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Can HR Repair Its Reputation?

Updated: May 25, 2023

NPR's Marketplace did a story this week, "Reflecting, rebranding...but can HR repair its reputation?"

I was quoted (insert humble brag here) regarding my thoughts about the reaction that I receive when I tell people that I work in HR. Without hesitation, I quickly answered:

They are usually quite surprised because I swear too often to be considered the pinnacle of ethics within an organization.

Just Kidding - I didn't say that. What I did say is:

“We are in kind of a new era of HR and that’s encouraging. For a lot of time, we were seen as the police of the organization. I certainly did my fair share of performance management, talking to people about discipline matters and handbooks, but I think the field is evolving.”

According to Pfaller, HR is about more than being a handbook-thumper. She says HR staff should focus on those rare moments when employees actually find their way into the HR office.

“Somebody like my dad, who was an engineer for a company for 40 years, probably never walked into the HR department,” she said. “But maybe once or twice he did, and it’s how we respond in those moments. And if we slap down a handbook, or we slap down a policy, we are going to keep having our bad reputation.”

My Dad later confirmed that he had been in HR exactly three times in his 40-year career.

And although I didn't get the stats exactly right about my dad, I do stand by my sentiments. In HR, we have the privilege of being the soul of an organization. Sure, there is a lot of paperwork but there are precious moments in people's lives that we get to play a critical part.

As an HR Rep,

We are the first call or text when an employee has a baby (and usually the first to know when she was pregnant and shyly came in asking about her benefits).

We are the ones who send the flowers when an employee passed away and collected the photos for the collage.

We are the ones who walk a retiree to his car on his last day of a job that he had held for over 30 years.

We get the calls when there is a death in the family and an employee's spouse is frantically looking for a loved one who wasn't answering his phone.

The hiring, the firing, the handbooks, and the training are the expectations of the job.

But these touch-point moments are the important stuff in life and business. And how lucky are we to get to play background in these pivotal moments in people's lives?

As they say in every superhero movie ever "With great responsibility comes great expectation."

THESE are the things that we must approach with confidentiality, care, and empathy in order to repair HR's bruised reputation.

These are the things people will recall when asked: What do you think of HR?

Think your company is too small to have a dedicated HR Resource? Think again. Send me a message: I would love to help you recruit and retain amazing talented people for your organization.

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