No Image Available

John Pope

Woolhampton Management Services


Read more about John Pope

The anti-personnel department


Those with a glancing interest in Afghanistan will know of the anti-personnel device which, in many tragic cases, injures and maims but does not kill outright. The enemy knows well that an injured soldier hampers their enemies more than a dead one and it is more damaging to morale.

Well, I came across the Anti-Personnel Department the other day, I have heard, and been affected by the victim’s cries of distress.

The victim has worked for the same government organisation for over 20 years, is very well thought of, and has a stack of annual performance reports that are so good that I am surprised that she has not framed them.

She has had several spells of illness over the last four years which involved a series of operations and required a lengthy stay in hospital, during which her line manager and her colleagues have been very supportive. And she has worked through for much of that time. She is currently recovering from another operation and is physically unable to do her normal job.

She was upset to get a phone call from her manager; he had just been told by Personnel that her sick pay would stop that day as she had reached the limit. She had had no warning of that and rang personnel to get the explanation, gave her name and was told “Give us your staff number – we don’t use names!” No explanation on why she had not been told earlier so that she could re-arrange her meagre finances – no suggestion of what she might claim by way of incapacity benefit.

Of course employers need clear rules for entitlement to benefits such as sick pay and compassionate leave, and staff need to know those rules. There should also be guidelines for deciding ‘special cases’.  But what does that episode tell us about the HR there. It seems that:

–    people are seen as numbers, not names
–    it is up to the staff to know the rules covering their entitlements, and look after their interests themselves.

Do we really want staff to work out how many more days of sick they can afford to take?  I do not know that organisation well; I do not think they are bad employers but the way in which Personnel works inevitably colours the attitude of staff.

That approach seems to me to be an encouragement for staff to ‘work the system’ to, and beyond, its limit. Long years ago when HR was called Industrial Relations the Minister of Labour – Barbara Castle – produced a White Paper ‘In place of strife’. Poor human relations at a personal level in business, corrupts the relationship between employer and employee and makes fertile ground for strife.
Who was it who asked “Why do people who don’t like people go into HR?”

John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of businesses, managers and management teams for most of his career. To know more about John’s work and services please visit the website:  His book ‘Winning Consultancy Business’ was published in 2009 and is available through his website.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

2 Responses

  1. Anti-Personnel Department

    All Government Departments were given an ultimatum in the autumn of 2010 from the Cabinet Office to reduce employee absence levels by a further 10% by 31/12/2010. This coupled with the public sector cuts and additional commitments to reduce the levels of HR employees to the no. of employees maybe a potential reason for “Why do people who don’t like people go into HR?”

    The employer, a Government Department, may have;-

    1. an HR unit that is outsourced or shared with another Dept.;

    2. failed to inform employees of changes to their "Management Absence" policies and procedures;

    3. adopted different methods of calculating absence rates e.g. Bradford factor;

    4. managers that are unaware of absence policies and associated procedures;

    5. "empowered" employees to "know the rules covering their entitlements";

    6. failed to "empower" employees to look after their interests themselves" from their sick bed.

    It may not be a simple task for an employee to work out their absence level without ready access to the “managing absence” formula(s) used to calculate their absences or various trigger points.


  2. HR

    Why did she not prepare herself earlier?  If she has had a lengthy spell of sickness and absence why has she not been liaising with the HR department herself – it works both ways.

No Image Available
John Pope


Read more from John Pope

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.