A world without HR

Here we go again. Another What’s-The-Point-Of-HR? post. This one is from a Human Resources manager in Geneva who blogs at The Happy Employee. Here is his challenge – What would happen in a world without HR?

Within an instant all HR professionals disappear while everybody else stays.

It’s easy to imagine with cab drivers. The immediate consequence would be lots of accidents. In the long-term there would be transportation problems at the local level.

Without any HR professionals around the economy wouldn’t fall apart, but in the first weeks I assume there would be problems with salary payments and nobody would know where to find the templates to issue employment contracts to new hires. Of course, it wouldn’t take long for finance to step in with payroll and legal would take care of contracts.

Well, maybe. Payroll would continue paying people but what would happen when, with no-one to maintain data on pay relativities, salaries begin to get out of kilter. Things would be fine at first but before long people would be complaining about unfair pay differentials and possibly even bringing equal pay claims.

I doubt the legal department would be of much use either unless it contained some employment lawyers. Have you ever seen an employment contract drawn up by a lawyer? I have and it was almost unintelligible to the lay-person. An organisation I worked with many years ago decided, due to a paranoid fear of litigation, to refer all disciplinaries to the legal department once they went beyond the first warning. This was a mistake. Lawyers are great at telling you the law but not so good at understanding the management issues behind each situation and giving the relevant, nuanced practical advice. You don’t get lawyers involved at the early stages of an employment dispute for the same reason as, if you’ve any sense, you don’t get them involved in a marital dispute until all else has failed. Once the employer gets legal, so will the aggrieved employee and then you’re on the inevitable and expensive road to the court-room.

Other reasons why you might miss your HR function could be for its specialist knowledge of the employment market, its ability to find and recruit good staff and its general overview of the organisation which few other functions have. The better HR managers will also be good coaches and advisers. If your HR department is any good, it will be helping managers tackle performance issues. Without it, a lot of these problems might well fester away while under-confident executives avoid dealing with them.

I have said it before and I will say it again. If there was no need for HR functions, they would disappear. Business commentators have been talking about the demise of HR for longer than I care to remember but it never happens. There are a whole load of people management tasks that managers don’t like doing, so they like having HR people around to help them. There are others, like reward management and recruitment, that require a high level of focus and expertise. Most HR activities are, in some form, necessary to the organisation and have to be done by someone. Not all of them can easily be outsourced.

HR functions evolved in organisations for a number of reasons. Those reasons haven’t gone away and until they do, HR professionals will always be with us. I just wish they’d stop beating themselves up and get on with doing what they do.

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3 Responses to A world without HR

  1. An employment contract drawn up by a lawyer? I once saw a contract amendment drafted by a lawyer. Although I knew what it was about, I didn’t understand a word.

    And thanks for participating!

  2. HR Wench says:

    Excellent post. Reminds me I need to blog about this as well. I better go get on it.

  3. marcus felton says:

    Human resources departments are the secret police an d Gestapo arm of organisation. More often than not, the H.R. department is strategically located very near the executive suites/offices. As a reward for doing the dirty work of the executive and their bidding, comfortable work spaces and all manners of working conditions concessions are granted to them.

    H.R. people make a conspicuous appearence when an employee is about to be recruited and when it is time for that person to go. They are the mid-wife and the undertaker combined. But do not expect any parenting or nurturing as you try and grow into a job and career path. Anytime in the middle of those two landmarks you find them unavailable and busy attending meetings, conferences, playing prosecutor to suspected errant staff, covering up for bad managers, forcing ever harsher working conditions on to the workers, taking their generous leave of absence and break times, sucking up to exec. and all other activities necessary for their own corporate survival. Anything but attending to your needs.

    H.R. has been rebadged as people. management. Often HR staff have the worst people skills of all employees.

    Downsizing does not affect H.R. staff, as they know and enforce their rights more rigorously than any other employee group. They also have the dirt on everyone and that makes them untouchable.

    If a company is awarded an employer of choice for any reason, it is not due to outstanding H.R. staff/dept. It is because the execs have made a conscious choice to be people- and employee- friendly and accordingly have set the corporate culture that way.

    Best bosses can walk the tightrope and balance the needs of the workers with that of the organisation without a H.R. crutch nor any hand-holding from H.R.

    H.R. regards employees as expendable, dispensable and a renewable commodity. In a situation where the rights of the woker conflicts with that of management, H.R. will ensure that the worker gets the shaft and management a get-out-jail-free pass.

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