Putting the People back into HR

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Hi. I’m Vicky. I’m a people person, and I happen to work in Human Resources.

Let me tell you the story about Dave (not his real name, but everyone knows a Dave). Dave has not been his usual self lately, a little grumpy, some might even say snappy, and he certainly hasn’t produced work to his normal level. His manager spoke to HR in the shared service centre, who told them to manage through the policy. This meant a recorded conversation and potentially a PIP.

However, what the shared service centre didn’t know is that a close family member of Dave’s has been battling a serious illness. Dave’s manager had a conversation with him, but because they were given a set of questions to ask, they didn’t find out the impact this was having on Dave. Instead, Dave was put on a PIP which he had no chance of achieving.

Why did this happen? The clue is above “shared service centre”. “Hang on Vicky, that’s a bit controversial” I hear you say. Well, hold on to your hats because this is only the beginning.

Shared Service Centres leads to depersonalisation. Taking the Human out of Human Resources. Turning us all in to robots, all in the name of a drive for efficiency, in exchange for our wellbeing. Have we lost sight of who we are as a profession? Shared Service Centres devalue us as a profession. A shared service centre doesn’t care about employees like Dave, seeing them as a problem that needs to be “sorted”, usually ending in that person somehow exiting the organisation. Yes a shared service centre can save an organisation money. Yes a shared service centre can save managers having to do practical tasks, but who are we meant to be here to support, the organisation or our people? Shared Service Centres do not know the business or employees and if you think that in 2021 that is not a problem, then perhaps you are in the wrong profession.

I’d even go as far as to say shared service centres take the Human out of Human Resources. I went for a job interview once at an unnamed company. It was a shared service centre. All “enquiries” were dealt with on a ticket system within an SLA. I have never been to an interview where even I as a potential employee felt “impersonal”. I could tell the interviewer was disengaged with the organisation, going through the motions, even soulless. Of course, it could be that she was tired, had her own “Dave” story, but it was apparent that her organisation did not care about her, and if they did not care about her, how could she care about the organisation? Needless to say I did not take the job, and I vowed there and then to never work in a shared business centre.

Do organisations not want HR departments because HR departments are bad, or have HR departments become bad because we have lost sight of the Human? Let’s face it, that question itself is worthy of a blogpost itself. The issue though starts with the HR department itself. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard HR say “we need to change the culture of the organisation”, but how can you support or change the culture for the organisation if the culture in HR is wrong? So what contributes to a poor HR department? Lack of feedback, thinking we know what is best without asking employees across the whole business (not just managers), technology phobia, I could go on and on. The biggest thing though, at least for me is treating employees as resources and not humans. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been subjected to it…”bums on seats” an old manager of mine used to call us. Well that’s all very well and good if you just want your HR department to be soulless and go through the motions, but we are not the people profession for nothing. If you work in HR and do not care about people, then maybe it’s time to consider your profession. HR is all about the people.

I’m going to put this out there…if you don’t like the culture in HR, change it. If you can’t change it, ask yourself whether the organisation is open to change, and if not, then ask the question “why?” I refuse to accept “it’s the way we do things around here.” Yes it may be, but it doesn’t mean it’s the right way, or there isn’t a better way, or that it cannot be changed.

So going back to Dave, what would you do?

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