wrong for a few reasons. A clear reason is that it would allow employers the ability to use child labour to offset its regular work force. If an employer can pay an employee less money to do the same work legally, they will. They will find ways to hire as many people they can within the constraint of the labour market to decrease their expenditures on salary and increase their profits. If they didn’t do that, then I can only imagine that some shareholders might be left wondering why the management are not acting in the best interest of the shareholder which simply means ensuring those same shareholders maximize the return on the investment they have made. That is the purpose of business above all else, profits.

Another reason is that moderating wages based on a worker’s age flies in the face of Human Resource best practices. Pay equity and parity cannot happen if you are paying people differently dependant on their age for the same job. You might find a youth is just as inexperienced in a role as an adult and in an age where seniors are being hired often into their “retirement careers” outside of areas where they have experience it doesn’t make sense that you would pay youth less.

Legality of such a system also presents challenges from the perspective of human rights. How can one argue that moderating one’s pay based on their age is not discrimination on the basis of age? What bone-fide occupational requirement would require that a youth be paid less for the same work someone older was doing? How is making the argument that because youth are living with their parents they don’t need a “living wage” not discrimination based on family status? The answer, it isn’t. It might be prudent to also point out that plenty of youth do not live with their parents.

Where the article did have merit however was in regards to discussion surrounding what age is appropriate for youth to enter the workforce. It is inconsistent to allow youth to perform work in a family business or in agriculture but then to say their friends of the same age could not assist as an employee because the work is deemed to be unsafe or that it prevents them from doing homework.

For instance in Manitoba the age of 12 is commonly considered to be the age where it becomes appropriate to allow youth to begin babysitting children younger than them without adults being present. One might wonder how it makes sense that legally a 12 year old youth can legally be put in charge of the wellbeing of children for an entire evening, yet they are considered too young to show a person to the table at a restaurant.

Are youth hampered in the job market today? Yes they are, but the solution is not a change in regulations that prevent the exploitation of children. Youth need to find ways to gain experience either in the type of work they are interested in, or if that isn’t possible, then gain experience in transferable skills that can be used to increase their marketability. How they do that may be left to their own imagination.

Do you think youth deserve a fair wage like anyone else?

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Are You an Ambassador of Change?

Ambassador of ChangeThis year has been an amazing year of wondrous adventure and challenges that have provided me with opportunities and learning potential.

Over the last year I have successfully adjusted to a new role with my employer, successfully assisted in multiple committees with varying levels of accountability and provided guidance to some outstanding up and coming human resource professionals in both a formal and informal capacity.

Through this last year I have also engaged in personal and professional development through night classes and training opportunities afforded to me through my employer. This has provided me with new and renewed insight into topics that have assisted me in continuing to provide advice to people at all levels in the organizations I am involved with. It has also helped me to continue to mentor individuals in various ways. I also learned how to landscape my yard and insulate and drywall my garage which also afforded me some quality time with my father and friends.

Through this past year I have also continued to be a husband and father. Unfortunately we lost one of the family pets. Benny was our pet rabbit who was approximately 14 years old when he passed. Our other rabbit, Jerry is quite lonely these days with the passing of his good friend.

My family was blessed however this year with the birth of our third daughter. She was born in late November and since has not only provided us with many sleepless nights but also many hours of joy as we watch her eyes soak in everything around her and smile whenever she sees her sisters.

I certainly would consider this past year a great success, however that is not to say it didn’t have challenges. How did I overcome those challenges? How do I manage the time that is needed to accomplish all this? How do I stay positive under the weight of all the other things that need to be managed through my day, months and year? Well for one, I accept change.

While I believe it is foolish to go through life without planning anything, I also recognize there are many circumstances in life which I have no control over. So when something happens that poses a challenge to my plans, I change the plan. Adapt to the environment that is consistently changing around me and look for solutions while recognizing that sometimes the solutions available are not ones that everyone will appreciate. That’s life.

Change is inevitable in every aspect of our lives no matter how prepared we think we are and sometimes we don’t even notice it until it is upon us, but I am not afraid of it. Embracing changes as they occur has allowed me to succeed in ways I never thought possible.

Over the last year my life has changed in many ways and with each one I found myself not asking, “How can I stop this?” but instead I asked, “What must I learn from or about this for me to continue down a path of success?”

I don’t know how everyone defines their success. I don’t’ know what everyone’s goals should be. I don’t believe that the way I have lived my life is the most promising way to success. But I do know that when I consciously made the choice to embrace the changes that I had no control over and learn how to meet my goals regardless of the challenges presented by the many twists and turns that life affords us all, I found success.

So to all those who are hanging their heads over circumstances that played out over the last year or are perhaps finding themselves worried about the changes they fear may be in store for them this coming year, stop. Stop thinking about it all for a moment, consider what circumstances are beyond your control and stop stressing about them, just accept it. Take for a moment the opportunity to breathe and consider how you would define your own personal success while considering that only your behaviours can achieve it, which may include asking for help. Plan your goals and objectives with the understanding that circumstances might change and be ready to accept and adapt with it.

Some might say that I embrace change as it occurs, however I believe I don’t just embrace it, I act as an ambassador of change. I encourage it. I once wrote, “The Nemesis of Improvement is Complacency”, and to battle complacency and drive success you’ll find that change is inevitable.

I wish you all a fantastic new year full of change!

How do you act as an Ambassador of Change?

Posted in Culture, Employee Relations, Human Resources, Management, Wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What do you do as an HR Professional to add value to your role?

IMG_8172When was the last time you retreated to a peaceful place in your mind and asked, “What do you do as an HR Professional to add value to your role?” Is this a question you have asked yourself recently? If not, it could be that you aren’t doing that anymore.

My peaceful place often reminds me of my many hikes through the Canadian Rockies. Every once in a while I stop and consider, “What is it that I am doing?” My personal goal is not to act as a conduit to relieve others of the means of filling out paperwork. I don’t intend on functioning as a specialized administrative personnel. My goal is to add value to the lives of most people I interact with in one way or another. In doing so, I also hope to add value to the organizations I serve as well as the environment I live in. So every once in a while I need to ask myself, “Is that what I am doing?” and “Am I going the right way?”

As an HR Professional this is something you truly need to consider in order to make sure you are providng the best possible service you can. It’s important that you take the time to truly understand an issue before reacting. Understand the path ahead of you before you trek out into the wilderness. You might be surprised how many people get trapped in the rut of daily routine without consideration of the direction they are going in. Consider this, when is the last time you read the strategic plan of your organization? Did you understand it? Did you understand how it applies to your role? What part do you play in its creation, or its implementation? Where are you on the map towards success?

In my opinion there are many ways we as HR Professionals are able to assist in furthering the goals of our organization, but that also means furthering the goals of its people. I’m not suggesting that we have to give in to the stereotype of the “bleeding heart” HR person who wants to help everyone no matter what the cost and certainly I am not suggesting that we give into the stereotype of the “cold hearted” HR person who is driven by process without regard for the human elements in life. I’m suggesting a balance between the two simply because with the incredible array of situations that presents themselves to us each day we need the flexibility to approach each one knowing we are doing what is right for our organization, the people we serve, and the environment we live in.

There are so many ways we have the opportunities to help shape the future, but it requires thought, not just action. It certainly works the other way around as well; it requires action and not just thought. We can’t walk around just staring at the map without taking in what’s going on around us or we will fall off a cliff somewhere!

With every hire we have the opportunity to ask if the right skill gaps are being addressed, and the right attitudes are being introduced. With every challenge we have the opportunity to illustrate what has been learned and what might be overcome. With every success we have the opportunity to celebrate in our success and then challenge ourselves with evaluating what we can do to make it even better. Sometimes these situations come naturally and with ease, and other times they require the courage to adhere to the values and principles of what you and those you serve stand for. Don’t be afraid of the mountain just because it’s a challenge, but make sure you are prepared for the challenges as best as you can be.

I for one am glad that I am not a “paper pushing pencil neck” as described in a previous blog of mine. I challenge you as HR Professionals to take stock of what you are doing. Ask yourself when the last time was you considered if you were truly doing what was in the best interest of all or are you just following tradition and routine because that’s how it has always been done? Are you doing anything that helps make things better, or are you just doing things to get them done? Are you heading in the right direction so you can meet with success, or are you just wandering around in the wilderness?

Ask yourselves, “What am I doing to provide value as an HR Professional?” and then share that with us in the comment section below.

Posted in Human Resources, Management | Leave a comment

The Nemesis of Improvement is Complacency

Hiding from change

If my years of experience have taught me anything it is that the nemesis of improvement is complacency. It’s that acceptance that whatever could be potentially improved won’t be because “that’s the way it has always been” or “that’s just how that person is” or “traditionally this is how it’s done here.” My opinion is that this line of thought is just another way of saying, “Even if it could be better, I am too darn lazy to even give thought to how it might be improved” or “I am so scared of change if you keep talking about it I will hide under my desk and just pretend I didn’t hear or see anything, then maybe it’ll just pass by.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people use the phrase, “well that is just how that person is.” My response, “well, that doesn’t make it right, so what are you going to do about it?” Yet still I am left amazed at how often people respond to that with something like, “I’m just going to leave it for now, and deal with it if it gets worse.”

So here’s an example. A manager once came to me complaining that a particular administrative assistant was consistently rude to them and apparently would even yell at them about their high workload. Of course I asked if there was perhaps a personal conflict at play but the manager responded by letting me know that no, this person was like this with many people. It didn’t take long to confirm this was indeed the case.

What’s interesting however is when I asked anyone if they had brought this to the attention of the manager this person reports to, the response I heard most was, “no, that’s the way this person has always been, so I just left it.” No wonder there hasn’t been any improvement, every single one of these people were either too lazy or too scared to say anything about it, even to the person’s manager! Can you imagine the impact of this behavior?

So I brought this to the attention of the manager, a discussion took place with the employee, and the behaviour began to change.

Another example relates more to practices in the workplace. For instance let’s explore a workplace where it is common for staff to have the ability to work from home for bone-fide reasons, but over time staff started taking this for granted and started saying they are working from home only to be discovered elsewhere. Well, that is wrong enough as it is considering they are lying about going home to leave work but what happens if it comes to the attention of management and the first response is, “well that’s just the way it’s been for a while now.”

Some time ago when I experienced something similar to this I couldn’t believe my ears! Again, no wonder there were other issues in the workplace. In these circumstances management weren’t even paying attention to the potential liability issues that might be raised, never mind the productivity of the staff. Complacency had kicked in and productivity suffered. Customer satisfaction was suffering. The performance of the organization was suffering. The credibility of the organization and its management team were on the line. Why? Because a group of people accepted that it was just the way it had always been done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not standing on a stool and declaring that you should never take into account the historical reasons for something to exist. To do so would be unwise, and frankly it would be a dis-service to gaining a true understanding of the challenge, which is needed before planning any sort of change. Remember Stephen Covey? – “Seek first to understand, before being understood.”

What I am suggesting however is this, if you catch yourself or anyone else ever telling you that something is the way it is because that’s the way it always has been, stop and think about it.

  • Think about if there is actually a reason for this, and does that reason still make sense today?
  • Stop and think about what else may have changed in the time since whatever it was started, and what effects may have implications to this.
  • Stop and think about what future direction this should go in and how to get there.  
  • Stop and really think hard about why it just might be important to put a stop to complacency and consider a plan that will help improve things for the organization, for society or for the environment.

My guess is, more often than not, you’ll find that something could be done better.

A final note and this is specifically to the HR Professionals out there. If we want to achieve better recognition for our profession, why are so many of us settling for the status quo? What can we do as professionals to increase our capacity in strategically aligning our work with the goals of the organization? What can we do as professionals to illustrate that success as well?

Please leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to reading them.

Posted in Culture, Employee Relations, Human Resources, Management | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Common Misconceptions Between CEOs and HR Professionals

This month I had the opportunity to write a guest blog for Kapta Systems, “Common Misconceptions Between CEOs and HR Professionals”.

Enjoy! http://www.kaptasystems.com/blog/entry/common-misconceptions-between-ceos-and-hr-professionals

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