Marleys Chains


One of my favourite films of all time, is The Muppets Christmas Carol. Its just a wonderful mix of brilliant songs, great “casting” (if thats the right term for assigning a muppet to a role), and awesome storytelling of the Charles Dickens classic.

Jacob Marley in both book and film is seen covered in chains. “I wear the chains I forged in life” he says to describe how each chain he wore was attributed to the decisions he had made (or the consequences of those decisions), throughout his lifetime.

I’ve seen some HR colleagues like this. Scrap that, I’ve seen colleagues generally across a range of departments appear to be weighed down by “work-life” in the past.


As business evolves the work and duties of employees evolve with it. New duties, new responsibilities and modified processes create additional ‘things’ which will inevitably extend the volume of work required to be completed (aside from when we learn new things in order to improve the tasks we are currently doing, obviously). This volume of work increases because quite often (but not always), we take on work without offloading work.

When this happens, motivated workers, identified for being helpful become demotivated workhorses ironically due to the fact they are ‘so helpful’ and will ‘never let you down’. Reliable people become overly relied upon. This is nothing new of course. Parking the need for people to push back and managers to manage, I’m worried at the moment about HR and the chains we have and are continuing to acquire, not just individually but as a function.

The HR agenda is evolving and economic, technical and societal changes are positively influencing the direction of HR for the future.

There’s also a lot of pressure on us too. You’ve probably seen the usual BS articles around “A dynamic HR function does these 5 things” or “if your HR team is not aware of X,Y and Z then you’ll get let behind”. Clickbaity stuff that causes pressure. Quite often these types of opinions and articles are entirely void of any context and are not considerate at all of the average HR pro, or maybe someone working in the profession on a shoestring in a small business or charity.

New activities will come into the HR fold, especially in the near future as the future world of work will see an exciting shift for a lot of people (not to mention the huge challenges that lay ahead) and so whilst we take this new work, we absolutely need to remember to let stuff go, reprioritise or trade off in some way.

We need to be able to have the ability to say “Yes we will do that work, but these activities are going out the window to make room’ or ‘In order for us to follow this strategic direction and maintain these types of activities we will need extra resource or support’.

What a lot of people can’t do is simply continue to take on new tasks time and time again and expect there to be no adverse impact. We all have our limits, right?

Trading off, letting go or reprioritising is not always easy, but it is essential. Quite often, it’s a skill and I accept that it is a luxury for some people, but if we don’t offload as well as acquire, then it’s likely that we’ll just end up wearing even more chains, and miss out on doing the good work  well, for our businesses.

Categories HR

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