HR departments are the civilian equivalent of internal affairs. It can be a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
I was going to write a painstakingly researched piece about the history of HR, but it turns out there are literally hundreds of them, and whilst some of them are informative, they aren’t terribly entertaining. And this kind of sums up the topic of human resources – it’s an integral part of the modern landscape of business and commerce, but it’s also a little dry.
My first experience of human resources was when I worked for a bank in the late 80s, types he, reminded once again that he is well and truly middle-aged. They were given an alternative, not terribly pleasant name that isn’t usable nowadays in these politically correct times. That’s a good thing, by the way – sometimes politically correct is, well, correct. I just Googled said unpleasant alternate name and I delighted to say it appears to have sunk without a trace.
These new-fangled HR people were viewed with something like suspicion; there was a feeling that we weren’t on the same side, and I find myself asking: how did this happen?
I wrote a blog a little while ago – an insider’s view of the recruitment industry – and it occurred to me whilst putting it together that one reason why recruitment consultants are often viewed negatively is because they are stuck in the middle of the employment process. They are the middle-man (or woman -should I just say person? - that feels a little clunky) in the complicated and sometimes fraught relationship between employee and employer.
Sound familiar, anyone in HR?
Of course, the comparison is not water-tight. To start with, any idiot can call themselves a recruitment consultant. I should know. There are some professional bodies where exams can be taken, and a few letters can be put after a name on a business card, but let me tell you, these exams are a slam dunk. In all my years in the industry, I don’t remember a single person failing them.
HR is a different animal altogether. Employment law and administration are hugely complicated; it’s a bureaucratic minefield, and the consequences of failure can be severe. These are litigious times. And the qualifications to climb the HR ladder are hard fought; this is not an alcohol-fuelled three-day course with a couple of multiple choice “exams” at the end of it. Many HR people will develop their learning (up to Master’s degree level) whilst working and will take years to complete it. And even then, HR is so fluid that keeping up with changes is a constant, ongoing process.
HR professionals and recruitment consultants are far removed from each other. But despite this, both are caught in the middle – in their own way – of the complicated relationship between employee and employer. And obviously, this impacts on the HR professional far more because they are in situ, dealing with the same workforce, day in, day out. Recruitment people dip in quickly, and then dip out again.
Like I said, it’s a loose comparison.
When changes are coming, it’s the HR people that must see them through. They don’t decide on these changes – such mechanics are left to management and money men (or women; here we go again - language is so male-framed) – and they are almost by definition the buffer zone between the decision makers and those affected by the coming changes. This will sometimes mean redundancies, alterations in jobs, unwanted moving…by and large, people like things to stay as they are and they resent those who get in the way of this.
Cue the HR department.
To effectively do their jobs, it is an absolute necessity that those who work in HR develop the ability to detach themselves from the impact of what needs doing. It’s a self-preservation tool, a little akin to a medical professional who must do the same in order to achieve the best outcome, even if this outcome is less than desirable.
It’s a process of desensitization, too. I know this from my time in recruitment. I have had to sack hundreds of people from my time of running temp desks. It was horrible to start with, but after a while, you learn to deal with it and the often unpleasant and unpredictable response. You see it for what it is. People lose their jobs every day and the vast, vast majority will bounce back quickly.
So, please spare a thought for those in HR. They are a necessary part of the work experience, especially with large employers. I know, I really do: they can appear cold and maybe even robotic, but they have a job to do, just like you do. If you work at the frontline in many a business environment, then you will have to tell your customers things that they don’t want to hear, and sometimes the customers will blame you, personally.
It’s not nice, is it?