Who Wants to Work in the Human Resources Field?
Working in Human Resources (HR) is not an easy job for the staff responsible for the personnel tasks of an organization. Despite years of work experience and college level education, many HR professionals find the nature of what they do to be challenging due to the unique situations that arise with the human beings that make up a workforce. For those who have worked in the HR field, there is a general understanding that , "No day is ever the same." For this reason, it is easy to understand why many professionals are turned off by the profession. The "gray areas" of dealing with human problems is not attractive to people that prefer a more scientific approach and solution to a problem. While there are employment laws in place that must be respected in the workplace, there is often interpretation and analysis of an employee situation that does not quite fit other similar situations that have occurred in the past. Many situations get referred to attorneys who help guide HR professionals in what decisions to make. For this reason, HR is more of an "art" than a science because of the need to be flexible and understand that analysis and interpretation are part of the HR work. When HR professionals understand the kind of work they are to perform in the workplace, they will have better understanding whether it is a profession they wish to have.
Human Resources Responsibilities
HR consists of certain personnel functions that are common to most organizations. They are:
- Employee Relations
- Labor Relations
Other areas of specialization that are often found in an HR Department are Safety, Risk Management, and Payroll. Depending on the size and structure of the organization, the makeup of the HR Department can have the areas listed above. When budgetary constraints limit resources for HR Departments, some of the areas of specialization get combined to accommodate a smaller HR staff.
The Answer People
Many employees instinctly call HR when it comes to a policy question or workplace issue. There is almost always an assumption that HR will be "in the know" about whatever the issue is. The questions that get asked and the situations that get presented demand much discernment from the HR professional who is in the position of helping the employee. "Will there be a raise this year", or "Do I have to sign my disciplinary write-up," are examples of questions that get asked of HR staff. It is their job to answer in a respectful manner with the needed information. If the HR staff does not know the answer, they should indicate to the employee that they must get back to them with the answer once they have done some research.
- SHRM Online - Society for Human Resource Management
Human Resources professionals often go to the SHRM website for research.
"HR La La"
Years ago, I had the occasion to be in a meeting with an accountant who referred to the work being discussed as, "HR la, la". This experienced accountant expressed his dislike for the nature of the work being discussed, and, therefore, insulted the very profession that he clearly did not understand or have an appreciation for. While the work in HR is often not as clear as a debit or credit, it does play an important role in any organization. Some of the "HR la, la" that HR professionals deal with are:
- Recruiting new employees for vacant positions. This work involves screening applications, conducting background investigations and making job offers to final candidates. This work can be especially challenging for hard-to-fill positions and having limited salaries to offer the selected candidates. Dealing with angry applicants who are not selected can also be a challenging issue.
- Negotiating salaries and benefits with unions. HR professionals often sit at the table with unions to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for workers. These talks can become heated as both sides must work toward a common goal for the employees and the organization.
- Investigating charges of discrimination. HR professionals must investigate charges of discrimination and other mistreatment as protected by employment laws at the federal, state and local levels. These situations are made a priority for HR who must apply the laws which define protections in the workplace. Determining whether mistreatment has occurred takes a thorough investigation as the HR professional works with the emotions of the employee making allegations and the alleged harasser.
- Dealing with employees who have health issues and need insurance assistance. Employees who have health issues often seek the assistance of HR to help with getting the available medical benefits.
- Meeting with the family members of a deceased employee to discuss life insurance benefits. HR professionals often meet with the spouse or children of an employee who has died to discuss survivor benefits and beneficiary information. The need for respect and care in these situations is paramount to successfully serving these grieving people.
- Workplace Violence. Human Resources professionals must work with managers to maintain a healthy and safe work environment for employees. Because human beings are all unique with their own set of values and opinions, it is not unusual for personalities to clash with one another. Verbal and physical attacks must be strictly forbidden and addressed when they occur in the workplace. HR professionals work with managers to maintain a respectful work environment for all.
- Discipline and Termination. A very difficult part of the HR field is dealing with employee discipline and termination. Being sure that employees are treated fairly and in a manner that supports their ability to be successful in the organization is a very important role for HR. When performance is not meeting the expectations of the job, HR must be sure that managers are addressing the issues to provide them the opportunity to improve their performance. When all avenues of performance and employee behavior have been explored, termination is the final step in the working relationship. These situations are very difficult for the employee and must be handled with care.
While the list above does not include all the challenging "HR la, la" that HR professionals perform, it does show a few of the difficult tasks that are part of the HR profession.
Understanding the HR Profession
Human Resources has its pro's and con's like all other professions. It is helpful for people working in the field to understand the importance of being professional with patience and respect for the people they support in the workplace. Employees deserve an HR staff who will look out for their best interests while creating a healthy and productive environment for all. While it is often a misunderstood field, its importance in the workplace is undeniable, not "HR la, la".