I just finished reading the article When You Google “Human Resources Is”… posted on SmartRecruiters‘ blog. In it, the author explains his theory as to why company HR departments are generally disliked by both rank and file employees as well as management and executive level staff.
It’s difficult to argue with the point he makes that the HR function is perceived as corporate policing and basic party pooping.
It is probably true that people, in general, are not inclined to enjoy following someone else’s directives to do or not do whatever it is that is supposed to be done. Personally, I can admit that the surest way to get me to do something is to tell me that I can’t or that I am not allowed to do that thing. It is a red scarf taunting a bull. Of course, this is my first reaction, which is not something I necessarily can control.
I am, however, fully accountable for the very next thing I do and because I realize that this reactionary response on my part does not serve me well in adult society, I put the brakes on having fits when I’m told what to do by people in positions of legitimate authority–like, for example, the CHP officer that pulled me over for speeding. I wasn’t speeding but that really didn’t matter at the time.
When the nice man tells me to give him my license, registration and proof of insurance I don’t choose that time as my opportunity to express my opinion about how I think he’s doing his job. I smile, sign my ticket and thank him for his service and speed off. If I am not interested in losing my current job, when HR tells me I must do something, my big girl brain is capable of respecting the rationale behind the directive. I appreciate their service. No, really. I do. If I am able to understand and abide by the rules, I suspect most other people are, as well, so I think there is also something else going on as to why we so unilaterally think HR sucks.
So there is some truth in the idea that the function contributes to the general unpopularity of HR, but, I also think there’s another more problematic antagonist. HR is a department staffed with people who unlike anyone else in the organization, is afforded an extraordinary & singular amount of power.
The people who represent HR have access to information that is available to no one else. They are not required and therefore do not reciprocate the favor of providing essential insights. Coupling this with the ability to disrupt someone’s means of putting food on the table and a roof over their family’s head, it is, I think, appropriate that they are given something of a hairy eyeball.
What I mean is, if anyone is afforded unique and unparalleled privilege & power, I fully expect that to be accompanied by a requisite level of accountability and oversight. But, that’s not what I typically see in an organization.
Typically, I notice HR is staffed by people who don’t instill much confidence in me that they can handle this kind of power without letting it get the best of them. Power makes people heady. It’s seductive. It likes to be seen and it likes to show off. What better vehicle to use than someone who is of average intelligence and just graduated from college with a B.A. in Comparative Literature? Of course, not every individual fits that stereotype, but it only takes one of them to ruin someone’s whole day when there is inadequate oversight.
It’s not their fault, of course. The problem, ultimately, is with company leadership. When the article asserts that executives (aka company leaders) are equally disdainful of the HR role, it reinforces my suspicion that many companies are being led by well compensated place holders for leadership because if the executive teams are comprised of people who feel intimidated or annoyed by HR representatives in their company, than who the heck is actually running the business? Who is responsible for the HR culture at the company? Who is overseeing the people wielding all that power? That is what makes this sentiment a chilling one to consider. I have met some of these leaders and their HR representatives and the impression is one that doesn’t cast a favorable light on the business, in general.