Public Perception of HR

by Evil HR Lady on March 17, 2010

I got the following in a comment from Twitchh:

And a good HR manager recognizes that employees are assets, not liabilities, but we all know that the general perception of HR is not one of sunshine, sweetness, and light.

Perhaps that’s because most people’s experience (as you’re seeing here), either direct or vicarious, is that if/once HR gets involved with *any* situation concerning you, things are *not* going to be resolved in your favor.

Do you have any suggestions for educating HR professionals to avoid the behaviors which reinforce this perception, perhaps even going so far as to spur HR into thinking of “mere” employees as people instead of replaceable cogs?

The problem with educating HR professionals is that we’re used to doing the educating,so we think already know everything. This, of course, is true. We do already know everything, so stop bothering me and go fill out some forms. Thank you.

What behaviors reinforce this perception? I’m sure all of you could list a thousand of them. Unprofessional behavior, mysterious terminations, sneaky reductions in force, training courses with no benefit to the employee, and lectures on “hiring the best person, but you are low on minorities in your department, I’m just saying.”

Now, I can give you reasons (and good ones at that!) for all of the above. Well, except the unprofessional behavior. I bet the rest of my HR friends could as well. Who can’t give good explanations for all of this? The rest of the business world. Why? Because, we the masters of employee communication, stink at communicating.

Sometimes we don’t communicate on purpose. We don’t tell you the date of the upcoming reduction in force because it wreaks havoc on the business if everyone knows it is coming on Tuesday, March 16. The unknown is bad, yes, but the known can sometimes be worse.

The problem is, in my way of thinking, is that after we announce the RIF on Tuesday, March 16, we are still secretive. We don’t share whether this was phase 1 of 2, or of 10, or if that was it, or what the plans are under the restructured company.

We give you lectures about meeting your Affirmative Action Plan goals, but we don’t truly explain why we have to do this (government regulation), how the company benefits from this, what the consequences would be if we don’t, how diversity is more than just a rainbow of races, and how we are working to build unity across the organization.

As for treating people as interchangeable and replaceable, well there’s some logic to that too. For many, many, many positions there are thousands of people out there who could do the job and do it well. There are hundreds that could do that job better than for the person who gets hired. So, yeah, we may treat you as replaceable because you are.

But, this also means we’re replaceable. (Well, I’m not. I’m one of a kind, unique and special, just like everybody else.) But, we forget that replaceable doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for replacing.

It takes time and money to bring a new hire up to speed. It takes time and money to search, recruit, interview, offer, negotiate, and hire a new person. It takes time and money to terminate someone. When someone leaves they take their institutional knowledge with them. This is often invaluable information that isn’t written down anywhere. Some of these things just can’t be effectively written down.

SHRM says managing people, managing organizations. Well, if people are our specialty, why do people hate us? And it’s not just because we deliver the bad news. I love my dentist and he frequently delivers bad news to me in the form of a large bill and novocaine shots. (I suspect he owns a boat, but he claims the cost is due to his own children’s orthodontic needs. I call foul.)

We joke about how we came into this line of work because we “like working with people” and how that was quickly beaten out of us. I have this theory that some of us (especially employee relations types) see employees as negatives because we only see the bad side. Sure, we’re supposed to be available for all that good employee development stuff. But, instead, we’re usually just called upon to tell Sally she has a hygiene problem and Bill that he’s going to be terminated for going poor performance, and blah, blah, blah.

We need to be better communicators. We need to understand the financial consequences of our decisions. We need to refuse the responsibility for the company party (hand that off to Public Affairs), and instead plan the company succession protocols.

I love HR. Honest. With all of my cold evil heart, I love HR. Because I think it has potential. I’ve seen great HR. I’ve worked for great HR people. But, we need to get more of us up to speed and communicating and working with and not against. If people are our most valuable resource, let’s cherish them. And for heaven sakes, let’s get a good HRIS in place so that we don’t have to bother you with paperwork.

Previous post:

Next post: