You know what is so damn cool? We have a fantastic group of HR bloggers right here in little ole Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’ve told y’all about this before. So today, a few of us decided to run our own little blog carnival, and dedicate it to the awesomeness that is our city – Jimmy Swaggart, Governor Kenneth Bobby Jindal, LSU Tiger stuff, crawfish, Buddy Guy, “Me and Bobby McGee” getting ‘busted flat in Baton Rouge’….yada yada yada. We will disregard the awfulness that was the sit-ins at the lunch counters, the fact that we have a crappy public transportation system, and the reality of our totally shite interstate system.
Cuz we still rock. And the Baton Rouge HR Ladies (well, the 3 of us anyway) will tell you so.
One of the problems experienced by human resource professionals is that we’re viewed as, well, not quite “human.” I’ve always likened it to the scenario when you’re in middle school and you happen (the horror!!) to run into your teacher at the grocery store or in the gas station parking lot. Until that moment you never quite saw your teacher as having a personal life did you? God knows I never in a million years imagined Ms. Turdzinski buying tampons but there she was one day, in the grocery store line in front of my mother and I, pushing a cart piled high with cat litter, skim milk and cans of tuna. I. Was. Mortified.
Sometimes when we work in human resources our employees don’t think we have a personal life. Oh sure, they see the silver-framed pictures of our kids lined up on fancy credenzas and they get to meet our spouse at the annual company holiday party, but they forget that we’re people. That we, just like them, have ups and downs; good days and bad days; highs and lows. They expect us to be neutral – steady – impersonal.
Many years ago, in a distant job, I was having an awful day. Stress levels related to completing a project had ratcheted to an all-time high. The principal of my daughter’s school had called to discuss an ‘issue.’ My car needed new brakes – again. I was on the tail end of a cold. I was in a foul, foul mood.
And then an employee walked in to my office – with issues of her own.
So I put on my HR Lady face, invited her to have a seat, and let her pour out her story. It seems she wanted something that, per some pretty specific IRS regulations and related benefit plan documents, she couldn’t have.
She didn’t believe me when I explained it to her.
She didn’t believe me when I pulled out documents, made her a copy, and highlighted the details.
She didn’t believe me when I placed a phone call so that she could hear a 3rd party explain everything to her yet again.
My head hurt. And I was starting to get pissed. Wait, correction – I was pissed.
“You have to let me do this. You’re wrong. I know you’re wrong!” she shouted at me in desperation.
And then, from behind the shiny, empathetic HR façade and within reach of the ever present Kleenex box on my desk, all the shit from my day and my life – came rushing out: the brakes, the call from the principal, the g-damn deadline for my boss I wasn’t going to meet.
“Don’t you ever tell me how to do my freakin’ job!!!” I screamed. Except I didn’t say freakin’.
She was stunned into silence. Tears sprang to her eyes. She turned on her heels and walked out of my office.
Worked up, as a description of my temperament, was an understatement. I grabbed my coat, walked out of the building and walked around the block. Three times. I think I said freakin’ a couple more times. Except, once again, I didn’t say freakin’.
When I returned I walked to her work area and asked to speak to her in a private room. I apologized, but this time I was the one with tears in my eyes.
As I told her about my awful, terrible, horrible day and wailed and whined about car troubles and the school principal drama, she listened and nodded sympathetically.
We connected as two human beings. We were suddenly no longer the HR Lady and an employee, but rather two gals kvetching about life’s setbacks. Real communication with no BS, no plastic persona, and no “I’m in HR and must be neutral and impersonal.”
That was a day that HR got real.