Before I get into the meat of this post, I should start with a disclaimer:
I’ve never worked in HR. My mom has been in HR for 25+ years, so I understand her perspective of it, but I’ve never worked there myself (except for that one time I pretended to work in HR to scare an intern…).
I have, however, worked with countless organizations on how to improve their company culture to increase workplace satisfaction, employee engagement, and overall workplace effectiveness.
I’ve also worked in organizations with great HR departments and other ones that were not-so-great.
So what’s my beef with HR?
My issue with HR isn’t that they are often the gatekeepers to fun, although on more than one occasion, HR has been the catalyst for an impactful humor program being nixxed for one reason or another.
Side story: I remember at P&G when a small group of us employees got together and wanted to create a sketch revue show, written, directed, and performed by employees. We wanted management support, so we took it to HR. It went all the way up the chain only to eventually be shut down because the company was entering challenging times and the HR team felt it would be a distraction. What they didn’t take into account is that challenging times are exactly when you need something that will inspire employees, bring them closer together, and give them an outlet for the stresses of their work.
So where’s the beef with HR?
My concern with HR isn’t that they often pretend to be on the side of the employee when they’re really on the side of the employer, although it is a bit startling when you realize that.
Side note: I know plenty of incredible HR people who do everything they possibly can for the employees of their company (my mom included). However, at the end of the day, the person who employs them is going to win out over an individual.
So why do I have beef with HR?
My problem with HR is the name: Human Resources. We label people (human beings, homo sapiens, bipedal sentient entities) as resources. Just as money is a resource, time is a resource, computers are a resource, we claim humans as resources.
And over time, we all start to forget that the person on the other side of an email, the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference room is an actual human being, with a human life, human dreams, and human emotions.
To be fair, HR isn’t the only one guilty of this. Us Project Managers are just as bad (take a look at any PMs Project Plan and check how they account for human capital).
The Problem with Human Resources
What’s so bad about labeling people as resources?
You don’t have to motivate money to be worth anything; time doesn’t get sick, it’s going to keep on ticking; computers don’t have be convinced to turn on (though sometimes we do talk to our computers in hopes that it will make them work).
People are different. They have emotions. They get burned out, stressed out, and freaked out. They need things like motivation, inspiration, and reasonable working hours so they don’t develop high blood pressure through chronic stress, overeating, and sitting at a desk all day only moving to scuttle between meeting after meeting after meeting.
HR by Any Other Name
What’s the solution? Changing the name.
You already see this in startups where HR has been replaced by Talent Development. This drops the pretense of what HR is about and has a positive connotation about it (I like being called “Talent,” maybe it’s the Gen Y in me).
I’ve also seen: People Management, Human Empowerment, and Skin Robot Overlord*.
*This one may be a step in the wrong direction.
I know that just changing a name isn’t going to increase engagement or decrease absenteeism; nothing will change how entire organizations treat their people overnight. But changing the name could be a start (ain’t that right, Joyce Meyer).
Oh, and hiring a humorist is also a good option.