Flat White

Beware the Human Resources Manager (let alone People & Culture)

10 June 2021

4:00 AM

10 June 2021

4:00 AM

If you’re looking for the biggest losers in the culture wars, look no further than your HR manager. 

Loathed in equal measure by the woke and the based, HR increasingly stands alone, having lost the confidence of the workforce.  

The HR manager is like those centrist politicians that no one likes. Desperate to pander to both sides of the spectrum, they end up alienating everyone by flipflopping on the issues that matter. 

It wasn’t always this way. Decades ago, when HR was referred to as “personnel management,” they played a purely administrative role in organisations, making sure that people got paid on time, processing holiday requests, and placing job advertisements when employees resigned. 

Today, they are too often paramilitary force masquerading as your best friend. 

Among their many responsibilities, they adjudicate workplace grievances—although they are often at the receiving end of those complaints, either directly or indirectly. It is not hard to imagine that, when HR is charged with investigating itself or its employer for wrongdoing, the result of the investigation is a foregone conclusion, regardless of the evidence.  

If a sexual harassment or discrimination claim is made against a senior executive, HR has been known to cover up incriminating evidence and force the complainant out. But a claim of wrongdoing against a low-level minion often results in immediate termination for gross misconduct. 

The raison d’etre of HR is to squeeze as much value out of you as possible and to keep your pay and benefits at the lowest conceivable point without demotivating you. 

But the real reason HR is despised all around is that they appeal to no one.  

The woke see HR as the enemy of the people and a pathetic bourgeois instrument of oppressionThe idea that humans can ever be viewed as resources is abhorrent to progressive social justice warriors seeking to impose equality of outcome in the workplace. 

When an employer is seen to reward high-performers because they exceeded their KPIsleft-wing activists accuse HR of perpetuating privilege and abusing socially constructed performance metrics. 

Ironically, though, the based are just as antagonistic towards HR as the woke, but for different reasons. Conservatives find the diversity, inclusion, and equality (DIE) rhetoric stemming from HR to be an appalling rejection of classic liberal values. 

Unconscious bias training, forced quotas, and thought policing on social media, all under the auspices of the HR department, signal to the based the end of individual rights and responsibilities and the rise of a brave new world of identity politics at work. 

All of this, of course, is not to say that HR cannot add value to organizations. There will always be a need for more strategic alignment of people to an organization’s goals and objectives. But by trying to appeal to everyone, HR ultimately appeals to no one. 

Perhaps it is time for the HR manager to look in the mirror and ask: why am I so unpopular? 

Dr Andrew R. Timming is Professor of Human Resource Management at RMIT University. 

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