A Normal Mormon HR Guy?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Are Human Resources people different than the rest of the "normal" people?

I need your help in answering this question because I'm really self-conscious about the general perception of my profession right now.

You see, last week I spent an entire day cooped up in a conference room with nine other managers who are all involved in a large-scale consolidation of two of our US-based manufacturing plants. I know all of the other managers very well, but a consultant was brought in from the outside to facilitate the meeting. As you can probably gather from my blog, I like to try to keep things light and exploit the funny moments that happen in life. I do the same thing at work. Everybody on the team already knew this about me except for the outside consultant, who blended in as seamlessly as cute little Sam McKinney on Diff'rent Strokes.

Even though this team is dealing with very serious issues and making major decisions (e.g. union negotiations, eliminating jobs, moving large equipment across the country, whether we should use the sharpie that smells like grape or licorice, etc.) I found a few times during our meeting to crack a joke that had the whole group laughing. After one particularly humorous quip I almost just got up and left the meeting for good, a la George Constanza with the Yankees. Despite my better judgment, I stayed for the rest of the day and ended up having a conversation that has troubled me ever since.

At the conclusion of the meeting the outside consultant came up to me and we chatted for a minute. It was my exchange with him that has me paranoid about the perception of HR people:

Consultant: "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we really made some progress today and accomplished the main goals we had set as a group."

Me: "I agree. I never thought we would finish the 12-foot sub we ordered, but we really came together as a team and pulled it off."

Consultant: Laughing, "You're pretty funny -- "

Me: "Thanks."

Consultant: "--for an HR guy."

Me: "Uh, ummmm, uhhhh. I'm going home now."

I've been rattled ever since. What does that mean, exactly - "for an HR guy?" Are we so different from the mainstream that we need to be singled out like that. Saying "--for an HR guy--" is kind of like saying, "Hey, you're pretty skinny...for a fat person," or "you make really smart decisions...for somebody who bought an adjustable rate mortgage."

Um, thanks? I guess.

A few days passed and the stench of the "--for an HR guy--" comment was beginning to fade. Just as I was about to convince myself that not all HR people are as dopey as Toby in The Office or as evil as Dilbert's Catbert, I made the mistake of visiting SHRM.org last Friday. SHRM is the acronym for our national HR association and it stands for Suckers who Harass Rotten Managers. Just kidding. It really stands for the Society for Human Resource Management, but I think my alternative is just as valid. To my horror, two of the lead articles at SHRM made me understand why a lot of people need to make a qualifier like "--for an HR guy--" (the key points are highlighted in red):

Yes, that's right. With everything else the HR community should be focusing on right now our national organization decides to dedicate two of its lead articles to decrying the risks of March Madness tournaments (gambling addictions, lost productivity, inexplicable attractions to Gonzaga as a Cinderella pick) and whining about employees who blog and/or express their minds on social networking sites.

This criticism of social networking makes me so mad that I just updated my Facebook status to, "The NMH is EXASPERATED!!! Aarrrrghhhh!!!!"

Let's see. March Madness = Nightmare? Employee blogs = Headache? No wonder so many people think HR is made up of a bunch of worrisome, killjoy wet blankets. For the record, I love March Madness (see previous post and JOIN THE LEAGUE TODAY!) and blogging/Facebooking. Don't be surprised if I show up as Public Enemy #1 on SHRM.org tomorrow. To quote from Pee-Wee Herman: "I'm a loner, Dottie, a rebel."

So, please help me out by posting comments on the following topic:

Describe the typical HR person in ten words or less.

I set up a poll on the right hand side as well, so please take a sec to share your opinion. Your insights will be very helpful. It will be very interesting to see what words people use. Not to sound too much like Michael Scott, but I'm expecting the words "studly", "beefcake", "genius", and "dashing" to be used pretty frequently.

But then again, maybe I'm just overly optimistic -- for an HR guy.

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Anonymous said...

I hate to say it, but The Office's portrayal of Toby did come from an honest place. Where I work, HR is generally seen as a bunch of corporate tools. They also eat out a TON on the company dime.

1:36 AM

(In my best Michael Scott voice): "Hey, thanks, Anonymous! I bet when you refer to HR as a 'bunch of corporate tools' you mean 'tools' in a good way, right? You know, like HR is like a corporate hammer that builds a better organization. Or maybe HR is a corporate soldering gun that brings people together? It's that type of 'corporate tool', right?"

7:23 AM
Jen said...

I haven't dealt with HR people in my company very often, but the one I know is a very helpful, caring person. The one at my husband's office is helpful also and not at all a killjoy. (She handles the present buying for the Christmas parties.)

8:03 AM
Maren Hansen said...

Hmm, maybe the outside consultant was trying to crack a joke. You know how dry and boring those consultants can be...

9:32 AM

Chris hears that same thing quite often....that he is pretty funny for an accountant. That probably doesn't make you feel any better.

10:37 AM

HR are the people that tell you whether your work is valid to create the validity of their job (please don't take offense NMH- you asked for a definition, remember?).

11:08 AM
bwebster said...

The people who keep us out of trouble with federal and state regulators.

OK, that's more than 10 words, but it sums up my opinion. I help start up a company nearly 20 years ago; our CEO had the office manager doing all the HR work, and I kept tell him, "Look, we need a full-time HR person. We're in California. If we mess something up, we're screwed."

Never happened; our overworked office manager did the HR work for the whole five years of the company's existence. Luckily, we never messed anything up. ..bruce..

11:34 AM
ron_hayes said...

Discovering the most efficient exploitation of humans as a resource.

Sorry dude, but all too often I have seen the above happen. I have worked with 3 HR managers during my career, one was strictly professional with nary a sense of humor. I saw him exploiting a lot. The next was a nicer person but exploitative still the same - more a machine than anything else. The third actually has some real personality. As a matter of fact, she is not only funny for an HR person but she is crazy funny. As for you, your blog is far too entertaining for anyone to apply the "funny for an HR person" tag. Tell the consultant to read your blog and soon he'll just think you're funny - period.

11:54 AM
Anonymous said...

This is funny. You probably don't want to hear my definition in ten words or less about MY HR dept where I work, right? That would probably be brutal. So, in general (and this is only MY opinion), HR is the group of people who handle all the tattletales, troublemakers and arguements that adults should otherwise be able to work out in an adult manner. And by adult manner, I don't mean by going to blows.

12:11 PM

Being a relatively new "HR Guy" and having seen both sides of the fence, I can honestly say that the Human Resources Department is one of the most misunderstood and maligned organizations of all time. Who else lives their professional lives as a human bulls eye for both the company big wigs and every other employee?

Now, I've seen good and bad HR offices. It, just like everything else, depends on who's running the show and how empowered the employees actually are.

I find it odd though, that people would consider HR humorless. We're usually the "fun" department that shows everyone else how to have a great work-life balance! And by the way, remember that this Friday is, uh, Hawaiian shirt Friday :)

12:59 PM
Steve C. COIV TDCJ said...

Sorry, but I work for the state of Texas and our "HR" person knows less policy than I do and is aways sure she is right. It would be funny except for the headaches caused for others trying to do things by policy. Sad but true. I am sure after being a lurker of this blog you are a rare gem in the HR World.

4:52 PM
Lorna said...

HR has the glory of being not management enough for the management, and too much like management for the employees. It's similar to the person of mixed race that finds themselves maligned by both sides for not being "enough" of their kind. Quite often you are seen as the bad guy to both sides, even on the same issue. Management hates that you "have" to give employees lunch breaks while the employees are upset that you make them "take" a lunch break (and therefore lose that half hour of overtime they were milking the company for daily). It's lonely living on the fence.

5:01 PM

Snake River Walton: You said, "HR are the people that tell you whether your work is valid to create the validity of their job."

What you actually described is the job of an auditor. For example, Wal-Mart does a lot of social audits to make sure its contractors (including my company) are treating their employees fairly (read: not running sweatshops.) One time our Wal-Mart auditor actually gave us a "yellow" for not having a "No Smoking Area" outside our chemical waste room. The only problem is that our chemical waste room is INSIDE the building, where smoking is obviously not allowed. This was his justification for dinging us so that he could come back a few weeks later for a follow-up.

I think John/Kara put it well when they said that HR people are, "human bulls eye for both the company big wigs and every other employee." Well said - for an HR guy.

5:03 PM

We are quasi lawyers who were connected enough to get into law school and thereby learn the social and communication skills necessary to be a benefit to society. -- worse than a necessary evil!

5:38 PM

Sorry: "weren't connected" See? I'm a trained HR professional of 10+ years who can't even type a statement correctly that I took 2 hours to draft.

5:40 PM
Anonymous said...

I'm posting this anonymously cuz I'm scare of our HR dept.

I work in HR for HR, and I have to say a large portion of our HR group gives HR a bad name. They enforce rules they don't follow. There's a lot of favoritism going on. And although there are some AWESOME people - they forget the "people" part at work.

I love my company and the job that I do, but find that when bad eggs work in HR, they give the rest of the department a bad name, even within the department!

I'm glad you're not THAT kind of HR manager. It's not only your sense of humor, but your faith and humanity that make you someone I wouldn't mind working with!

8:25 PM
Katy L. said...

Well I really don't have much to say about the main topic, but you are now officially my hero because you quoted Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure and the Office in one
post. Um. You are amazing.

9:57 PM
Not Yet Dead said...

HR where I am working now is helpful, pleasant, and great to work with. The last company I worked for, however, had an HR with too much power. They would regularly approve new hires, then the next day deny the hire because the pay offer was above average for our location. They would suggest making a new offer (after the prospect had accepted the first one) that was less then what the prospect was currently making. Poor performers were not let go because HR decides the position is not needed if the current person can't do it. My exit interview was denied because my last day was the day before Thanksgiving. I think bizarre examples like that give HR a bad rep.

The term Human Resources is a little disturbing. What is wrong with Personnel Department?

5:44 AM
Anonymous said...

HR is a tough gig right now. Every company out there is feeling a pinch. I have worked at a couple of Fortune 500 companies and the HR department was professional and helpful. As I know you are too.

Keep your head up NMH


7:23 AM
Emily and Tom said...

Hey, my dad has been in HR his entire career and he sounds a lot like you...tries to exploit funny situations to the fullest and lighten serious situations with a little humor. He too is a little paranoid about reputation of HR guys, but I say get over and realize that not only are you peculiar in your religion, but perhaps you are peculiar in your line of work.

1:41 PM
Graham Chops said...

In the words of the eternally wise Dogbert: "I like to con people. And I like to insult them. If you put those two together, you get consult..."

9:06 PM
Shelley said...

i'm glad i got to know you before i knew you were an hr manager. because it would have forever tainted my image of you.

sorry, you can't work for a recruiting firm without learning to hate hr managers.

in all my years doing what i did, i had yet to meet (in a professional capacity) an hr manager i didn't think was a total idiot. and one was the elders quorum pres of our ward who also happened to be an hr exec for a big corporation out in winston...

oops, did i say that out loud?!?

6:56 PM


How ironic! I know which recruiting firm you worked for. For the sake of privacy, let's call them "Satan's Staffing." Every time the phone rings and my LCD screen says, "Satan's Staffing", my stomach churns. It's just another unsolicited, pushy recruiter trying to drum up business.

I never pick up those calls. Tell you what, guys, how about I CALL YOU when I need to hire somebody, okay?

Um, are we still cool? I know you're daughter is scared to death of me and now this how HR/Recruiter weirdness has entered the mix. Are we still friends? Or are we going to go all bloody knuckles in the parking lot one day?

8:52 PM
Admiral Lily said...

I've never been good at being succinct. Anyway, I've also never had much experience with HR but of the 2 of the 3 that I remember, both were awesome. The first became kind of a friend of mine and she helped easily resolve a misunderstanding between myself and one of my cashiers (I was the night customer service manager at the time). The other I work with right now. She's wearing two hats of CS and HR as she did at the last company we worked together at. She too is great and resolving issues in a way that I don't resent her for. Perhaps I'm biased because she's become a friend over the years but I stand by my opinion. In short, I sometimes like the lemon flavored candies (see your next post). They've not been too bad to me. ;)

12:38 PM