In thousands of companies across the United States, and especially in Boston, the first phone call that company CEOs and Presidents made after hearing about the bombings at the Boston Marathon was to their head of Human Resources.
I recall an event about 20 years ago when I was a General Manager for a company in Colorado. I came into the office around 7:00 AM and as I started to settle into my routine I received a call saying that one of my employees had just shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself: Both dead.
I called HR.
As HR Directors do the world over, she rushed into the office and took over the task of finding out more details, making sure our employees knew what was going on, and taking time to talk to the friends and co-workers who knew this individual the best. I don’t think the HR Director was trained in psychology, or disaster response, or managing human emotions in the face of unbelievable circumstances. But you couldn't have proven that to me or to any of the people she (and the others in her small department) helped that day. They seemed to know exactly the right things to do.
The HR department is the emergency response group that spearheads how companies will help their employees respond to tragedies. They do this without fanfare and without questioning whether it is in their job description. They know helping people cope is a key part of helping keep the company performing. But it goes beyond that. The little appreciated fact about most HR professionals is that they care about how people are doing. They want to help. Period.
That is just what HR does. They help. They try and make whatever life sends our way a little more tolerable.
In the aftermath of Boston the day was met with a lot of silent HR heroes.