By the time she met with me, her discomfort and exhaustion were evident. She was vulnerable and it showed: her tired eyes avoided direct contact and her hoarse voice betrayed her disgust. She slowly slid my paperwork in front of me.
“Mercy me,” I said. She nodded and closed her eyes.
We were all vulnerable that fateful day, our proverbial hearts on our sleeves, each and everyone wondering what we were going to do next, severance packages in hand. Earlier that afternoon, our HR director’s mood had been much more upbeat and empathic when she embarked on processing layoff after layoff, nearly the all the remaining 75 employees. At our height just a few months prior, we were just shy of 200 employees with nothing but blue sky ahead.
“I’m sorry, Kevin,” she said.
“Don’t be. This was my choice,” I said.
“Well, your only alternative is to stay on commission only to try and prevent this dot.com ship from sinking.”
I shrugged. “It’s sunk; not an alternative for me. I just feel sorry for those who didn’t have a choice, who have families.”
She feigned a smile. “Yes, I know.”
“Your job sucks.”
“Yes, I know.”
A lifetime and another incarnation later, I heard these words:
“I’m in HR because it’s fun.”
This time from a VP of Human Resources at a local credit union. One of her staff members, an HR generalist specializing in recruiting, echoed the sentiment. In fact, they positioned their brand and roles so eloquently, they practically had me convinced to finally convert to CHRO-nity and become a real HR pro (which of course could never happen in a million years, me only playing HR on TV and radio to date).
The two HR professionals and I had been on a local career panel together speaking to high school students about their career futures, whatever those may be. We shared our backgrounds, our wisdom and our diverse realities of what the world of work may have in store for them, and how to plan for it all and take ownership of it all, through business busts and booms.
Back to the part about HR being fun. I wanted to tease her about that comment and the fact that HR has never really been viewed as fun from a mainstream world of work perspective. They’re responsible for the not-so-fun compliance enforcement, benefits administration, performance reviews and outplacement work, among other slightly more glamorous employee-related responsibilities.
But I didn’t tease her, because the students immediately lit up and started asking all sorts of career questions about working at the credit union, and about what it’s like to be an HR pro and how to become one.
Lit up as in excited. Motivated. Dreaming of their future beyond high school where they could make a difference in their communities and businesses where there families and their friends lived and worked.
Dreaming of work that could be fun, like in HR.
And why not? The human resource profession is involved in every single aspect of a business, every single department and division, and every single applicant, employee, alum, contractor, and vendor – you name it. HR pros are the go-to folk in organizations big and small. They humanize the brand and help workforce communities thrive.
The world of work revolves around people and that’s what makes business buzz with capitalistic reverence. I’m fortunate because, while not a practitioner by trade, I’ve had the opportunity to recruit, hire, train, develop, evaluate, promote (and terminate when necessary) – based on “performance” and the needs of the business.
Not an enviable position by any stretch of the imagination. In a recent Human Resource Executive Online article by Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, she talks about HR’s perception problem, writing:
Simply stated, what human resource managers do on a daily basis is personal to each and every employee. And not every employee likes what we do.
And neither do the other business leaders. That’s the conundrum of converting to HR and CHRO-nity. HR professionals spend a lot of time taking care of the people within their organizations. They drive people performance that propels the business performance and empower the “propellants” these include these nurturing activities – engagement, collaboration, communication, mentoring and learning.
But beyond certification (controversial as it is now), HR pros don’t take enough time to do the same, to network and help one another, when they can and should.
Again this summer I witnessed thousands of HR pros learning, networking and “certifying” together at the 2014 SHRM Conference where we heard American journalist, columnist and author Tom Friedman say these words so matter-of-factly:
“No one cares what you know. They only care about what you do with what you know.”
This is why the benefits of HR conversion are in the communion and the collective commiseration, but so many still fall short on supporting themselves and others with the HR space, which is again, why mentors are so important.
Hey, let’s keep it unstructured as well and go hang out for happy hour, right? Happily we learned on the TalentCulture #TChat hour about the Whine & Dine Human Resources Networking Group, founded in 2003 the Northeastern U.S. on a simple premise – to advance professional and social networking for Human Resources professionals without the burden of membership fees, event fees or excessive rules or requirements and to support the HR community everywhere.
It needn’t be the last supper when your professional peer group gathers to talk shop and knowledge swap. No, as long as we’re all paying for our own food and drink, we’ll see you next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. That’s where the fulfilling HR conversions stick to the ribs and the souls.
Although since I just had knee surgery, someone’s gotta come pick me up.
Anyone? C’mon, I’m feeling vulnerable.