Thoughts from a Young Intern

In 2005, Fast Company published an article entitled “Why We Hate HR.” This article was revolutionary at the time due to its frank description of the reasons why HR had such a bad reputation. I was far too young to appreciate the article when it first came out, but even now, twelve years later, it still resonates with me. HR still has a bad reputation and a large amount of the criticisms in the article still ring true.

Admittedly, I’m just an intern. I don’t have a lot of experience. That said, I hope that my lack of knowledge makes me a little less biased and allows me to provide a fresh perspective on an old argument. If you ask me, there are three key problems that HR still grapples with and some simple ways to fix them.

HR Should be Bringing Sexy Back

When I told my friends I would be interning at the HR software firm Talentsoft they asked me if I would also be changing my name to Karen and filling my wardrobe with beige cardigans and slacks. As undergrads, our sole perception of HR professionals had come from pop culture, and the image that pop culture has built surrounding HR is less than seductive. When we think of HR, we think of television characters like Toby Flenderson from The Office. On the show, Toby talks in a monotonous voice, acts as a corporate policeman, and stops people from having fun. Everyone in the office hates Toby because he epitomizes every negative stereotype about HR. For students, HR is Toby Flenderson.  (For the record, my experience at Talentsoft has not been like this AT ALL. On the contrary, it’s been great!)

While some companies may be doing things the right way, the general brand of HR is not sexy. Most people don’t like it and very few want to enter the field. When hiring HR professionals, companies often have trouble finding top talent to fill these roles. Students at leading business schools don’t dream of pursuing careers in the HR field, and, thus, very few of them do. Only 0.3% of Wharton graduates went into HR in 2017 and Harvard graduates have found that they are ridiculed by their peers for doing so. Intelligent and engaged students don’t want to enter into a field that is perceived as boring, incompetent, and even villainous.

Yet, as most people who work in HR know, this description of HR can be far from true. A well-functioning HR department has the capacity to truly impact a company for the better in a truly EXCITING way. In recent years, as technology has become more advanced (shameless plug: Talentsoft has some great tech), HR reps no longer spend their time dealing with administrative minutiae such as compensation and benefits, as most of these processes have been delegated to computer programs. With this newfound time, HR reps have the capability to focus on talent management (which, in 2012, was noted as a key competitive advantage by 81% of executives surveyed by KPMG International).

Talent management is much more riveting than paperwork. An HR rep becomes the casting director in his or her company’s future film, and is able to choose the actors that will transform the company into a box office hit (or flop). An HR rep can discover the next Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and help build a company worthy of an Oscar. Finding and retaining top talent is vital to a company’s success, and talented people are the most capable of doing this well.

This may be one of the biggest changes since Why We Hate HR was originally published – HR professionals finally have the time and tools they need to make HR truly relevant and bring sexy back! The mistakes are twofold – a lot of people in HR aren’t actually making it happen despite their resources, and those who are have not yet engaged in enough sharing and branding to make their successes visible and attractive. If HR spends more time on delivering great results and then sharing them they’ll find that executives will take them more seriously and young talent will be more interested in working for them.

Time is Only Money if You Can Prove It

Executives can only stress the importance of HR if they truly believe that it’s important, and, according to KPMG International’s 2012 survey, only 17% of executives view HR departments as able to demonstrate measurably their value to the business. That is a TERRIBLE number! HR isn’t taken seriously by executives because they rarely can get a read on whether HR is actually doing anything to help their companies. It’s time for HR departments to start finding ways to translate their work into visible, monetary value. It’s not just about delivering results, it’s about measuring them and connecting them to the bottom line.

At Target, one of the United States’ biggest discount retailers, the HR department is considered a strategic business partner for the company. The HR management strategy aligns directly with Target’s competitive strategy. The HR team at Target has a long-term goal of ultimately attaining the most value for Target, which they accomplish through 4 main strategies and processes: organizational culture, staffing, employee development, and employee retention. These 4 strategies allow for the HR department at Target to maintain transparency between themselves and corporate as they work as a business partner to attain the best talent and nurture this talent to create the most effective staff possible. Being a strategic business partner has worked for the HR department at Target, and the fruits of their labor are clear through the company’s 17.2% compound growth rate over the last ten years, as compared to the industry’s 11.7% average.

For executives to take HR seriously, HR departments need to act in a way that ensures value for the company now, but also in the long run. Rather than just focusing on human capital, HR should be able to show how its strategies and processes translate human capital into real, monetary value. By working directly with corporate as a strategic business partner to define and pursue long-term values and goals for the company, HR will enable itself to be viewed as an asset.

Stop Being the Bad Guy

When you search “employees hate” on Google, the third autofill option (after “employees hate me” and “employees hate their jobs”) is “employees hate HR.” HR is renowned for being unpopular, and this is partially due to the nature of the job. One of HR’s main functions is to enforce corporate policies, which means they are often perceived as neglecting employees’ interests for the sake of the company’s bureaucratic rules.

What HR professionals often fail to realize is that rules are enforced to improve company performance and behave ethically. If breaking a rule remains ethical and improves the company why wouldn’t you do it? For example, HR could technically make a decision to provide a sick employee with more paid leave and support. Would this cost some money? Yes. Would it probably break a few rules? Also yes. BUT, it would help the employee as well as the company in the long run. In prioritizing employees, HR will gain their respect and in turn they would perform better.

This may seem daunting, as rules are made for a reason, and making exceptions to corporate policies directly violates these rules. Yet, in the long-run, corporate will appreciate these exceptions. Employees who feel valued and listened to in their workplace are more likely to stay with a company. If HR makes exceptions for talented people, the company is more likely to retain these happier employees, which, in turn, will attract more talented people.

Dustin Robinson recently wrote an article called “It’s Time for HR to Start Breaking Rules” that talked about how bending the rules and asking for forgiveness instead of permission can permit HR departments to make more progress. The same concept can be applied to gaining the respect of employees: it may require some exceptions to rules, but will ultimately evoke positive results. It’s time for HR to stop being so hated and to start breaking rules instead.

Will We Still Hate HR in 12 Years?

I believe HR is finally ready for change. The tools are there and the knowledge is there. The trick will be for HR to take action, focus on financial results, improve their brand, and waste less time on bureaucracy. If that happens I might just be the last intern to get made fun of for looking into HR.


About the author:

Talia Lorch is a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States. She spent a month as a Marketing intern at Talentsoft, in November 2017.

By the way, Talentsoft is looking talented people to ensure people no longer hate HR, have a look at our vacancies!

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