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Tara Daynes

Tara Daynes

HR Consultant

Read more about Tara Daynes

Is HR a department of cobbler’s children?


Do you hate your HR job? Or maybe you don’t hate it exactly, but just think that there is something else out there that you’d enjoy more? Are you, in all honesty, a bit rubbish at it?

HR has been getting a lot of bad press lately. Thanks to that woman at the BBC (HR Director Lucy Adams) whose integrity (or lack of) was pulled to pieces by the Public Accounts Committee, HR as a profession has been in the firing line, with the firing squad largely lead by the Telegraph’s Louisa Peacock. We’ve been accused of being a pointless department that adds nothing to the bottom line, with the whole BBC debacle described as the final nail in HR’s coffin. (Thanks, Lucy and Louisa. That’s all. Just – thanks.)

The question has been asked, why would women (or anyone) want to work in HR anymore? I would say however that a large proportion of the profession didn’t really want to work in it in the first place. I’ve come across far too many people who ‘ended up’ in an HR role, or just fell into it with no real career planning, professional learning and development  or dedication to the cause. As a result, far too many who are at best, apathetic about the whole thing, and at worst, unutterably miserable and making sure everyone knows it (you can see my previous rant on this topic here).

To a certain extent though I can understand this misery, when I see HR departments that fail to practice what they preach. As the saying goes, the cobbler’s children often have no shoes. We know that employees who have clear expectations, who are communicated with, motivated and rewarded, are happy employees, and happy staff are productive and effective staff. It’s not rocket science; it’s our job to know that. So why are so many HR departments not even doing this for their own team, let alone across the organisation?

I spent some time in the HR department of a large company some time ago. The department head was known as the Wizard of Oz, as they were known about, generally feared but rarely seen. Sat in an office in a different part of the building, they would never visit or communicate with the rest of the team except to periodically practise what I call ‘seagull management’ – i.e. swoop in, cause disruption, poop all over everything then fly off again. The line manager held a completely futile team meeting each week, where nothing of consequence was actually discussed or actioned. The team felt this going-through-the-motions was simply so the manager could report to the Head that they were having a weekly staff meeting. There was the odd, equally futile 1-1 with the line manager, but no actual performance management or reviews. No-one had any objectives, no-one received any feedback or recognition, no-one ever did any CPD of any kind or showed any inclination to. The office atmosphere felt like the Dementors from Harry Potter had taken up residence. Everyone, it seemed, had left the will to live back at home, yet no-one made any effort to look elsewhere (except for a couple of roles that had a seemingly endless turnover as every new starter made a swift break for freedom.)

Surely HR should be leading by example; role modelling the behaviours and qualities we expect to see throughout the organisation? But with this (sadly not unusual) situation, it’s no wonder that our collective reputation is sullied. Managers in other parts of the organisation frequently told me how much they appreciated the help I gave them in dealing with ER issues, because “normally HR tells us what to do but not how to do it” – although given the complete lack of professional credibility that is an inevitable consequence of the ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach, I doubt they would have taken a fat lot of notice anyway.

The sad truth though is that having no drive, no enthusiasm, no passion for what you do, is a self-fulfilling prophecy – consciously or otherwise, if you hate your job you will inevitably be pants at it. It is part of how the human mind works; we think therefore we are. NLP practitioners will no doubt be able to explain it more precisely than I can, but the bottom line (the one that HR doesn’t add much to, allegedly) is that if you are convinced that your job sucks, and every day is just  another day in purgatory that you have to drag yourself through, then you will never be much cop at it. We need to get over the gripefest, change our mindset and start having a far more positive attitude towards what we do, why and how we do it – and that means making sure our own house is in order before we try and tell the rest of the organisation what they should be doing.

So let’s go back to the questions I asked right at the beginning.  If your answer was ‘yes’, then here is my revolutionary advice to you – LEAVE. Leave your job, leave the profession, go wherever you like. Just go, and leave the rest of us to get on with it – those of us who actually enjoy HR and put our hearts, minds and souls into doing a good job. If that sounds a bit too radical, then how about just learning to love what you do and spending every working moment making sure everyone else loves it as well? Too many people are too quick to point the finger and tell us how useless HR is – so get out there and prove them wrong!

2 Responses

  1. I love my job!

    I'm not one of those people who fell into HR by accident.  I actually chose it as an area I wanted to pursue, studied for qualifications and obtained my first HR job very soon into my studies (I used to be in insurance). 

    I love what I do; I have some frustrations with our senior HR team who do display some of the behaviours you have described in your article, but I have had such buy-in from my operations team, fantastic feedback from both them, my colleagues and manager, and sadness expressed from many now that I have been seconded onto another HR project so no longer work with them, that I know that I have demonstrated understanding of the business, add value, provide an excellent service and what's more, am appreciated for the value and help I give them. 

    I try my hardest to influence the direction of HR from my position and, whilst it has not been acknowledged by the Head of HR that the ideas were mine, I note that three recent "projects" assigned to members of the HR team were all things that I had suggested.  So I plug away, improve things where I can and maybe one day I'll be Head of HR and be able to implement much more business friendly HR!


  2. What’s their mission statement…?

    Much seems to depend on the actual (not stated) aims of the HR department.

    Are they there to help maximise everyone's potential, recruit the best people to help grow the business, and to ensure that any disputes are resolved as quickly, cleanly and positively as possible?

    Or are they there to implement policies nobody else cares about or understands, run endless sensitivity and diversity training courses (with role-play and puppets…) and generally act as though the business couldn't possibly function without them,

    Even the name can convey a degree of meaning – HR is bad, being either two abstract initials, or Human Resources, which is a lovely way of telling everyone who works for you that they're just a commodity, no more or less valuable than the computers or the carpets.  HCM is even worse, and I've seen it expanded into Human Cattle Management more than once.  The slightly old-fashioned Personnel has much to recommend it, as it does still contain the word 'Person' which should be a daily reminder to everyone that they are dealing with individuals.  I do like the one I've seen a few times, where the department whose function it is to deal with people is called the People Function.

    And a bad department would look at this and hold six three-hour meetings to work out whether or not to change the name, and a good department, whatever they're currently called, won't care, as long as it doesn't get in the way of them helping the business make money.

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Tara Daynes

HR Consultant

Read more from Tara Daynes