It was 5 minutes until 5:00 pm on a Friday. I was at my desk holding court about where the Sales team was going for happy hour when suddenly the “personnel” lady appeared with a figurative summons for me to appear in personnel court along with a fellow Account Executive. “Why,” you ask?
Two weeks prior while in Sedona, Arizona on a Marketing & Sales team-building retreat, my colleague and I had been reported by the Personnel facilitator for not “bringing our entire selves to the exercise.” Apparently, we had been caught rolling our eyes at the ridiculousness of one of the exercises where we had been instructed to dig deep for one of our saddest moments, and “let the tears flow.” After being left alone together in a small cold office for over an hour, the head of Personnel entered–aka “bad cop.” He was a tall, large man with a short-sleeved shirt, clip-on tie, and high-waisted Sansabelt slacks. We were warned that we were on the “watch list” for not being team players, and the CEO had been made aware of the incident.
Even recalling the encounter still makes me want to roll my eyes.
Ultimately, we were released on our own recognizance. But not before being reminded of the seriousness of our actions. On the elevator ride back up to the 35th floor to collect our personal belongings, I turned to my partner in crime (her mouth still agape at what we had just experienced) and shouted in frustration, THAT IS WHY I WILL NEVER GO INTO HR! WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE? THE (expletive) POLICE! But now, twenty-five years later, here I sit, in the dead center of what we more appropriately refer to as Human Resources.
Although Human Resources is far from being a new industry, there are still some common myths around the specialty that are difficult to dispel. These myths are based, in part, on practices that have misrepresented the profession and experiences that often leave employees fearful and mistrustful of Human Resources:
Myth #1– HR is charged with policing employees.
Because HR is often associated with policy enforcement, terminations, and disciplinary actions, some employees only think of their HR department as enforcers (thus, the vow I took never to be caught dead in HR). I did not want to work for a department that existed solely to make work life miserable for employees. In practice, HR is not the police; and when done properly, HR is an organization’s most valuable tool in analyzing its culture and determining how to maintain high engagement, low turnover, and strong morale. HR is also charged with matching the right talent to the right jobs, maintaining compliance, and making sure that leadership is versed in the legal aspects of employment to reduce the legal risks. Listening for profanity or watching for eye-rolling during a team-building activity don’t typically top the list of HR priorities.
Myth #2 – HR exists to protect the organization, not the employees.
Surveys have suggested that 72 percent of people polled view their HR department as the “puppet” of the executive team. In practice, HR is charged with communicating critical change management and policy information. They are also responsible for advocating for the needs of employees who are experiencing work-related conflicts or problems. If there is an issue affecting employee engagement, productivity, or a new policy is not sitting well among the staff, the HR department can serve as an objective facilitator– or even an advocate for employees when necessary. Sometimes “protecting” an organization can mean calling out our bad management or unfair employment practices that are adversely impacting employees.
Myth #3 – HR cannot be trusted to keep a confidence.
Many employees feel that HR is a confidant. HR is not under the same constraints as a Doctor or Lawyer–there is no HR-employee privilege. It’s HR’s role to take the pulse of an organization and communicate the findings. HR is responsible for assessing an organization’s overall culture (i.e., how employees are treated or how they are supporting the mission, vision, and values, of the organization). Your HR team is responsible for assessing what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change in order to meet key business goals and objectives. At times, an HR professional may be obligated to share an employee’s concerns and follow up on complaints with management to address larger problems, such as harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc. It is appropriate for HR to both support and advocate for an employee if they are experiencing an issue. But know that HR may need to engage others in finding a resolution.
Myth #4 – Human Resources adds no revenue value to an organization.
Human resources is sometimes considered a “soft” industry because there is a misguided notion that we can’t provide quantifiable financial data about our workload, we don’t generate revenue, and our HR projects/programs don’t produce tangible results.
Times are changing with the implementation of HR Scorecards, for example, the increasing importance of managing and reporting employee turnover and top talent defection rates. Not to mention that measuring decreased absenteeism against engagement, safety incident costs, overall head-count, compensation and benefits competitiveness, total employees trained, HR expenses as a percentage of total operating expenses, internal customer satisfaction, low time-to-fill ratios, and cost per hire, are all quantifiable. Make no mistake–HR contributes to an organization’s overall success and revenue.
In Summary,HR must be included in an organization’s overall business strategy with a seat at the table when determining and prioritizing strategic business initiatives that extend well beyond policing employees. It is imperative that HR has the trust of the entire organization from top to bottom to be successful in making a difference in the overall performance of the business.
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.