I was reminiscing the other day about some of the worst bits of HR work I’d ever been asked to do, and realised that across my career there’s been a few instances of what I’d call soul-destroying HR. I tweeted about this to see if others had similar experiences, and lots had. This blog discusses this.
I think, whilst we would all like to imagine it could, there’s no way that 100% of anyone’s work is totally delightful and there will always be some element that is mundane and routine, and possibly even soul-destroying. One would hope, though, that this is as small a % as possible and efforts are made to minimise it.
HR seems to have more than its fair share of this type of work, and I’m not sure why. For a function that should be about shaping the future of work and about creating employee engagement, we have a bad reputation for doing some pretty nasty stuff.
And we all seem to have experienced it.
In a previous job I took over running the annual staff end of year celebration. The person who had done it up till then told me to my face that “HR isn’t about doing things that staff actually like and will motivate staff, HR are the fun police”. I said she had been working with the wrong type of HR people.
Even yesterday a friend was telling me about her experiences of temping in a new job. She was told by the HR manager to move her car because “small cars have to go at the edges of the car park so that bigger cars can go in the middle” and this was apparently a key function of the HR team there. Apparently the HR team at this place have an awful reputation for being the fun police too.
So it’s widespread. But in a job that brings with it some element of compliance work, it’s inevitable some of this type of work will creep in. Sadly.
And I’ve done my fair share too.
I started a new job around a year ago now. In my first month I had to end the contract of an interim manager, with two weeks notice, when that interim had been told before I’d started that he would have an extension for another four months. He had, understandably, turned down other work and made financial commitments around this. My own manager had decided that the extension was ill advised and wanted this interim manager gone a lot sooner. But instead of telling him herself, she got me to do it. I didn’t agree with it for lots of moral reasons, but had to be the one firing the bullet. Because I was new, and because I was the one saying the actual words, the interim manager felt it had been my decision and told lots of colleagues that it was my decision. My reputation within the team took a dive.
In the same job and in the same first month I was pulled in by Finance who queried some of my teams expenses, which appeared to be outside policy. Finance said that “for audit purposes” I had to investigate this possible expense fraud and so I did. There turned out to be no fraud, but some poor communication and reporting, but the investigation really pissed my team off at a time I ought to have been building the new working relationship with them. They felt I’d instigated the investigation and didn’t trust me as a result, all because Finance told me to.
And in another previous job I was told that my ideas about a ground breaking performance management system were not required, and that I had to implement a traditional appraisal and forced ranking system which the Chief Executive liked instead. Not only that, but I had to continually and constantly chase managers for completion and report completion rates (and nothing else) to the Board. And tell managers off and escalate their non compliance. And I didn’t believe in what I was doing, but I did it.
In reflecting on these, I wonder who the real baddie is here? Is it the persons who asked me to do these soul destroying tasks? Or is it me for not staying true to my principles and for sullying my own and HRs reputation by not refusing to do these things?
Possibly, it’s both.
But this appears to be a common theme in the responses I got on Twitter. Take a look at some of them below, all anonymised. There were plenty more…
• Sit through interviews of several candidates to later discover the manager was paying lip service to the process and had already picked (and informed) the successful candidate he was going to be offered the job. It was early in my career.
• Building an annual review process with agreed % increases by performance, position in band and market and then its basically ignored and the actual increase is based on mates, perception and threats of leaving
• The most textbook traditional annual appraisal system you can think of. Being told by on high we had to move someone to Underperforming (who wasn’t underperforming!) to meet a quota
• A ridiculously long-winded company-wide benchmark exercise on car allowances, to satisfy the ego of a senior leader who got an extra £12 pa as a result.
• Withdrawing over 20 offers of employment 2 days before the agreed start date due to the management teams lack of planning/communication and incompetence.
• Doing an in-depth analysis of all the exit interviews, opinion surveys and turnover data I had for the last three years to be told that my data was invalid because it didn’t match what the Director thought was the problem.
See if you can spot some common themes. For me it’s about HR doing someone else’s dirty work. About a real disconnect between HR and the business. And about HR not feeling strong enough to stand up to the business when asked to do something of this nature.
What causes this?
I confess I’ve been guilty of some of these but the important thing is that one learns from it, and believe me these are situations I’d not get into again.
But why do some in HR still get drawn into soul destroying work? I think, if you do, you may be in the wrong organisation or maybe the wrong profession.
In HR we may not be able to do fantastic work all the time, but we can be clear with the business that we are about creating a fantastic employee experience and work towards that.
If you’re in HR and want to talk to me about how you can avoid or get out of soul destroying work, or how to create a fantastic employee experience then shout – I can help.
Till next time…
Ps in other news, I’ve scaled back my training for a few months as I’m finding it hard to manage this commitment with my newborn child. In a few months time it’ll all be fine, so I’ve pulled it of my remaining 3 2018 races but have already entered some for 2019…watch out