The importance of being (a little less) earnest

All around us there are signs that we are changing the way in which we want to spend our existence on earth not least the rise of the experience economy. Some will argue about the use of the term millennials, but frankly that misses the point.  And the human race is adapting and changing to its circumstances in work as much as anywhere else. Societies evolve and change and we have to ask ourselves what we need to do to follow suit in the way we run our organisations?

Immediately we jump to solutions, whether that’s flexible benefits, flexible working, our approaches to pay, learning or careers. But in many ways the answer starts well before the baubles and trappings of vendor led “solutions”. It starts with who we are, how we are and they way we choose to be.

I’ll give you an example from my own profession, but it is equally as true for every single one of us that works inside an organisations. In the world of HR, about 10% of the things we have to deal with require a level of seriousness and sobriety. There are moments in our days and weeks where we need to bring deep and meaningful thought and focus.

But there are 90% of moments where we don’t. We can choose exactly how we want to show up and the experience that we want others to have of us. My career has been full of disapproving looks from HR professionals who somehow feel that they are the standard bearer for the earnest and serious profession of Human Resource Management. Jokes are met with with comments about “appropriateness” and any suggestion of light heartedness met with a steely, and deeply underwhelmed, air.

Our experience at work isn’t driven just by the processes and systems that we put in place, in fact I’d argue that these are absolutely secondary, it is driven by the atmosphere and interactions that we have with those around us. If we are having a great time with our colleagues we can put up with all sorts of suboptimal situations, and we do. Who we are and how we are will always trump what we have to do.

So as you start your working week, just have a think about the levity and light you can bring to situations, the way in which you can change the experience for everyone around you and for yourself. Life is too short to stuff a mushroom, but it is also too short to listen to the cardigan wearing, tissue up the sleeve brigade. Let’s create an experience at work that people want to invest time and effort in and let’s do it by being a little lest earnest and having a little more fun.


HR – it’s ok to have fun

I have a pathological dislike of mushrooms. Which is ironic, because I’m a fun-guy.

See what I did there?

Rubbish jokes aside, I often wonder when it became the rule that HR professionals had to have a sense of humour transplant. Admittedly, some of the people I’ve met in the profession have had some of the edgiest and darkest sense of humours you could ever come across. But the moment they walk in to the workplace, they seem to switch it off and become this dour, over serious, people professional.

Why can’t we just relax and be ourselves?

As we talk about authenticity and “bringing our whole selves to work”, I wonder what it is that prevents us from doing the same? Of course, I’m not talking about cracking your best one liners in the middle of a collective grievance, or fist bumping as you walk into a disciplinary hearing, there is a time and place for everything.

We are the people professionals and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that, we should be relatable, human and real. To do that we need to have the ability to show that we can be both light and dark, both high and low and both serious and downright silly. There  is nothing that is more disarming than a person that you can laugh and joke with and who can make you smile. How awesome would it be if we gained influence because we were both brilliantly insightful and totally human?

Of all the things that I need to develop, humour isn’t one of them. When I was interviewed I was asked what my biggest weakness was, I said it was radical candour. The interviewer said that was a strength, not a weakness. I replied I didn’t give a sh*t what they thought.

Have a good day.

We’re a little bit funny…

I work in HR.

I don’t save lives, cure diseases or run the risk of being maimed on a daily basis. Nobody dies as a result of my actions.

And in most cases, this is the same for all of us.

So why on earth do we come across as such an over earnest, serious and downright unengaging profession?

A few weeks back I wrote a post that was just for a bit of a laugh. In fact, if you read to the bottom of the post it is tagged as “humour”. No you may think that my humour sucks, I get that a lot, especially when I tell my joke about the nuns in the bath. But to accuse me of knocking the HR profession on the back of a lighthearted, playful throwaway piece of writing is just……well silly.

But this isn’t so much about that, but about our inability to laugh at some of the things that we do. Because, let’s face it….we do a lot of dumb stuff.

And just because we do a lot of important and meaningful work, shouldn’t mean that we can’t have a bit of humour and lighthearted observation around the things that……aren’t.

Our ability to be a profession that can cope with the light hearted as well as the earnest seems to me to be one of the missing links. I’m not talking about organised fun, or the icebreakers we impose on people to test their willpower and commitment. I’m talking about being able to just have a laugh.

Imagine a workplace where people say, “the HR are team are really cool, they’re great fun….you should hang out with them at the Christmas party”. Imagine a world where people valued us for our personalities as well as our professional capabilities.

Imagine a world where we could laugh at ourselves. And take a moment to consider whether our inability to be human, to laugh and be just a little bit frivolous and light hearted, might just be one of the things that is holding us back.

Emails from hell

From: A. Realone – HR Director 

Sent: 2 October 2011 12:05

To: All staff

Subject: Collections 

It has been brought to my notice that some people are concerned that the volume of birthday and other collections has simply grown too great. Even though we are careful to ensure contributions are voluntary, some people feel pressurised, and they certainly take quite a lot of time to organise.

Some time ago it was suggested that we just had collections for leavers/weddings/babies and birthdays with ‘0’ at the end. I have spoken to T.Heman about it and while he himself thinks it could be a good solution, he feels that this is not really a matter for the CEO to decide and suggests that we all vote on what we want to do.

Therefore please use the voting buttons above to have your say:

Vote 1: if you want everything to stay as it is

Vote 2: if you just want company collections for leavers/weddings/babies and birthdays with an ‘0’ at the end.

Vote 3: if you want them all to stop

A. Realone


Are you depressed yet? You will be when I tell  you that this is one of a number of real emails that was sent on to me. The reason they were being sent on? Because people were laughing at HR. I guess on the upside, at least it was sent to me because they knew that I’d be laughing at HR too….

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Our profession is sadly stuffed with poor and mediocre people,  for every one of us (and I hope that I’m included in this) doing good progressive, HR management, there are three to five people making a mockery of the profession. And those aren’t good odds.

So in an attempt to raise the professional bar, I’d like to suggest an alternative response to the problem, feel free to adopt this style of response in any future communications……

 I hope you enjoy.


From: A. Realone – HR Director 

Sent: 2 October 2011 12:05

To: All staff

Subject: Collections 

I thought I’d take a moment out to remind you that you are all adults, this isn’t a facet of your existence that sheds itself as you enter the doors of this hallowed building.  And being an adult means that you have free will and you have choices.  If there is something that is happening in the organisation that you don’t like you should feel free to challenge it directly with the people involved. If there is a collection for someone who you don’t want to participate in then feel free to say so.

If you feel incapable of doing so then perhaps you might want to go and have a chat with T.Heman about it (if you feel that it is appropriate for a CEO to be involved).  Let me know if you do, I’d love to listen in. 

In the meantime, to support our organisational TNA and to help us support you our valued employees, I’d be grateful if you’d take a moment to assess yourself against the following criteria and respond by using the voting buttons above:

Vote 1: if you need to grow a pair

Vote 2: if you don’t understand which pair you need to grow

Vote 3: if you understand the irony of this email and are going to quit whinging like a bunch of children

Best regards,

A. Realone


PS. The names have been changed not to protect the innocent, but to hopefully keep me out of trouble!