The Inhuman Side of Human Resources

“So the plan is to put that nurse at risk and possibly make her redundant? Who’s going to tell her? It’s alright for you in HR, but I know her really well and she’s going to be really upset with this.   So what support are YOU going to give her?”

….and so went the conversation earlier today when I met an HR non-believer – you know the type  “I don’t like HR, I don’t trust HR”

I smiled and gave my usual response…..outlining all the support mechanisms that have been put in place, including the support that the line manager (the HR non-believer) would be providing.

But the point is that my HR non-believer thinks that HR professionals don’t care.  That we don’t have empathy for the staff who are significantly affected by the current round of cost pressures;  or the staff who have submitted grievances because they have been bullied & harassed;  or the many other unpleasant and distressing scenarios faced by staff.

It’s a theme I’ve been thinking about for a while…. ever since I read Redundant Public Servant’s post on language in letters written by HR professionals – such as  “at risk” letters.

The other weekend I discussed with @pinkwizard_uk how difficult it can be both emotionally and mentally dealing with a heavy workload of employee relations cases.  And just yesterday I was chatting with a member of my local BNI chapter and he asked me how did I cope dealing with “depressing” issues all the time?

The content of our work can make us feel depressed, we experience feelings of despair and sometimes we will want to cry.  But we have to pick ourselves up and find a way through it.  And for that reason, many HR professionals develop survival techniques.

We have to learn how to distance ourselves for our sanity;  we become numb due to the level of emotionally difficult situations we face;   we learn that the best way to rectify a bad situation isn’t to fire-fight on a case-by-case basis, but to change things at a corporate level.

So, it’s not that we don’t care: we do.  We are just trying to manage our own mental health whilst trying to ensure that we meeting  legislative requirements and not compromising our organisation in any way.

Ever since the new year I have made a conscious effort to ensure that there is a person-centred approach to my HR practice.  I try to understand the perspective of the employee and work with my Trade Union colleagues where I can to ensure that the approach and direction is sensitive, yet aligned to business needs.   Without doubt, it’s a balancing act, but it’s important to get that balance right.

But this issue isn’t just an HR one:  A few months ago I drafted a letter for a manager.  We were closing down a particularly distressing investigation into bullying and harassment.  I gave the manager a  “standard” letter and then started to discuss with him what could be added to personalise it, for example to acknowledge the difficulties that had been faced by the individual member of staff.   The manager didn’t want to add anything personal. He stuck to the template and did not deviate from it in any way, despite my reasoned arguments to the contrary.

A couple of weeks later I overheard the employee who received the letter say “It was a horrible letter….I bet HR wrote it and he just signed off”.  And whilst that’s true, it’s not the whole story.  But who’s going to believe me?