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Breaking Bad – Is HR The Hero Or The Villain?

When I look back on the early stages of my career in human resources I think one of the hardest pills to swallow was the bad reputation I had been bestowed by way of the heavy HR crown I now so proudly wear. After all, it’s not easy being queen. Queen of what you ask? Queen of policy enforcement, humiliating disciplinary meetings, heartless layoffs, corporate restructurings, boring sexual harassment training, and endless documentation requirements.

Of course, that was not my agenda, but that is how many employees and managers alike often view HR.  At first it was disheartening because I wasn’t that evil HR lady that some had labeled me as, so I was determined to prove them wrong.  My fellow HR practitioners know first-hand that this is a continuous uphill battle we must all face. What many don’t realize is that because our career is so multi-faceted we develop a work ethic unlike any other – at least those of us who are actually good at what we do.

So why does HR have such a bad reputation?  What is wrong with HR?  I think a lot of it has to do with those in this field who haven’t learned to effectively incorporate the human in human resources. They have their heads stuck so far up inside labor codes that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They have become rigid and cold, and they forget how to relate to people and engage them properly. The burden is ours to bring HR to the next level.

This means more than just running metrics to find the ROI in your department or the 5-year turnover trend. Don’t get me wrong, metrics are important; they are the key to the executive table and a more strategic HR. But what happened to just walking around and getting to know employees on a more personal, and respectful level?  We’re professionals. We know the boundaries and the risks involved in having “besties” in the workplace. 

My recent blog Can HR Have Friends In The Workplace? apparently struck a cord with the masses and the feedback came in droves.  There were numerous debates on the topic, and since I believe a healthy debate helps us all learn and grow, I decided to keep the ball rolling. It was quite interesting to read the wide array of opinions ranging from those who don’t think HR is in a position to be friendly, to those who defended actively engaging in a friendly yet respectful manner with employees.  Some argued that HR shouldn’t even go to lunch with employees.  I happen to disagree with this and believe it is exactly that inflexible practice that is feeding the monster in this whole “HR is evil” misconception deal.

If all we do is sit high and mighty in our offices creating policies and don’t take the time to assess and identify the talent in our organizations, we are bound to fail.  Leave that to the armchair generals and managers whose promotions are a perfect example of the Peter Principal. You know who I am talking about.  They are the ones that keep us the busy worker-bees we are, creating leadership training and coaching to try and improve corporate culture.  

When I had an office (now I am an independent consultant) I always kept 2 things fully stocked; tissue paper and chocolate.  We are often the only outlet for employees in an organization.  There is so much we have to learn from our workforce, but if they are afraid to come to us all of that knowledge goes untapped and leaves with each exiting employee.  

Let’s make it a practice to be more hands on in our roles.  When we walk the building and people start whispering “here comes the police”, let’s smile and strike a friendly conversation with Rita and Mike in the corner cubicle. Let’s encourage our business owners to have more teambuilding and employee engagement activities.  Even those as inexpensive as ice-cream socials or monthly brown bag lunches can go a long way.  Any way to get us out of the hustle-and-bustle of the day, slow down and just be human. Get to know each other.  

Equally important is knowing how to communicate with managers. Learning their management style and how to speak their language is crucial if we ever want to have their buy-in and trust. We have to be flexible, sometimes doing away with the legal jargon and just talk, human to human. Once we develop solid relationships with the managers in our organization, we will have invaluable partners and implementing any initiatives or changes will have long-term results.  

The problem is just because we are in the role of HR and can recite labor laws doesn’t mean we have the inherent skill-set required to develop productive relationships.  Many of us need to work on that, and until we do we won’t shake this bad reputation, the crown will continue to be heavy, and we won’t ever be seen as the hero.

How does HR break through this bad reputation?  Go ahead and vent, you know you want to!

 

 

 

 

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