The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil — and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential — the key driver, in theory, of business performance — and also the one that most consistently underdelivers.
At my last job the HR Manager was a total incompetent. Morale was horrible, management was worse, and our turnover rate should have been an embarassment to her. Instead of adressing the problems in real ways, her answer was to plan potlucks, send flowery emails and basically ignore the elephant in the room. She single handedly ruined my HR experience.
In a work dispute, you are compelled by their rules and by other government organizations (like state Human Rights, EEOC, etc) that seem to insist that you report your complaint to HR for it to have a legitimacy. You do this only to find later that they will (of course) lie to these organizations that you ever even reported it at all. Keep everything in writing because the HR people who seemed oh, so sympathetic to you while you were in the situation will LIE-LIE-LIE even under oath that they were never informed of your problem (although you have copies of emails proving otherwise).
What I experienced is, instead of helping you they are busy sending documentation to the Corporate legal department to ensure the company doesn’t face any litigation.
Human Resources always sides with corporate interests. If there’s a legal concern, such as a legitimate harassment situation, Human Resources will act as a mock support system for the involved parties, but ultimately act to protect the organization from perceived threats which may never be released at the expense of providing a healing resolution for anyone….in short HR is symptomatic of what is unhealthy in American business culture.“
The quotes could go on and on…and on and on. These are real comments from just a few of many many sites where individuals describe their experience with the human resources department as one built on a farce – they go looking for help, guidance, support, and development and they leave frustrated and angry by HR officers who provide a positive facade while doing little to nothing to help the employees in a meaningful way and instead look for every legal loophole to nail the employees under the guise of protecting the organization.
I read an article the other day that was written by a female human resource professional with a decade of experience talking about all of the reasons that yes, you really do have to resign yourself to the fact that the law requires you to give your pregnant female employees maternity leave even if there seems like there are legal loopholes that can get you out of it. I couldn’t help but think “Or you could, you know, support your female employees and not punish them for having children.” After a full article of listing all of the loopholes and reasons you can’t take advantage of them, she ends the piece with “But remember, HR is also about developing the best employees ever!” This seemed an almost too perfect way to illustrate the function of HR in many modern organizations – 90% effort looking for legal loopholes to cut employees off at the knees, 10% positive facade about developing and supporting your staff.
HR DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY.
Perhaps part of the problem is who you are hiring to run your HR department. According to a senior HR executive from Exxon and Shell “HR doesn’t tend to hire a lot of independent thinkers or people who stand up as moral compasses.” That certainly bodes well.
But the buck should stop at the corner office. Yes, there is always going to be the legal side of the house to consider but if, as the leader of an organization, you are only interested in human resources from the point of view of covering yourself from legal blowback or looking for ways to nail your employees to the wall, then why not just outsource everything overseas? You’ll get a cheap labor force that you don’t have to manage (or see, for that matter).
Human resources should be more. It should be better.
Perhaps it’s idealistic, but if HR is really about supporting the company’s interests, then it would have a real seat at the table in regards to empowering staff at all levels of the organization to achieve. That’s utilizing an administrative function to create a competitive advantage. Here’s where I would start. Keep the legal/administrative side of HR – it is actually a necessary evil – but create a separate role that is entirely focused on people. Call it a Director of People Development. This role should NOT report to the HR role, or vice versa. Instead, they should be a team, with neither one out ranking the other. That role could focus on the following:
- Implement a real performance management program based on SMART Goals that is flexible and agile and valuable for employees at all levels of the organization. Develop ongoing (not once a year!) check ins to discuss and revise. It’s framed as a conversation, not an edict.
- Create feedback loops at all levels of the organization (yes, for senior leadership too!) that allow all employees to offer both positive feedback and constructive criticism to those they work with (and for) in a safe way where they don’t feel intimidated or fear retribution. Coach employees to deal with that feedback in a productive way, and make improvements from it.
- Build an environment of trust by implement a real coaching program where employees can work with the Director of People Development on an ongoing basis in an open and frank way without fear that they’re going to tell their boss or their colleagues or the organization’s leadership. This confidentiality, by the way, is not just a nice to have. It’s an ethical obligation according to Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
- Implement professional development across the organization to train employees on things like working with different personality types, leading meetings, managing their boss, giving feedback, handling criticism. Also, train leadership to (gasp!) lead their people, not be bosses.
- Create clear job descriptions and development plans across the organization that align with business goals, so that employees know what they are responsible for and where their path for advancement.
- Continually monitor employee morale and engagement by establishing benchmarks and regularly meeting with employees confidentially. Have a seat at the table with organizational leadership to discuss the trends and the empowerment to implement people-focused development programs to make improvements.
These are just a few elements of what could be a very robust program focused on your greatest resource – your people. We know from mountains of research that happy employees are more productive and make their companies more money. Engaged employees are more productive and make their companies more money. Employees who are neither happy nor engaged with their organization do the opposite. There’s your business case. But more importantly than that, it’s just the right thing to do.
- Why We Hate HR (Fast Company)
- Employee Engagement is a Competitive Advantage (Zen Workplace)
- The Benefits of Happiness (Zen Workplace)
- General Principals of the APA Code of Ethics (Society for Industry and Organizational Psychology & American Psychological Association)
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