During one of my interim contracts a little while back, I was introduced to a HR Partner. Let’s call him Dave.
Before I met Dave for myself, I was firmly told Dave was great at his job. He was a well thought of HR Partner, valued by the management teams he supported. He was always at his desk by 7am and his phone was ringing straight away. His management team knew that they could rely on him to be there. Dave was in the office until late every day, putting himself out for his client group.
Dave was great.
Sooooo…… lets unpick that a little.
First of all, let’s look at that definition of great. Sometimes, HR people are valued because they are innovative, bring good challenge, are highly knowledgeable, credible and professional – they work as true partners. Sometimes they are well liked because they, let’s face it, do other people’s jobs for them. Very early in my career I received a complaint about my attitude – because I refused to tell an employee that they had a body odour problem and told the manager it was his job to do it. So great might mean great….. or it might mean you need to answer your phone at 7am because the managers re over reliant on you.
When I hear about someone working very long hours on a regular basis, I want to know why. There are a few possible reasons, in my experience. There might be a workload or resourcing issue – they simply have too much to do. They might be struggling or have a learning or development need. Maybe they are finding it difficult to manage their time. They might be, as in one situation I have known, avoiding going home. It could be cultural – this is what gets recognised, valued and rewarded, and hence this is how you climb the corporate ladder. As one cynical FD I used to work with commented, they might also be covering something up. In the case of HR in particular, it could be that the managers within the organisation aren’t enabled to make decisions – or aren’t sufficiently capable. Instead they are deferring to HR, avoiding their responsibilities, or they simply don’t know how to do them.
There are many reasons that contribute to individuals working long hours. ‘Great’ is rarely one of them. It’s our skewed perceptions of work and commitment that contribute to this belief.
We need to decouple work from being in an office, working well from working long hours. These are organisational beliefs, not truths.