Confessions: Too nice to be in HR?
Despite having pay and benefits that were above par and a promise of fast career growth, employees were leaving. Something was amiss
I was trained in HR however my HR career started with a question –why does HR exist. Answer was obvious – to give their best to the organisation and as a result both grow. Years passed by, the formula that I had derived seemed to have worked. People loved me, so did the line managers and my bosses. I changed organisations, changed roles and had the opportunity to work across all divisions of HR –recruitment, training, compensation & benefits, succession planning, I did it all. And I loved my job.
Then I got the opportunity to head the HR division of an ITES start up. This was my chance to create an HR function exactly the way I visualized it. Also the business was people intensive, with 80 per cent of the employees dealing directly with the customers, the right people or the lack of it could make or break the business.
First few months went by in building the team, training them and getting policies and processes in place. As the initial euphoria died down and we settled into every day operations, we realised that in the first eight months, we had over 60 per cent turnover. Despite competitive pay and benefits and a promise of relatively fast career growth, as compared other players in the industry, our employees were leaving. Something was amiss.
When I delved deeper, I found that employees were not happy and felt that they were not treated well. Most of them had left because of an altercation with the trainer or the manager for reasons as small as taking a sick leave, coming late by five minutes and so on. In a bid to create a company with high standards of operations and impeccable discipline we had given the impression that we just didn’t care. To make matters worse, 12 customer service associates of a process which had 25 people in total applied for a leave on the same day. It was Christmas and all of them had to attend the mass. I knew that no matter what I did, I could not have persuaded them to not go; also as per them, they had applied for the leave two months in advance which I was not informed about. As an interim solution, I suggested to get staff from other processes. However, the management and operations team refused saying that the employees should not be granted the leave and if they still go, they shouldn’t be allowed to return. The employees rebelled and resigned and we were short staffed by 50 per cent. While I managed to get replacements in 10 days, business suffered, employees were over worked and the impression that the company simply didn’t care was reinforced.
Once the issue was sorted, I decided to take it up with the management giving an argument that the company had exemplary practices and we didn’t deserve to not have the best people just because of the lack of sensitivity about people’s aspirations, beliefs and the problems that they faced. We had to care a little more and if we did that we will be invincible, unbeatable.
But the management didn’t understand that, I was asked to be thick skinned, not so approachable, replace people if they decide to leave and change my approach. I was told that I am too nice to be in HR. Whether I continued with the organisation or not is another story but I did think about what I was told and I have still not been able to figure out, if I was being too nice, or I was thinking long term in favour of the business, because a business like ours simply cannot sustain without people, that too the best ones.
The writer heads the HR function at a respected SME