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Who Gets HR Where You Work?

Author: Robyn Bramhall
August, 2009 Issue
In every workplace, there’s at least one person who takes (or is given) the role of “people person.” In a small or informal workplace, it’s the person who lets the boss know when folks are unhappy or need a break, and who also places the want ads, tries to keep the peace, and generally makes work more fun and productive. In larger, more formalized organizations, this person may be considered part (or all) of the human resources (HR) department.
HR is generally charged with responsibility for management of the “soft” side of the enterprise, meaning the relationships, responsibilities and rights of those squishy things called humans. Assuming the humans where you work are engaged in the pursuit of organizational success, they’re considered resources. As such, there’s a need to manage them, just as you manage resources such as equipment, buildings and cash.
Why should you care who “gets” HR? Depending on your opinion of, and involvement in, human resources
management, you’ll have a different interpretation of the question itself. A large part of your interpretation depends on which meaning of the word “get” you apply. Here’s a review of those meanings as they may relate to HR:

To receive for enjoyment.
With this meaning, responsibility for HR is a welcome gift, as in, “She did such a good job getting our finances in order, I think she should get HR, too.”

To obtain or achieve.
Believe it or not, there are some people who actually aspire to head the HR function. It feels right, like getting married to the person you love.

To receive as a punishment or sentence.

For some, HR is the department of last resort: “He didn’t cut it in sales, so now he’ll get HR.”

To hit, strike, or wound.
On the receiving end, you may feel you get HR when you’re called into the HR office, which to some feels like when the bully at school says, “I’ll get you.”

To catch or be afflicted with.
In some workplaces, being responsible for HR is like the flu: You may get it for a while, then you recover and someone else gets it. It may be unpleasant, but it’s rarely deadly.

To acquire a mental grasp or command of.
Some people have advanced degrees or are professionally certified in the theory and practice of human resources management. These people understand, or get, the importance of applying sound principles to the management of people and people-related policies to fully reap the benefit of their talents.

If you’re lucky, the people responsible for HR where you work apply the first, second and last definitions, and they enjoy and understand their function. They’re respected members of the management team, and their actions and decisions span a number of areas that affect the business, if that business depends on people for its success.
But what’s to get about HR? Doesn’t every manager care about people, and isn’t it easy enough to keep them happy and productive? Of course managers care, but having someone on staff who gets HR means there’s a coordinated, constant and legally compliant approach to the management of employees as a group and as individuals, and that’s no simple matter. You’d have to have had your head in the sand for the past 20 years to have missed the news stories about strikes, discrimination lawsuits, workplace accidents, mass layoffs and other employment-related issues that often indicate a breakdown in the management of people—in other words, the person who got HR was either asleep at the wheel or ignored.
Making HR a secondary function, a punishment or a temporary assignment on the road to the executive suite puts an organization at risk in ways you may not have considered. Even if your workplace has too few employees to be subject to some of the more complicated laws and regulations, someone has to track and understand those that do apply—and then ensure compliance without breaking the pace toward business goals. Beyond compliance, there are issues that require the full attention of someone who’s dedicated to creating and implementing programs and policies that support and ensure the health and sustainability of the workforce and the enterprise. To name a few, I’ll mention training, safety, compensation, benefits, ethics, recruitment and hiring, performance evaluation and improvement, retention, conflict resolution, labor relations and succession planning. Ignoring any one of these areas, or leaving them in the hands of someone who doesn’t get HR (in the “having command of” sense) could mean risking anything from spending too much on payroll to letting your valuable intellectual property walk out the door unprotected.

Ask your top “people person” which definition of “get” applies to the role in your workplace. The answer may tell you it’s time to find somebody who gets HR in the way you need to succeed.
Robyn Bramhall is a certified senior professional in human resources (SPHR) and has held HR positions at SOLA Optical and Alcatel USA. She currently consults small business and nonprofit clients to maximize human resources and reduce risk. You can contact her at Visit for more details.


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