Liz Ryan has another great piece.
I became an HR person in 1984. I managed Customer Service and Operations before I was put into my first HR job by my awesome boss, John Brady, who told me when I came back from vacation, “You’re the HR Manager now.” I was like “What?” I was sad to leave my team in the Order Processing department.
We had a fantastic crew and we had fun. I was sad because I thought that being an HR person meant that I wouldn’t be able to talk to our customers or sales reps any more. I loved our customers and our salespeople. We laughed and joked on the phone all day.
John said, “Go ahead and talk to whoever you want.” He got me to see a bigger vision for HR, before I had spent 10 minutes in the HR department. John said, “The purpose of HR is to make this organization an awesome place to work and to make sure we don’t do anything stupid.” I liked that vision. I dug right in.
The central point about making sure the company doesn’t get sued is key. The problem is that by the time the lawsuits start, the toxic is already terminal. At least it was at my last job. For everybody suing there are 100 other people just suffering. I learned how that works at my last job.
I’m going to say bluntly that the atmosphere at my last place of employment was about as toxic as it can get. Now much of this the responsibility of former owner and then manager of the place that I was working in. I’m going to be blunt here. I was the victim of repeated and deliberate abuse far beyond the normal working relationship by that man. This was not just one instance, but several times where the man would come marching into our office and start spouting off using the most foul language possible in the most abusive manner possible. I called it being CW’s whipping boy because he would always do it before having to give a pitch presentation to the higher ups. To say that this was a massive abuse of position and authority is putting it mildly. To say that this was a termination offense in the employee handbook is understating how far what happened was out of bounds. The company though, had more than 20 million invested in the man and that was what mattered.
Now there was a coworker who actually did sue even though as far as I know he was never actually the subject of direct abuse as I was. I was more concerned with keeping my job and getting the work done, for all that was worth. Which was not much, in the end. As things went on it got so bad that my manager called HR in. HR gave CW a stern talking to, which kept him off my back, if not the backs of other victims. HR couldn’t be bothered to talk a little me, find out the exact details of what went on and give me any reassurances. Which there were none as I suspect that I may have been targeted for restructuring soon after. Management brought in a new guy to ride herd on CW, but he was absent most of the time, buttering up his bosses and mostly listened to CW, who continued on as before.
In the end HR’s only success in the whole mess was getting me to sign the contract saying that I wouldn’t sue the company when they gave me the boot. As a mediator or conflict resolver they were pretty much useless. As a way of diluting or removing the toxicity, well the results speak for themselves. Because since I was restructured, the COE that I was a part of, the group that I was a member of and all the products no longer exist at the company. Which means that the investment in the acquisition was a loss for the most part. Death by HR to a certain degree. Simply because HR was seen by most of us as taking a “three monkeys” strategy.
Instead the HR departments spend their times looking for insignificant violations of vague policies and writing the rank and file up for them. That skimpy clad women in the shop or religious icon on the desk. those are harassment and need to go. They are creating a toxic work atmosphere. It’s no wonder that HR is all too frequently seen as the secret police in a police state.
This problem has been exacerbated by letting HR be responsible for recruitment. One problem is that between EEOC and the domination of HR departments by more bureaucratic types enamored of quotas and rules the usual jobs that are done by men outside of the C suite get diminished attention. It actually stats in the schools where boys are encouraged strongly to function under very stressful constraints.
This continues into recruitment in an atmosphere where job entry is controlled by people who see filling quotas as the key and filling individual jobs as putting cogs in a machine where each individual cog doing and individual job doesn’t matter very much.
In many ways I suspect that the HR types see it as addressing past inequalities. The real world doesn’t live and die by quotas and you can’t force people into roles they are not suited for no matter how much you try. So the whole thing end up going nowhere fast and frustrating everybody.
Meanwhile the application and interview process gets more tortuous and inane, with job seekers trying to play keyword match, overcome the prejudices and deal with ever more inane interviews that seem more focused on torturing the poor job seeker than actually filling the job.
Which is where we are now, with jobs going begging for months and years, while job seekers are left out in the cold never knowing if the application they sent in actually got to the person who has the need. All the while treated with a degree of condescension by HR types determined to keep people in their place. All of which has created the current almost total breakdown in hiring.
The fact is that the typical HR department is chasing purple squirrels and other such mythical beasts. Those people want to hire good little girls and boys that are under thirty with vast experience in all the latest technologies and a slavish commitment to a company that they have never worked for. It’s no wonder that the only thing that they can find are performing monkeys. The systems weed out any iota of independence and creativity. Let alone the ability to innovate.
What that leaves is ever more stressed people essentially biding their time, doing as little as possible waiting for the inevitable hammer to fall. The situation only keeps going downhill and at the bottom, there is the HR person with the nice neat package of screw you over contracts and guilt releases while they take your life apart. Is it any wonder that HR is hated?