Is HR Without Adminstrative Headaches Possible?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am currently at university (in Sweden) and will have my degree from a program aiming at HR (including i/o psychology, some other behavioural sciences, economics and labor law). I am just about to start applying for “real” jobs. 🙂 I have some experience from an HR administrative position during summer, and also a few years of experience doing other things. During summer, when I got to come up with a proposal for how a competencies module for a new HRIS to be implemented should be built and what it should include, that was a lot of fun. Interviewing a candidate for a position was also rewarding. Filing papers into folders, or typing data into a database, for hours and hours, decidedly less so.

I am an intelligent, responsible person, a fast learner and I feel confident that I could be great at organizational development and tangent areas. “Good enough” as I may be, I will never be a great administrator because I am so bored by doing work without thinking or being creative. I try to make it more interesting when doing that kind of work, but that only goes so far. I don’t mind SOME administrative work, esp. not administrating “my own stuff”, but I am truly afraid of ending up in a position doing predominantly that.

Do you have any advice for how I can try to, basically, avoid the boring stuff and work at and be great at the fun stuff? Especially considering I am just about to start my career.

Thank you for a great blog!

First, a disclaimer, I know nothing about Sweden, so I am answering this question from a US perspective. I did call Sweden once and when the woman answered the phone, in Swedish of course, I said, hesitantly, “Can I speak with [name]?” she immediately responded, “Yes, just one moment please. May I tell him who is calling?” And I thought, if someone called me and I answered in English and they responded in Swedish I could never just switch into Swedish with no problem. But, I digress and I shouldn’t have taken Hebrew as my foreign language in college because it has NOT been helpful.

So, can you just do the fun stuff? No. Sorry. Especially not at the entry level.

You enjoy organizational development? Great. But, as you sit around thinking, eventually thoughts will have to get down on paper and into Power Point. Seminars will be scheduled and handouts printed. Even if you had an admin to do the “putting together” part, you’ll still have a ton of administrative work along with it.

You enjoy employee relations? Great. You get to talk to people. Help them solve their problems. Make the world a better place. And then you have to fill out paperwork–document performance issues, conduct employee exits where you have to check off boxes that say you’ve collected a badge and they have 3 days of remaining vacation.

You enjoy staffing? That’s an administrative nightmare here in the US. Better make sure you save the criteria you used for every search or you could be in big trouble for discrimination. Don’t forget that not knowing a candidate’s race is not an excuse for not being able to submit statistics on the racial makeup of your candidates. Then you have to schedule interviews, review paperwork, copy forms.

You want to do HRIS? Well, welcome to paper central. Who do you think makes sure those lovely forms that have to be signed get sent out and collected? Who does all the reporting?

Comp? Ever heard of a year end salary increase program? Sure, you get to strategize on the best percentage for increases and help managers determine how to go about dividing their available money. But you still have to make sure every eligible employee gets a raise or a reason for not getting one. And then let’s talk about salary surveys.

Are you ready to run screaming? It’s not that bad. Really, it’s not. And you’ll find paperwork in any department you go to. And as you start out, one of the worst things you can do for your career is say, “I’m too smart to file/staple/fill that form out. Get an admin to do it.” Yes, there are many tasks that a trained monkey could do. However, a trained monkey is much more expensive than a low level HR person.

HR is great. I love it. I try to automate my administrative tasks as much as possible. But, in my experience you can never avoid them completely.

Generally, things such as typing data into databases fall on administrative staff unless it is a special project. I don’t think you have to worry too much about that. Make sure when you are interviewing you have a clear understanding of what the job’s expectations are. Just because the title says “trainer” it doesn’t mean that you won’t be responsible for maintenance of the training database. This is fine, you just need to know about it and what that entails.

Good luck and welcome to HR!

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6 thoughts on “Is HR Without Adminstrative Headaches Possible?

  1. Evil is spot on. Admin stuff is a part of everyone’s daily work life…well…unless you dig ditches for a living (and even then I’m sure you have to turn in a time card either written or electronically!).

    You are just beginning your HR career. This means you probably have great “book knowledge” of HR. Real-life knowledge, not so much. Sure you are a smart person and have common sense – heck you even had an internship to get your feet wet. But nothing compares to real life experience. Most HR managers and directors that will be looking at your resume cannot afford for you to screw up the big stuff (employee relations, recruiting, audits, harassment claims, union relations just to name a few). It’s not that they don’t trust you or appreciate that you have a brain and a degree. We just cannot afford to let you loose until you get your sea legs and prove that you have not only a strong handle on the HR body of knowledge & employment law, but sound judgment and the ability to be an affective consultant to your customer base. Or is it effective? Maybe I need to go back to school….hmm.

    At any rate, welcome to HR. Best of luck!

  2. The administration comes with the creative work no matter what your field. I’m a chemist who develops new products. Fun and creative stuff.

    I regularly spend at least 15% of my week doing admin. This is not my email or even writing reports on my projects (if you count that it takes even more time). This is doing that stuff that someone else could be doing with minimal training but each chemist has to do for their own products because otherwise we have to hire a whole new person to do it.

  3. I think Evil said it better than I ever could. That being said, I don’t mind the couple of hours a month that I have to spend filing (I am a manager)… “not” thinking is particularly enjoyable at times! 🙂

  4. EHRL is exactly right, as usual. I don’t think there are jobs without some boring administrative parts. And it’s triply true when you’re first starting out, because your employer needs to build up a comfort level with you before turning you loose on the riskier (and usually more interesting) work. The way they do that is by watching how you handle less risky stuff; if you’re meticulous and thorough with administrative stuff, they’ll be more willing to give you other types of work. What you don’t want to do is give that stuff short shrift, or it may be all they ever give you.

    However, if you focus on why the less interesting stuff matters, and how it connects to or underpins the more interesting stuff, you may be able to change your outlook on it and enjoy it more (or at least hate it less).

  5. If you seek a job that does not have boring parts, you will be doomed to either misery or unemployment, at least in the US. If, on the other hand, you seek a job where you don’t mind the boring things because they’re part of something that you love, you can have a wonderful career. Think through a

    Make a list of the things you’re good at. Make a list of things you love to do. Identify the things that show up on both lists. Try to find work where you can do lots of one or more of those things.

    Don’t think that just because you wound up with a degree that points you toward HR, that HR is the best place for you. Many of us started out with a degree in something that is unrelated to our jobs. Were that not true, literature majors would starve.

  6. Wow! Having only read Evil’s post, I was going to comment that perhaps this is a Freudian plea for help exiting our field…. but seeing the other posts by our HR peers makes it look like there’s an epidemic of unhappy, disenchanted HR folks running around the blogosphere.
    Cheer up and remember our HR war-cry: “You can’t spell WHO CARES without HR!”

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