I came to an HR career after about 12 years in Engineering and Operations. I had been on the periphery, trying to learn how to make operations better through better people-related decisions. As anyone who has spent a significant time in HR will tell you, there comes a time where nothing about people will surprise you. That’s people in general, of course. There are specific people who will still surprise you.
Can You Handle a Long Career in HR?
A long-term career in HR does not only require a lot of knowledge about law, regulation, policy, and the motivation and fair treatment of people. It requires a lot out of you as a Human Resource yourself.
- There will be one person that many deem a “lost cause” who will respond to your progressive discipline and turn their career around. Of course, you won’t get credit for this, but you will know you made it happen.
- There will be the long term contributor who gets caught doing something totally stupid. Something that they know people get fired for. And you will have to look this person in the eye to tell them you are parting ways.
- There will be that family man who is suddenly revealed to have had an affair with a co-worker, and you have to sort out how to manage their assignments or employment now that their behavior has disrupted their teams.
- There will be the new hire that you have high hopes for who really does grow quickly, and leaves you too soon for another opportunity.
People you have come to know and care for will die suddenly. This happens to everyone, of course, but being in HR means you have a lot more exposure to people than other folks do.
You may have to explain to an employee’s spouse or partner about the terrible accident that happened at work, and that their loved one isn’t coming home tonight, and maybe never will.
You will celebrate many happy events – birthdays, work anniversaries, retirements – all meant to truly recognize an individual and give everyone involved a sense of community.
You will have to maintain objectivity in situations where you want to wring someone’s neck.
Some of the above are awesome, and some are difficult. You can’t do it alone. You need to do something to help you manage a multiple year career in HR. Here are some things that I have found particularly useful:
- Have a great personal, real, support system. Your partner, family, friends – people that you interact with about things that are not work-related. You might talk about work with them from time to time, but your focus with them is on the relationships you have, which are generally not built on work.
- Network. This was the hardest for me, until the internet came along. I can say that I know more about what some of my on-line HR friends are up to in their work than many of my same-company colleagues. I’m not a conference goer, but have found that finding the right event to go to with people that I respect for their work and drive has made a world of difference. I am a much different (and better I hope) HR pro than I was before I started connecting with HR bloggers – like my terrific cohorts here at PIC.
- Detach. Have a hobby. Play an instrument. Take photographs. Read. Create. Nurture that part of your brain that processes information. You will always be called upon to look at new things or look at established things differently.
- Find the time to exercise. Not just a walk once in a while – but stress your body. Work on your aerobic condition. Keep strong. Don’t let your health get away from you. When you are ready to walk away someday (and you will be) you need to be healthy for yourself and your family.
A career in HR can be everything you want it to be. It can be challenging and fun, while at the same time being difficult and at times emotionally demanding. It’s not all company picnics and benefits enrollment (thank God!). But it’s also not just discipline and policy administration. You have a chance to make a real difference in the business you serve, but you have to manage yourself first.