Nearly one-half of HR professionals unhappy

Lack of flexible work conditions, T&D among gripes cited by U.K. professionals in survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/18/2012

HR professionals are among the unhappiest employees, coming in third last on a scale rating 20 professions in the United Kingdom.

Just one-half (54 per cent) of HR professionals said they are happy, found the Career Happiness Index 2012 by vocational education firm City & Guilds in London.

The fact HR is less happy than other occupations isn’t entirely surprising, said Jean Douglas, president of management consulting firm Douglas Communications in Maple Ridge, B.C. The nature of the job involves difficult interactions with employees, which greatly affect how a person feels at work, she said.

Often HR has to deal with the “dark underside” of organizations, said Mark Norman, owner and senior partner of Heart of the Matter Consulting, a culture change consultancy in Frankford, Ont.

“They’re the ones who have to deal with conflict, inappropriate behaviours, harassment, the messiness of organizational life,” he said. “They’re exposed to things that most people don’t see on a daily basis.”

The happiest professionals are florists and gardeners (87 per cent happy), followed by hairdressers (79 per cent) and plumbers (76 per cent), found the survey of 2,200 workers.

“HR — where they have to potentially take ambiguous information and influence leaders — that can be very challenging, and looking for facts to support their arguments may not always be as easy as cutting someone’s hair,” said Christian Codrington, senior manager of operations at the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BC HRMA) in Vancouver.

“An HR job is more challenging and can be more frustrating at times than some of those other jobs.”

Eight in 10 (82 per cent) of florists and gardeners said they are happy in their job because they are able to use and hone their skills every day. After data processors, HR professionals were the least likely to agree they are able to use their skills every day (just 57 per cent agreed).

“There are still a lot of people that think HR is simply pensions, benefits, payroll, they make the rules,” said Douglas. “If people hold that view of HR, why would they be giving them an opportunity to grow beyond that?”

The inability to use all their skills is amplified by many HR professionals having either the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) certification, an MBA with an HR focus or a PhD in HR, said Douglas.

“There is so much breadth and scope to what HR can do and, in most organizations, you just don’t have the opportunity to use it all,” she said. “If you’re coming into an organization with an advanced HR degree and leadership expects you to look after the basic transactional jobs, you’re going to feel stifled and frustrated.”

HR professionals are also among the lowest of the workers to feel they have flexible working conditions (just 32 per cent agreed), found the survey.

“HR tends to be at the forefront of advocating for flexible work arrangements for others in the work environment, so it’s surprising to hear they’re not receiving the benefits of their hard work,” said Codrington.

But the type of work HR does might not allow for as many flex-work opportunities, said Norman.

“HR specialists… are often bound by more requirements for them to be present on a consistent basis within the normal working hour parameters of organizations because that’s when people want to deal with issues, that’s when they have to be available to answer questions,” he said.

HR professionals are also unhappy with their career progression. Just one-third (36 per cent) said they have a clear scope for career progression at their organization.

Traditional career progression takes a hierarchical approach but the further up you go, such as a manager or vice-president of HR, the fewer spots there are, said Douglas.

“The challenge may be, ‘What else do they add to their professional experiences to fully develop?’” said Codrington. “It may be lateral experience, say over into the marketing department, and I think many firms are challenged to find ways to develop people rather than a clear career path from one job to the next higher job.”

HR professionals also don’t feel that their work supports their training and development (just 43 per cent agreed). And they are some of the toughest people to train, said Norman.

“They are exposed to so much and, basically, the issues they face are a lot more complicated than what the average manager faces and a lot of the training is very generic in nature. So it doesn’t necessarily address the depth of issues they might face,” he said.

The difficult economy has likely made it even harder for HR professionals to be happy in their jobs. For one, their budgets have been cut, which makes it hard for them to implement new policies and programs and make an organization a great place to work — one of the most satisfying aspects of the job, said Douglas.

Dealing with organizational restructuring has also taken an emotional toll on HR, said Codrington.

“Having to maneuver all those layoffs… that’s not why many HR people originally got into that line of work, so if it takes over as part of your day — that can be very draining.”

Having unhappy HR professionals can also lead to high turnover in the department. More than one-third (34.1 per cent) have worked for their current company for less than one year and 61 per cent have done so for less than two years, according to a separate survey that polled 3,000 HR professionals worldwide.

“This may be a case of the cobbler’s children needing shoes,” said Craig Mason, managing director at The Next Step, an HR consultancy in Australia that conducted the 2012 Global HR Viewpoint Survey. “It is a startling result and constantly amazes us that there is so much churn in the HR market.”

Unhappy HR professionals can also lead to dissatisfied staff throughout the organization, said Norman. If employees are trying to resolve issues and get answers, but they are dealing with disgruntled HR professionals, they’re going to feel even more alienated from the organization, he said.

“(HR professionals) are the people that are interfacing with the workforce so if they’re not happy with what they’re doing, they can make everybody else miserable,” said Douglas. “The employees are your customers and if you’re not giving them a good customer experience, they’re not going to be happy and that’s just going to expand.”

To help increase their levels of happiness at work, HR professionals should try to continuously frame what they’re doing within the context of the larger picture, said Norman. They should try to connect smaller successes with achieving the goals of the organization, and remind themselves of their role in demonstrating organizational values, he said.

“Take yourself back to why you wanted to be in HR. What is it that drew you there? What is it that you’re passionate about? Perhaps it’s reminding yourself about that and trying to continue to follow that path,” said Douglas.

“So, taking responsibility for your own happiness and identifying what it is that will help you feel better, because you can’t just depend on the organization to do it for you.”

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