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Fellow HR folk – are you happy?

I’ve made some bleak observations recently with certain key trends coming through:

  • HR professionals (especially at mid and senior levels) are “open for new opportunities” on LinkedIn although more often than not they have only started their recent role in 2018 or 2017 (I saw this via recruiter licence)
  • A phrase I keep hearing from my more experienced peers and leaders is “Well it’s always the same in HR” or “That’s HR for you” on things like always being managed by Finance for some reason (i.e. Finance knows nothing about HR but always has the final say, and everyone in Finance is paid higher than HR), having to go with bad management decisions, being actively disliked by all employees for bizarre reasons, getting silly comments like “Oh HR is here I better shut up” when you’re trying to have lunch
  • Managers not owning up to any unpopular decision making and blaming everything on HR “HR said you couldn’t get more money”, “I gave person X more money 2 years ago and now person Y is peed off, but HR didn’t make the right decision then” etc
  • HR always being bottom of the pile for any budget decisions or pay rises, always the scapegoats, last in line, first in, last out “because that’s HR for you”

These are depressing. They happen over and over. You change a workplace and history repeats itself. My HR friends are not happy, my HR colleagues always muddle through, every week is a power struggle, politics everywhere, everyone is complaining all the time (staff, that is). We take crap from anyone and everyone every day. You never win or get any credit. Is it just me?

I am aware of the need to build up resilience, I am aware that I am not here to make friends, rather my mission is to make the organisation a better place to work and support our leaders with their decision making. Yes. The work is never easy, especially the higher you move in HR and I have felt it for a while. But do you ever get to enjoy it? What is rewarding about it to you? The rewards seem so scarce and precious sometimes, that it’s easy to lose sight of them in the daily struggle.

My questions are…

Does anyone feel the same?

Does it get better? If it doesn’t what do you do?

Is it the same in any other profession (in terms of degree of difficulty and emotional impact) and I am just blindsided by HR?

Have you worked in an environment where you truly were prepared to stay for years and enjoyed the role and the organisation (in HR)? Or is this unrealistic? (reference to all HR people already looking for a new job even though they started this year)

Any tips on raising own morale?

Is it worth challenging the phrases around “I know it’s not fair but it’s always the same in HR” if they are said to me in 3 different workplaces in a row?

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  • I love my job that's why I do it.

    My career in HR has given me more opportunities sand more great experiences than any other career I could think of.

    HR (like any other job) is what you make of it. We have a personal responsibility to strive for high personal engagement - if you (generally not personally) aren't enjoying your job or don't like your career path then do something about it!
  • Hi Maria,

    I am sure that I have felt exactly the same at times but I also know that I have felt the exact opposite at times as well. I have bad days where all I hear from staff is negativity and moans and that gets me down and I feel like why do I bother. However, other days I see the positive, it might be making the phone call to offer someone their dream job or even ensuring that a disciplinary procedure is conducted professionally so that the employee understands the problem but doesnt feel humiliated or "told off".

    I think it is easy to say that HR gets the rough end of the stick - being at the bottom of the pile for pay awards, being paid less than Finance etc. However, I think some of that is because we see all the pay of everyone else. I remember when I first started out in my HR career that this was something that took me some time to get used to - seeing what other people earnt you cant help but compare yourself to the. Over time I have learnt not to make the comparisons and only focus on whether I feel I am being paid a fair salary for my role. HR generally is a lower paid profession than Finance - thats just the way it is!

    In regard to the linked in thing, I think that a lot of people put open for new opportunities regardless - you never know when you might get that call about the absolute dream job. It doesnt necessarily mean that you are unhappy where you are but its always nice to see what else is out there!

    The power struggles and politics happen in every department. People complain about all the other departments - there are stereotypes for them too.

    I think it is always a good idea to examine if you really enjoy your job and whether it is the right career etc but dont make the mistake of assuming that all the problems would disappear in a different career - you may lose some, will probably gain a few others and many will be exactly the same.
  • I would say it depends on the organisation you work for, e.g. structure, size, management support, company ethics, where the headquarter is based etc. If you are unhappy in one company, keep on looking for one which matches your values and ideas & you have the support from your management.

    I think it's worth challenging that phrase as it really isn't always the same in HR (in my experience).
  • I too am in the fortunate position of being able to say that I love my job. I have had a couple of chances to move into other fields. I did a few years in sales during which I reached a management position, but I moved back to HR (with a degree of difficulty, having been out of the field for a few years) because I get much more satisfaction out of it than I did from sales. Some years after that I did an MBA. Many people use an MBA to bridge into other functions but once again I chose to stick with HR.

    My LinkedIn profile says I am open to opportunities. That doesn't mean I have the slightest intention of moving, just that I want to know what's out there.

    I get so much more satisfaction out of HR than any other function (and I've also had IT, Facilities and Finance report to me) because my work and the work of my team makes a real, tangible difference to the working lives of our staff. HR gives you a vantage point to survey the whole of the organisation and a reason to get to know and understand the whole organisation. Although I don't want to fire-fight all the time, I have to admit that I sometimes enjoy that feeling of jumping in when a crisis bubbles up - I enjoy it when a manager gets into a real muddle and can't see the way out, and I can come in like the cavalry to save the day. I like being part of the planning process. I like problem-solving. I enjoy keeping up with academic research and translating it into practical action that helps the organisation to run more efficiently.

    There are all sorts of stereotypes about HR (Human Remains) but there are about Finance (bean counters) and most other functions. It does irk me to see HR misrepresented on TV:

    "Celia Imrie as Philippa Moorcroft
    The scatty and disorganised manager of the Human Resources department, having apparently landed the job because she was having an affair with the factory manager, Mr Michael, who she refers to as Mikey. Her well-meaning attempts to relieve the dinnerladies' stress or help them in their personal lives generally have the opposite effect: in the first episode, she tries to organise Scottish country dancing sessions." en.wikipedia.org/.../Dinnerladies_(TV_series)

    We have to keep on upholding our own standards, behaving like professional business people so that our colleagues think that their HR person is different, their HR person is an ally and a support that helps them get the job done.
  • In reply to Debora:

    Hi Maria

    I have to echo Jeny's comments - frustrating and harrowing on some occasions but enormously satisfying and uplifting on others. Supposed I've been very fortunate to be able to work with (with some notable exceptions!) thoroughly decent colleagues. The financial rewards have been adequate rather than good but non-financial ones such as still being extended friendship and respect from colleagues I wouldn't have blamed for seeking to lynch me from the nearest suitable noose location have more than compensated.

    It's trite but I'm very sure it's true - it's what you make it..........if you find yourself amongst nasty people, then do something about it and if needs be walk away: there is no need to get bitter and twisted or miserable and ill.
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I agree with you about the HR stereotypes in TV programmes, but Celia Imrie in Dinnerladies still makes me laugh!
  • I enjoy my job - I have always wanted to work in HR so feel very lucky that I have managed to get a good role when so many others struggle.

    I admit that sometimes i do get upset or frustrated by things that happen or things that people say but I suspect that would be the same in any role and the positives far outweigh any negatives, for me anyway.
  • In reply to David:

    - crossed with Elizabeth's comments (although have to say that a few HR folk have IMHO only themselves to blame for some of the stereotypes - for example one I once had to endure seemed to spend most of her working day trying to organise group hugs (I kid not at all))
  • I love working in HR (or People and Culture over here in New Zealand) but I’m leaving my current job tomorrow – not because I hate it (I don’t) but because I fancy another challenge and in HR there is always another job out there.

    I don’t think it get easier or harder as you move through jobs, it's just different – and in my experience it is never the same. Only once have I felt down about a job – and that’s just because I stayed just a little too long

    As a leaving gift from this job I got to wash an elephant. One of my team is leaving to go work with rockets in the New Year. Clearly these are perks of the job and these things make us happy. [Yes, a real elephant, and yes, real rockets]

    But consider this, another one of my close friends has moved into an extremely challenging and unglamorous environment but she’s doing amazing things around supporting victims of domestic violence. She has found the good in a tough situation, and that is seeing her through. It may be a cliche, but you have to find the positive
  • I guess your evidence is probably anecdotal ??

    Certainly not my experience of HR, although mine is probably less than some.

    My 1st job in HR, the CEO , asked me how much we would need to run and develop our own in house training. I can't remember how I worked it out - probably a combination of guesstimates & wishful thinking, got me a training budget of £100,000 which was a little more than the figure I'd estimated without a further comment, and that was 25 years ago - the cost of a nice house then!!  I always felt I had as much influence whilst in  HR as anyone else - and some times a lot, lot more.  Not once since did I ever think I was second best or down the pecking order when it came to working in HR.

    Any job is what you make it. I've learned that by making lots of mistakes - and taking risks too, and  learning that its what YOU do that makes a job better - or worse.

    Pessimists moan. Optimists don't -= Perhaps you're listening to the wrong folk.?

    You can't change others - but you can change your own behaviour & attitude to get the outcomes you want!.

    Its only worth challenging others if you can convince the person you are challenging that their view is incorrect. If you challenge someone whose view, based on experience, is that "Its always the same in HR"; then you are wasting your time.

    One more thought.  You'll never ever get anywhere in a company if you keep your head in your own office.  Get out, find out what the company makes or does and learn how it does it until you know enough about it to start using your own skills and knowledge to influence things for the better.  HR, shouldn't be done from a bubble.

    Good luck!

  • In reply to David Perry:

    I've loved and hated every job I've done - there are good times and bad times everywhere

    In addition to the sound advice from David I would also say that HR only ever gets its place at the management table if it can demonstrate that it can add value to the company that others around the table cannot add. That means that in addition to being excellent at our speciality we also must acquire a thorough understanding of how the company actually works and how it makes money.

    Given what we do, we are one of the rare functions that permanently interacts with the totality of the operating and functional activities of a company - a fantastic opportunity to get to grips with how the company really works on a day to day basis. Once we understand these functions we need to learn to speak their language (marketing isn't finance, finance isn't engineering) and their preoccupations within the specific  context of our company. Only then can we start to contribute to delivering what is really needed and gain the confidence of these other that we are not only adding something but that we are talso aking into account their different contexts.

  • Does anyone feel the same? Occasionally.

    Does it get better? If it doesn’t what do you do? Yes, it gets better as you persist in implementing improvements, but it's slow going.  The nitro-charge for culture change and real improvements in HR and company performance comes from senior-level buy-in, and I find that it's when an HR team lacks that top-level support that progress is most tortuous and painful.

    Is it the same in any other profession (in terms of degree of difficulty and emotional impact) and I am just blindsided by HR?  Yes, all professions have their frustrations.  As far as the emotional impact goes, we build up a tolerance to the impact of difficult conversations, dismissals and being the point of contact for employees who think they've been shoddily treated.

    Have you worked in an environment where you truly were prepared to stay for years and enjoyed the role and the organisation (in HR)? Or is this unrealistic? (reference to all HR people already looking for a new job even though they started this year) No, but I have naturally itchy feet.

    Any tips on raising own morale?  Life needs to be about more than your job.  In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if your job isn't a means to an end that has little or nothing to do with your job, you're probably doing it wrong.  Whether it's to fund your traveling, support a hobby, or be a pathway to something bigger, you need something more than work to make work worthwhile.

    Is it worth challenging the phrases around “I know it’s not fair but it’s always the same in HR” if they are said to me in 3 different workplaces in a row? Absolutely, it is!  This is the refrain from cowardly managers doing nasty things to their employees and blaming it on HR.

  • This is a really good post.

    On a personal level, I have worked in a couple of places that I was not very happy. I therefore changed organisations and now I am really happy with where I am. I think its like all other careers, with good and bad days and also dependent on the organisation and as others have said, what you make of it too.

    Personally, the experiences I have had have led me to be more resilient, proactive and not afraid to challenge. I think these skills have come more from the not so happy experiences, so every cloud has a silver lining and all that!
  • As someone who fell into HR by accident, it's taken me a long time to properly accept it as part of my identity. I'm sure I'm not the only person who still has days (mid-forties) where I wonder what I might be when I grow up.

    When it comes down to it however, I think that attitude has served me pretty well. I've worked in lots of different organisations and got a lot of different experience. I've managed other departments alongside HR, and got a useful bunch of broad skills in related areas (marketing, fundraising, business development, facilities management etc), and while I wasn't paying attention I got quite a lot of 'people' experience.

    It means that the job I'm doing now, I really do enjoy (most of the time). I like the people I work with, I like trying to make their organisation a better place for them to work in, and I like being the person they trust with their problems. Most of the time, I know I am making an appreciable difference, and that feels good.

    It may of course help that I'm currently working somewhere that has never previously had an HR function - so there isn't that "HR is to blame for everything" mentality, and if it now develops then the fault is entirely mine!
  • Hi Maria,

    I read your post yesterday and it has been rolling over in my head all evening, so I thought I'd reply, for what it is worth.

    HR is a hard job. There's no doubt about it.

    No-one comes to HR to tell them what a great day they have had. No-one jumps out of bed every morning and frets about how they are going to make MY day better.

    And there are times when this can be wearing. What is particularly hard about stand-alone HR roles as well, is you don't often have another person to help with this burden. There often aren't people in the business it would be appropriate to talk to about these things, and so they build up and one day you start wondering if there is more to life than dealing with other people's crap.

    I've been there and I suspect it will continue to be a place I visit occasionally, regardless of where I work. I've worked in many different sectors, with loads of different people - some have been ACE and some have NOT. But everything, regardless of whether it is a good place, a bad place, with good people, with bad people, they will all have their moments because no matter where we go, or where we end up, we take our human with us. And so does everyone else. So I do not believe there is a utopia out there where we will love our jobs all day every day, or even a role where we can be 100% fullthrottleamazeballs every single day. Because people are people. And that means that sometimes they can be complete you-know-whats, and sometimes they can REALLY be you-know-whats.. but you know what? That's OK. Because for me, HR isn't a big bang crash overnight shift. It's glory in the little victories. It's winning the world over, one person at a time. It's knowing that of all of the 99% of rubbish, there's that gleaming pearl of 1% where you have made a real difference to someone.

    So forget about the whizz-bang everyone falls over because you're so amazing. Look for the glimmers in the dark corners... because my biggest "wins" are not on my CV and there's no blue plaque on the wall.

    Tips on raising morale?
    Change your outlook. Consider this a social experiment. Each day as it comes is a day where you are learning, acting on information, condensing and moving on. Don't own the nonsense, don't make it personal. Learn, go home and enjoy your life.

    Find an HR buddy. There's loads of us here. You've reached out already. I found a real life flesh and blood HR buddy while I was interviewing a while back and we got on. We don't particularly know each other, still don't really, on a personal level, but we exchanged numbers and we meet occasionally for a drink to chat. We talk about work and it's good because there's nothing like getting another impartial HR point of view on work "stuff".

    Get a set of lovely stickers. I'm not even joking. And a diary. And every time something good happens, put a sticker in your diary. Am I 7? Nope. But as you say, its hard to remember the good things when you're up against it all the time. We have short memories when it comes to remembering niceness and we can dwell on the dark.

    Be as pleased with your sticker as you would have been when someone gave you a sticker when you WERE 7.

    Smile lots, and relax.