Can HR Make Friends at Work?
Jessica Miller-Merrell | HR| By
HR Are People Too. Cross My Heart.
This week I’m at the SHRM Talent and HRO Today Forum conferences in Washington, DC and next week I’m in New York City for the HRPS Global Conference. All three are excellent gatherings with a wide range of human resource specialists from both large and small businesses. But in the background, there lies a depressing truth. Let me just say up front that HR professionals are entertaining. We are also persons. In fact, some of the most fascinating people you’ll ever meet are HR specialists. I swear. My heart is crossed.
The field of anthropology attracts “weird birds,” according to Dr. Harald Prins, my college-era anthropology professor. These strange birds had an odd way of looking at the world and enjoyed studying people, cultures, and history from a wholly different perspective. primarily because it is the responsibility of anthropologists to observe and research the social classes, ethnic groups, and cultures of people. We gather information and provide evidence for our points of view using techniques such as participant studies, interviews, and surveys. This sounds quite a bit like what we do in human resources, in my opinion. And occasionally, especially in corporate cultures, being a weird bird can make you feel alone.
Employee Engagement & The Anthropology of HR
Our responsibility in the field of HR is to view the organization differently. We focus on evaluating and working towards soft measurables using programs that promote employee engagement or work life balance or the candidate experience. Our involvement in the organization with these programs has far reaching effects, and yet most senior leaders, front line managers, or employees have no clue. HR effectively has a PR problem.
Can HR Make Friends at Work?
Unfortunately, most firms fail to recognize that HR professionals are also individuals, and this neglect extends to our peers, superiors, and workforce. They view us as the hiring and firing police, left to monitor the organizational culture like an anthropologist rather than assimilating ourselves into it. Because there is a risk involved in integrating into the community and making friends. The sad truth about HR is that making friends at work is frequently impossible. After work, we shun social gatherings and remain to ourselves. Knowing that a worker is enrolled in a performance improvement program or is a subject of an ongoing HR inquiry makes it difficult to share a beer with them.
As a result, our staff members are effectively in the dark about what we do, who we are, and how our positions assist the company. I suppose that’s where I see social media users who work in HR and bloggers attempting to influence the perception of HR. Internally, HR professionals can affect change by integrating into their organization’s culture and cultivating relationships. While doing so, this blog, others like it, and HR communities with a wide audience can also do the same.
Employee Perception Change of HR in 2012
Nobody ever tells me, “My HR person is nothing like you,” more than once a week. They claim, “You blog, utilize social media, and express your opinions. They are not like you at all.”
Although our hobbies may not be the same, I’ve never encountered anyone more interesting, inventive, or engaging than the people that work in and give their lives to this field. I am, however, free from the constraints placed on me by corporate HR as an independent consultant and analyst. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the issues and presumptions that might arise if my employees sees the Facebook photo of me enjoying a glass of wine. Your HR team does worry about these types of things. . . . ALOT.
For HR, it’s time to move from behind the curtain, let loose, and for HR pros to take a risk. Nobody really cares about your Facebook picture of you and your friends drinking wine. It’s demonstrates your humanity not your liability if in moderation. Consider using Facebook settings to hide those pictures from your employees if you must. Move beyond the comfort zone of the HR conference and attend your front line manager’s next happy hour. Let’s help change that perception one person at a time.
Howdy… I am also @wchra on twitter. I could not agree more with you. I am often told that they have never seen an HR professional be as personable as I am. I take the first part of my title very serious … Human… We are in the business of relating and translating the needs of the employee and the company. In the words of Johnny Cash.. I walk the line… Between corp and the employee. I also often say that I do not have to be stiff or rude to be a professional. I can be professional and personable. Thanks Trace
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
Thanks for commenting here. This topic has been bugging me for sometime and hadn’t figured out a way to articulate. Being here in DC this week and meeting so many amazing HR folks reminded me that I just need to push publish and talk about the subject. I’m always amazed at how scared employees are of HR folks. We are not the people who are firing folks and HR folks have a lot of misconceptions. Appreciate the comment.
John Rorick says
While I think more conversation could be had around the delicate balance of friend and HR pro in the workplace, I think one other item of note is that your above take could be said for more than just HR professionals. I think the reason why this comes up more for HR folks is due to ineffective HR leaders being viewed as hiring/firing prevention, “no police”, corporate cops, paperwork/admin jockeys, etc.
Every employee in my mind should approach work as personable and professional. If you are a manager, an entry level staffer, or SVP of Sales you should also stay cognizant of the delicate balance between friend and “pro”. This does not preclude anyone from enjoying happy hour, but it does mean you may not want to be seen doing shots and back-slapping the mid-level manager with the pending sexual harassment claim, as you are on a bar stool next to their accuser. Although moments like that can be cause for any HR pro to drink heavily…. 🙂
I’m Amy- tweeter@amancini2012- and I really like this article. I would like to see more. One thing I’ve done is take new employees out to lunch after a month on the job to talk about their family, friends, and a little about work and how they like it. So far, I’ve gotten a great response.
I do however limit my Facebook to my friends/family and LinkedIn to anyone- just my personal preference for now.
I am really trying hard to change other’s perception of HR- policy and procedure police. I’m fortunate to work in a smaller company that allows me to put the “human” in human resources.
Jen Hanlon Ash says
I’ve joked about this for years: thank god I have a fair number of ‘outside’ friends, because HR is not at the top of anyone’s Happy Hour list. But as someone else pointed out, it’s really about the role and not the entire profession. If you are the one who always handles Employee Relations (been there), people get nervous around you. If you handle Recruiting (am there now), everyone is your friend/client/potential hire. Same with being a manager; you are always ‘the boss’ even if sometimes, you just want to have one more beer with the gang. I think HR has a PR problem that’s slowly getting chipped away by people like yourself, and thank god for social media in this regard! I mix my social media prof-ersonally; that was deliberate. Then again I’m 40; I’m not posting pics of myself doing shots on the beach; I’m pretty comfortable sharing my personal life with co-workers; and as a Recruiter any way to connect is potentially the next lead. More than that, it’s a waste of energy for me to force my (social media) life into little compartments: work, hobbies, family, interests, humor. But perhaps I work at a place where this blending is more the norm than the exception? I have quite a few friends – HR and non-HR – who still ‘would never “friend” a coworker on Facebook’. I find that strange, especially considering these are not exactly people living the Wild Life. It’s not perfect or a replacement for human contact, but I maintain my professional relationships are generally richer for the random connections I’ve made online whether it’s commenting on someone’s post, liking a photo, sharing a joke, or passing around the latest Infograph.
Anyway, keep up the great PR campaign for us… we need it! And the Pinterest boards. Love them!
Jocelyn Aucoin says
Love this. And think you’re right – HR does have a PR problem. Too bad too because there are some seriously great peeps in this world (including my husband, who’s an analyst!). So excited though for the future of work and HR’s role in it. It’s time for the innovative thinkers and the ones who believe so much in developing people and business in HR to take a real brave stance by embracing new technologies and ideas and leading this march forward. No one ever made waves by standing still! And yeah – maybe you make a few enemies, but so did all the great people in the world!
Looking forward to reading more from you, Jessica. 🙂
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