HR – What is it good for?

Is HR friend or foe? Cinderella or the ugly sister? Strategic partner or doer of dirty work?

At a social gathering this weekend, a young grafter in the group launched into an exposition of current work challenges.   The energy of youth, the desire for things to be “right” and “fair” and without politics.

For the older heads in the room, it was familiar ground; being squashed between rivals, lack of role clarity leading to confusion, conflict existing in all its glory and because like Banquo conflict can’t be “seen” despite the feelings that rage around its existence, people avoid it, instead spreading around it’s bloody trail, cleaning up a little, but the wound still bleeds.

So, the conversation rolled on.  In that room sat NHS clinicians, IT analysts, Construction Managers, Teachers, Engineers; all of whom tread the rocky road of the corporation, steadfast in their conviction that “it’s  how things are”.  So the advice flowed towards the young protagonist.    Lots of practical hints and tips; at one stage she said “I thought I might go and see HR tomorrow”.    Caboom.  Silence.  And here’s what she was told by the collective wisdom and experience around her:

“No no no, that would be a mistake”

“Don’t bother”

“you’ll be seen as a trouble maker”

“What are they going to do? Leave it”.

Now, it was the right advice in one sense; it isn’t an HR issue, the resolution lies within our hero reflecting and thinking of a different way to get her toast buttered.  But our hero was thinking, “surely there is someone who’ll stick up for me”.  What attitudes is she going to carry away about HR from that conversation?

I have two stories about talking to HR.

Many years ago, I was desperately looking for help, I felt bullied and undermined.  I went to the HR Manager.  She barely looked at me, and advised me to talk to my manager.  The bully.  I will never forget the cruelty of her callous collusion.   I did survive and grow from that time, and infact, something good and strong came from it.

Many years ago, I was desperately looking for help. I felt frustrated and helpless.  I went to the HR adviser.  She was new in role, inexperienced and at times felt vulnerable.  I knew, I was her coach.    Still, I needed an ear.  I remember sitting the canteen, ranting a bit, crying a bit.  She listened, encouraged, challenged a lot and was generally magnificent.  I remember that too.

Whatever HR is, it has a profound lifetime impact on people.  It may be an incorrect holiday calculation, a typo in a contract, a warm smile of encouragement and a hello on day one, a warm smile of encouragement and a goodbye on day the last. It will all be remembered, and felt.   In between there are so many ways that HR touches the life of individuals; HR professionals have a balance to strike between protecting their employer and supporting the employee.  Is this a permanent unending paradox?

I’m interested in exploring this.

What do you think HR is good for?


7 thoughts on “HR – What is it good for?

  1. Lovely turn of phrase here. Very nicely put. It is dilemmas it is paradoxes. It is human resources and humane reasoning and humble relevance. It is – without any hyperbole – THE most privileged of the corporate functions. People’s careers, sanctuary, comfort, recognition; all things we have a say in. It is reviled because of the first reaction in your experience examples. Cold, bureaucratic inhumane regulation. It is adored for your second example soulful empathic support. HR exists IMHO to make work better. There’s no dilemma there in my mind. Make. Work. Better. For. Everyone. I love HR. Thanks for allowing me to say that openly, unashamedly and sincerely. Great blog.

    1. Therein lies the paradox; I’m not sure that there is a universal belief that HR is there to make work better. I agree that it is the most privileged; I think it’s also the least understood and at times the most opaque. It has the most potential too.

  2. Meg – interesting point about the need for fairness that those unsullied by cynicism still feel….

    Your two stories I think illustrate an interesting point: often it’s not down to “HR” but down to the individual – are they strong enough, brave enough or good enough to deal with the the given situation?

  3. Great Blog Meg. As I read it, the phrase “the acceptable face of HR” kept intruding into my thinking. Your second example is exactly that. In my old trainer days, delivering IT training courses to the masses, I – and my colleagues – used to dread training HR people, as generally they were perceived as closed down non-communicators with no emotional intelligence (i.e really hard work to engage with in the classroom). I’m happy to say that after 8½ years in L&D/HR at Sussex Police and now at the top HR table in FirstGroup, I have been and am privileged to work with authentic, committed, knowledgeable and engaged colleagues, who seem to me to represent a profession which is learning and changing for the better.

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