05 Sep 2018

The ecstasy & agony of working as an HR Professional in organizations today

Human resources function is quite a mystery for most people including the people who are part of it. I can’t recall how many times friends & relatives have asked me questions ranging from honest inquiries like “So, what is exactly your job” , veiled puns like “What does HR do apart from organizing birthday parties and team outings”, to dismissive declarations like “HR is nothing more than a glorified clerical job”. I don’t think there is any other function which faces the challenge of justifying its own existence day in and day out. In fact it can be a very interesting study to find out what the HR professionals make of the situation and what keeps them going in this profession and what is the source of their job satisfaction if any.

If we were to visualize Human Resource Management as a business, then employees are the customers. The nature of the customer and the business environment has changed manifolds. The dynamic nature of business competition demands value for every penny spent. It is no longer ok to accept HR cost as an admin overhead. The expectation of business is that HR will provide competitive advantage through strategic partnering. Business is no longer satisfied if HR just runs the 3-4 standard process like performance appraisals, compensation revision etc. apart form the miscellaneous routine day to day activities. We all are witnessing the quantum shift in expectations everyday. One example is that, now Business expects HR to create accurate predictive models which will help in telling which employee is expected to leave in how much time, what kind of employees will be most productive and stay with the company for long. With so much buzz about Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning and Automation business expects HR to leverage these technologies too, otherwise HR risks of getting outdated. The multiple operational & coordination work that the HR spends most of its time doing, doesn’t get recognized any more because there has been a paradigm shift in the expectation to transformation, game changing & breakthrough.

To add to it, the millennial workforce brings with it , its unique kinds of challenges. The workforce of today has no patience for old outdated processes & systems. They won’t accept any process or system that HR mandates unless they it seems logical to them. This continuously to puts pressure on HR to reinvent itself. In the Personnel management era, when HR assumed a more policing kind of role, employees used to be kind of ok with it, but not any more. Today’s workforce is questioning every system/policy of HR and they want a logical answer for it to exist. They are questioning the working hours rule, access to Social Media in work premises, Annual Performance Review, Bell curve just to name a few. So its quite clear that the expectations from HR function have reached an all time sky high level.

But How is the HR function function dealing with it and how prepared it is to meet these expectations? Still sometimes it is accused of being caught up somewhere between the old style Personnel management and the futuristic Human Capital Transformation. Although the task at hand is new, but still HR still has access to the old levers which have limited scope. Still Many companies are reluctant to invest in HR functions and HR technologies, not totally their fault though, kind of cut-throat competition demands all margins to be shoe-string tight. That’s the root cause of agony of being an HR professional in today’s time. Mounting expectations and limited means to achieve results.Add to it the plight of constant jibes /lack of respect which doesn’t help. Often employees management like to blame HR for everything. In short HR job has become thankless like no other.

Because of all the reasons mentioned above, its quite natural for anyone to think that HR practitioner will be in a constant state of agony. But thankfully, tha’ts not the full picture. The ever-present need to reinvent makes the job very interesting. What will be the future of jobs itself is a big question mark, on top of that what will be HR’s job in future is a bigger question mark, nobody quite knows the answer. But that what makes it fun. Whatever will be the future of HR, we will be the agents of that change, and that promise makes the life of HR professional ever-exciting. In fact already lot of change is visible around us. The incorporation of lot of HR Analytics has already started, and its helping in gaining respect for HR.

Apart from the aspects of change, there are some aspects of HR which are in its DNA since the beginning and will always continue to be there. The opportunities which you get in this field to champion a cause are unparalleled. It can be diversity and inclusion, helping people achieve meaning in their jobs, ensuring fairness & justice etc . The availability of human touch points where the HR professional’s action can make a difference in the life of employees are abundant. Trust me its a great feeling for any HR professional when he or she gets to see the transformation a frustrated & dejected employee into a productive & happy one, because the HR was able to get the employee out of a bad manager situation. There are situations where HR professional decides to make exception to the Company policy to support employee’s cause ,because he believes that is the right thing to do. Even though it might mean a lot of extra effort in getting approval but it is immensely satisfying to know that you were there for the employees when they needed you. Everyday life of HR is full of such experiences which makes me feel good about being in this profession.

The Journey of HR profession is a never ending one and maybe the most exciting phases is yet to come. But what I have understood in my short career in HR is that, our job is all about creating value, and the expectation is no different than production, sales or R&D. In HR’s case the medium of value creation is through workforce. We have to do everything in our capacity to create value through people. It can be hiring the best fit, creating pay strategies to attract and retain the best, training the workforce to be best , simplifying processes to ensure max time utilized is for right cause, enabling systems & processes for ease of work, engaging them to feel motivated or avoiding burnout. This value creation is difficult process and sometimes difficult to quantify. But half the battle is won if the HR professionals understands their role. That will help balance reduce agony and create more opportunities for ecstasy.

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