Yesterday, I wrote about the future of human resources.

One reason I’m not worried about HR? The driving forces of human behavior.

I’m not just talking about the poor choices that employees make when they think nobody is looking. I’m referring to a whole host of conflict-avoidant behaviors. The tendency to hack your way to success, and by hack, I mean cheat. And I’m also thinking about the impulse that makes people look away when they see a dirty pile of dishes that need washing.

HR is necessary. Not a necessary evil, but necessary.

Team leaders don’t have time to figure out the psychological dynamic of some dude who keeps showing up for work late even though he’s been warned. Good managers will listen to an employee cry once, maybe twice, but definitely not a third time. And, let’s be honest, the CEO doesn’t have time to investigate a mystery pooper who craps in the hallway as a sick form of revenge.

The energy that goes into managing people (and emotions) is immense and overwhelming. Sometimes it takes a village to give feedback, especially if there are two technical people involved who aren’t comfortable with honest and candid conversations. That’s why I’m okay with my friends who work in human resources.

Whenever someone tells you that HR is dead and dying, ask them to elaborate. Who will referee “refrigerator wars” and tell the office when it’s time to clean out the old food? Who sympathizes with employees when their animals die? Who organizes hot meals and checks in on the worker whose daughter has just been diagnosed with lymphoma?

HR is more than just crappy, momma-driven labor. But even when it’s just women’s work, it’s still okay because it meets the human needs of the organization. When the driving force of human behavior is self-preservation, excellent HR professionals are more than equipped to mobilize positive behaviors in the workforce every day.

That’s amazing.

I think human resources is more than team building and payroll change notifications, but if it’s just that, be grateful. You’re lucky to have it.

1 Comment

  1. In a forty year career with a variety of companies, I think the vast majority of people I worked with did their own share of metaphorical washing up. They didn’t make “poor choices” when they thought no-one was looking. No-one pooped in a hallway when they were hacked off. And we took it in turns to clean the fridge.

    We were grown-ups and we looked after ourselves – and each other. We didn’t need an “immense and overwhelming” amount of energy to manage us. We were self-managed. The only nastiness arose when HR poked its oar into that dynamic. When the whiny guy who refused to do his share of washing-up complained of being “bullied” by those who did, for (another metaphorical) example.

    I would also say that the only folk I met who had “hacked” their way to success were a minority of senior managers – your main customers, I guess? The sort of folk who think that employees are whiny douchebags, and believe that they need HR to mop up after their workers and keep them in line.

    Sorry if I am misreading your post, but you seem to be agreeing with them (though I suppose that’s an approach that guarantees repeat business).

    I would contend that most employees are decent, and understand the nature of the boss/employee relationship. We come to work, we do stuff to the best of our ability, and you give us money for doing it. We don’t have to be engaged, just productive. Treat us right, and we will both be happy. It’s a simple enough dynamic. Employees don’t have to be demonised as part of it.

    But if you assume people are arseholes, treat them like arseholes and pay them as if they are arseholes, then you will wind up with an arsehole workforce. Is that the future of HR? Perpetuating the gap between management perception of the “driving forces of human behaviour” and the actual reality?

    HR could be a force for good. It could be brave, to maybe stick its neck out, to perhaps advise and persuade the “hackers” that thinking the worst of their workforce all of the time (or not thinking about them at all) isn’t a long-term bet for productivity and profit. That maybe it’s a sign of good leadership to check in on the worker whose daughter has just been diagnosed with lymphoma, rather than to just delegate the humanity to HR.

    I’m not seeing much positivity for the HR function here. And that’s a shame because I usually like your stuff.

    Or is it just me? In which case, I apologise for not doing the washing-up…

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