With the August Bank Holiday now behind us, our series of guest blog posts on the topic "If I could change on thing about HR..." continues today with a fascinating post from anonymous HR blogger and full-time HR director The HRD. The HRD is author of the excellent My Hell is Other People blog - one of the HR bloggers' blogs of choice, as revealed by our mini survey earlier this year, and maintains a strong Twitter presence. He describes himself as a "British HR Director caught in a Sartrian nightmare and trying to see the philosophical side of life." It is a particular honour therefore to have the HRD use his guest post to expand at length on these Sartrian themes.
Over to you, the HRD:
The HRD: 'Existentialism is an HRism'
Existentialism addresses the purpose and existence of men. Having been in and observed the profession for the best part of two decades, it is my belief that HR is facing its own existential crisis. We can learn a lot from the existentialists about how HR can face up to this crisis, and take charge of its actions.
We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.
The preface was seen as an advocacy of violence against repression, a subject not necessarily in keeping with the hallowed pages of XpertHR. But in itself the above quotation sums up everything that I would suggest needs to change about the profession we know (today) as Human Resources.
The term "existential crisis" is thrown about far too widely, but if ever there was a case study of an ongoing "existential crisis", surely our profession is it? As we flit around trying to be one thing for one person, another thing for another person, looking to false idols (management gurus) to try to give us purpose and understanding. We seek the approval of others by behaving in ways that we often do not believe are proper.
But an existentialist would argue that this is no way to live. We are in fact free, but it is our actions that define us and our freedom. Sartre would call this "abandonment". Broadly put, abandonment is the concept that there is no right way of doing or being, purely a series of decisions and resultant actions. As Sartre sees it:
We ourselves decide our being.
Once we understand the concept of abandonment, that there is no greater power that can tell us the way to do things, that there is no one way to be, then we discover anguish. Anguish is the feeling that comes from knowing that each of us has responsibility for how we are seen, and that our actions are used to create an image of ourselves - or, in HR's case, of the profession itself. Every time we interact with a manager or an employee, that is not only how they see us, but how they see HR as a whole.
Now this is the point at which a lot of people start to say, "yes, but...". How many times have we heard it? "But my boss..." or "But my company...", and "I know that is the right thing to do, but...". It is here that we indulge in what the existentialists call quietism.
There are no excuses for quietism, they say. In Sartre's view:
[T]he coward makes himself cowardly, the hero makes himself heroic; and that there is always a possibility for the coward to give up cowardice and for the hero to stop being a hero. What counts is the total commitment".
It is never too late to change the way in which you act. Each time you interact you define yourself and those like you. There is nothing stopping you from being the professional that you want to be, that you know you should be. So stop worrying about what people think of you and start doing what you believe is right. Sure, sometimes things won't go to plan. But if you believe in it, if you strive for it, if you truly do everything that you can to make it happen, then it will reflect on you in a positive light.
Start today, start right now. Make every action count. Don't make a need for yourself, through pointless constructs, don't hide behind excuses or explain away inaction. We don't need to accept the way that other people see us. We can define ourselves through our actions.
To end as we began with a quote from Sartre:
Life is nothing until it is lived; but it is yours to make sense of, and the value of it is nothing else but the sense that you choose.