HR: Use Resources, Not People
Human Resource departments have it rough. There are many who believe that HR departments are only extensions of corporate power largely created to protect companies from lawsuits, scandals, and to quash employee grievances. These same companies often regard HR as somewhat of a nuisance: a department that, with all its administrative policies and demands for compliance, can interfere with day-to-day operations and increase the cost of doing business.
In this sense, HR departments are perpetually stuck in the middle, acting as a temperamental buffer between top-level executives and the workforce base. And even though strategic human resource management and planning is key to ensuring the success and longevity of any organization, HR continues to be portrayed in a negative light. To better understand why this is the case, it’s important to look at some of the underlying issues with how HR is run within organizations today and culturally viewed by employees.
First, let’s start off with the title, “Human Resource Department.” Doesn’t sound too accommodating, does it? Instead of calling it a “Human Resource Department,” how about we opt for something that’s easier to endorse like, “Employee Engagement Division?” It’s not perfect, but this would be more appropriate given that HR is responsible for engaging, supporting, and informing employees while staying aligned with the organization’s vision and mission.
Perhaps I’m just against the phrase “Human Resources” because the very idea of labeling someone as a “resource” lends itself to the commodification of human beings, an unfortunate reality we must face in our profit-centered world. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. By focusing more on employee relations and placing the inherent value on actual people, as opposed to only the labor or services they provide, HR departments can have a more significant impact on employee development and further contribute in meeting their own organizational objectives.
This is especially true of HR’s function in the hiring process. Don’t just think of your employees as someone needed to fill an immediate role, but rather treat them as individuals capable of doing more than what the job purely entails. Try to gauge how employees can benefit the organization long-term. Of course, this isn’t always feasible for HR due to short-scope projects that involve a great deal of tactical work and aren’t based on achieving further strategic alignment.
Another part of the problem lies in how the recruiting/hiring system itself is structured, reinforcing a “check-the-box” mentality with the long list of essential duties and unrelenting jargon that makes up most job descriptions. With the hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants who throw their resumes at every vacant position, it can sometimes be hard to see them as anything but a number. These shortcomings in HR are the result of a fundamental shift in the application process from advertising jobs through local sources to posting them exclusively online. Sites like Monster, Indeed, and LinkedIn are convenient for recruiting purposes and large-scale talent pooling; however, for applicants they can be dehumanizing.
A recent article in The Guardian speaks to this unsettling trend in automated hires, noting:
It makes us [jobseekers] less confident, and feel that we’re not worthwhile, as the company couldn’t even assign a person for a few minutes. The whole thing is becoming less human, which is concerning. What’s the limit for the use of automation when we are evaluating people?
Ironically, it seems that current HR recruiting/hiring practices are missing a basic human element. And all of these prescreening measures only further distance organizations from potential employees. While it’s sensible (and crucial) to hire candidates based on a relevant set of criteria, such as desired skills or industry-specific knowledge, rarely does this tell the entire story. For example, how do you address the disparity between a candidate’s competence and experience? If a candidate only has a limited amount of experience, this doesn’t mean they’re incompetent or not qualified.
But in many instances, their application would automatically be removed from consideration if they were to submit it online, all because it didn’t exactly match the parameters entered by HR. Recruiting software is ruthlessly programmed to cut down on the number of applicants, and this is what leaves people feeling so disillusioned as they go through a seemingly pointless struggle in an effort to secure a job. Meanwhile a candidate with some experience might pass through the recruiting algorithm unscathed, but they still might not turn out to be the most competent employee.
The distinction here is that while experience tends to simply denote what a person has already learned, competence implies what a person can learn. Hiring becomes even more complicated when you consider that using a series of predetermined questions to predict whether a candidate has the right “personal traits” (I’m looking at you, psychometric testing) is difficult to validate without committing a huge amount of resources to such an endeavor, something that most organizations aren’t willing to do, apparently even for their own employees.