There are More Fuzzies in HR Than Just the Sweaters [HorroR Stories]
What the heck do you do in HR anyway?
–Thinking of becoming a Madame HR
Good question! I think everyone has a different idea of what goes on behind the super-secret door of the Human Resources Department. Unfortunately, I don’t really have an easy answer because what your HR Department does depends so much on your executive management, your company size, your company culture, your staff and on and on. So there you go, my answer: It depends. The End. Whew, shortest post ever! Woo-hoo! Let’s go get some mojitos! I won’t tell anyone, trust me—I’m in HR!
Ok, ha, ha, just kidding. I’m not going to let anyone off the hook that easy. Anyway, HR, yeah, so as I was saying, what your HR department does depends a lot on the company you work for. I looked through some job postings for HR Managers to illustrate my point. Read below 2 different postings that were recently advertising HR Manager openings (I seriously didn’t make these up):
“Human Resources Manager wanted for a company built on love, unity, eco-friendly roots, joyology and innovative design. You inspire, motivate, organize, lead, develop, harmonize and pursue excellence.”
“The Human Resources Manager must possess the following:
-Strong proficiency with MS Office with the ability to function as the first point of contact for troubleshooting IT issues.
-Oversee all human resources functions such as hiring, management of staff, compliance of company policies and procedures
-Manage and maintain the branch operations budget and vendor relations
-Handle general facilities requests and communicate with building management
-Design employee programs and handle all employee relations issues
-Facilitate training and development programs.”
So, from reading these, my guess is Posting 1 is from a relatively new company, they have never had an HR Department, usually just had the Executive Assistant do the paperwork, order supplies, etc. But they’re growing now and think they may need an HR manager. They’re too new to have employees complain about how their manager was mean to them, or they haven’t found out yet that the VP of Sales is snorting coke in the bathroom. They’ll learn. I guarantee in HR there’s not much “joyology” and a whole lot of “He did what?!?” And that transition will happen, probably right around the time an employee throws out their back during the morning company wide yoga class, takes a seven week worker’s compensation leave and then sues the company.
Now, posting #2. Allow me to take a sidebar and say: troubleshoot IT issues?!? Really? Ok, I’m back. My guess is this is a small company, one of those companies where they think they can hire 1 person to do 4 different jobs. We really need a payroll person who can also provide tech support for computers, order supplies, unclog the toilet and then train all the managers on AB1825 (California’s mandatory 2 hour sexual harassment training for managers). So, instead of finding a few specialists who are really good at one or two things, let’s find one person who is mediocre at everything! But this is very common in small companies, there’s a fine line between HR and Administrative Assistant.
Let me break it down for you. In HR there are 2 let’s call them “tracks.” There is the operational and then what I call the Fuzzies. It’s hard to be good at both. Good HR Managers usually have to be really good at the Fuzzies and able to understand the operational enough to manage a staff who focus on the day to day. Here’s a further breakdown:
Paperwork-There’s a lot of paperwork in HR. Just think about all those forms you had to fill out on your first day. Someone has to sort through all that crap, make sure you signed in the right place and then file it in the right place. That sounds simple, but it’s not. Did you know that you probably have 2-4 different personnel files sitting in your HR department right now? Due to privacy and all sorts of other reasons, we have to file certain types of things in separate folders. Like for example all your benefit info is in a separate folder (or should be) because it is confidential and not everyone should have access to it.
Payroll- most companies house payroll in HR (because nobody really wants to do payroll, it is such a pain in the ass. Imagine if what you did for your job literally touched EVERY employee in the company. And if you mess up, or if the payroll company messes up? You have 700 employees who hate you and who will call you, trust me)
Benefits- not too much to say about this, but I will point out that it’s harder than you think. If you think I’m lying and having some extra time, check out my post on Open Enrollment.
Compensation- Ever wondered what it means when your boss tells you that your position is grade 20? Well, there is a whole field devoted to compensation. Determining salaries and salary grades, not to mention bonus plans, other compensation plans like stock options, etc. is a tough math-intensive job. It is hard to find people who are good at comp. And trust me, it is hard to do comp and like doing it. You get to calculate things like compa-ratios and percentile ranks just so senior managers can overrule you because they like Johnny a lot and think he deserves a 25% increase even though everyone else in the company only gets a 2% increase.
HRIS- stands for Human Resources Information Systems. There is usually someone in the department who is the HRIS guru, who prepares all the reports that the executives are asking for, who resets passwords, this can be a big job or a little job depending on the company’s needs and the software vendor they are using.
Policies/compliance- you wouldn’t even believe all the laws and such that we HR types have to deal with on a daily basis. What’s worse is that they keep changing. So, we have to stay ahead of the curb and just keep churning out policies and handbooks and all sorts of fun stuff like that. Also, let’s say Bob, the CFO suddenly wants everyone to wear teddy bear t-shirts on Fridays. Well, HR has got to write that policy, communicate it, and then enforce it. Some HR types relish in being the company cop, and some managers want them to do it so they don’t have to. To me, this is a narrow view of HR, if you have to focus so much on the rules then you aren’t doing it right. Kind of like I can always tell what kind of HR person you are dealing with by how many rubber stamps she has in her drawer. Do you really need a stamp that says “File Copy?” Put the Staples catalog away Cathy and do your fucking job.
A lot of times in HR you have to deal with these things called “employees,” and aside from managing the day to day questions about the items that I list above, the general manager complaints, the guy in the call center who can’t seem to make it to work on time, there’s a next level to all of it.
HR Managers who are successful are ones who build relationships with employees and managers, they then use these relationships to build consensus, push through initiatives, keep employees happy and all sorts of stuff like that. Aspirational HR magazines love to write articles about “getting a seat at the table.” Because, here’s the thing, HR doesn’t get respect for lots of different reasons, one of them being that we aren’t a profit center, quite the opposite in fact. It’s hard to prove you are being effective and that you matter when you are talking to CEOs and CFOs who like looking at dollar signs.
When HR is allowed to be strategic it does things like plan the workforce, staff strategically for the business needs, creates employee development programs that give employees a career track and helps them to achieve their goals, develops succession plans, mentor programs, job shadowing programs, training programs, and all sorts of fun things that keep employees engaged and not walking out the door. That performance review you have to suffer through every year? Those suckers are hard to develop especially if your management gives a shit. Effective HR departments spend time on evaluating positions, determining competencies for those positions, this helps with performance reviews and with recruitment.
When HR is not allowed to be strategic it plans a lot of parties and picnics, cleans up a lot of messes that never should be made in the first place, and spends a lot of time explaining to managers why they can’t fire Johnny until they’ve at the very least given him some feedback on his performance and given him an opportunity to improve, especially because they just gave him a 25% raise. What a bunch of dumb-asses. You also spend a lot of time focused on policies and enforcement to the point that employees tense up as soon as they see you walking down the hall. I once worked at a company that was so bad in this regard (the previous HR Manager had led with an iron fist) that employees were convinced that there were security cameras focused on their computer monitors and that somewhere someone was watching all this footage making sure they were working.
So, if your HR department is more the latter than the former, don’t blame them, blame your corporate culture (unless they’re just total morons, then it’s ok to blame them). All that employee development crap can’t be developed in a vacuum, it needs to come from the top down. This is definitely a case where the concept of “trickle down” actually works.
So that’s it in a nutshell (that’s one big nut). It’s not just recruiting and summer picnics. So, still thinking you want to go into HR? Here’s a couple of things to think about:
There is this misconception that to be in HR you have to a “people” person. I’ve heard it dozens of times: “You know Mildred, she loves people, she’d make a great HR Assistant.” Well that’s just horse hooey. Can Mildred type? Can she do a pivot table in excel? I’d hire a human hater that knows how to calculate FTE any day over an idiot with a sunny disposition. And what’s FTE you ask? Solid fucking gold. I once got a job purely because I not only knew what it was but I could calculate it. And I was up against a dude with an MBA from Columbia. (It stands for Full Time Equivalent by the way).
Education isn’t necessarily your friend when it comes to HR. Formal, university type education doesn’t really teach you the same sort of things that HR Managers are looking for when they hire people in their departments (such as how to calculate an FTE). I would advise holding off pursuing education goals past a Bachelor’s until you start working in HR. It’s such a major investment of time and money that I think it’s more valuable to make the certification vs. MBA decision once you have a few years in the field under your belt.
My last suggestion is to think honestly about how you handle confidential information. In HR you hear and find out all sorts of things that you can’t go run and tell your sister. You find out things about people that may even change your opinion about someone that you have to deal with on a daily basis, and who you can’t afford to have a bad opinion of (relationship building, remember?) You also have to swallow a whole bunch of corporate b.s. and then spew it back out like it’s the greatest thing in the world, so if you have a problem with that, spare yourself a lot of grief and go in to a different field.
Still thinking about HR as a career? Can you do a pivot table? Better learn!
Good luck out there,
Don’t forget to send your questions! You can leave them in the comments, or email them to askHorroR@gmail.com