Halloween | How HR can avoid these common office horrors

How HR can avoid these common office horrors

Halloween is a time to indulge in the macabre. But the macabre isn’t limited to scary films, carved pumpkins and inventive costumes.

The modern office can be its own ‘little shop of horrors’. HR is the backbone – the skeleton, if you will – of the workplace. From contracts to payroll, onboarding to dress codes, it oversees the functioning of whole companies big and small. But there are skeletons in every closet. The necessity of HR means that when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong.

Rita Trehan is the founder of DARE, a global transformation consultancy delivering game-changing corporate capacity building and HR change. DARE's diagnostic tools are helping companies build more inclusive cultures to meet the diverse needs of employees from all backgrounds in light of the Great Resignation.

Below, Rita shares some of the biggest issues sure to cause a fright for many an HR leader, and how to avoid these situations in your own workplace:

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One of the responsibilities of HR is to communicate employees’ holiday entitlements. Is there a contractually set number of days, or are they accrued? Can they be carried over from one year to the next? These are vital questions. According to the Mayo Clinic, a lack of time off work can cause fatigue, insomnia and in the long run even heart disease. This is essentially a problem of work-life imbalance. When 44% of UK employees report feeling burnt out and 60% feel their boss discourages time off, you’ve got a recipe not just for misery but unproductiveness. HR beware, then. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


Few things are as important to a business as onboarding. Get it right, and the business acquires a fully informed asset to company culture and values. Get it wrong, and you may as well open the door for Michael Myers or invite Jigsaw to your next escape game social. Perhaps I exaggerate. But in my time as an HR transformation consultant, I’ve heard many stories about the perils of poor onboarding: leaving prospective employees alone in a room with a 49-page slideshow; prepping green-eared graduates for the wrong role; skipping hallotraining in content management systems, etc.

There are legitimate disagreements about the best onboarding practices. Either way, Gallup research shows that employees are twice as likely to stay in their role if they think their onboarding was ‘exceptional’. In other words, a bad onboarding experience could cut your employee retention rate in half. That’s a costly mistake when you consider that the average UK cost of hiring a new employee is £3,000. HR should be in doubt that good onboarding practices are non-negotiable.

Health and safety

In large organisations HR and health and safety may form separate teams. But they are related. A high turnover rate, for example, could indicate stressful working conditions. The health and safety team will look at what’s going wrong. The HR team will develop employee initiatives – such as more flexible working or holiday arrangements and more frequent feedback – to fix things. From harsh lighting (a well known cause of migraines) to broken lifts, hazards to physical and mental wellbeing can’t be blamed on poltergeists. So who you gonna call? Forget ghostbusters. HR leaders should ensure, as a minimum, that they provide solid health, safety and hygiene training (especially in the food and healthcare industries), periodic risk assessments, mindful sick leave provisions, and Employers’ Liability Insurance. Hill House or the Overlook Hotel are no models for the modern office.

Witch way?

Clearly, without a good HR department, we should all be afraid, very afraid… Some mistakes are massive red flags and should form no part of the HR playbook.

Fortunately, these are rare. Successful businesses understand that none of us is perfect. Perfection is the enemy of progress: a series of small but meaningful improvements. In the context of the workplace, many of those improvements are on the shoulders of HR departments, which have the power to shape a whole company’s standing in the eyes of employees past, present and future. Responsible, evidence-lead HR transformation can turn an ailing business into a game-changing magnet for talent, diversity and innovation. The alternative is a dead workplace culture, suspect: Colonel Mustard, wrench, the dining room.

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