I saw a tweet from Sukh Pabial a couple of days ago, that got me thinking. I went to reply to him, and then realised it was significantly more than 140. Here is his tweet.
1) If the HR blogosphere is sick of reading about HR bashing and justifying our existence, who's talking in the positive with purpose?
— Sukhvinder Pabial (@sukhpabial) November 25, 2013
He posed a question, which sent me off on a tangent. The reference was to the recent raft of blogs, articles and discussions on HR bashing. I may have even written one myself.
There are a lot of discussions about HR bashing; doing it, defending it, damning it. Others criticising the profession, HR people doing it to ourselves. The subject touches a nerve in us, makes us tetchy and defensive, and I know why. Because just like many HR professionals, I’ve had to justify my own existence, my profession’s existence, the contribution we make. Often and repeatedly.
For many of us, defending HR is the reality. Justifying what we do, who we are, why we are. For every enlightened company doing good people stuff, innovative stuff, engaging stuff, there is a HR practitioner banging their head against a brick wall. Making the case for their own profession, their own contribution, their own job. A practitioner toiling away in an organisation that just doesn’t give a shit about its people. Or, as is often the case, pretends to give a shit in the recruitment advertisement, the employee handbook, the values statement, the induction material – but scratch the surface and the centre does not hold.
I know this to be the case because I have been there. I talk to other HR people that have been there, and some who still are. This is their daily reality.
I remember early in my HR career. I was stand-alone HR in a warehouse environment. Every day was a battle. A battle against the culture, a battle against my peers on the management team, a battle against my own self trying to uphold my values and beliefs in the face of constant criticism and belittling of my contribution.
Two incidents stand out. One was when an employee developed a health condition (covered under the then DDA). There was a perfectly acceptable adjustment we could make that would have had minimal impact on the business. I was sworn at for even suggesting we might do such a thing. I fought for the individual by going up the chain of command, but I suffered for it, afterwards. The other incident was a naïve attempt by me at Christmastime to do something nice for the employees. Just a Christmas meal in the canteen was my suggestion. The Operations Director said to me, in the middle of an open plan office: ‘They get a Christmas present. They get two f***ing days off. Christmas Day and Boxing Day.’
I voted with my feet, and took a role where I didn’t need to make the case, every day, that treating people in the right way, was the right thing.
I know people like to point to the evidence to support the function. I’ve personally never liked using statistics to make a case for HR. I know there is plenty of evidence out there that links engagement to the bottom line. Links good people stuff to business performance. But I’ve always felt that if you have to do that, to use that, then you have already partly lost the battle. If I have to provide some sort of objective justification to treat people properly, then I’m saying the wrong things, or maybe just talking to the wrong people.
There is no easy answer to this situation. Not everyone has the luxury of changing jobs. One person on their own trying to change ingrained beliefs about an entire profession is going to have a hard road. Waving a bunch of statistics about why people stuff is important just isn’t going to cut it in many organisations.
Most HR people I know are passionate about their craft. They want to make a difference. They want to do good people stuff. And that’s why we get angry about generic, sweeping criticisms that stereotype us all.
But today, my sympathy is with those HR professionals that are trying hard in the face of indifference and disdain. Those that feel like they are banging their heads on a brick wall, but are still getting up and going on all the same. My message to them is to carry on doing your good people stuff; you are making more of a difference than you might think. I know that the guy who needed the reasonable adjustment still remembers me, ten years on, even if the management team does not.
And one day, the right company, the right boss, the right role will come along and you will nail it.
As for those who don’t have to deal with HR bashing internally, let’s do what Sukh said: lead with positive purpose.