In March of this year, I had the honor of being invited to Brazil as part of a vocational and cultural exchange sponsored by Rotary International. During my month abroad, I met with many talented Human Resources professionals, primarily in the manufacturing sector. Here are five observations I made in the course of those meetings.
1) Brazilian Human Resource professionals take tremendous pride in their companies.
Without exception, the HR officers I met were very proud of their benefit packages as well as their various company sponsored morale building activities. Examples of the latter included family day events (which almost every company offered), employee recognition ceremonies and other work related social gatherings. Benefit packages closely mirrored those in the US with the notable exception that some companies offered monthly stipends for household food staples. When I questioned the absence of audit procedures for expenditures, I was told that while they encouraged employees to buy necessities with the stipend, they understood that this system had the potential to be abused.
2) Brazilian employee issues are similar to those in the US.
When I asked about their primary employee problems, familiar pain points entered the conversation. Drug and alcohol abuse was a significant issue for several of the companies I visited. One of the companies had instituted an extraordinary random drug and alcohol screening that worked like this: as employees scanned their badges to get into the facility, periodically and randomly, a message would direct a selected employee to report to human resources for a drug screen. This screening did not discriminate either as I was told that everyone from the highest level directors, and even guests visiting the facility were subject to selection.
Employee retention was another problem that seemed to keep coming up and was particularly distressing to those in charge of recruiting and training. One executive spoke of a young, gifted engineer who had just completed his graduate training, an endeavor that was wholly funded by the company. Upon finishing his studies, he left the company for a similar position elsewhere for what was described as a minimal amount of additional compensation. Much to their chagrin, this seemed to be par for the course.
3) Money was the primary cause of employee job dissatisfaction.
According to Frederick Herzberg’s two factor theory, money is not a source of job satisfaction for employees but rather acts as a disatisfier. This quickly became apparent during my time in Brazil. When I asked employees to identify their employment issues, compensation was almost always at the top of the list. Many of the HR staff that I spoke with indicated that their employees often struggled to see the broader picture of their total compensation package and were almost exclusively focused on salary.
4) Human Resources professionals often had a clinical background.
Many of the HR staff I met had extensive clinical training and were licensed to do therapy. However, when employees sought them out to discuss work and personal problems, if these consultations exceeded a 10-15 minute meeting, they were obliged to make referrals, usually to psychologists, therapists and life coaches in the community. In addition, it was my impression that seeking out support for personal problems, whether they were work related or personal, still carries some stigma there as it does in the United States. However, based on several conversations, particularly with younger professionals, it seems like this was slowly starting to improve.
5) Employee Assistance Programs were not common.
The benefit packages offered to Brazilian employees mirrored those of in the U.S. with one glaring exception: none of the companies that I visited in Brazil had an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and many were not familiar with this type of service. That being said, the Human Resources professionals that I spoke with seemed quite excited about EAPs and they understood how these services could ultimately make their jobs much more manageable. While many of them were clearly qualified to handle delicate employee issues, even those of a clinical nature, it was clear that the scope of their responsibility and limited number of staff often made their jobs overwhelming. It was my impression that a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program would have been welcome at any of the companies that I visited.
Human Resources professionals in Brazil face an array of problems similar to those faced by their counterparts in the United States. Challenges around substance abuse, compensation and retention were prevalent. However, I did not talk to a single professional who was not optimistic about being able to solve these problems and the prospects for their company’s future. It was such an honor to have the opportunity to visit these companies, meet with my colleagues abroad and of course, speak directly with so many Brazilian employees. If you have any additional questions regarding my visit, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Joshua Sagor, M.A, LMHC, is the Director of Program Development at Comprehensive EAP.