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Colborn’s Corner: Happy in HR?


Quentin Colborn

Many HR professionals are unhappy in their current job and believe they are being paid less than the average salary for their role, according to recent research by recruitment consultancy Badenoch & Clark. So is life in HR too tough? Quentin Colborn addresses happiness in HR and asks: "Do we have the right to be happy?"


Basil Fawlty, in addressing Sybil, once uttered the line "Happiness, yes I remember that." Now I'm not placing HR in the same vein as Fawlty Towers, but is it true that the satisfaction of working in HR has diminished for many? And if so, can or should anything be done about it?

Is happiness synonymous with satisfaction? The concept of being happy at work is not one that I would say is generally discussed, however ask people if they are satisfied in their work and you may get much more information.

So why might people not be satisfied in their work in HR? Well, HR is no different to many other environments and the twin factors of achievement and recognition must come into play.

One of the issues raised within the Badenoch and Clark report was that 42 per cent of HR staff believe they are being paid below average. This throws up one of the perennial problems in HR – that of access to confidential data. While the information provided is not entirely clear, there is a sense of course that it is not surprising that some people are paid below average – if everyone were paid above average, the average would move up!

Access to confidential information

However, within HR, like payroll and some finance functions, people do have privileged access to confidential data – and sometimes this will throw up some inequalities and unfairnesses. But surely this just goes with the territory of being in HR?

There are occasions where you learn something that is confidential but you have to keep it to yourself. I remember my early days in HR where I first got access to salary data, all very exciting – for the first week – and then it was simply a question of regarding the information as simply that – information – and then getting on with the job.

So what about the issue of recognition? I would agree that many HR people do not feel recognised; indeed many HR departments seem to have a chip on their shoulder about being undervalued and their contribution not being recognised.

Well, sorry to say this but perhaps in many cases there is not a big contribution to be recognised. Too often we hide behind a wealth of administrative activity and acting as corporate police officers telling line managers, "you can't …."

No wonder then the contribution is not recognised and HR professionals don't feel they are getting anywhere. If we spend more time getting down to making a real contribution to the organisations we operate in and stopped whinging about how unfair things are, perhaps the reception would be better! Who knows, perhaps if that happened more people would even want to join HR in mid-career.

Am I being unfair, or do you know of HR departments who whinge about their lot? Are HR salary levels fair? Alternatively, what should we do to make ourselves more valued? The remedy has to be in our own hands – what can we do about it?




Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operational and strategic HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]


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