The untouchables – what if HR loses their people power?‍

HR is the natural home of many “untouchable” activities in organizations. They are often seen as the department that other departments don’t like to touch with a 10-foot pole because it might pollute their pristine image. Or, because their delicate work requires handling with kid gloves, not hands stained by dirt from other departments. The truth is that HR professionals know this and have long been dealing with the repercussions of being so “untouchable” for a reason.

A new survey has revealed that a whopping 98% of HR professionals are burned out, fatigued, and struggling with work pressures. Carried out by workplace communication app Workvivo, the survey of 520 HR professionals in the UK and USA demonstrated that workplace burnout is an endemic problem for the people function.

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The Human Resources profession is one that takes care of people; people who are usually not comfortable being touched or handled too much. It is therefore not surprising how some people react when they talk about HR and its importance. That said if you look closely at any organization — big or small — you will notice that there’s always an untouchable element to them. Hopefully, after all the responsibilities they took upon themselves, managers and employees will see them now more like the heroes and heart of the organization. Because the moment has come that the hero needs you, elsewhere HR might lose their people power.

HR is too important to be touched.

HR people often describe the HR function as a “corporate immune system.” If you think about it, the immune system is very important but is always tucked away inside the body where it can’t be seen. And, no matter how good the immune system is at its job, there is no chance that it will ever get on the cover of Time magazine or be featured on the front pages of newspapers. It’s dangerous for people to know about the immune system because it’s all about safety and protection, and there’s no glory in that. There is, however, glory in being a heart surgeon who saves lives. The same can be said about HR. It might be doing the most important work in the organization but because it stays on the inside, nobody notices. It’s dangerous for people to know about HR because it’s all about the safety and protection of the organization. Nobody likes to think about the dangers that lurk within their organization. And nobody wants to talk about the risks that are associated with their business (and the people in it).

HR is too delicate to be handled.

On the inside, HR is full of soft, squishy things like feelings, emotions, and an acute sensitivity to the feelings of others. HR is also a place where you can find compassion, empathy, patience, and a desire to help others. Anything that is soft and squishy is usually handled with kid gloves out of fear that it might get damaged by more coarse elements. It’s true that the soft and squishy elements of the people side of HR are delicate and require care and handling. But it’s also true that many of the people who work in HR are also strong, tough, and resilient individuals. Yet, because of the sensitivity of the work that HR professionals do, there are parts of the profession that are naturally seen as too delicate to be handled by other parts of the organization.

HR is not allowed to play with the other kids.

HR is an integral part of the organization. It is a necessary part of the business that must be done well so that the people side can support the mission of the business. And yet, there are certain activities within the people side of the business that will taint the image of HR. For example, performance management, onboarding, and offboarding are activities that are necessary for running a business but are seen as “not for HR to do.” Even the recruitment function, which is what HR was originally created for, has been taken away from many HR departments because hiring managers don’t want to share the process with HR. The message that hire managers send to HR is that they don’t trust them to do the job well. As a result, HR is not allowed to play with the other kids who are doing the fun stuff like running experiments, launching new products, and setting the strategy for the organization.

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HR is constantly under fire.

The people side of the business is inherently a soft target. It’s easy to cut the numbers, hours, and headcount in the people side because it’s not as important as the financial side. Besides, the people side is made up of employees who can easily be replaced by robots and AI. The people side is also the place where you find the pesky things like unions and employee rights. The fact that the people side is constantly under fire in the organization makes it easy for the activities within the people side to be pushed to the side or, worse, ignored completely. It’s easy for other departments to push the people side to the outside of the organization because they don’t want to deal with the backlash from employees or unions.

HR is often a victim of its own success.

HR’s success as a profession often leads to it being pushed out of the center of the organization. Successful HR departments are ones that are able to attract and retain great talent, have competitive compensation and benefits packages, and have robust and reliable systems for managing everything from performance reviews to benefits. Because the HR function is doing so many things so well, other departments often want to take advantage of what it has to offer. That’s all fine and dandy in normal times. But when organizations are under pressure, the people side is the first place that people want to go to cut costs and save money. In fact, even the very existence of people activities — like performance management — is called into question when things get tough. All of this leads to the conclusion that the HR department’s ability to influence and be heard in the organization is often limited by how “untouchable” it is.

HR is losing compassion and satisfaction.

HR team members have traditionally operated from “compassion satisfaction,” or positive feelings derived from helping others. Compassion satisfaction includes positive relationships with colleagues and a conviction that one’s work makes a meaningful contribution. Compassion satisfaction is maintained by feeling empowered as helpers. HR team members without mental health resources at their disposal are particularly susceptible to compassion fatigue. In addition, compassion fatigue impacts HR team members who are naturally empathetic, have not developed adequate coping mechanisms, and/or whose organization lacks work-life balance. These factors can lead to exhaustion, weariness and often cause affected professionals to shut down.

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Final words from André

The role of HR within organizations is undeniably significant, yet it often goes unnoticed and underappreciated. As the “untouchable” department that handles delicate aspects of people management, HR professionals find themselves constantly facing pressure and scrutiny. However, these very individuals are the key to maintaining a healthy and supportive work environment.

In light of this, it’s important to consider the consequences when HR loses its people power. How has your organization supported its HR department in navigating the challenges they face? Do you believe there’s room for improvement in the way HR is perceived and treated within your organization? Share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions in the comments below, and let’s work together to create a more inclusive and understanding environment for HR professionals.

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