HR gets a bad rap for being too administrative and too pro-employee. That’s a legitimate complaint, but I wonder: What the hell did you expect?
The History of Human Resources
The entire HR function exists because employees were tough to manage. Unions were busy. Pesky women and minorities wanted equal protection under the law. And then employees found lawyers. Shifty ones. Victims of discrimination, retaliation, sexism, racism, unethical behavior and safety violations finally had an advocate.
Look at the legislation that forms the underpinning of HR. The New Deal. The Fair Labor Standards Act. The Norris-LaGuardia Act. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Pay Act 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The Sarbanes–Oxley Act. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
HR exists as a middle-ground to make sure everyone gets paid, supervisors don’t discriminate against people of color and that nobody dies on the factory floor.
Everything else has been invented on the fly.
Is This Notion of HR Outdated?
You tell me.
Wait, you do tell me.
Wherever I go, people tell me that HR should evolve into “Human Capital” where it can mitigate risks, contain costs, maximize worker productivity and educate both leaders and workers on how to contribute to the bottom line. I think that sounds swell . . . . but let’s not forget that, left unchecked, some businesses would ask employees to pay them for the privilege of work. Companies still sit back and abuse workers, hoard profits and employ young children with tiny hands in foreign countries.
That’s not hyperbole. That is history.
So I get it. Human Resources is an administrative component of an organization that nobody likes. You can (and maybe should) outsource and automate almost all of HR. And shareholders and employees don’t need HR to hold managers accountable. Modern companies have evolved and treat workers like equal partners.
But wait. Is that true? I’m thinking about Texas, the mortgage industry and the whole entire banking crisis. Shouldn’t we reinforce the HR trenches instead of trying to soften our “HR Business Partners” into a team of weak consultants?
What do you think?
And if it’s not HR, then who guards the guardians of capitalism?