It’s ok to care

I have a confession to make. When I hear about an employee that we’ve let down or treated badly, it hurts me. I can’t stand to read or hear about cases where teams that I lead and manage have fundamentally failed in their key responsibility to manage the employment relationship of every single employee well.

It goes without saying that we cannot always please everyone, there are moments in the work of HR and people professionals where we have to handle the most difficult of workplace issues. We are the ones that enter into situations of high tension, emotion and anguish so invariably there will be times when people are upset with the messages that we have to convey. I’m not talking about these situations, I’m talking about when we fail to care.

When I was doing my professional qualifications in the 1990s, care wasn’t a word that was used much in the classroom. We talked about commercial acumen, strategic thinking and human capital, but we didn’t talk much about looking after people. Nearly twenty five years later I can tell you that the worst HR professionals that I’ve seen are the ones that don’t see the human in front of them and the best are the ones that enter every interaction with the intention to care.

As I’ve articulated many times before, our role is unique in the organisation and we should revel in that distinctiveness. As marketing teams champion the voice of the customer, we should be able and willing to champion the voice of the employee. That doesn’t mean we become unable to act in the interests of the company, of shareholders or of any other stakeholder group. It means that we create balance.

Every time we let an employee down, we let ourselves and our profession down. The phrase the customer is always right, is trite and incorrect and similarly the employee is not always “right”, but how we handle the interaction, the relationship and the management of people in our organisations should always focus on the central pillar of care.

Is HR the moral compass?

Like a librarian at a swingers party, one of the biggest criticisms of HR is our propensity to say no. I too have been critical in the past of the fact that we tend to use negative language and over rely on legislation and policy to substitute for clear thinking and rational argument. But sometimes, no means no.

I believe everyone has their own moral compass. And I don’t believe that as a profession we should be the first to occupy the moral high ground (I, as many others have made some shocking management decisions in our time). But I do think we have a role to make organisations and work better. That’s one of the reasons why I do what I do.

It is easy to defer responsibility to the CEO, the leadership team, the rest of the organisation and say that you were only following orders, but ultimately we as HR professionals have a duty to challenge cultural underperformance before anyone else. That’s part of our job, it goes with the territory.

That’s why I want to draw your attention to the CIPD’s Profession for the Future programme. This isn’t just about ethics and compliance, it’s about practice. And most importantly, it is about creating better work and working lives for everyone. And I can’t think of a better reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Work made better is good for the economy, it’s good for society, it’s good for employees and employers. There’s a real need to get our collective voices heard as proponents of positive action, rather than defenders of the status quo. And whilst our professional body can take the lead, it also means that each and every one of us, as individual practitioners, needs to be held accountable to a moral code.

At the end of the day, intent is important, but only action matters. So let’s take the first collective steps.