Why Your HR Lady Likes to Tell You “No”

1950s_family_lifeThere’s an interesting dynamic often at play in the workplace when the CEO/Owner/Company President serves as an ersatz father figure while the beleaguered HR lady is assigned the role of substitute mother. (And yes; I realize I am assigning genders of male and female based along stereotypical lines but since the human resources profession hovers around 70% female, for purposes of this narrative that’s what we’re going to work with here).

While Dad fulfills his often-absent but always-looming role as patriarch to a motley assemblage of children (the employees), Mom is left to perform the day-to-day care taking duties. It’s a 1950’s sitcom wherein she wears sensible pearls and high heels while vacuuming, wipes a stray tear here and there, and serves as the nurturer when little Johnny comes home after escaping a schoolyard taunting. But it’s only when Dad arrives home from the office at the end of his busy day that true wisdom can be imparted and the final lessons dispensed. After slipping off his suit jacket and inserting his feet into soft velvety slippers (monogrammed of course), Dad sits little Johnny down (along with big brother Bobby and middle child Susie) and shares today’s important life lesson; how to deal with schoolyard bullies. Perhaps the lesson covers why it’s important to work hard and save one’s own money to purchase a new bike. Dad likes to cover the sorts of topics that led the children of the post-WWII generation to write songs like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“Your Mother wants what’s best for you,” Dad is fond of explaining in these fireside chats. “Sometimes she has to tell you “No” so you’ll learn what it’s like to sacrifice, work hard, and earn what you deserve.”

Numerous parents have operated by these instructional principles for decades. And your mom, like mothers everywhere, operates from a place of love where she does things with your best interests in mind.

Your HR Lady/HRMom often thinks the same way.

After all, your HRMom has historically been charged with watching out for your well-being and making sure you’re taken care of from cradle to grave (health care benefit enrollments to retirement plan meetings). She has, unfortunately, been charged with crafting the dress code policy, laying out the rules of behavior and etiquette, monitoring the break room refrigerator, and having conversations with you about hygiene and bathroom habits. In HRMom’s world, Joe in Purchasing might as well be a disgusting teen-age boy the way he clips his toenails at his desk!

As a new parent, she starts off with the best of intentions and tells her friends she needs to “cover up the outlets so the baby can’t stick her fingers in them.”

Before you know it though, HRMom is reminding her children to “Put on a sweater before you go outside because I’m cold” and “We’re going to your Aunt Helen’s so you most assuredly cannot wear jeans!”

“You think it’s not fair? Life isn’t fair” she likes to say. “What part of NO don’t you understand?” she’ll ask when you attempt to argue a point.

When HRMom says “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you” she’s letting you know that you best comply with the antiquated rule/policy/edict she is quoting.

Her coup de grace, as it is for mothers everywhere, is merely to expertly arch an eyebrow and inform you “Because I said so, that’s why!”

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When real mom, living in the pre 2nd-wave feminist world, said “Just wait until your father gets home” she was deferring decision-making authority – and moxie – to the headship.

When HRMom says the same thing it feels a bit like she’s abdicating ownership. Doesn’t it? But perhaps saying “No” is the only way she can retain some sense of control. Power in a powerless world.

Unlike mom-at-home who offers you homemade oatmeal cookies fresh from the oven to demonstrate her love and care, HRMom can float through her day in a somnambulistic state; proffering words of wisdom and platitudes designed to keep you in line; semi-cocooned in blissful tranquility designed to ensure you toe-the-line and don’t drift off into teenage delinquency.

And then your HRmom reads an article like this – telling her that an entire new job category is being/has been created for “Employee Happiness Manager” and “Aim-to-Please Specialists.” HRMom reads this:

“ Nuha Masri, 25, says she can’t imagine working at a company without generous perks. They impressed her at Google, which also offers “nap pods,” and then became “so mundane, you just expect them,” she says.”

So you, figuring that HRMom wants you to be happy while simultaneously forgetting that she has already told you her job is not to ensure your happiness, ask for a change to the cafeteria offerings. Or suggest casual days all week long. Or inquire about adding a “bring your pet to work day.”

And you know what your HRmom – and Dad for that matter – is going to say to that, don’t you?

“I don’t care if Billy’s mom let him do it. If Billy’s mom let him jump off the bridge would you want me to let you do that too?”

In other words…no.

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this post was originally published on LinkedIn

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