The coronavirus has revealed what we always knew: H.R. departments, long the dim-witted stepchild of corporate America, are worthless and need to be terminated. There’s nothing human about their function, and the only resources they care about are the ones in corporate coffers.
Has your H.R. department suggested you take some vacation time recently because they are worried about burnout due to employees’ working from home? There’s a reason for that: unused vacation time is an accounting liability on corporate balance sheets. “It has always been the case that H.R. really exists to protect the company, not the employee,” a senior partner at a global consulting firm told me. “It’s a cover-your-ass function.”
To that end, it does seem that more than a few H.R. departments have suddenly realized that Black Lives Matter. I asked a high-ranking female at a major media company to characterize H.R.’s contribution to the diversity issue. Have they shown themselves to be useful? “Not really,” she says. “It’s stuff they should have been doing all along but weren’t.” Not anymore! Henceforth, diversity issues will be handled strategically. There will be goals. “We aren’t just having conversations about diversity,” she says. “We are starting to measure it. We are creating plans.”
When I asked an editor at one of New York’s large magazine publishers to characterize the change, he sighed in frustration. “I’m in the midst of a Franklin fucking Covey nightmare,” he said, referring to the consulting-and-training firm that encourages American managers to be nice to people by making them fill out paperwork. “We’re also doing a massive diversity push in the midst of a hiring freeze, which adds an Orwellian twist to the whole Black Lives Matter thing.”
A paralegal I know at a New York City law firm was shocked when he was told that paralegals and assistants would be the only ones required to go back to the office in mid-August. When he experienced possible coronavirus-related symptoms in September, his doctor told him to self-quarantine. He didn’t feel that bad, though, so he contacted the law firm’s H.R. department and offered to work from home. The response? The head of H.R. sent him a tally of his billable hours from January to August and pointed out that he had not been productive when working from home. Request denied.
In short: At a time when almost no one else in the entire firm was required to go to work because of the pandemic, his human-resources department showed him a spreadsheet of his productivity and told him that he’d better get well soon. That is how you take care of your human capital, folks: Don’t let them work from home during a pandemic. Show them that you care.
In a recent story, “COVID, Social Unrest Prompting ‘Real Change’ from HR,” Human Resource Executive magazine (yes, it exists) interviewed Jill Smart, the president of the National Academy of Human Resources. Asked to characterize said change, Smart tried some M.B.A.-speak herself. “What’s been so great about [how HR is reacting to these changes] is that HR leaders are bringing their leadership team along with them on this journey,” she said. It’s hard to translate that one, because she didn’t actually say anything. My best guess is that it has something to do with career development.
The coronavirus has revealed what we always knew: H.R. departments are worthless and need to be terminated.
Smart was far more revealing when the interviewer lobbed her a softball about H.R. becoming more empathetic to the needs of employees. “I know, historically, HR clearly has had a reputation for doing what management wanted, not what the people want,” she said. “I think that’s clearly evolved, but you can’t always say you’re representative of the whole spectrum because you can’t always be. It’s like with kids: Sometimes you have to make a really hard decision and it’s better for them. And sometimes employees don’t get that.”
So there you have it. They’re not doing this stuff because it’s good for the company. They’re doing it because it’s good for you. When Fortune magazine gives out its Pandemic Management Awards, there better be a whole bunch of empathetic H.R. people on that list. And you will not be served dessert until you finish your spinach, either.
Duff McDonald is a New York–based writer