Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Can't HR Be More Fun?


Why can’t HR be more fun. Human Resources is supposed to be the place where the human asset (with apologies for the dehumanizing term) is best leveraged. Find great people, give them the right compensation so that they are free to work and happy to work in your company, on-board them so they are productive, and nurture them so they grow. OK – hands up – how many employees of the average company really see HR that way? Not many.

It used to be. When I first started in my professional career in the early 80’s I worked for a large consulting company. We did IT stuff. We did not have a large HR team – but the team we had spent all their time trying to make sure we had an environment where we could get things done. A wine and cheese party on the premise was permitted; time to learn your job was expected; investments in learning (and leisure) were encouraged.

What happened?

HR got legal…… and HR got “professional.”

In the last three decades HR has become rigid and overly procedural. Companies started worrying more about getting sued than enabling resources. HR responded by getting better at helping companies avoid legal problems, and less capable of helping employees prosper and grow. The “profession” of HR became more and more about legal and regulatory concerns. Professional licensing became an exercise in memorizing all that legal and regulatory stuff. Where are the questions about relating to people?

Then – to make matters worse, the last decade has decided HR process improvement meant cutting staff even more (especially the touchy-feely ones) and outsourcing as much of it as you could. Have you ever been part of one of those atrocious “shared services” companies? If you have, you know what I mean. They wouldn't know an actually employee if they met one. All the people in the company are asset liabilities that have to be managed to reduce risk.

HR used to be fun. The HR representative was someone you could sit and talk to. The HR person helped organize events and worried that people might not be happy. HR was one of those departments that employees liked.

Not anymore. HR is a self-service website or the person who sits next to the boss when you are about to get laid off.

Too bad. I am still in touch with my first HR Director from back in the 80’s. She’s still in HR, but she doesn’t like her job much.