I work for a company that has employees under a US umbrella org with a “parent” company overseas. Many decisions are influenced by the parent company, sometimes without regard for US customs/practices. The most recent is a trend of “just fire them,” “we can replace them,” or “if they don’t like the policy, they can quit” because the parent company has thousands of employees, lots of redundancy in coverage while US org is still small.
I fully understand at-will employment, but this is not resting well with my soul. I’m tasked with refining the culture but hitting hard stops. How can I make the decision-makers understand the harm this is causing to my reputation externally and even more so internally?
You don’t mention where the parent company is located, but that will make a huge difference to the answer, because the answer lies in the magic world of “culture.”
People generally assume that how they do things is the “right way” and everything else is the “weird way.” While there are definitely things that are always right and always wrong, most of the day-to-day is just culture. Even employment laws aren’t universal because they are based on culture.
So, it’s not just a matter of they have more people so they can afford to have people quit. It’s that they are coming at this with a different culture. And perhaps that behavior is acceptable in their culture. (Although it is probably just as obnoxious, but perhaps people defer more to authority in their country than we do in the US.)
So what do you do?
You make a choice. You’ve been hired to transform the culture in the US offices. You need to ask what that means. You probably think it means, “Make this a better place to work,” while the head office thinks, “Make this place get in line with HQ.”
And you can either fight this battle, or you can take their advice and find a new job and leave. Now, I know that this is not an easy thing to do. HR jobs are overwhelmed with applicants. But if you want to take the find a new job and leave approach then you put your head down, don’t make waves, and search for a new job.
But, if you want to do the job they should have hired you for you can start doing it by refusing to say, “If you don’t like the policy, you can quit.”
When someone from corporate pulls that line on you, you’ll need to respond, “Actually, we’ll need to find a solution that complies with US law and best practices.”
When they push back, have some data on the cost of turnover. It’s expensive. More expensive than they probably think.
Keep pushing back until they either cave or threaten to fire you. If you don’t want to be fired and what they are asking is not illegal, then you can either be fired or comply. But push back every time.
Become an advocate for your employees. Present information about best practices in the US. Explain how you have to account for different cultures when you run a business in more than one country. Explain until you are blue in the face.
They may come around. They have to if they want to be successful in a new country. That’s not to say they won’t try to implement their ways in the US, just the way US companies open offices in other countries and then can’t understand why people go on vacation and don’t check their email.
It takes some adjustment. And your job is to help everyone adjust.
That isn’t to say that the US office isn’t obligated to comply with what the corporate office wants on most things. It’s part of working for a company. But since ou are supposed to be fixing the culture, fix it. Or work on getting out.