6 minute read

Why don't you find me sexy? An ode to HR

Do you find yourself stuck at parties waiting with dread for that question: what do you do? Working in HR, I am prepared for the looks of sympathy or boredom when I reply. But I just don't understand why other people don't find HR as exciting and interesting as I do. So here's my guide to what HR is really about and why we need to stress the 'human' not 'resources' part of the role

Working in HR is great

It’s OK! Don’t worry, I’m not spam, or worse, your ex.

I’m just fed up of being that person at the party, who as soon as they mention their job seems to repel people within a five-metre radius to the far corners of the room. Often leaving me hovering at the buffet table with a bottle of red… for one, or taking up social smoking for the night in the hope of some (ironically) human interaction.

Recently I was at my partner’s work event and struck up a conversation with one of his colleagues. His first question to me was: “So, what do you do?” After a little hesitation while I decided whether I should give him my real job title or name the profession I work in, I decided to go with the latter. As predicted, the next question was: “Oh, so what do you find interesting about that?” Fortunately for me, this gentleman then sat hearing me out for the next three hours as I endeavoured to completely change his perception of my role.

So, what do I do?

My job title is head of people. As in the incident I just described, I regularly simplify this title for many people and say “I work in HR”.

I am hugely proud of my profession and find my sector so interesting that I spend most of my spare time networking, reading and listening to people and culture podcasts. Humans and how they work together fascinates me. I therefore find it strange that other humans aren’t fascinated by the fact I work in the field of making work more human. Even more bizarre, is that pretty much everyone I know works. So why don’t they find HR interesting?

The problem with the term HR is not the 'human' part, but the 'resources' part.

I really like the word ‘human’, in fact I like it more than ‘people’ as when we use ‘human’ as an adjective it can be powerful and well… really human.

‘Resources’ is the issue because it labels people within an organisation as replaceable commodities; as stationary, as laptops, not as living breathing complex emotional beings. The problem is that I’ve tried to come up with a better word and find myself evoking thoughts of some evil genetics scientist or vague deity, for example ‘humans designer’ or ‘head of humans and culture’. See what I mean?

A real challenge in HR is how the function has been branded over the years to be this pen pushing, policy policing, transactional department which rarely adds any real business value and that employees either have zero opinion of, or worse, hate. This description just doesn’t ring true to what the job entails. My job is anything but transactional. I believe it is one of the most exciting and value-adding jobs out there.

I know I am not the only human resources professional that has come across this challenge. So, I want to use this blog to hopefully help fix some of the misconceptions out there about what HR does (or should be doing).

I thought a good first step would be to translate some examples of the more transactional lines on a typical HR professional’s job description, into what they actually involve.

1. Organise and deliver training sessions for employees

People think: We randomly organise training sessions which no one attends.

What we actually do: We design, curate and execute learning experiences and services that advance a human’s potential to perform and enjoy their work, while simultaneously adding value to the business’s bottom line.

We oversee long-term learning strategies that directly enable business growth and we support direct change in organisational thinking through activities such as workshops, continuous education and listening forums.

We are accountable for the engagement our teams have with the learning experience we provide, and the business value it adds. Every detail is designed and executed to ensure that our people across all levels and capabilities are receiving a thought-provoking and behaviour-changing experience, not just a training session with nice biscuits and a silly icebreaker.

2. Writing job descriptions and recruiting applicants on experience, skills and education

People think: We Google a job description, copy and paste it into our company template, change a few words here and there so it looks like we wrote it, reject a load of CVs that don’t fit the bill, start a 10-stage interview process for those candidates we don’t reject, pick one and hire them.

What we actually do: We co-design jobs with line managers, company directors and candidates that accurately reflect the role, promote flexible working and maintain agility while linking it to the wider long-term company vision, goals and objectives.

We shape a remuneration package that is competitive within its market and rewards additionally for achieving performance related goals.

We market and communicate to our target candidates, engaging humans in the company and the value of the job they are applying for from day one.

We have human conversations with people about their experience, what drives them and how the role would fit within their lives to ensure a great match.

We create a candidate experience that is vigilant, engaging but not prolonged.

We regret people with kindness, offering constructive feedback and our support for their ongoing career search.

3. Performing administrational tasks

People think: This is a bigger part of our job than it actually is.

What we actually do: Administration means being organised and quite often staying legal, so yes of course we do administrational tasks! However, this will be part of every department’s accountabilities, not just HR. Being organised with our administration and setting policy allows us to make fast decisions for the benefit of the business and present our due diligence when required to the relevant authorities mitigating risk and preventing unnecessary loss. Also, I would just like to mention that with our skills in people data analytics, we have to be complete wizards at Excel these days – finance eat your hearts out. Tech, in particular, is now reducing our administration time, meaning we are moving towards being a more design-centred and creatively focused occupation.

4. Managing employee disciplinaries, grievances and exits

People think: We are responsible for decisions on disciplinaries, grievances and exits.

What we actually do: It is a hugely important part of our role, although in most organisations only a small proportion of our responsibilities. More importantly, people departments (HR) are accountable for how we manage these processes, and coaching managers through any people relation matters. In progressive organisations the responsibility of executing these processes sits with line management to create a culture of ownership over performance.

So, now we’ve covered the basics of some of our real responsibilities, on to the fun stuff… this is the stuff that is quite often bespoke to a company culture and my partner still can’t really believe that these sorts of things are part of my job. So, in my HR career to date, here are some of the most interesting things I’ve been tasked with:

  • Write, direct and produce a pantomime influencing the CEO to be the lead pantomime hero
  • Break a Guinness World Record for the largest beer tasting 
  • Organise several parties for 1000+ people… (one had the biggest donut wall ever… nom, nom, nom)
  • Direct and edit numerous brand videos
  • Boomerang across the social media world, creating outreach media campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Dress up as a beer bottle and distribute flyers for a new menu launch (my CEO dressed up like a chicken)
  • Co-ordinate an employee tasting panel to sample 150 beers for our new drinks list without them getting (very) drunk
  • Design and launch several employee products and services including a company-wide intranet

    …and my favourite to date…
  • Train 555 people in Laughter Yoga, thanks Alex Double!

See? No pen pushing here. But the serious point is, we strive to be deeply involved with all the humans that make up our departments and teams to continually foster fun, recognition and happiness across our organisations.

In summary. human resources is not as boring as you think. What’s more, HR strategies need to be high up on the world’s business agenda because it’s proven that when people are happy in their jobs, companies perform better . Everyone wins, and with people spending over half their life at work, it’s important we start to help people better understand the critical role of HR in making work more rewarding and human.

As modern-day human resource professionals our work has fundamentally changed to be far more strategic, designed and cultural, but this remains a well-kept secret, with teams still seeing us as just dealing with payslips, holiday requests and sackings. Being stuck with this brand, that was created for us in the 50s, means it’s time for a makeover. To get this going and to help society start seeing and engaging with us differently, we not only have to be better at raising our profiles within our own organisations, but across our respective industries.

But – and it’s a BIG but – just shouting loudly about what we now do isn’t going to work in this day and age. The only way we will really start to transform society’s perception of what good HR does and should do, is by having the confidence to routinely co-design business strategies and solutions directly with and for the humans that make up the business. Working to find out what people in our companies really care about in work and their lives as humans, not as resources.

It’s time to make work more human.

Published 1 April 2020

My job is anything but transactional. I believe it is one of the most exciting and value-adding jobs out there.

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