HR – Suffering from Corporate Middle Child Syndrome?

Paul Hebert Good HR, HR, Paul Hebert, Seat at the Table, Social Media, The FOT Soap Box, The HR Profession

HR is stuck in the middle – between the C-Suite and the rank and file.

Between strategy and tactics. Between valuable and costly.

HR is the ultimate middle child.

Middle Child Syndrome

Me, being one of six kids – 2nd in the birth order and oldest son – have never had the experience of being the middle child.  In our family, with three boys and three girls, there was no middle child.  We did have the baby – the youngest – the “surprise” child who ultimately ended up being an only child by the time she was in 7th grade and boy did she enjoy the benefits of that.  But I don’t still harbor any jealousy of that – no – not at all.

But, we had no middle child.


Believe it or not – there is a distinct “syndrome” associated with being a middle child.  Truth.  There’s a definition, symptoms and cures.  And I think HR is the penultimate corporate middle child – with all the attendant symptoms and problems that brings.

Let me elaborate.


Middle child syndrome is a condition in which children born in the middle of a family of children (can be anywhere between the oldest and the youngest but usually the second of three) experience feelings of emptiness, inadequacy and jealousy. Middle children have lower self-esteem and can suffer from extreme introversion, sometimes even leading to psychotic behavior.  The middle child suffers from a lack of belonging and constantly strives to get his/her parent’s attention. There is a feeling of insecurity in the middle child, because he/she feels ignored by not only the parents but by the eldest and youngest siblings, as well.

If you’re in HR, I’m guessing this is starting to sound a bit familiar, eh?

The Corporate Family

Let’s continue to extend (torture) this metaphor some more.

Think of the CEO as the “parent” of the organization – heck, let’s include all the CXO titles in that category.  If that is true, then the VPs and Sr. VPs are the older siblings and the rank and file employees are the younger siblings.  See… this little play is starting to sound plausible, no?

In the corporate world, HR has to compete for the attention of their parents with the VPs and top tier execs – who we all know think they are so special and deserve that special desk and special parking spot.  (And we all know that HR deserves that special seat at the grown up table too – right?)  And don’t even get me started on the whining and demands of those babies in the cube farm and on the factory floor.  They seem to get all the attention – the foosball tables, the special Friday beer bashes.

What does HR get?  What do you get?  You get the task of arranging it all!

Yes, HR – you are definitely stuck in the middle.

And the outcome is the same for you as it is for all middle children…

Because you lack the emotional support and guidance from your corporate parents, you end up with a sense of low self-esteem.  You know – those feelings of emptiness and loneliness that ultimately make you unfriendly and maybe even mean and weird to the other employees. All those negative feelings also get in the way of you getting what you want, don’t they?  You end up insecure and jealous of the other “kids” in the family.  You begin to question your work and the effort you put in each day.  Is it worth it, you ask?  Do they even know you’re alive?

You are left out and left alone.

Is there a Solution?


You can hope that your parents wake up and start providing some of that love and affection you crave so much.  But really – how likely is that?  Not very.

You can leave and go somewhere where the organization is more enlightened and more aware of the issues associated with Corporate Middle Child Syndrome. But in this environment, it is tough and kinda risky, no?  You, of all people, know what that will be like.

Or… you can reach out and find others in your shoes to commiserate with.  Exchange notes, talk through problems, find the support that you aren’t getting at home.  There is no lack of support.  Of all the functions in a company, I have found HR to be the most sharing and caring of them all.  Probably because of the lack of support they get from their corporate families.

stewart smalleySo – middle children unite – get out there on the social networks.  Find your tribe and engage.  Get the support you need.

Because You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You.