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HR: Waste of Time or Plague on Modern Business?

I was watching Miami:CSI earlier this week (it just wouldn't be Monday w/o Caruso quipping bad one-liners and striking a profile pose), and it was an episode dealing with IAD - the scourge of many a good cop show. Know about IAD; all the cops hate it, good cops as well as bad ones. IAD never really does anything useful, it just gets in the way, sucks resources that could be much better used somewhere else, and it harasses honest folk to no end. Which made me think about Human Resources.

I have been in business for a quarter-century, and while I have great respect for administrators who handle records, enforce policy, and can point out the most intricate points of the law on employment matters, especially as I have done a lot of such work myself, as a unit I can find no justification for the existence of a Human Resource department. They do not hire anyone, they do not develop employees, they do not fire or discipline anyone. They do not produce revenue, they do not recognize achievements of an employee or group, they do not develop solutions for problems and constraints. What's worse, they uniformly hinder those who actually do those things. The real business people do that. Asking around, I have never found any experienced businessperson who thinks an HR department makes his company more effective, or a better place to work.

How about you? What's your HR experience?


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Comments (22)

I've been retired for a few... (Below threshold)
Charles Harkins:

I've been retired for a few years now, but mention HR and my blood starts to boil. I'm old enough to remember what it was like before HR departments became de riguer. They have been an enormous drain on productivity and morale in the workplace. I have nothing good to say about any HR department I have ever seen.

I was once told, by a senio... (Below threshold)

I was once told, by a senior HR executive, that HR is an officially instituted brake, put in place to assuage the fears of the upper management that some young turk might accomplish something that will upset their applecarts.

Most people, including most corporate employees, have no idea how terribly frightened the Mahogany Row types are of their nominal subordinates. Under normal circumstances, a position high in a corporate hierarchy is won only by demonstrating a fanatic attachment to the policies and preferences of the persons already there. Only when the stockholders become angry enough to eviscerate the Board of Directors and install a group that really will shake things up does a genuine innovator, as distinguished from the ersatz variety that tinkers with form but keeps well clear of substance, have any prospect of rising high in corporate America.

One of the reasons the corporate establishments were happy to see the fall of Michael Milken is that Milken's junk-bond-financing techniques put so many corporate managements at risk of being turned out on the street by their own employees. Daniel Fischel's book Payback is most illuminating on this subject.

Our HR Dept was very proact... (Below threshold)

Our HR Dept was very proactive. They taught females how to file sexual harassment claims on the thinest of circumstances. They're next major accomplishment was how to file claims for work injuries. You'd be surprised at the number of people who have "slipped and fallen" just as soon as they enter company property on Monday morning.

In my experience, HR is the... (Below threshold)

In my experience, HR is the insulator between management and the employees. They are there solely to protect management from the employees. Period.

HR=An overly endowed corpor... (Below threshold)

HR=An overly endowed corporate version of the Gestapo.

OK, so that's a bit of hyperbole. (Just a bit, though.) It's based on recent experience, though, so let me explain because I've got a real beef as to why ANY HR dept. needs to be involved in the hiring process.

Example: In my company, as I'm sure it goes in most companies, HR screens potential candidate resumes for X position. My problem with this is simple: How the f*** are they qualified to discern who and who is not a qualified candidate for X position? Answer: They can't, not even with a detailed description of the position provided by the manager (or whomever) doing the hiring. And why is that? Because only the person approving the hire actually knows the relevancy of the candidate's experience.

By simply scanning a resume HR can NOT possibly know this because they don't have the experience or industry knowledge. Thusly, those intriguing resumes, more often than, hit the circular file. And that leads to, in my experience, people who should get interviews don't; and people who do get interviews shouldn't. And that's maddening.

Worse still, in my company, we're asked to recommend candidates for available positions. I've made 3 such recommendations in the past year for people who were highly qualified for the available position. Guess what? All those 3 got was a "Dear Hopeful Employee, We're Crushing Your Dreams" e-mail, and weren't even given the courtesy of a first interview. (Yeah, HR heard from me, but no response ever. Surprise, surprise.)

Now maybe that says something about me and my standing in the company (LOL!..God, I hope not), but I think it says a lot more about doing away with having HR involved in the hiring/screening process--other than the supplying and filing of the necessary hiring papers.

Nice people, for sure, but whose jobs are worthless and needless.

P.S. Thanks for getting me all fired up (and possibly fired), DJ. ;-)

I am in a very good job tra... (Below threshold)

I am in a very good job transition support group, and one of the key things we do is network, trying to find a way around the HR gatekeepers to people who actually have something to do with the job.

A somewhat related question: If major companies eliminated their HR departments, and others followed suit, how long would it take the nation's colleges and universities to do away with HR degree programs. I think it would take the regular schools a long time, while the more flexible schools would be a lot quicker on the turnaround.

Man, I couldn't agree with ... (Below threshold)
Michael Scott:

Man, I couldn't agree with you more! We have this HR guy named Toby and he is suuuuch a jerk, dumb, stupid HR Weenie!!!!!!!

Michael Scott
Regional Manager Dunder Mifflin
(Scranton Branch)

Gee, folks! At the small c... (Below threshold)

Gee, folks! At the small company where I work, the HR folks are both friendly and truly useful for helping everyone understand and take advantage of company benefits, including helping employees to get the company's health insurance provider to actually cover their expenses for any health problems, help employees get refunds for work-related expenses, and more. They also help make sure the company complies with all the zillions of Govt regulations about hiring, firing, advertising, etc, so the company doesn't inadvertantly open itself up to lawsuits. And they are really nice people too. Is this really so rare? Why so much loathing of HR? Is it all because of Catburt cartoons?

DJHR departments exi... (Below threshold)

HR departments exist to protect shareholders,directors and insurance companies from the unavoidable wreck that occurs when studid, maliciously opportunistic and very obnoxious employees with no sense of restraint interact directly with a management that shares the same characteristics.

In an effort to justify it'... (Below threshold)

In an effort to justify it's existence our HR department created a "University" through which the offer training. Lame overly simplified training taught by people who were probably really good at managing personnel paperwork.

Interest and attendance was so poor the first two years that they issued a policy that everyone has to complete 16 hours of training a year. Getting your 16 hours directly effects your yearly salary increase and any bonus you might get.

Then there is this little scenario.

My boss and I worked hard on getting me a promotion. Within the corporate structure there is no job on the level between his Level 4 position and my Level 2. Our HR person signed off on it The president of the company signed off on it. The director of HR squashed it because he didn't want to create another position at that level.

I do my job. Keep my head down. Get my 16 hours from outside sources. Collect a check.


HR's sole function is to in... (Below threshold)

HR's sole function is to insulate the company from lawsuits. They do this by making sure nothing actually gets done.

They do not hire anyone... (Below threshold)

They do not hire anyone, they do not develop employees, they do not fire or discipline anyone ... they do not recognize achievements of an employee or group, they do not develop solutions for problems and constraints.

Wow, DJ, I couldn't disagree with you more. Maybe some HR departments don't work well because the HR reps aren't doing their jobs well, but HR is not a useless entity. My mother has run the HR department for two separate banks, first SouthTrust and now Prosperity Bank. She hires people, fires people, disciplines employees, trains employees, handles lawsuits against the bank, oversees branch operations, doles out awards and recognition for excellent employees, handles employee complaints, handles benefits and payroll, works closely with various other departments like marketing and operations, as well as the bank's CEO... does that sound like a pointless job to you?

I can tell you right now that both of the HR departments my mother ran involved a lot of hard work and dealing with sticky situations. Sexual harassment complaints, for example, she always hated because it was often difficult to tell who was telling the truth.

Also, at banks I've worked at, HR was always integral to the hiring and training process. We worked with them on a fairly regular basis. They were always there to handle any problems I might have personally had with a manager or co-worker and were always friendly and available.

If the HR departments you've had experiences with have been less than efficient, then I'd suggest it was because those particular employees were poor workers, not because HR itself is a useless enterprise.

Wow, I disagree with DJ, im... (Below threshold)

Wow, I disagree with DJ, imagine that.

HR is a support function and is not the tail that wags the dog and can be quite valuable when its staff recognizes and accepts this role. HR can help managers understand and avoid situations that create unreasonable risk for the company (for example, firing a non-performing pregnant employee without the necessary paper trail), and (as pointed out above) they can help employees navigate unfamiliar territory (for example, health insurance or borrowing from a 401(k)). They can also administer improvement workshops that help staff deal with particular situations when it is impractical for a single department to do that on their own.

However, sometimes HR people, just like accountants, the office receptionist and the guy who fixes your PC occasionally do, start to think the company revolves around them. To an extent it's unsurprising, as most people like to think of themselves as being a bit more important than they really are, but it is situations such as this that lead to the HR department getting a reputation for hamstringing, and not helping, a company succeed.

And no, I do not work in HR, although they do report to me, but so do the people who DJ would refer to as the 'real business people'.

I've had nightmare HR depar... (Below threshold)

I've had nightmare HR departments and I've had wonderful ones. I can say the exact thing--in fact repost this same article--and replace it with IT, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Accounting and any other myriad various.

Don't even get me started with departments run by union shops.

They all suck at some time and they all do their job at some time. If your HR department sucks it's because they hired a dumbass to work in it. Hire a dumbass in any of the other branches and they're a pain in the ass too.

No, I don't work in HR (Engineering actually) but when they are good (and my current one is fair)

hmm, post got cut off...</p... (Below threshold)

hmm, post got cut off...

...but when they are good (and my current one os fair) they are a godsend.

HR Departments: be careful... (Below threshold)

HR Departments: be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

Our small organization has no HR department. The CEO has to do it all, as described by 12. and 13 above. He hates it. He daydreams out loud how if we grow just a little more, he can justify hiring an HR person to do all that stuff. (and blame the problems and mistakes on, I bet, LOL).

It all depends upon who he hires whether it'll be a blessing or a catastrophe. Which tells me the HR functions are critical. Like a Sanitary Engineer, these Sanity Engineers are great when they do their job and horrific for everyone when they botch it.

Like a Sanitary Engin... (Below threshold)

Like a Sanitary Engineer, these Sanity Engineers are great when they do their job and horrific for everyone when they botch it.

And that is the truth about HR. Amen

People not smart enough for... (Below threshold)

People not smart enough for a real job work in marketing. The people who can't make it in marketing, work in HR.

Suggest that HR be eviscera... (Below threshold)

Suggest that HR be eviscerated from the modern Corporate vocabulary and replaced by a new title, "Benefits & Policy". This title is a far better descriptor of the work that HR departments generally do well. Oh, and employee recordkeeping.

At best, they are nothing more than internal Legal Aid departments; at worst, well...I would think that almost anyone here could dish out several war stories regarding HR functionaries gone amuck.

I have two favorites:

1. HR manager for New Orleans oilfield services company whose habit of showing up at branch offices on a Friday morning, carrying his black briefcase with him, for the purpose of firing or laying off employees, earned him the nickname "Dr. Death" among the 350 employees there.

"Dr. Death" was a big fan of the Dilbert comic strip, and the Catburt Evil HR Manager character.

Well, about three months after I interned there (1997), an odd thing happened: "Dr. Death" went missing for a few days. No one knew where he had gone...until he showed up in New Orleans' City Park on the following Saturday morning, walking there alone, stark naked, muttering to himself.

Call it what you want; personally I think the man got what he deserved.

2. I did a stint at Hearst Publishing, in their magazines division (mid-1990's). Many of you know that Hearst's biggest mag title by circulation numbers is Cosmopolitan. Other well-known titles include Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, and Vanity Fair.

I used to irk HR and Management by walking down my floor with the latest cover from, say, Cosmo (whose mag covers always love to show boob, and sometimes hint at showing nipple, of the model displayed), while commenting that if I were to put a cover from our dear Company's product onto my cubicle wall, displaying the pic by itself could be considered a "hostile" act in regards to "unsafe workplace" sex discrimination policies.

Ditto for reading my favorite Cosmo advice column, the Agony Column, out loud. Every story in that column was a variation of either, "I've been dating him for XX months, and he won't commit", or else "He wants me to do WHAT?!?" Reading those stories out loud touched on several subjects that were considered to be a violation of sexual harrassment policy.

The month I left Hearst, Aug 1996, there was a young Bosnian model displayed on the cover of Cosmo, barely 18, whose breast was bared enough to show part of her nipple. This edition was promptly banned or covered up in chains like Walmart, Target, and K-Mart.

And yes, I had a field day with that one. Just remember, everyone on Hearst's board are lawyers.

Back to the OP's question -... (Below threshold)

Back to the OP's question - Never good.

Cassie, you made DJ's point. An HR department that "hires and fires"?? I hire managers to do those tasks.
("Human Resources" - since when? Unless you're 1)slaveholding or 2) making Soylent Green, you're not using "humans" as a "resource")

"...hires people, fires people, disciplines employees, trains employees, handles lawsuits against the bank, oversees branch operations, doles out awards and recognition for excellent employees, handles employee complaints, handles benefits and payroll..."

Training is the provenance of HR? (YGTBFKM - I guess we can start calling those polite gentlemen @ Parris Island part of HR now...)
If OJT won't work for you, then get a dedicated training section set up post haste - don't farm it out to "HR".

Awards/Recognition?? That function should always be driven to the highest level of a given group/division. Always.

Seems to me that this "HR" department is either duplicating managerial/supervisory efforts (that's wasteful), or has usurped those efforts (rendering others ineffectual).

Personnel Departments should do just that - handle paperwork, dot "i"s, cross "t"s.

Oh - and drop those stupid "our employees are the most important ... fill in the blank ..." posters.


Since they are called "Huma... (Below threshold)

Since they are called "Human Resources" are we allowed to harvest their organs?

This is all very disappoint... (Below threshold)

This is all very disappointing. In my experience, HR serves many useful purposes.

All the things mentioned by Cassy, but it's not necessarily that they are the ones that actually do those things, it's that they bring an expertiese to help others do those things more effectively. Training, no, i don't want an hr person to do the training, but they have the expertise in how to properly structure the training session which i'm sure your average manager wouldn't have. They don't usually fire or hire people, but they help managers do those things legally by helping to minimize legal liability. Does your average manager know about Title VII of the civil rights act, ADA, equal pay act, etc and the things that need to be done to stay within compliance. If they did, they probably aren't focusing on what ever their "real" job is.

From a company perspective, HR is usually responsible for taking whatever off the wall ideas leadership has come up with and trying to implement it in a legally responsible manner, whether that be around compensation, benefits, work life balance or any other number of things.

I know there are a number of bad apples in every field, but stereotyping HR as a bunch of suck wads, is like me calling all blogers a bunch of unemployed hippies.






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