The HR profession is not new, or even relatively new, but HR professionals continue to debate their roles.
In one camp are those who believe HR’s purpose is to protect worker rights and interests. These so called social worker types are routinely derided by hard-nosed “business” HR folks who are clear that their role is to do whatever serves a business need, period. These types like to claim that treating employees well serves the business (i.e., reduces legal risk and potential liability), and so really, it’s all good.
Stuff and nonsense
However, the truth is much more complex than many seem to care to admit. HR serves both management and employees. Sometimes the job requires saving management from itself, or at least presenting a cogent case why a particular action might not be a good idea (or wasn’t a good idea—oops).
Other times, the role requires informing employees of the facts of life—such as, your manager may not be the greatest, but he or she is still responsible for setting and enforcing standards, and even if you think the standards are dumb you’re obliged to toil under them—or just the plain bad news of a layoff, demotion, or termination.
So now why, when there’s a serious problem afoot, is HR often criticized by employees and employers alike for being kind of a waste of time? Um… okay, here goes.
HR lacks courage
It takes courage to tell your boss he’s wrong, and even more courage to tell your boss’ boss he’s wrong. Simply put, a lot of HR folks lack this courage. Rather than admit it, however, they’ll tell themselves (and anyone who’ll listen) that certain change is not gonna happen—no reason to stick their neck out. And while it’s true that not every battle is worth fighting, some are—not that the distinction matters to these guys.
HR lacks heart
Understand that there are cold-hearted people in every organization, and their presence isn’t limited to a particular functions or level. Unfortunately, some HR professionals just don’t give a hoot about anyone’s concerns but their own, and they certainly can’t be bothered to do the tough thinking required to make good, solid recommendations for impactful action.
HR lacks confidence
When you know what you know and what you’re doing, confidence comes. Confidence also comes with moral conviction, and (contrary to what some might claim) every action has moral weight. Understand that when you, as an HR professional, take a stance for or against some plan, you’re taking a moral stance. HR pros who lack confidence (for whatever reason) won’t have the mettle necessary to advocate for controversial, but morally right, actions that would benefit the company and/or the employees.
HR lacks knowledge and/or skill
Best business practices, workplace trends, and employment laws are constantly changing. If your HR department isn’t keeping up, it can’t be much good to employees or management, and eventually everyone learns this.
HR lacks competence
Resolving complex employee relations issues takes exceptional reasoning ability, an excellent grasp of the law, and all those qualities noted above, such as heart, courage, confidence, and so on. Frankly, some HR pros just don’t have the goods.
Well, let us all cheer up. Many HR pros balance employer/employee interests consistently well, and it’s a tough job so hat’s off to them!
As for those others, well, personally I’d wish they’d find employment elsewhere, because they’re not doing the profession or their employers any favors.
Finally, if you’re an HR professional who sometimes gets discouraged by the messiness of imperfectly handled conflict, that’s okay. These solutions are rarely perfect, and no matter what your level of experience, you’ll get better over time.
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