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Dear Workforce Our Open-Plan Workplace Fosters Violations of Confidentiality. How Do We Persuade Management to Take Action?

I am in a quandary. I recently joined a Fortune100 financial services company and believe our HR processes are a mess. For instance, HR employees (not in management) share cubicles with some of the employees they support. As a result, confidential conversations often take place within earshot of co-workers. I feel like we in HR are being forced to violate confidentiality, but management seems deaf to the problem. Getting conference rooms is difficult—they are usually booked, and charged back to the department. What advice do you have for how I can continue to provide support to employees and managers while also respecting their privacy?
March 16, 2010
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Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, HR Services and Administration, Corporate Culture, Dear Workforce, Legal
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Dear Trouble Brewing:
It's not terribly surprising that financial services companies are being forced to have employees share office space. However, it is surprising to hear that a Fortune 100 company is disregarding employee confidentiality. (That's a lawsuit waiting to happen and would cost far more than allocating space for confidential HR-related meetings.) Assuming the situation is not going to change, here are some actions you may want to consider:
• The senior HR director has to make executive management aware of the situation and the potential outcomes and offer a solution. If the people in the C-suite don't care, then that speaks volumes about their concern for HR. It also says something about the abilities and credibility of your senior HR person.
• Certainly the company's HR managers, who may have enclosed offices, can offer their spaces for confidential meetings. That would seem the easiest solution. They could use the time to "manage by walking around."
• Try scheduling meetings before or after work hours. There should be available meeting space at those times. Of course, nonexempt employees would have to be compensated for that time, but that may be less expensive than the chargeback for a meeting room.
A final option may be to meet off-site. I used to talk privately to my employees on what I called "walk and talks." We'd simply go for a walk, and I'd use the time to talk about their goals, future and development options. But the time could be spent discussing HR issues too. By the way, my employees really liked the walk and talks because it was their time to share whatever was on their minds with the boss. I just provided them with the opportunity.
Bottom line: There are ways to handle the situation. Some should be official policies; others can be makeshift.
SOURCE: Alan Landers, FirstStepTalent Management, Chula Vista, California, February 21, 2010
LEARN MORE: HR directors have enough looming workforce worries without wrestling with confidentiality violations.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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