HR talks back – from the trenches

…… Part of The Basics series. First published in July 2013 ……

My HR series “Is HR the missing player we are waiting for in the digital workplace?” has triggered some strong reactions. In this post I’ll start with anecdotes from the dark side and finish with inspiration from the bright side.

First, the series of 3 questions I asked: What’s different when HR co-leads the digital workplace? then Why is HR late in social collaboration? and finally What future for HR?

Anecdotes from the dark side of HR

Does “relations” to “resources” reflect depersonalization?

From a longtime intranet professional who wishes to remain anonymous:

“When I started my professional career in 1980, I was hired by a department called Personnel.  Then, the name changed to Employee Relations.  A few years later, it changed again to Human Resources.  I contend that the change in name is relevant; the function has become much less personal, with employees treated as mere resources.”

Is HR too busy for employee engagement?

In answer to my question “Why is HR late on social collaboration” someone tweeted back “because they are too busy defining the dress code”.

Another person went deeper into the dilemma:

“At most organizations, H.R. does not serve employees; it serves the organization.  This attitude is not always blatant, but it’s there nonetheless.  As a result, HR professionals tend to concentrate on policy enforcement and avoiding litigation — not exactly the behaviors that foster employee engagement.”

Why are so many HR professionals disengaged?

I could not believe my eyes as I read “Sincerely yours, deeply disengaged. An anonymous HR professional writes.” and the long thread of responses on the Xpert HR Employment Intelligence blog managed by Michael McCarty. (Note 2017:  links no longer active.)

At first I wondered if the letter was for real. As I began reading the responses, I saw that a lot of HR people clearly identified with the anonymous writer.

The bright side of HR

Fortunately there are exceptions. I heard from Dan Pontefract, author of “Flat Army:  Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization” whose email cheered me up considerably:

“Hey Jane,
I’m not late. On the absolute contrary.
You may be interested in what we’ve done at TELUS since 2008. Employee Engagement up from 53% to 80% and backed by an open leadership model, Learning 2.0 framework and of course social/collaborative technologies….”

It’s long book, with lots of examples. You may want to dip in and out. Scan the eight 5-star reviews on Amazon to get a sense of the story Dan tells. It’s definitely worth your time.

As I mentioned in What future for HR?, I’ve had the privilege of working with two outstanding heads of HR, one in 2001 and the other in 2008. One of my goals in writing this series of articles was to catch the attention of HR professionals. I have achieved that, perhaps on a small scale (I now have more HR Twitter followers than before!) and I will be continuing to work in the direction of getting more HR involvement in the digital workplace as I prepare for the upcoming DW survey and the 2014 report.

If you have HR stories to share, it’s never not too late!