Coasting Through Your HR Career

Laurie Ruettimann Career Paths, Laurie Ruettimann, Work Life Balance

FOT Note: This post comes straight out of the FOT vault. Every now and then, we like to re-run golden nuggets of insight to keep the message alive. What you’re about to read is one of them. 

There is only one HR Director at your company. She is in her late 40s, has worked there for nearly 20 years, and she’s not budging.

What do you do if there are no additional HR opportunities at your company?

This is a common situation around the world. I know so many HR professionals who are in their mid-30s and early-40s. They are smart, they are talented, and they have to pay their mortgages. Many of them feel that they must leave their companies in order to gain more responsibility and earn more money.

But even the job market is bleak. For every one HR Director position, it feels like there are hundreds of qualified candidates. The higher up the food chain, the more you feel the law of supply and demand.

I think there are a few options to address this career impasse:

  1. Fight like hell to make the case for an internal promotion.
  2. Build a network and acquire new skills so you’re ready when an opportunity presents itself.
  3. Coast.

The first optionfighting like hellis tough. You must be a master of market data. You should be ready to tell your executive leadership team how your company wins if you assume a new (and more expensive) role. You don’t have to show dollar-for-dollar ROI, but you must make the case that your expanded role will help the company increase its productivity, reduce its overall labor costs, and expand its margins.

Good luck with that. The problem with most senior-level HR roles is that they are a luxury. All things being equal, they could probably do without a Director of HR. The CFO or the COO can do that job. And while you might have a persuasive business case to prove that you’re ready for a bigger job, it’s incredibly tough to prove a correlation between your promotion and a company’s improved performance. I am not saying it can’t be done; however, most mid-level HR professionals lack the sales capabilities to sell the idea of a promotion to an executive leader.

And fighting like hell means that they tell you no and probably won’t entertain the idea again. It’s a risk. And HR people are notoriously afraid of riskboth personal and professional.

The second optionbuilding the capabilities required for a senior-level HR role and waiting for an opportunityis an easier path. It’s not without its own challenges, though. Just because you are capable doesn’t mean that your company needs your skills. And while you’re waiting around for someone to bestow a title upon you, other HR professionals are out-hustling you in the job market.

So if you’re in a role that is going nowhere, I like the third option the best: coasting.

You could do worse than to model good behaviors when it comes to work-life balance.

Coasting isn’t about being lazy. You should present. Be accountable. Do good work. But go ahead and take that vacation. You saved up all those PTO days and you have a ton of miles. Why not extend a holiday weekend and take the wife to Paris?

Coasting at work doesn’t have to be mediocre, either. It can be a sensible and pragmatic response for a mid-level HR professional who isn’t lighting the world on fire but isn’t half bad.

We have this myth in America that high-performing talent is young, brash, and pushing itself to the brink of exhaustion. If you are not emotionally drained and wholly invested in a brand, you are doing it wrong.

I think you might want to ease off the gas for a little bit and figure out what’s important. Nobody likes the guy who is pushing for an outcome that won’t happen. And you’re probably never going to get promoted. So maybe you should take it easy, coach your son’s baseball team, and gain a fresh perspective about your career.

And while you are spending time outside of work, try to meet cool people who are doing interesting things. Chances are that your next HR opportunity doesn’t come from your current employer, anyway, but is waiting for you through someone you already know.

In the meanwhile, I will see you on that long weekend in Paris. Let’s have a banana Nutella crepe under the Eiffel Tower and take it easy for a few days, okay?

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.