Negativity behind pride in HR profession (Analysis)

Many feel the profession is misunderstood, not well-respected
By Claude Balthazard
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/10/2009

Not infrequently, HR professionals express disparaging comments about the profession. The idea for the latest Pulse Survey was to see how widespread such opinions really are. With 91.3 per cent of respondents stating they are proud to be in HR, the answer seemed clear. But is it that simple?

It’s interesting to note how many of the comments still had a negative tone. Indeed, going by the comments alone, you would not think the pride ratings would have been so high (more on this disconnect below).

Some commented that new entrants to the profession seemed prouder to be in HR than the battle-weary veterans. Interestingly enough, the data did not show any statistically significant difference in the degree of pride across tenure in HR. The per cent positive for this question ranged from 85.7 per cent for those respondents who have not yet joined the profession to 94.3 per cent for those who have more than 25 years in HR. It would appear the veterans are just as proud, if not more so, to be in HR as those entering the profession.

Indeed, there were no significant differences in the degree of pride in being in HR across different provinces, different sizes of organizations or even across seniority. In each case, the proportion of respondents indicating they were proud to be in HR hovered around the 90-per-cent mark.

The only question that did yield a statistically significant difference among groups was the one regarding designation status. The results for this question were as follows: 92.3 per cent of respondents holding the Certified Human Resources Professional designation said they were proud to be in HR; 92.1 per cent of those with some other HR designation said they were proud to be in HR; 91.1 per cent of respondents with no professional designation said they were proud to be in HR; and 81.5 per cent of respondents with a non-HR designation said they were proud to be in HR. It is possible individuals with a non-HR designation identify somewhat less with the HR profession — but keep in mind 81.5 per cent is still a very positive result.

Back to the disconnect between comments and pride ratings. About 300 of the 1,288 respondents elaborated on their responses by making some kind of comment. About 90 per cent of these comments had a negative tone. Many comments focused on the usual issues — the designation has become too easy to achieve, some HR professionals give the profession a bad reputation, many in HR are simply not strategic and the professionalism of many HR professionals is not at the level it needs to be.

A number of comments made an interesting split between the profession and its practitioners: “I am proud to be in HR but not necessarily proud to be associated with some of my peer group.” Several respondents who were not proud to be in HR identified more closely with specialty areas. One respondent described himself as “an OD practitioner that happens to report through HR.” Another respondent felt too many “generalists” provide poor direction to the business because they do not have the depth of knowledge specialists.

A psychologist might explain the disconnect between comments and ratings by appealing to cognitive dissonance or other such mechanisms. Many HR professionals have misgivings about the profession and its members. The high pride ratings don’t quite tell the whole story.

It is interesting to note one-half of survey respondents (50.2 per cent) thought the HR profession has not done a good job of articulating the ways in which it makes a positive contribution to society, and 61.8 per cent felt the profession should manage its image in a more proactive way. Clearly, there is work to be done here.

Although we are proud to be in HR, many felt the profession is still not well-respected, that HR is misunderstood and a “thankless profession.” On a more positive note, many respondents felt real progress had been made in how the profession is viewed and the role HR now plays in many organizations.

Many noted HR’s image has changed and continues to change for the better. Pride in the profession on behalf of its members is important to keep the momentum going in this professional evolution.

Claude Balthazard is director of HR excellence and acting registrar of the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto. He can be reached at cbalthazard@hrpa.ca.

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