HR & Society: HR Can’t Fix Human Flaws

HR Can't Fix Human Flaws

HR’s job has always been evolving. We have gone from administrative paper pushers to devising strategy that has operational impact to the organizations we serve. Are we headed for another evolution in this tumultuous political environment? I think so, but like many other human-related issues within organizations it isn’t really something HR can fix with a sweeping policy, focus group, or strategy.

Let’s consider a few factors. Before November 9th of 2016 how much did you think about employees’ or co-workers political ideologies? Probably not much, but when you consider that those ideologies could be tied to human flaws particularly the flaws of intolerance and hatred – what policy of strategy are you going to devise to combat that?

Better yet, if you are an HR professional of color who is now met with an emboldened employee who is anti-anything White, Anglo-Saxon, how motivated are you to work with that person and better yet serve them? How about if they verbalize their disgust for gender-neutral bathrooms despite the current regulations in place and several members of your team are part of the LGBTQ community?

Humans are flawed and messy. That makes our work in HR – flawed and messy.

I’m not suggesting that everybody wear their political ideologies on their sleeves and draw a line in the sand. Obviously, nothing would get done if we did that. However, I think we often paint a pretty picture of how things could and should play out without considering what has a real possibility of happening. That is to say that if people are protesting in the streets and having heated arguments/differences both in real life and online that are starting to reveal some character flaws; there is little if anything that any one-size-fits-all diversity, inclusion or HR program you could do to combat that.

The challenge of our work in HR is anticipating human behavior and balancing it with checks and balances through programs and policies. If we’re honest, we have never been able to control human behavior. All we really have success in is creating the best possible circumstances for our workforces to thrive. We have never truly been in control of the outcomes. If you disagree, I will kindly ask you to go back 5-8 years, search any common HR concern and count how many of the topics are recurring from year-to-year.

Where we get better is in rethinking how we approach the recurring and new issues that crop up, with the understanding that how it all plays out is dependent on something completely out of our control – human intention and behavior.

Back to the initial concern of the political environment, the same old policy and focus groups are not going to cut it. Now, more than ever we need to be sharing our experiences as a collective community and brainstorming better solutions. We need to not be afraid to say to the C-Suite that just-in-time training and reactive policy development will no longer do their company any good. This is a time for every HR practitioner to listen more than they speak. It is time to get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions about racism in the workplace, politics, pay disparity etc. I have met way too many practitioners in my travels that all too often have these items on their yearly HR to-do-list, but consciously put them off because it either doesn’t affect them or they can’t be bothered.

If you think what is going on outside the walls of your company doesn’t have the ability to spill into the day-to-day operation, you are kidding yourself.  Your employees need a little more of the “human” out of Human Resources right now.

Here’s how you give them that “human factor”:

  • Do not ignore complaints or concerns raised around employee relation concerns. This has always been true, but right now it is even more important. You need to have a handle on any discrimination, bullying or violent behavior that may be brewing in your organization.
  • Make sure you are advising your C-Suite leaders regularly about the climate within the organization. It is important that the C-Suite and HR are in alignment on how to deal with sensitive matters. Encourage your leaders to be more visible than perhaps they are accustomed to.
  • Communicate with your workforce regularly and let them know you are available. Yes, I know you are swamped and don’t have time for people traipsing in and out of your office all day. However, would you rather that you catch an issue early or when you’re in court? Will you sleep better at night knowing you settled an employees’ concerns or would you rather see them as a number? Regular communication keeps gossip and assumptions at bay. If your employee’s know where you stand they don’t need to wonder or conjure up alternative facts. See what I did there.
  • Time to look at your programs and get some real feedback on its effectiveness. Yes, it will sting if you get negative feedback. However, the goal with any program or training is to actually usher in change. If your goal is to keep the organization afloat during these tumultuous times and keep the workforce progressing on an upward trajectory – you ought to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Add some levity to the workday every week. It doesn’t have to cost a lot or be overly time-consuming. What people need is a break from reality. Regardless of what our individual ideologies are, we can all find some commonalities among us. Have a “bring your favorite board game to work day” or an ice cream sundae social. Give people a chance to see the good in their co-workers .
  • *Bonus* Watch the HR department carefully. You can’t have people so-called dedicated to making a difference for entire organizations be simultaneously pumping their fist for all muslims to be banned from the US in the breakroom or be rallying for the KKK off-hours. It is a bit of an oxymoron; don’t you think?

Creativity and heart have always been the answer to most of HR’s woes. There is no better time than now, to put both of them to use.



  1. Branigan Robertson says

    This article touches on something interesting that has been coming up in political discussions lately—namely the attainment of “results” when doing a thing. I like what you say about not being able to control human behavior. It seems as if somehow people have it in their head that unless a situation is totally controlled, or a problem is totally solved, it’s not worth doing. Sometimes, it’s really about managing a tough situation — practical approaches.

    • says


      Thank you for your comment. For many “control” gives a false impression (like you say) that a problem is solved and/or is enacted to put the person in control at ease with the circumstance. With Human Resources the underlying premise is: If we can control employees, we can ensure certain outcomes. That equation will never add up when humans are such a wild card and nuisance variable in every situation. I wish we would focus on “practical approaches” to difficult situations, but unfortunately it isn’t sexy enough. We prefer to add complexity for complexity sake because then and only then are we having “strategic” impact. It is a ball of tricks that I wish we would stop playing with.

      Thank you for reading!

      Best Regards,


  2. says

    Hi Janine,

    Great article, I particularly homed in on 2 points close to my heart that being availability and employee concerns.

    Having managed large teams in the past it’s critical to be there to listen. I had been stuck in the middle of employees with valid complaint and these complaints falling on the deaf ears of HR. The main issue was that in like many large companies the HR team have a hidden agenda passed to them from the board and it often has little to nothing to do with employee welfare.

    Availability too is also a driving factor, you need to be able to speak with your HR dept at any time during the core hours of operation and not have to wait weeks on end before getting fobbed off by your “caring” HR person who is being groomed for a directorship, hardly a champion of the people in such a biased position.

    With so much pressure on HR to create new ways to keep everyone happy I can see why so many of them see themselves as an equal team to the other working teams in the company but they are not, they are MORE important than the rest but this importance shows itself in the form of self imposed importance and aloofness rather than being a stand up champion

    • says

      Hi Lee,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I agree that HR is in a very impossible position. We are charged with ensuring there is a workforce in place that feeds the productivity and operational needs necessary to meet bottom-line concerns; yet in order to do that effectively- we need to be present in a role of building rapport and relationships with our people. One role does not compliment the other.

      I sincerely hope that we can strike a better balance where no one loses. Right now, there are clear losers and unfortunately that is the workforce.

      I appreciate you reading.

      Best Regards,