Sunday, May 10, 2009

In defense of HR

I read with interest and curiosity a series of articles on hating Human Resources. Most recently on, Susan Heathfield wrote a post titled Still Hate HR? I find it interesting, puzzling, odd and peculiar that people - bloggers, practitioners, employees and even some leadership love to hate this profession.

I personally love the work. I love to help facilitate hiring, meeting and introducing new hires, learning and staying on top of crazy new laws, navigating the labyrinth of immigration, social security and department of labor and helping people with tough issues. I don't always love the people but I really love the work.

So if you really want to hate Human Resources, please keep these things in mind.

1. We handle tough issues. Harassment, pornography, stalking, addiction, medical issues, death, disabilities and family issues - all things that affect how employees work. We don't talk about it.
2. When handling tough issues, we often see people at their worst.
3. We seldom can publicly or privately comment on anything. Ever. Lots and lots of people can criticize us - many publicly - on a myriad of things - how we handled something, what we said, what we did, what we didn't do, who we called, who we didn't call and worst of all, timeline. We seldom offer defense. See point 1.
4. You have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. You have no idea how hard we may be working on an issue. Just because you don't see anything doesn't mean things aren't happening.
5. Laws can tie our hands and may have us jumping through enormous hoops - and that takes time.
6. Much of our work is compliance. Spend a few minutes with the Department of Labor or Department of Homeland Security and experience the personal fulfillment of managing and tracking mind-numbing forms and information.
7. Most of the people in HR I know work incredibly hard and care deeply about the work, their employer and employees.
8. We are just people too. We eat lunch, have friends, hobbies, take walks, travel, read and do laundry. We don't wander around waiting to fire people, write up a performance improvement notices or check what you are doing on Facebook.

I don't poke fun at other professions because I believe that we all bring unique skills and abilities to life. All skills are needed. I also have a good sense of humor and think some of the pokes are pretty darn funny (like Monty Python). But if you are going take shots at HR, keep a couple of these things in mind, won't you?


Laurie said...

Wow, good post. These are all good points. I wonder...

1. Should we handle the tough issues or should they be handled by line managers and/or lawyers?

2. We see people at their worst, but are we doing any favors or just shielding the organization from understanding human behavior?

3. We can't comment on anything - but maybe we should? Much is made of privacy and confidentiality laws when no real right to privacy exists except in specific, limited conditions. What if we embarrassed people into behaving?

4. Most people have no idea what's happening behind the scenes, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea. We're not dealing with Soviet/American state secrets. I think HR suffers from a failure to communicate.

5. I think these laws, and their relevance to HR, are overstated out of a lack of understanding of labor law and compliance issues.

6. Much of our work is compliance. Why don't we outsource or hire for that skill? Do we need generalists or administrators?

7. Yes! HR people do work hard and care. I still question whether the function is needed.

8. Yes! We are people who deserve a better profession.

Michael said...

great post! Laurie I am sorry but you are wrong, HR IS a needed function. Ops wont do what we do/ Finance sure as shit wont. More to follow!

Creative Chaos Consultant said...

Great post. Thanks for letting people know that HR is a real profession composed of people who respect the work that they do.

Lisa Rosendahl said...

Your post - and each of the comments - are all reasons why HR is so cool. You are too!

Judy Clark, SPHR said...

Terrific reminders...I just hope that the people who need this most actaully are the ones reading it instead of all of us (HR types) who are applauding. I fear it may be like training, the ones who come are the ones who need it least.

Susan Heathfield said...

Great post. I'll add it to my blog. I get tons of reader email - every day - and my site attracts regular employees and managers as much as my HR kin. My site's been around for nine years and I've been writing nearly daily blog posts since 2001, so you can imagine the mail.

I periodically post a well-thought out comment like Joshua's because I think it's very important that I stay in touch with what people not in HR are thinking. They help me stay grounded in the real world as our employees experience it. Then, I can write to make my profession more effective and successful. I think the comments on the post are thoughtful and worthy of consideration. I developed a tough skin a long time ago and always try to look to find the joy of the people profession.

And, heck, even my employees sit in meetings with me and criticize up close and personal - that's a good thing - right?

Thanks for highlighting the site and the post.



Alicia Arenas said...

I love your post and agree with every single point you've made.

HR has been the number one punching bag in corporate America (with IT running a close second) and your points are a great start to explaining why.

I think to continue the conversation, we need to talk about what we as HR pros need to do to elevate the reputation of our industry.

Most importantly, we need to consistently demonstrate our value. Executives won't see us as more than a "necessary evil" or a "drain on the budget" until we're able to prove the value of our work and worth.

We need to understand the business. We need to create metrics that link directly into the bottom line. We need to help our leaders solve problems quickly and effectively. We need to proactively create systems and programs to head off future volatility in the organization. We need to build effective relationships. If you walk into a department and everyone wonders "who's getting fired now," you're doing something wrong. And as Laurie implied, sometimes we need to let managers fail.

We all can do more.

Thanks for the great post.

@AliciaSanera on Twitter

Steve Boese said...

I think you have made some excellent points. It is unrealistic to think the the HR function is not necessary in the modern organization. Very few departments in the organization are afforded such a broad view across the enterprise, and can potentially offer insight, creativity, and value throughout the entire organization. What other functions have such visibility and knowledge? Finance? IT? Does anyone really think those departments can effectively drive the enterprise forward and fundamentally effect positive change? Finance is even more bogged down in compliance than HR is, and IT shops in many organizations are just 'order-takers', trying to support and deliver tools and applications that the business has demanded.
And this is coming from someone who has worked in all three departments. I can say without hesitation HR has more opportunity, potential, and responsibility to the employees and the organization than those other groups combined. Great post, and thanks for writing it.

Deirdre said...

Glad to read all your comments!

Laurie, you make some great points. I agree with some but think it's still a profession.

Thanks for stopping by Michael. Hope you write more!

Creative Chaos (great name!) thanks for the the good words.

Lisa, I always appreciate your kudos.

Judy, I don't think the people who need it are reading it but it sure felt good to write. :)

Susan, thanks for stopping by! I loved your post (and Jason's words). If that is what is happening, we need to hear it and inventory how we work. I think most feedback has value.

Alicia - great comment. Do you have a blog?

Steve, what a great summary. Thanks for your comments.

Dan McCarthy said...

Maven -
Great post! I hate people who say they hate HR. I’ve sat next to them on airplanes. They’re usually bitter jerks with no social skills.
So there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maven:

I love this post, this says true of the whole profession. We always people first ahead of our own interest - even if they don't appreciate what we do for them.

Recently, I met a former employee and informed me that I was one of her favourites. It somewhat affirmes that what you did was right and that makes my day.

Thanks for the post, really made my day.


Deirdre said...

Dan, thanks for stopping by. Your bitter jerk comment made me chuckle.

Joy, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Shannon said...

There are ups and downs for every profession. Great job pointing out the main points.


Brian said...

Thanks for post to extent it referred me to Susan Heathfield's post and reminded me about the Fast Company article, which are both right on. I have written and spoken many times on this very topic and have spent over 25 years embracing an obvious better way. Glad there are brave allies keeping us focused on the right direction.

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