Where Does HR Go When They Need HR?

Posted on June 12, 2023

Two hands reaching out to clasp each other against a background of blue-gray sky.

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Jackie Wehmeyer, Senior Director of Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs for the City of Parkland, Florida. Parkland was named one of the Best Places to Work in Local Government in 2021 by ELGL and a Top Workplace in 2022. Connect with Jackie on LinkedIn.

What I’m reading: Just started Discover Your Fair Advantage by Sylvie Di Giusto. Her book The Image of Leadership is great, and she’s an amazing speaker.

What I’m watching: Only three episodes into Succession. I’m late to the game.

What I’m eating: As much of a pescatarian diet as I can (while admittedly falling off the wagon with filet mignon now and then)

Today I’m here to wave a flag for all of the local government Human Resources people. This isn’t an article about why HR people are the best, but to recognize those whose job is to “help the people who help the people.” So, if you work in HR, I’m here to help highlight what you do. If you aren’t, you may catch a glimpse into what your organization’s HR people carry each day.

In the past, HR people were:

  • The party planners.
  • The keepers of the files.
  • The people who told you “no” when you wanted to do something.

But over the years, HR has developed, becoming more transformational than transactional. Today, HR develops benefit packages that truly help employees. In the right organization, they have a seat at the table, assisting departments in developing and growing their teams, as they now know about each operational area more than ever. They assist departments in strategizing and championing their causes for structure changes. And more than ever, they are there for every team member in an organization as human beings willing to help them professionally and personally in all aspects of their lives.

Because of this genuine caring for employees, HR carries the weight of employees’ issues. It’s difficult not to. Talk to any first responder, and they’ll tell you that sometimes it’s difficult to mentally leave what they do at work, and even at home, having those things on their mind can be stressful. I will never compare what HR does to that of our first responders – they indeed carry the most weight. But sometimes, HR is there to help our first responders and is proud to do so.

I’ve often heard that HR is the child of a psychologist and an attorney. I believe that.

In HR, they know who has a chronic illness, who has an arrest record, whose spouse is currently in detox, and who has their wages garnished and is barely eking by. That’s because they’ve helped employees through that in some way. Sometimes the weight of that is heavy.

Sometimes they know everyone will hate a new policy that just came out or pay increases won’t be as much as last year. They understand why the break room goes quiet when they enter or know someone’s saying, “Uh, oh. HR’s here. Who’s in trouble?” They wish they could all sit on the same side of the table in union negotiations to make it not seem like “we vs. them.”

A meme of "The Office" character Dwight Schrute peering through mini-blinds. Text overlaid on the image reads "HR Knows All the Things."

The pandemic was a true test of HR. They were not only trying to help sick coworkers and adjust to flexible work but had to develop new policies and practices on the fly with each new change in condition (while holding no medical degree). According to a post-pandemic survey conducted by Workvivo, 98% of HR professionals admitted they were burned out due to workplace transformations and the Great Resignation.

A meme of a person carrying nine large blue barrels on their shoulders. Text overlaid on the barrels reads, from top to bottom: recruiting, tragedy, remote work, learning, comp, unrest, COVID, politics, RIFs. Text overlaid on the person carrying the barrels reads "HR."

HR deals with death, illness, discipline, terminations, threats, and the unknown. And most of us never hear about these issues they deal with because they keep them confidential, as they should.

Sometimes it’s challenging to be the ones to hold it all together when others are falling apart.

Where does HR go when they need HR? Who helps the helpers?

For my brave HR professionals, I offer you to:

  • Lean on each other. It’s helpful to vent a little to each other in the department. You know the people and the issues going on, and when you can’t break confidentiality with any other employee, sharing inside the HR department can help relieve the tension.
  • Reach out to fellow colleagues. Whether they are in your professional associations (local or otherwise) or other HR people in neighboring communities that you know, reach out to those who understand. They can sometimes give advice but primarily lend an ear because they’ve been there before.
  • Visit your own organization’s EAP. It’s there for you, too! Besides the ability to talk with counselors who are Switzerland to your situation, it’s always helpful to let other employees know what your EAP experience was like when you recommend it to them.

Your organization’s HR people live for those moments when employees turn around their behavior after discipline, pull through an illness, work hard and get promoted, and recognize what a great place they work. They are driven by service to their employees and to help them continue to serve the residents in the best ways possible.

Hug your organization’s HR person today. They may need it more than you’d think.

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