HR True Story: Walking the Line and Remaining Strong in Your Values

Written on:April 3, 2014
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Today, I’d like to share some very intimate and candid insight into what it’s really like to be a human resource professional.

For years, I have dedicated a big part of my life to educating and inspiring those who have an interest in the people side of business. While this has been a rewarding experience, it has also reminded me that every day around the world there are HR folks who are dealing with increasingly tough matters that tear at their souls, just as it did mine.

Human Resources – Caring About People

First of all, it’s important to understand that many human resource practitioners go into this as a career field because they genuinely care about people. They are keenly concerned about humanity and they want to make the world and the workplace a better experience. This value never changes.

The Unique Experience of HR Work

What makes human resources different from other types of careers is that very often we are faced with being what I like to call “fence sitters” for the company. As if there is somehow an invisible boundary between the people who work alongside of us every day and the decisions that we have to make on behalf of the company – this fence exists to protect us and to protect others around us from getting “too close”. On many occasions, I have known of things about to happen at a high level, but had no choice but to pretend like everything was okay for the sake of the company’s success. I’ve had to sit at lunch with my colleagues, knowing that in just a matter of hours someone was being fired. It’s not a good place to be.

What Human Resources Means

Human resources work often entails two things in the business world. On the one hand are the needs and goals of the business. On the other are the needs and goals of people you work with.  Unfortunately, many human resource professionals find themselves on the outside fringes of the people aspects of the business despite their best intentions. This is because businesses place an inordinate amount of pressure on human resource professionals to make sure that metrics come first.  It all comes down to numbers in the business world.

The Connection is Very Fragile

In a twist of irony, many human resource professionals fall out of touch with the very people they are meant to connect with. Far too many HR pros end up becoming disillusioned and discouraged by the day-to-day demands of this role. Years ago, when I worked full time as a corporate human resources manager, I experienced this very often. While I wanted very much to be the biggest cheerleader for the people who worked hard every day to create a wonderful workplace and revenues for the company — too many times I was forced to make decisions or to keep company secrets for the “better good”. This always felt wrong and contrary to my nature and personality.

Telling My Story – Being True to Your Values

For this reason, and this reason alone, I personally walked away from full time work at a prominent company in 2006. It was the start of what would become the Great Recession, as if it was great in any way. It was devastating for the manufacturing business I worked for. With the rise in gas prices, the company began charging more for shipping, which led to their biggest client terminating a long-withstanding contract. What came next was a series of random layoffs that started with the least productive and expendable employees and ended with the company owners choosing employees who earned the most.

Just before Christmas break, I was handed a list of 5 employees who had been loyal to the company for nearly 7-12 years each.  A hastily made decision by the company owners over lunch. The listed employees all had families and were limited in their skillsets – meaning it would be difficult for them to find alternative jobs. Then the owners went on a 2-week vacation to their family retreat in another state, saying, “Take care of this by the time we get back”. I’ll never forget the callousness of these words that shook me to the very core of my being.

So, I did two things. First, I prayed asking for wisdom. Then, I waited for an answer to come – and it did just three days later as I sat in my office. Right then and there I wrote my resignation letter, instructing the payroll person to use my salary to pay these 5 lower paid employees for the next few weeks so they could at least get through the holidays with their jobs intact. I fervently asked the owners to reconsider their priorities and how losing such loyal employees would negatively affect their bottom line. Then, I packed up my office and left that job – never looking back and not having another job to look forward to. It was the single-most best decision I have ever made in my professional career and I will never regret this.

Years later, I ran into two of these employees of all places but a bookstore and they both hugged me and said that they were able to keep their jobs – because of my personal sacrifice and care for them they managed to survive the recession with their heads held high. In that moment, my values were clearer than ever. I had completed my mission to care for the people around me.

A Challenge to all Human Resource Professionals

People are the reason organizations thrive, and people are the reason why human resource professionals go to work every day and do what they do. So, I ask every one of you reading this to stand true for what you believe in, be ethical, be genuine, and never regret your decision to work in this challenging industry. This is my professional challenge to you.

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