Do No Harm.   These words came from a colleague sharing a perspective on the responsibilities of HR.  The role should minimize harm to individuals – increase psychological safety, meditate, listen, provide resources, organize programs for growth, and remove barriers to amplify wellness.  

As I listened,  I reflected.  Then it hit me.  Hard.  My perception was aligned.  My actions and behaviors were not.  The handling of the role and responsibilities reflected “them” not “us.”  Organizational decisions impacting people – hiring, promotion, compensation, demotion, firing, & process – HR has a responsibility.  Even when they do not have input or the decision is overruled.  When people are negatively impacted a divide between the function and the people can exist.  

How many in HR acquiesce when told to move forward with a decision?  If HR does not do what leadership decides we know all too well what the repercussions will be.  With decisions executed, contagion impact and the wellness of the team is affected.  This shapes the perception in the organization, not just on HR.

In a prior role, the executive leadership team was in a workshop.  The goal was to come up with actionable items to turn around the organization.  We kicked off with a question for each functional leader:  summarize your role.  I explained my role was to protect the company and support the team.  The senior leader applauded the answer, focusing on the first part of my answer and largely ignoring the second half of the answer.  This was 15 years ago.

Recently my role in HR has been less about amplifying people and more about compliance and protection – of the organization.  The work that aligns with my values and helps organizations to thrive was diminished.  Looking at my work I realized I have done more for the company than for my people.  The number of times it has pained me to do something – termination, discipline, or not hiring – doesn’t compare to the pain the individuals may have had to endure.  Yes, people are resilient.  Yes, another job can be found.  Yet the harm inflicted does not go away.  When trust is broken it is hard to regrow.  

As I reflected on my colleague’s words, my experiences, research & data, I realized I have a choice.  I can stay, leave, or reimagine the game.  I can do better and many HR professionals are leading the way.  

I have made a decision to step away from environments that do harm.  I believe there is a responsibility on companies to create organizational alignment.  From a people function, we look out for the psychological safety and well-being of our people.  This will give people space and an opportunity to thrive.  So here is to the next step in the journey.  A world in which we reduce the harm by being intentional about decisions and the impact.