Insight article

Lies, Lawsuits, and Performance Reviews: A Candid Q&A with Corporate HR Manager, Janet Godbey

You’ll want to bookmark this article — trust me.

Last week I had a coffee meeting in Oakbrook with a person I respect very much, Janet Godbey. Janet has been a human resources manager with Newell-Rubbermaid for the last several years, and throughout her career she’s dealt with every kind of crazy employee issue imaginable. One of the things I love most about Janet is that she’s always willing to give you a straight and honest answer. She hates fluff and she never shies away from even the most sensitive or difficult HR issues. While enjoying our lattes, I went out on a limb and asked Janet if she would be willing to put her experience to work answering some of our clients’ toughest HR questions… to my delight she accepted!

All of the questions you’re about to read describe problems currently being faced by my clients and friends. Nothing is made-up or embellished.

Is it OK to lie about my salary on a job application?

“I work for a government-funded organization and am applying for a job with a public company. The HR representative will soon ask me about my current compensation to base their offer off that number. I know that I am severely underpaid, and I realize that it is unrealistic to expect a 30% raise. What should I do? Do I embellish my current comp? And if I do, what are the chances of HR deportment actually looking into it?”

Janet: People often confuse a job interview with a deposition under oath. You can handle the interview and a job application as suites you. You are selling your services to the employer and it’s up to you how to play up or down the details of your past employment. It’s not even a question of telling the truth or lying, but more of a decision about how much you want to share. It is perfectly fine to talk about your former/current compensation as a ballpark figure, or not give a number at all. It is up to you to make your interviewer comfortable with this approach by clearly communicating your situation in a non-defensive manner. If asked to disclose your most recent salary you can say: “I work for a not-for-profit agency and therefore my salary is basically irrelevant, since my employer is unable to provide a fair compensation for my role. However, I did some research and I am hoping this move would get me closer to X amount”. This may be your best bet to get what you deserve. If you disclose your exact salary they are not likely to to give you a 30% increase and if you lie, there is always a small chance that prospective employer may check and find out, and such a defamation of character may take you out of the running.

I was laid off after 8 weeks at a new job. Should I sue?

“My role was eliminated after just 8 weeks on the job. I have been with my previous employer for 10 years and I am very disappointed by the negligence of being pulled out of a job and then laid off so quickly with only 2 weeks of severance. Is it realistic for me to negotiate in this situation? Do I need to get an attorney or should I contact the employer myself? What should be my strategy?”

Janet: I believe in this case the employer would likely be willing to settle this matter without attorneys involved if given the opportunity. Since hiring a lawyer will incur additional costs, it makes sense to at least try the simpler route first.

Take your best shot by writing a concise letter that documents all the key aspects of your case with dates of each conversation or event. Start by researching your state laws online to highlight only relevant facts of the matter. In order to maximize credibility, keep personal opinions and emotions out of your letter and carefully check for grammar and spelling errors. Make sure it clearly states what you are looking to achieve as well as a response deadline. Send it via email to their HR manager; copy your immediate supervisor and a level above them.

Can I make my new manager of three months do my performance review instead of my old boss who hates me?

“After a turbulent relationship with my manager I transferred into a new business unit within the same company. I’ve been reporting to my new manager for the last three months of the year and I feel a lot better. However the annual review is approaching and since I spent nine months (the majority of the year) with my former boss, he is insisting on doing my review. My new boss seems happy with having one less task on his plate. What can I do?”

Janet: Before I answer this question I would like to note that your annual review isn’t necessarily going to ruin your career with your organization and will NEVER be shared with prospective employers as you move on. It may affect your annual increase or chances of immediate promotion. Keep in mind that most current one is always most important especially after drastically changing professional focus. Since you just transferred between two business units chances are your next promotion will likely be after your next annual review. Therefore it may not be worth losing sleep over this matter.

With this said, here is what can be done to mitigate the situation. While you cannot force your new boss to participate, you can meet with your HR Manager and explain the situation. We realize how subjective reviews are and we want to avoid seeing them used as a weapon to “punish” someone for their professional differences. Therefore, we are likely to take you up on the offer to include your counter self-assessment with your former supervisor’s review. This will leave two opinions on record and if you make your input factual (supported by documents), it might make a difference if management decides to look over your file for a future promotion.

My new boss is telling me to sink or swim. What should I do?

“Due to the company restructuring I transferred to a new team with quite a learning curve and now feel like I’m not getting proper support from my new manager. I repeatedly approach him for help and guidance, but I cannot seem to make any progress. My peers are too busy to tutor me and my boss insists that I learn to think for myself. He says that he promotes a “sink or swim” culture on his team, which is why he selects the best and the brightest, so if I don’t get it, I am in the wrong place. He often changes his expectations after the results have been already delivered and simply ignores my emails with attempts to clarify his vision. Should I approach HR? What should I expect them to do for me? Will HR actually keep our conversation confidential?”

Janet: I will address the last part first because its one of the most common misconceptions about HR. We are not your on-site attorney or psychologist. Much like your own team, we are hired by the company to serve a purpose. One of the many HR functions is to effectively solve internal issues while retaining valuable talent in conjunction with employment laws and regulations. We do this while keeping the company’s best interest in mind, therefore when you come to us confidentiality is relative. You can count on the fact that HR manager won’t be gossiping about you at lunch with friends, but that’s the extent of “confidentiality” you will be granted. Once we are aware of an issue we will start working on resolution and based on how valuable you are to the company you may or may not win.

If you are a solid performer with otherwise good reputation and your boss refuses to help you get up to speed coming to HR for help is a very good idea. If you tell your HR manager specifically what you need from your boss to maximize your performance, they are likely to help you two get on the same page and communicate better. Here is another reason why in this case you are likely to get support from HR. When managers don’t put enough effort in retaining their talent the turnover increases. It does not only affect the morale but ultimately creates more vacancies than can be filled in time to avoid affecting company initiatives. As a HR Manager of 11 years I have no tolerance for this. Let me share an example: we had just brought a new employee on board. As usual, I stopped in their work area to welcome them. I noticed their boss was nearby, so I asked them when they were going to take their new team member to lunch — this warm tradition truly helps make transition easier. My smile quickly came off my face when they answered: -”If HR has nothing else to do, they can take him to lunch, I am way too busy for this!” Needless to say, I had the talk with this leader coaching them about the importance of keeping their staff feeling welcome and professionally satisfied.

My team is angry after they discovered what others are being paid.

“I am a manager and one of the engineers on my team revealed his compensation to others which caused unhappiness and resentment. The cat is out of the bag and I am worried about losing my key talent, what can be done to salvage the situation?”

Janet: This certainly is an HR matter. Your HR Manager will help you with damage control plan. Most likely it is not in your budget to give out raises, but the rest of your guys now feel entitled to them. It is critical to address this with them. I would recommend working with HR to learn what other benefits or training your organization may be able to offer them to make them feel better.

Once you know what you have to work with, you should meet with your engineers individually and get an understanding on how each of them feels. While it’s important to acknowledge their feelings it is also important to explain that monetary compensation is often a product of negotiated upfront package that is based on a combination of factors unknown to them. A person might have been able to negotiate this significantly higher salary because of their multifaceted skill set, inflated prior salary or simply being in great demand the year they were recruited. You can be frank with them and say that sharing salary information with your peers in unprofessional, but since it happened and you see that it affects the team’s spirit, you would like to offer them some other perks to show that their hard work in appreciated. You will find that people simply want to be recognized and this is not all about the money with everyone. I also would recommend asking your HR Manager to have the talk with your troublemaker who started this circus. Sharing salary or bonus information may cost you your best talent, so you want to take action to prevent the encore of this behavior.

More About Janet Godbey

Janet Godbey
Janet Godbey

I met Janet seven years ago while recruiting candidates for Newell-Rubbermaid. Since then I’ve developed a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Janet’s ability to solve complicated personnel issues, and capture Newell’s best talent while remaining popular with employees at all levels. Janet started at Newell in 2001 as an HR Administrator after graduating from Northern Illinois University with an English major (which makes me worried about her reading my article). Janet originally wanted to be a teacher, but took on a different challenge – corporate America. Always smiling, she has been a ray of sunshine in Newell’s hallways for over 11 years. Janet would be happy to connect with you on LinkedIn.

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