Are human resources teams responsible for taking humanity out of the workplace?
HR’s main skill set is depressing all entitlement and expectation during the appraisal cycle
I get really creeped out by the term “human resource”. It just sounds so cold. Almost dystopic, like something out of Animal Farm or 1984. It makes me think of grey uniforms and people marching single file, with numbers stamped on their backs. And it puts me in mind of something an actor once said to me at a shoot: He was objecting to newfangled terminology too.
“See, all these young assistant directors? They’re new kids, with film-making degrees from fancy international colleges, and they refer to us actors as ‘talent’. So when the shot is ready, one assistant director (AD) will speak into his walkie talkie saying, ‘Okay, we’re ready for the talent! Walk the talent, walk the talent.’ Then, as I get up and start walking to the set, I’ll hear the second AD speaking into his walkie to the first AD, saying, ‘Talent walking—repeat, talent walking.’ It’s completely bizarre. I want to tell them, guys, I’m a person too, you know, so please don’t call me ‘the talent.’ My name is Shah Rukh.”
Of course, you could argue that it’s all just semantics. But calling people “talent” or “resources” is just, somehow, dehumanizing. It feels like a step back, like a creation of a layer between management and employees. And it also, tacitly, absolves all other departments of their “human” responsibilities. They’re encouraged to get on with their other, more important, duties, like achieving targets and meeting deadlines. If an employee has a meltdown, or a health issue, or suffers a personal loss in the middle of that process, then don’t take him out for a drink, or have a heart-to-heart, or indulge in some manly cuddling—just send him to human resources. It’s their job to deal with all that, na. They’re trained for it. They know what to say, unlike the rest of us, who will just make matters worse if we bumble around, trying to help. So let’s just back away into our cabins and let them do their job.
This is worrying.
Back in the good old days, when it was somebody’s birthday, their buddies would go around the office collecting chanda (donations) to buy a cake and a small present. There was a lot of good-natured grumbling, but, eventually, everybody would fork out a bit of money. Now, HR gets the cake, and the flowers, and somehow it just doesn’t feel the same. It feels like your spouse asked the secretary to order you flowers. Not the sort of move to set your loins afire.
For those of us who are old enough to remember a time before HR, I guess, I am mourning the lack of the personal touch. Impromptu evenings where inebriated seniors tell tales of hoary heroes who built the business from scratch— so much more evocative for younglings to listen to, than audiovisuals or a PowerPoint deck explaining the same. Or an entire office keeping vigil outside a hospital room, simultaneously working on presentations and running to buy medication.
From what I can tell, HR’s main skill set is depressing all entitlement and expectation during the appraisal cycle. This is easy enough to pick up—just tell the high performers that they lack team spirit and didn’t “nurture” enough, tell the “nurturers” that they lack ambition and individuality, tell the ones whose projects were wildly successful that they’re populist, tell the ones who won awards that they lack the common touch, tell the control freaks they need to learn to delegate, tell the delegators that they’re shirkers...you get the idea.
In vast organizations, or rapidly growing ones, I guess having an HR department for recruiting and training and monitoring and culling is a necessity, but that should not absolve everybody else in the company of their duty to be human. Managers must have enough humanity to manage the humans in their charge.
Wine to Five is a weekly column featuring the random musings of a well-irrigated, middle-management mind. Anuja Chauhan is an author and advertising consultant. She tweets at @anujachauhan.
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