The HR Manager with the Dragon Tattoo [HorroR Stories – BOOK WEEK]

In honor of Book Week at F&N, I will be suspending my usual Q&A. Keep sending questions, you can post them in the comments or email them to: And as always, confidentiality will be preserved.

Now that’s out the way, so…Book Week, eh? I have to admit when they first told me about this I was like: crap, does this mean I have to read a book about HR and then write about it? I mean, come on, let’s be honest, who wants to read a book about HR? Yuck, not me. And even worse, who wants to read a post about a book about HR? I’m assuming not you. And I don’t want to write one, let me tell you. So I was dreading the deadline on this one.

But then I started wondering, why isn’t the HR Manager ever a character in fiction? I mean, heroines (or heroes) in fiction always have some interesting job that real people never have: archaeologists, college professors (or both), underwater treasure hunters, photojournalists (although, everyone thinks they are a photojournalist nowadays), professional thieves (with a heart of gold, of course), regular journalists, computer hackers, novelists (I love it when the main character in a novel is a novelist—and by love, I mean hate), sheriffs or some other law enforcement, injured Navy Seals who just need the love of a good woman to heal their physical and emotional scars, guys who buy companies and then destroy them to make tons of money (think Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, or Mitt Romney in the Real World), chefs, bounty hunters, you get the idea.

I mean, if novels can make Art History seem interesting and exciting, why can’t they do the same for HR? So, I tried to fit the HR Manager character into some popular fiction genres. Here are the results:

Spy Novels

Harrison Ford has never, and will never play an HR Manager. Yes, I know that’s the movies, but all entertainment is so derivative nowadays, there really is no difference. I mean, come on, Jason Bourne, Chief People Officer? It just ain’t going to happen. I hate to break it to you but HR is pretty boring. The highlight for some HR employees’ day is when they get to use their “File Copy” rubber stamp (it’s self-inking). There’s no jumping across rooftops in HR (safety!).

I know what you’re thinking, conspiracies, secrets — HR should be all over that, right? Sure, I suppose, but I guarantee that if there is some interesting conspiracy going on in your company right now, your HR Department has no clue. What secrets do we know? Well, there’s Tommy in Accounting who doesn’t like to pay child support for his three kids. Or, there’s Mary Jo in Operations who really likes to snort cocaine (I might know that secret, but I don’t really know it, if you know what I mean). Some shadow corporation where your Research & Development Department is actually developing some uber-race of warrior men? Nope, I’d be just as surprised as Marty in the Shipping Department on that one. And you know what? I don’t really want to know anyway. What happens when the uber-warriors form a class action lawsuit against your company? Now who is the evil Chief Science Officer going to run to? Me—ugh, HR sucks sometimes.

The problem here is that spy novels need a really well defined right and wrong, black and white. This doesn’t exist in HR. HR exists on the spectrum of risk. Things are only “wrong” if they present a real “risk” to the company. So, is your Chief Science Officer evil because he is making his uber-race of warriors clock out and then still do work “off the clock,” or because no one wants to buy them and he isn’t making any money for the shareholders? That’s too ambiguous for Bruce Willis. Does this Chief Science Officer also have some peculiar Eastern European accent? Is there some unusual abstract currency at stake? Well, now that’s something Bruce Willis can handle. Ho! Ho! Ho!


Fraternization! Ahhhh! Nooooooo! Office romances haven’t been romantic since the ‘40’s. Who didn’t love a spunky elevator girl who was sleeping with all the executives until one of them dumped her around the holidays so she OD’d in the borrowed apartment where they’ve been having their trysts? Now that’s romance! See? Writers would rather write about elevator girls than HR Managers! And I know, it’s a movie, but I’m thinking it was probably based on a book and wait—there was an HR Manager in that one! Oh right, he was one of the executives she was sleeping with, dammit.

Let me tell you, I don’t think anyone gazes across a desk at the HR Manager and thinks: hey, performance reviews are kind of sexy. I give you a 4 (exceeds expectations) on animal magnetism- grrr. They still can’t give you a 5 (Outstanding) though, because that would be the Halo Effect, and you know how we feel about that. And really they shouldn’t be afraid to give her a 3 (Meets Expectations) on animal magnetism, because there is no shame in getting a 3. That’s where the majority of people sit when it comes to animal magnetism.

Frankly, when I think of The Notebook, all I can think about is how Long Term Care Insurance might be helpful in that situation. You never really know you are going to need it until you need it, and then it’s too late. Just remember that when the Aflac duck comes a-calling at your next Open Enrollment meeting (which you’re going to, right? Right? Don’t make me lecture you again).

Even Nora Ephron couldn’t make HR seem romantic, especially not now that she’s dead. (Architect– there’s another good job for book/movie hero/heroine.) Not even Meg Ryan starring as the HR Manager would make it romantic. Did I just date myself? Is Meg Ryan relevant anymore or is she too old? Who should I pick, Rachel McAdams? All HR Managers should be spunky with wavy hair and have sexy full lips as they describe the leave of absence policy to you, even if they’re full of collagen.


So, ok, there should be a lot of potential here. I mean in this crazy world where employees do stupid shit every day, there has got to be some interesting mystery. Plus, HR often falls into being the Police Department of companies, and some actually like it that way! One time, I had to solve the case of did Justin sexually harass his employee Barbara or is she just bitter because she didn’t get a raise on her performance review. It was a page turner.

But if I have a serial killer working for me, that falls into the category of things I don’t want to know about. And if someone blows the whistle on said serial killer and the killer then kills the whistleblower, well, that’s retaliation and now I’m really in trouble. Can’t you leave your serial killing at home? Did you have to bring it to work? Honestly, if it’s not affecting your job performance, then hey, you can kill prostitutes until the cows come home. Just don’t be late for work!

Everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes was a coke addict, and frankly we have a drug-free workplace here. I’ve watched the new BBC version and he seems kind of like an ass. He reminds me of a lot of executives I know, really impressed with how smart they are, texting really stupid things, disappearing at all hours of the day. I find myself sympathizing with Watson in this situation, limping behind them trying to look impressed, trying to participate in the conversation when really all executives just think HR only exists so they can transfer their Executive Assistants there when they start talking about career advancement (or suing for sexual harassment, take your pick).

Too cynical? Sorry, but doesn’t cynicism make the best mysteries? Who doesn’t love a juicy noir tale with flawed heroes and sexy dames? HR Managers wouldn’t fit in, no fuzzy sweaters, no holiday themed jewelry in the asphalt jungle.  If we HR types let ourselves glimpse the darkness that is really lurking there between the lines of the employee handbook, well, I’m not sure we could pull ourselves out of the murk in time to paste on a smile for company picnic check-in. So rah! This company is great! Just don’t call in sick for three consecutive days without a doctor’s note. We’ll fucking stab you in the neck.

Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Let me tell you right now, no HR Manager would ever hire a girl with a dragon tattoo, especially not a tattoo that covers her entire back—weird. Girls who play with fire also are not welcome, that’s why we do background checks. And girls that kick hornets’ nests? Well nothing sounds scarier to me than that. Why would you want to kick a hornets’ nest? That just sounds like a lot of work to clean up, not to mention a major safety hazard. I mean, no one likes to fill out an OSHA log less than I do, so I think it’s best to stay away from buzzing insects that sting things.

And let’s say you had an HR Manager with a dragon tattoo, well she’d have to keep that thing covered up while at work.  And the Mohawk dog collar thing? If you work for a company where your HR Manager shows up to a legal hearing dressed like that and it’s not Halloween, then the only thing I want to know is: are you hiring? I want to work for her.

I mean, the only thing more cold and bleak then Sweden is HR, so you’d think this genre would also be a slam-dunk.  There are days that I find myself staring in the bathroom mirror with wide blood shot eyes like Kenneth Branagh in the Wallander series. Kenneth Branagh is Swedish like I’m Swedish (which, by the way, my grandfather was half Swedish).  But anyway, it’s cold in HR, hence the fuzzy sweaters, and secrets from the past can be deadly (that’s why we do behavioral interviewing), so can weird Russian defectors that also happen to be your Dad.

So, I guess what I’ve learned is that the HR Manager character doesn’t really work in fiction, unless they are sleeping with an innocent doe eyed elevator girl who later in life writes books about astral projection. It’s kind of disappointing, who doesn’t want to see Jason Statham star in the HR Enforcer? “What? You falsified your timecard?” Ka-pow! “Didn’t turn your performance reviews in on time?” KaChunk! “Skipped the Open Enrollment meeting?” Ker-smack! “I cannot chase you in the company van to force you to read the employee handbook right now at high speeds in downtown LA because I’m not authorized to drive the company vehicle!

The problem is that readers want action from their heroes—and HR Managers are the last ones who can do shit like that.

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