Nov 15 2011

HR Lays Off HR, Too

I’ve been reading a lot of these layoff stories and sense the exasperation and derision for the Human Resources drones who play an unsympathetic role on ‘the fateful day.’ I wince every time, because you see – I’m HR! But don’t worry, we cannibalize ourselves, too! Look at what we do to each other:

In Nov 2010 I joined a medical device company as a temporary contractor. They wanted to downsize their HR workforce across the world (I can already hear the cheers!) as part of an overall scheme to ‘hack-slash the bottom line because the top line ain’t growing.’ Of course, the agency recruiter who found me for the job just told me I’d be helping the company select and install new recruiting software. (!?) After a few days, I found out two pieces of the real story: 1) my job existed to help facilitate what was, after all, an HR force reduction, and 2) the incumbent for my role voluntarily left the company after just 3 months. They said ‘he missed his old job’ but I’m pretty sure he didn’t have the stomach for what he was asked to do. I didn’t either and thought about leaving several times, but I had an upside-down mortgage and a toddler to feed…

So, for the next five months, I interviewed various members of the HR team and documented their job duties and the processes they followed. (PS – if you are ever asked to document what you do for your job, YES, it’s a bad bad sign.) If they were halfway intelligent and curious creatures and flat-out asked me why I was documenting their jobs, I was told to say, “We’re implementing a software program and the information you provide will help us configure it correctly. The new software will help reduce your administrative burdens so you can focus on the more important, value-add pieces of your job.” What a sell, right?! I also had to help find and evaluate an outsourced firm who could do HR tasks at a lower price. Of course, I was given an open cubicle smack in the middle of the soon-to-be-affected HR personnel (one of whom was 7 months pregnant) to make these phone calls and evaluations…

Things were progressing – processes and duties were documented, an outsourced HR firm was chosen – when something dawned on me. I was very unpopular. No one in HR liked me and stage whispered about me in small clusters as I walked by. Obviously, my confidential “mission” wasn’t so confidential anymore – gracias, cube farm! I hated what I did and the people who worked with me hated me too. SNAFU. I also realized that these soon-to-be-affected HR people who stared daggers at me all day honestly thought that the HR force reduction was MY idea, as if I came in as a workforce efficiency expert/business consultant and suggested the whole thing. Senior management was encouraging this, and in fact, planned for it – “yes, blame it on the temporary contractor – that…that outsider! She’s the problem!” What a perfect scapegoat I made. Never mind that the reduction had been planned 12 months before I even started…

So of course, although I was slow to smell the scent of my own blood in the air, I was abruptly told by the VP of HR that my contract was prematurely ending (the crowd needed a sacrifice! the scales of justice needed tipping!). But would I please stick around just for a few more weeks and train someone else on how to manage and oversee the outsourced HR firm? A “someone” who was otherwise on the chopping block? (See how big-hearted senior management is!!?)

Sigh. Lesson learned.

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This post was submitted by HR Anonymous.