What do you do if you work in HR, but you’re miserable? That’s a question I answer multiple times every week.
While I’m not the VP of HR for America’s HR professionals, it sometimes feels that way. Many of you are discontented, sorrowful and suffering. You’re under-appreciated and exhausted. And I wonder — if you feel this way, how do your employees feel? Work sucks for you. How can you make it better for yourself and your colleagues?
Well, I think the key to reinvigorating your career is to redefine the paradigm of HR and do human resources for yourself.
The first new pillar of HR is embracing a healthy dose of risk-taking. A strong HR department encourages entrepreneurship and innovation while managing risk. It’s not about “design thinking” or “risk-based thinking” — although those are fine buzzwords — but it’s as simple as giving yourself and your colleagues the room to try new things and make mistakes. And the first principle of being an entrepreneur and an innovator is simple: you have to try.
It’s curious how HR leaders are often students of high-performing cultures but still shy away from new ideas in their organizations. These are HR professionals who idolize daring executives but can’t work the “courage muscle” and take a risk.
Believe it or not, personal rejection is good for the creative soul. I’m not saying you should get turned down once a day, but you’re not trying hard enough — for yourself and your company — if you don’t hear the word “no” at least once a week.
If you live and breathe, you learn. That’s why the second pillar of great HR is to create a department that’s obsessed with continuous learning. I’m not referring to programmatic activities that can be documented, measured, tested and incorporated into an employee record management system; however, those are important objectives for some jobs. I’m talking about the learning that comes from being curious, pursuing new ideas to their conclusions, and trying something new and failing.
So we’re back to the first principle. If you champion and promote risk-taking within HR, you’re modeling a culture of learning for your company. And if you’re learning while working in HR, you won’t be miserable.
The third pillar is that the modern HR department must be community managers. It means we oversee the terms and conditions in which people interact with one another. We must create a climate of goodwill and support, and we should strive to overcome biases and prejudices across the enterprise.
Community managers, unlike HR managers, don’t tolerate racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia or indecent language. They’re like the idyllic version of umpires and will call balls and strikes without bias. And they’ll support members of the group who feel disparaged, defamed, or depreciated.
But to be community managers, HR must be the change we wish to see in the world. You can’t tolerate leaders who are sarcastic, egotistic, hostile, anti-worker, anti-ACA, anti-gay, or even anti-immigration. And it means taking a stand and fighting for your community when your common values are compromised. The good news is that if you defend your community, they’ll have your back when you’re on the ropes. And that’s how you fix work as a whole, by realizing you’re all in it together.
The fourth pillar of HR is all about the money. We must become compensation stewards and manage the salary practices that go up and down the ladder of power. Unfortunately, many HR professionals don’t make a ton of money, and, on top of it, they don’t have access to discussions where decisions are made about salaries, merit pools, and bonuses. That sucks and is definitely hard on the heart.
All is not lost, though. You can work on your education, get promoted, and develop your executive influence skills to get into the mix and share your thoughts and affect change. This is a long-term play, but use your career and proximity to power to fix this system. Do it for yourself, and you’ll fix it for others.
Finally, HR could change the nature of work by being guardians of the overall employee experience. That means putting our well-being first — not as martyrs, but as people with complex lives and families and hobbies and interests — and creating boundaries between work and life.
Just to clarify, there’s a difference between balance and boundaries. Work-life balance is the lie companies tell you so you’ll take your laptop home with you and multi-task after you feed the kids dinner and turn on the TV. Boundaries are lines you draw so that your family time after dinner isn’t compromised by work.
Guard your time — have a healthy private life full of movement and joy and laughter and love — and you’ll fix work by prioritizing what’s important and keeping your career in perspective.
So, here’s my advice for HR professionals: take a few more risks, focus on learning something new, be a community manager, be a steward of fair compensation practices, and invest in your well-being. If you did those five things in 2019, you’d fix work for yourself and your entire company. And people might love HR, again, including you.