In the shoes of others

I have my two children at home with me at the moment. One is a 20 year old second year university student, the other turns 18 tomorrow and is/was in the final year of her A-levels. It is fair to say that both of their lives have been severely disrupted by the current situation. But they can’t agree on who has it worst.

Social comparison theory explains how we determine self worth by comparison to others. Those that we perceive to be better off than us and those that we perceive to be worse off. Whilst under most conditions we have the learnt ability to keep these things to our internal voice, under stress and pressure, the veil of social acceptability can sometimes slip.

That’s why my son thinks his lot is worse than his sister’s as he is dragged away from his home, his life and his friends. And she feels done to beyond compare, as her A levels have been snatched away from her.

In a similar way we can see this play out in the world of work. People who are at home bemoan the fact and long to be out and about and working. Those out at work long for the safety of the home. We point the fingers at football players and CEOs, whilst they talk about their tax and charitable contributions being greater than those of most.

Reactions like this are entirely normal, they’re part of our psychology. It doesn’t mean that the judgments we make are entirely right, or indeed entirely wrong. They are how we make sense of the world and allow us to find our sense of self.

“I am justified in my actions, because of xxx, whereas they are not because of xxx.” 

“They are a good human being because they do xxx, they are a bad human being because of xxx.”

But at the same time that these reactions are entirely human, they provide little benefit in a time that requires more social cohesion than at any point in my life. We can’t stop ourselves having these thoughts, but we can ask whether expressing them is truly helpful to the situation we are facing into, or is more about making us feel better about ourselves.

There will be time aplenty to assess the rights, the wrongs, the successes and the failures. We will all look back and ask ourselves what more we personally could have done. Until that time, we might be better stopping to think what it is like to walk in the shoes of others, rather than bemoan them for not walking in ours.

If not now, then when?

People will have a range of views on the HR profession, I’m ok with that. It may not surprise you to know that I don’t come to work to either fulfil or disprove a myriad of perceptions of my worth or usefulness.  It may surprise people to know that the reason I do come to work is to steer the organisation that employs me at the time to do the right thing for the people it employs.

Obviously if you take this to the macro level, profitable organisations can invest back in the workforce, successful organisations ensure they have capital investment, commercial organisations ensure they can see and instigate the opportunities that lead to success and profitability – and so the cycle continues.

But that’s not the reason I get out of bed in the morning, the reason I do is to try to create the place to work that my colleagues want to be in. Even if that will inevitably involve some bitching and moaning along the way – you can’t please all the people all of the time…

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a rise in calls for “HR to step forward”, or how strong HR is needed more than ever. The clarion call of a crisis, once again being used to throw the profession into the light. Remember 2007?

Whilst it starts with obvious decisions about furloughing, protection of wages, short term working, redundancies, protection of health, safety and wellbeing, managing remote workers and resource and contingency planning. It extends to issues such as executive reward, dividends, culture, engagement and productivity and post crisis recovery. There is no doubt that there is a lot for us to navigate.

The cynic in me wants to ask why it requires a global pandemic for the profession to find some backbone and step into the role that it should be playing every day? Why it requires something of such magnitude to bring a focus on the contribution that we make? But I guess beggars can’t be choosers, and as a collective we have been beggars for far too long.

We have seen and will continue to see some shocking examples of bad HR practice through this event, we need to hold these organisations and decision makers to account. But if we genuinely want to learn and grow from this, we also need to celebrate those organisations that are doing the right thing, protecting their employees and stepping up and into the right leadership space.

Because frankly, if not now then when?