By Peter Cappelli/Talent Management Columnist
The majority of my 2017
columns were inspired by some
Admittedly, I was hesitant to
springboard off media coverage
of the initial 19 presidential
executive orders and the
Harvey Weinstein incidents.
But here’s the fascinating thing:
Both columns—along with
others that focused on radical
transparency in benefits design;
workplace flexibility; paid
leave for self-care, parental and
child care; company values; and
even Gwyneth Paltrow—created
lots of conversation. In fact, I
take pride that I received more
questions, LinkedIn messages
and tweets during the last
12 months than in the prior
couple of years. It’s my goal
to spur dialogue and debate
that consider both employee
benefits and how they help
HR leaders attract and retain
This left me wondering if any
company currently addresses
most of the challenges I wrote
about this year. I thought all
was lost until I picked up a copy
of Patagonia founder Yvon
update of his book Let My People
Go Surfing: 10 More Years of
The retailer’s mission is
“to use business to inspire and
implement solutions to the
environmental crisis.” What does
this have to do with employees?
Chouinard writes that “there
is a powerful connection
between treating our things
as disposable and treating the
people who make these things
as disposable.” This premise led
the company to one of the best
employee-attraction ratios: For
every open position, Patagonia
averages 900 applications. Check
the box on attraction!
On diversity and inclusion,
Patagonia aims to have at least
half of upper-management
positions held by women, a
target it fulfills in the U.S.,
though it reports it has work to
do in Europe and Japan.
The company values
employees who live rich and
rounded lives. The aptly named
flextime policy—Let My People
Go Surfing—allows employees
to work flexible hours as long
as the work gets done with no
negative impact on co-workers.
Workers take advantage of this
policy to “catch a good swell,
go bouldering for an afternoon,
comprehensive health insurance
to all employees—even
part-timers. The company
cafeteria provides healthy,
organic food, and most
employee bathrooms house
showers to accommodate
Patagonia’s most famous
perk, however, is its on-site
corporate child-care center
that opened in 1984. The
center provides programs and
services for children as young
as eight weeks old through
children are picked up at the
end of their school day and
brought to the center so parents
don’t have to make the drive or
worry about after-school care.
The company’s parental-leave policy complements the
child-care program: Mothers
receive 16 weeks of fully paid
leave and four weeks of unpaid
leave, and fathers can tap into
12 weeks of paternity leave.
(Chouinard recommends that
employers that want to put
a child-care center in place
provide at least eight weeks of
On-site child care is a rare perk
these days. Fortune estimates
that only 4 percent to 8 percent
of employers provide this
From an HR and benefits
perspective, Patagonia comes
pretty close to the definition of
an ideal employer.
Carol Harnett is a widely
respected HR consultant, speaker,
writer and trendspotter. Follow
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and on her video blog, The Work.
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Let My People Go … Surfing
The recent parade
and harassment revelations has often been
accompanied by comments such as this: Where
was the HR department?
There is a misunderstanding about what an
HR department can do on its own. Although
employees may feel other wise, HR is not the
police, nor an arm of the government, and it isn’t
required to address behavior that violates the
laws that govern the workplace.
Although some like to think that HR is a
“profession,” it isn’t like the Office of the General
Counsel, where the top official is an attorney
bound by a detailed code of professional
norms. Those attorneys can be disbarred and
prosecuted for ignoring illegal activity at work
or covering it up. Their legal obligation is to
the corporation, per se, rather than to their
Human resource managers, on the other
hand, take their cues from the top executives.
Even the chief human resource officer reports
to someone, typically the CEO. What if the CEO
is the one causing the problem?
Yes, HR could go to the chair of the board
of directors—if there is a board of directors
and if the CEO isn’t also the chair of the board.
I have seen cases where the HR department
went to the board over the CEO’s misconduct,
and still nothing happened. I’ve also heard of
cases where the HR head got fired for going
to the board about the CEO’s behavior (the
board talked to the CEO about it, who then fired
the head of HR). Even if HR gets the right to
investigate, if it is a “he said, she said” story, and
if the “he” is the CEO, this isn’t going anywhere.
Let’s be clear: It is still not a career-building
move to go over your boss’ head to secure an
Can HR End Sexual Harassment?
investigation of him or her. CEOs have always
been powerful, but we have made them even
more so in recent decades with the push by
investors for “accountability” and performance.
This story is not going to end up where you
might expect, though, because the counter-
examples are the many companies that have
pushed out CEOs and other top leaders for
sexual misconduct: Boeing, HP and Best Buy,
just to name a few. What’s different about them?
These are companies governed by rules, and
they take that seriously.
At many of the companies where sexual-
misconduct stories have appeared, the founder
is still there, and the founder is the problem.
These companies are not governed by rules,
even if they have rules in place—they operate as
extensions of the founder and his personality.
So this is a story about the importance of
governance by rules rather than by individuals.
A company where the HR department could
do a serious investigation of the CEO is also
a company that is likely to be honest about its
accounting, about its environmental record and
about everything else.
This is really an achievement: We have
created systems that constrain our leaders from
acting badly. It is so common in large companies
that we take it for granted—which is why we
may be forgiven for thinking that, in these cases
of bad behavior, an HR department would have
Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor
Professor of Management and director of the
Center for Human Resources at The Wharton
School of the University of Pennsylvania in
Philadelphia. Send questions or comments to