How are you doing as a human right now? If I were to pose that question to a group of people, I’m sure I would get a myriad of responses. Some would be genuine, and some would be polite. Some would be in-depth and raw, while others would be concise and guarded. Regardless of what the answers might be, it’s a question I think we should be asking on a more regular basis.
You see, I’m concerned. I’m concerned about my peers in HR who are plastering smiles on their faces every day just to make it through. There are some who are genuinely positive because it’s how they’re wired, but many more are struggling. The degree to which people are experiencing difficulties varies, but struggling is becoming the norm for nearly everyone in the workplace these days—especially if you’re in HR.
The reason I feel it’s more prevalent in human resource professionals is because many don’t think they are allowed to be human themselves. We put up a facade to keep people from knowing who we are. We show the necessary empathy and understanding for other employees, but we rarely invite those individuals to reciprocate. One of my favorite songs by music legend Billy Joel, “The Entertainer,” captures exactly what I see happening in HR. The first verse goes like this:
"I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
And another long-haired band
Today I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game
You’ll forget my name
And I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts."
We’re expected to be the “entertainers” of the organization, and it’s exhausting. HR professionals feel pressure to always be “on” and to “stay on the charts” if we’re to have any meaningful impact on the company. It’s true of everyone I know, whether they’re a CHRO or a new practitioner just starting out. We’re considered the “people people” in companies, but we don’t express our own humanity. This needs to stop. In many ways, taking this posture actually creates distance between us and other employees within our organizations.
It’s OK to be vulnerable, flawed, quirky, uncertain, and curious. We can drop the guarded wall we put up and allow ourselves to be as emotional as every other person we work with. We can share our life experiences and our ups and downs. We can be frustrated and elated. To experience the freedom to do all these things, however, we need to give up the entertainer mentality. Employees today expect to be able to relate to their companies’ HR professionals. The days of HR being the compliance enforcer have evaporated. Sure, a group of HR “experts” may continue to maintain that processes, policies, and procedures should lead everything we do, but in many cases, they’re wrong, old-fashioned, and irrelevant.
With more organizations moving to a people-first approach over the past two years, HR has to set the standard by being people themselves. It’s time to blaze the trail that awaits us. Stop being an entertainer and embrace being a human … in HR.