Magazine article Personnel Journal

HR Doesn't Have to Be a Paradox

Magazine article Personnel Journal

HR Doesn't Have to Be a Paradox

Article excerpt

The single most difficult profession in the business world today is HR. No other position requires the delicate balancing of paradoxical roles as the one that is assumed by the human resources professional.

Case in point: If you ask several people to define the role of human resourcs, you'll get varied and sometimes contradictory answers. For example:

* Employees expect you to take up their cause and resolve issues in their favor, irrespective ofthe issue or its merits

* Line executives expect you to "fix these people problems," irrespective of the cause of the problems or perhaps even their own contribution to it

* Top management expects you to "keep us out of legal problems" and maintain high employee morale.

Laid out in the cold light of day, it's obvious that many of these expectations not only are impossible to meet but also are mutually exclusive. Let me explain.


Part of the human resources professional's job is to advise management, especially in areas that concern laws or guidelines involving employee rights. Even in a nonrepresented setting, management expects the human resources professional to advise and counsel employees and ensure that they don't feel the need to appeal to a government agency for redress.

Employees no longer need a union representative to see that employers don't violate their rights. The EEOC, MSHA, OSHA, NLRB and ACLU--along with any number of state and local agencies and boards--are only too happy to take up an employee's cause at no cost to the employee.

The divergent expectations raised by both management and employees set up a conflicting scenario for human resources professionals. In trying to meet the demands of these conflicting roles adequately, HR professionals sow the seeds of eventual failure.

In the U.S., an adversarial model is the basis of civil law, as well as labor law. How is it possible to advise management and still maintain confidence in management's possible legal position and, at the same time, advise employees about what's in their best interest?

Human resources professionals usually cease counseling employees who already have sought outside help, but what about the period before actual appeal to an outside agency? It's human resources' job to listen to, counsel with and advise employees so that the difficulty is kept in-house. Top management considers a human resources professional who's unable to deter and placate an unhappy employee to be less than effective.

On the other hand, the human resources professional who chooses to represent management's interests will lose the confidence of employees. Management may be satisfied with human resources' loyalty initially. However, management eventually will discover that employees no longer go to the human resources department with their problems and conclude that the company needs a new manager. If the human resources professional represents employee interests at all costs, his or her tenure will be even shorter.


Human resources professionals identify, formulate and enforce the rules and guidelines of employee conduct in the workplace. Human resources identifies these policies and procedures following incidents between employees and their supervisors.

As time passes, these policies dealing with employee misconduct, benefits, work rules and the mutual obligations between employee and employer become the responsibility of the human resources professional, who must enforce and explain appropriate behavior. This role becomes a barren and bureaucratic quagmire. No amount of clarification before the fact will deal with all exigencies. Therefore, the policy degenerates into an unenforceable nonpolicy, or the human resources practitioner degenerates into being nothing more than an arbitrary naysayer.

The role that's in direct conflict with the role of enforcer is the role of peacemaker. …

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