05 Sep 2018

The ecstasy and agony of working as an HR professional in organizations today

I was fifteen when I decided that I wanted to be an HR professional. I was made to believe, that I would be perfect for Human Resources; because of my strong emotional intelligence, and innate ability to empathize with people. I found the prospect quite exciting and began to direct all my career choices towards achieving this end. I picked commerce group in class 11, appropriately picked an area of specialization during undergrad and finally chose to major in Human Resources during my MBA. My HR subjects were extremely enjoyable. I participated extensively in class and even managed to secure good grades, often topping my class in the subject. I was convinced that HR truly was my calling!!

I began to weave dreams about a promising career in Human Resources. I still do!

Reality turned out to look quite different…

As a young HR professional, I find that I am confronted with certain harsh realities. These realities often make me mull over some very existential questions about the profession and the place of the professional within organizations today. Some of the more pressing ones include-

a. Will I get to apply the concepts that I learned in B-school on the job?

As a young HR professional, I find myself confronted with a lot of operational tasks. This often makes me question what I learned in Business school about Organizational Behaviour, Strategic Human Resources Management and Competency Mapping (My favourite subjects). It makes me wonder whether I will ever apply my learning from these subjects, or they would simply remain a theory.

b. Is HR perceived as a mere support/cost function?

During turbulent times; when an organization faces cost pressures, I have often observed that the first function to be hit is HR. I have seen and heard of the function undergoing hiring freezes, massive layoffs masked under the term “Strategic Restructuring” and more recently outsourcing of even core HR activities. The justification often given is cost pressures, margins and the inability of HR to contribute to the bottom line.

c. Is Job rotation; which is by the HR and of the HR NOT for HR?

It is now common knowledge within the HR fraternity, that a recruiter will find it extremely difficult to move into a partnering role, an L&D professional would find it hard to move into an employee relations role and compensation and benefit, of course, has always been a super specialization of its own. It is often only the HR Business Partner who is immune from this discrimination of sorts. This clear demarcation often leaves me wondering- Why is it that HR finds it so hard to walk the talk, by refusing to hire people from one sub-function into another? Are the competencies required within one Centre of Excellence really that unique from the other?

d. Why does everyone believe that he/she is an expert at Human Resources Management?

I vividly recall a conversation with one of my stakeholders from business, where he coached me on how I should tactfully negotiate role and compensation with a candidate on the verge of taking up our offer. I recently attended a meeting with my manager and senior stakeholders from business; where business decided the list of colleges we should and shouldn’t visit next year. One of the service lines that I once supported as a recruiter, chose to completely do away with HR interviews since they found them futile and of little significance. These are just a few examples to illustrate how business often second-guesses our contribution as HR professionals and assumes that they are experts. While we did manage to fight back in many of the above cases, it does raise concerns regarding our position as trusted business advisors and subject matter experts in our own domain.

e. Are we really going to be the first function to be automated?

Autonomous interviews, resume parsing software, employee onboarding tools, gamified campus hiring, a central helpdesk for handling employee grievances. These are just a few examples of how automation is being used to replace HR professionals’ tasks within organizations. What’s more is that many people claim that this is only the start of what is to come. As a junior HR professional, one cannot help but feel overcome by a sense of panic. Especially because there don’t seem to be enough avenues for up-skilling oneself given the rate at which skills are becoming obsolete.

However, I am not done making my peace with the profession. I sincerely feel that the best is yet to come!!

The ecstasy of working as an HR professional within an organization lies in my vision for a promising future for the function and its functionaries….

– My dream is that, with a surge in automation and outsourcing of transactional tasks within the function, the raison d’être for the HR functions’ conception will be restored! HR will once again regain its’ place under the sun as a people’s function.

– HR professionals young and seasoned alike will get the opportunity to exercise their innately “Human” skills and perhaps even contribute to the bottom line.

– HR professionals at every level will be called out to partner with business to identify the problems inhibiting their people and to come up with solutions to address the same. They will be trusted business advisors, rather than subordinates.

– They will be called upon to predict the changes which are imminent and, also assist in making sense of the same.

– HR will emerge as the conscience keeper of the organization, as employers and organizations strive to find a balance between humans and automation.

– HR will help identify the skills which are critical for employees to remain relevant and will create avenues for acquiring them

– HR will help understand and manage the rising complexities that will emerge within the workplace of tomorrow, including- managing a multi-generational workforce, gender diversity, managing a remote workforce, understanding cross-cultural teams, helping determine what can be automated and what cannot, handling an increasingly contingent workforce and so on.

– As more and more tech natives enter the workforce, the new age HR professional will be more tech-savvy than ever before. She will be more open to adopting technology to reduce the transactional burden on HR

– Young HR professionals will finally be able to apply the concepts of OB and Strategic HR on the job, instead of being told that “You must wait for 10-15 years before you can work on anything Strategic”

This is my dream for the future of the function. This is also the source from which I draw my energy and ecstasy. This is the future towards which I hope, to take baby steps pursuing and hopefully realizing with ecstasy!

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