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The Doctor is In

Years ago when I first started working in my first broad spectrum (generalist) role in HR, I used to take a lot of personal and professional offense to the jokes or slights that Operations Managers would make about HR.  You know the ones I am talking about – the ones where other managers joke about HR being the party planners, the policy police or the birthday reminder people.  Those ones really used to irritate me because I always felt (and still do) that good HR Pros bring much more to the table than those “abilities.”  However, those weren’t the worst of what I would hear or that would bug me.  The one that really got to me was when other managers would refer to HR and/or Employee Relations folks as the local psychiatrist.  You know the verbal jabs I am talking about – “hey is anyone on your coach right now?” or “you must had a lot of patients today – you look tired, ha ha!”

imageAs I said, back in my earlier days that really irritated me.  Fortunately time, experience and maturity kick in.  I have made it a point in my career to focus on adding value in the HR role – both personally and with the teams I have managed.  I no longer hear/deal with the policy police and party planner jokes – and it is mostly because I took some personal accountability and control over those situations.  The one that still remains to this day is the old one about the HR Manager being the office psychiatrist.  Here is the thing – it doesn’t bother me anymore.  In fact, I take great pride in either myself or my employee relations folks being accepted in a capacity whereby staff and managers come to us in confidence to discuss personal and professional things that are troubling them.

I believe that strong HR Pros play a critical role in organizational success when they, in fact, can advise and counsel employees in this type of capacity.  Obviously, in an idyllic world, employees would always go to their manager for advice, support, etc.  The reality is that we know in many organizations this simply isn’t reality.  If it was, there would be many HR Pros, consultants and bloggers (yours included) out of work if that was the case!  Reality is that the good HR Pro plays an important role as the trusted organizational advisor.  When you have built trust, credibility and are seen as someone whose counsel is important, you establish a critical and niche role in the organization.  The HR Pro is the only one in the organization that staff can come to with their most troubling and impactful issues that are working against them.  The HR Pro doesn’t write their performance review, they don’t determine their compensation and they don’t decide what projects/assignments/opportunities the employee gets to work on.  The HR Pro has nothing to gain from these “counselling” sessions other than to help ensure organizational engagement and retention levels remain strong.

I have found that over the years these “coaching” sessions with managers and employees are mutually beneficial to both them and HR.  HR gets to keep in the loop on any elements that are causing pain points with staff and managers.  It gives HR the opportunity to  provide solutions to any systemic issues or perhaps drill down on department level issues (i.e. the manager) that are impacting the company as a whole.  It gives the employees and managers an opportunity to have a candid conversation with someone about the things that are impacting their ability to deliver for the company.  This could be anything from salary concerns to personal factors impacting their performance.  It gives HR the opportunity to advice on things before they go  external to the company.  I have always said that it is better that your employees are talking to someone internally (in this case HR) instead of someone externally – i.e. another company, Human Rights, Labour Standards or a union organizer (for those organizations that currently do not have one and wish it to remain that way).

The experience of my staff and myself have proven this theory out time and time again.  We have been able to head off union organizing campaigns (call centre environment) due to staff coming to “sit on our coach.”  We have been able to prevent key talent from resigning, prevented messy Human Rights complaints from beginning and stopped potential civil litigation from occurring all because of our role as a trusted organizational advisor.  With all the talk about HR needing to add value, here is one major way I believe that we do add value as a profession and as a department within the organizations that we work for.  Please don’t mistake that I am advocating for staff to come to HR for anything and everything.  HR should be pushing more for better manager/employee relationships and communication.  In most cases, I almost always ask staff if they have attempted to talk to their manager first.  However, at the end of the day, it is our role to listen, counsel, advise and coach.  As organizational stewards, it is paramount that we are always fostering communication within our organizations – this is perhaps, the most critical role we currently play from an employee relations perspective.

So, personally and professionally, I am so over the jabs about HR being the amateur psychiatrist.  It doesn’t bother me any more.  I have coached my staff on not letting it bother them any more either.  In fact, I am at a point where I accept it as a badge of honour..a point of professional pride.  If you are the ‘doctor’ than you are that trusted advisor and organizational steward.  It is a position of great power and responsibility.  So for me, now and in the future, the Doctor will always be “in”……..


Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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