I don’t remember every detail from my first HR course but there is one lesson that stuck with me to this day: Don’t be a Toby. Yes that’s right, my professor was referring to Toby Flenderson, the HR foil to over-the-top Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott. Toby was exactly what we shouldn’t strive to be: Apathetic. Disengaged. Quite possibly the Scranton Strangler. Toby was incompetent and largely indifferent to the shenanigans that plagued the Scranton branch—certainly not the HR Hero Dunder Mifflin employees needed. And Toby’s just one example of what an HR Pro shouldn’t strive to be. There’s also Dilbert’s cold, calculating, feline HR Director Catbert, and Archer’s binge-drinking, sex-obsessed HR Director Pam Poovey, among countless others.
Ok, cute story, but why am I telling you this?
I read a piece recently which suggested that Human Resources professionals are not to be trusted. It conspired that we feign empathy to serve the hidden agenda of our corporate masters. I call BS.
There will always be the Tobys, Catberts, and Pam Pooveys of the world who turn our profession into a punchline; Just like there are going to be the Ubers and Nikes of the world whose ignorance and indifference towards an Employee Relations matter evolves into a Public Relations nightmare. When these cases happen, the world (understandably) becomes more critical of our profession. Guess what? Crappy HR People exist! These cases make the news because they are grossly the exception to our profession, and not the norm. What you don’t see are the HR leaders and Professionals behind the scenes shaking our heads and expressing outrage at these scenarios, but yet we carry on focusing on how to continually improve how we serve our employees.
Do you know what else doesn’t make it to the media? When we help our employees affected by domestic violence connect with the police and community resources through the EAP. When we comfort employees who have just been diagnosed with a chronic illness as we aid them in navigating an action plan. When we risk our physical comfort or safety by deescalating an aggressive employee situation. Do you know why this doesn’t make the news? Because this is our job. We don’t need to be celebrated every time we prevent harassment or accommodate an employee, it’s what’s expected from us, and we’ll continue to do so with or without praise.
I know I can’t change every single person’s mind on this, but in the end all we can do is continue to serve our employees in the most empathetic, informed, and ethical way possible, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.