The looks I get when I tell people I work in HR…. Granted, i’m not the stereotypical HR professional. For a start, i’m male, when HR is still a female dominated profession but that’s not the only reason I get funny looks.
In a recent discussion with a relative of a friend, when I told them what I did for a living, they said that they “couldn’t envisage (me) being all softly softly”. Upon further discussion, it became apparent that this person actually had a great experience with HR at their place of work, with a HR team who excelled in supporting absence, welfare and the like. Certainly an expertise in itself.
They were probably right. That element of HR is something most people wouldn’t necessarily associate with my personality (I am not, I repeat, not, a hard-arse by the way) as I can appreciate that i’m probably difficult to read in that respect. But what was clear, was that this reinforced my belief that there are lots of myths about HR practitioners out there that for one reason or another, don’t seem to want to go away.
So let’s try and dispell some of them.
Myth 1 : To work in HR, you have to be a ‘people’ person.
I mean, what is a ‘people’ person anyway? Someone who is kind, caring, empathetic, maybe? It’s simply not that straight-forward. And who can honestly judge someone that completely without really knowing them?
‘HR’ is not one job, one role, one skillset, one type of person. The HR profession has a range of different roles and even individual roles change from business to business and frequently from sector to sector. HR often (hopefully) values diversity, difference, a range of personality styles and approaches, so i’ve no doubt in my mind, that within reason, in HR, there’s a career for everybody.
Myth 2 : It’s all about applying policies
Custodians of certain policies we are. ‘Policy says no’ people we are not. Or at least, the better HR professionals try not to be. Sure, we create and implement people related policies and advise on how they should be applied but thats not all that we do. There’s so much more to the profession than that. And in any case, it can be really interesting and satisfying when drafting a good policy, if you are that way inclined (I am, and I offer no apology).
We certainly understand and advise on policies, but good HR is about knowing that you can’t and shouldn’t create a policy for everything, and that there will be occasions when you might want or need to deviate from that policy. Knowing when to do that is important, and actually, quite skillful.
We’re more than policies.
Myth 3 : HR people are in the pocket of management
A comment i’ve heard on more than one occasion, and normally muttered by someone who has a less than savoury opinion towards the profession, usually because they themselves did something in their past that required HR support, a fact they took umbrage too and hold an eternal grudge for!
It’s a difficult dilemma for HR in some businesses to operate in the ‘critical friend’ capacity, space where most strong HR professionals are able to do their best work. But in ‘the pocket’ of ‘management’, not so.
The challenges that HR have and that most employees don’t appreciate, due in large part to the fact discussions around our work are held in private, can be deep, consequential and require skilled influencing. It is our role to often take emotion out of decision-making, contextualise matters with use of appropriate employment law, and regularly tell senior internal stakeholders ‘no’ whilst being damn sure we can back it up with professional reasoning. It can be a tough, lonely old place, and employees don’t often see the battles that are fought on their behalf.
Myth 4 : It’s not really a profession.
There’s lots of helpful discussion on this point at the moment and i’d like to redirect you to the HR blog of a friend of mine, Gary Cookson who has written a few articles on this subject of late.
I can understand the trepidation around this for some people. Certainly for those who get caught up in being a ‘professional’ as opposed to simply just wanting to do good work, in an interesting and varied subject matter.
My view is that HR is a profession and important steps are currently being taken by our professional body in the UK, the CIPD, to increase the professionalism of what we do. There are qualifications, codes of conduct, professional development and so on. But it isn’t regulated in the same way as solicitors and doctors are. My advice is simply not to be too concerned about this. If the work is great and floats your boat, then why does it really matter.
So there you have it, four myths I hope I have in some way started to dispell about working in HR. Human Resources can be a fantastic career choice that can be extremely challenging and rewarding. Don’t let a few untruths put you off.
Come and join the party.