Let's not sugarcoat it, no one's job is guaranteed in the age of AI. Not mine, not yours reading this and certainly not HR's. We all know that the vast majority of the activities HR has been reduced to handling are, while crucial, perfectly "automatable". Hiring these days never requires anyone to "have a good feeling about this one"; the policies and the legality see to it that firing is more of a legal process than one that involves any care; antiquated performance management processes and stale yearly surveys are not going to yield anything and when it comes to learning, day-to-day development and ensuring humans are "humaning" happily that simply falls by the wayside and it is rarely anyone's job to be weeding systematically through the Human Debt. Many of us wrongly assume HR is fine with this sorry state of affairs or doesn't care. We knowledge workers tend to realise quickly when starting in a new place that it has HumanDebt so HR won't be the "on our side" union-y type of presence in our lives we would have wanted in an ideal world, a mixture of enabling sage wisdom and interest in our lives and wellbeing, so we give up on them. The expectation of assistance. And as a result, we have no trust and no team with them.
But in my experience, that's not the truth. They care and they care plenty. Most of them simply learned to be incredibly good at the cognitive dissonance needed to carry on low-key fighting when it feels so pointless. Most of them suffer that they can't do more. Most of them desperately want to.
I get to talk to a lot of HR people either online or when I speak at events and I could fill a tome with their stories, their anecdotes and their illustriously innovative ways to solve things but I get all this info over a meal or a drink and never in an open discussion in a business meeting. I get long Zooms where we uncover "the real" and have heart-to-hearts and while most often I don't leave them feeling like they can tackle it, at least I leave the meeting with a friend and with knowing there are SO many Unsung/Unofficial Human Work Advocates out there and that knowledge of our tribe is valuable for all of us. So in that spirit, here's a letter we got last week from one of these people. I want you to read his words and to acknowledge that this is not HR complacency or lack of care but on the contrary, there are many good people out there and their work will eventually reach you.
"Dear PeopleNotTech team,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you as a passionate follower of your work, especially that of Amy Edmondson and Duena Blomstrom. During my college years, their insightful writings played an instrumental role in shaping my understanding of the human-centric approach in organizations. As an HR student and enthusiast, I have always believed in the enormous potential of empathetic management, enterprise psychology and enhancing employee well-being to elevate productivity. Thus, I enthusiastically entered the field, filled with the hope and energy of implementing these teachings.
Social architecture and the inner workings of teams of individuals always fascinated me. The possibility of genuinely comprehending human emotions and connecting individuals on a more profound level fascinated me. Yet, it turns out the corporate world, at least my perspective of it, couldn't be any more contradictory.
Now, I find myself a junior HR manager fresh out of college, unfortunately witnessing what I've learned in more detail described as the Human Debt that monopolizes most enterprises. I am forced to confront the harsh and far-from-ideal realities of my field in a scale-up corporate setting, and it saddens me deeply.
What confronts me daily are toxic managers, whose tight grips on their teams stifle creativity and productivity. One such example is a senior manager notorious for micromanagement. He is demanding down-to-the-minute details of every task, leaving no room for the team members to take any initiative or display creativity. This situation has already led to high employee turnover in his department, yet despite this, he seems impervious to feedback or reason and my colleagues see him as a high performer and are afraid to challenge him not to cause attrition.
An alarming number of colleagues are expressing their dissatisfaction with various aspects of it all even if never in public. They are compliant, not because they agree with management but fear becoming a target themselves. They complain about most of their managers, the pressure they are put under but refuse to voice their concerns due to fear of backlash and every survey fails to reflect it. There's a profound disillusionment running rampant in our office corridors that remains unaddressed.
Unfortunately, my attempts to make some changes at least in how we communicate, are often dismissed by senior management who perceive me as a young, inexperienced enthusiast with ideas too radical to be practically applied. Ironically, the very ideas I've learned from brilliant minds like Amy and Duena are viewed as "cooky". Many of my seniors seem so ensnared by the fear of defying operational norms that they'd rather sustain the status quo than risk rocking the boat.
I am desperate to rectify this situation but am unsure where and how to begin. Your guidance will greatly help me understand if it is even possible to steer a change without needing approvals, what you call "organisational permission" I believe.
I am wondering if your organization has ever covertly helped bring about change without stirring the established setup's fragility. I am equally curious to know what I should start with that could have the most meaningful and immediate impact. Perhaps a workshop or an activity or a proof of concept of change? Anything that you think I could affect from my lower level?
Are these situations prevalent elsewhere? Or should I consider changing my job environment to one that is more receptive to a human-centric approach in managing human resources?
I look forward to your guidance and support.
Young&Hopeful People Happiness Enthusiast"
I want you to take heed that eventually the corporate space will have more of these people than the fearful and checked-out ones. That we will all inspire each other to be courageous and honest, the HumanDebt will lower, the HumanWork will be everyone's continuous improvement everyday practice and life will copiously improve. Have faith.
“Nothing other than sustained, habitual, EQed people work at the team level aka “the human work” done BY THE TEAM will improve any organisation’s level of Psychological Safety and therefore drop their levels of HumanDebt™.”