Introduction HR is the acronym for what is called Human Resources Management. Some like to call it Human Resources Development. The more sophisticated call it Human Capital Management. Whatever be the nomenclature, there are certain roles and duties that go along with this job in practice. One must understand the broad boundaries of such a role to examine why HR has still not attained the status of a profession and why there is no body of knowledge that leads to advanced research in this field.
More specifically, we will discuss a) HR's firefighting role in today's context b) The role of the CEO c) Role conflicts of the HR Manager d) The importance of the situational context and e) HR's conflict with the other Managerial functions.
HR's firefighting role in today's context Cut to the 1960s and 1970s. The major role of HR was one of fire fighting. The Manager would deliberately create a conflict. The strike would lead to a lock-out. Without a salary, the workmen would starve. The lockout will lead to a situation where the weaker party, the trade union, will bargain for re-opening of the plant. The Chief of "Personnel" as he was then called would be a very busy person and the hero. He would use all the loopholes in the law to browbeat the workmen into signing a contract that would be loaded very much in favor of the Management. Some trade union leaders were from outside the company. They were happily "taken care" by the Management.
There are crystal clear signs that those times are back. The essentially atrocious NEEM training scheme, where the worker is exploited for three years and then thrown out without ESI and PF is a clear signal.
This is the fertile ground for a fresh round of industrial conflict. However, individual workmen are in no mood to strike. This has been discussed at length in the article
Understanding the psyche of modern industrialworkmen
However, the hapless HR Manager (whatever be his or her designation) is asked to do the dirty job. Even in some IT companies, the poor employee is told that his services are no more needed due to "poor performance". Juicy stories of whatever happens in the IT industry is explained through numerous YouTube videos. One can easily notice that everything is a "situational" variable. Management may or may not be so horrible. There is no common denominator. There is no concept here. It is pure economics. This is exactly why the contribution of HR cannot be measured.
So, we are back to square one. From whatever we hear of the ground realities it does seem that we are back to the age-old fire-fighting strategies in the manufacturing sector, at a time when the entire sector should march ahead with building competencies through people. Not robots. It is sad that the picture of jobless growth is a real problem in India today.
Role of the CEOIn many locations the CEO also has a big bearing on HR. The CEO in most companies, particularly those like cement, paper, heavy chemicals and so on, that have factories in different locations and the Corporate Office is in Mumbai or New Delhi or in Chennai, the CEOs in the factories in remote locations are absolute dictators, who would like to be told every small thing.
As far as people are concerned, their interference in all matters related to recruitment, training, promotion, performance appraisal and what have you, is totally disproportionate to the time that they actually need to spend on such matters. They would tend to play the "hero"s role in each and every small matter. The HR Manager would be reduced to a dummy role.
Role conflicts of the HR Manager This has just been described in the aforesaid paragraphs. The paradox of the HR Manager's role in developing people goes hand in hand in reducing manpower, their role in taking on rolls the huge amount of contract and casual labor. He or she is totally confused. He or she has to just kill his or her conscience and do all sorts of these gymnastics only to survive. This never has an end and it goes on and on.
It is not that everyone wants this role. The resulting role conflict becomes a huge burden at all stages and results in a massive mental tension for the person. This is the reason why most of them have ailments of a very tall order, even before the age of 45. The traditional perceptions of the role of the HR Manager in the minds of every line manager is another problem. Unless such role conflicts are solved at least to some extent, HR can never have a big template for some solid concepts that can be recorded as a sort of "baseline".
The importance of the situational context HR is a highly complex function. It concerns people. It is connected with the emotions and feelings of people. it is very much connected to the wages and perks of people. It is connected with the performance of the company. If the going is good, everything is fine with HR.
Even when there is a small letdown in terms of reduced profits, the HR person is needed to go into overdrive and reduce labor cost, left, right and center. This is his only job. He or she has to do it. Compulsorily. The 'how" of doing this is totally different and it varies from company to company. The common template is missing. It cannot be compared to say, working capital management, where a huge amount of learning can come from any number of case studies. No generalization is possible in HR, as the baseline for HR is totally different from company to company. Performance Appraisal is a typical example of this practice.
HR's conflict with the other Managerial functions HR has a perpetual fight with most other Managerial functions. For example, due to pressure from the Top Management, the HR Manager has to either go very slow on the recruitment of needed technical power. The line managers in production and quality control, for example, want the manpower immediately. When the Top Management informs the line managers that they would have to "somehow manage" the situation would the additional manpower, the HR Manager is always blamed and he or she becomes the bad guy. The HR Manager might have been innocent. Yet he or she is blamed for all lapses. The blame game goes on and on.
There is no solution to such conflicts. HR then becomes a big thankless job for the poor HR Manager who tends to take things easy and just do what the Top Management dictates at any point in time. The professional focus is perpetually lost. It is quite true that participative management, Quality Circles, the Total Quality Management practices and so on, made the HR Manager a central focus of constructive focus. Of late, this kind of status is very under great stress. There is no big hope that the good old times when HR was popularly associated with certain good initiatives in the form of increased morale, building a family culture and so on, can be put back in most organizations. This is also due to the inherent contradictions. The NEEM scheme, which sometimes has at least fifteen percent of the workforce on rolls, runs parallel to the HR initiatives. Such a dubious situation will only increase conflicts. For, the NEEM worker of the diploma holder in engineering will obviously be worried only about his or her social security. HR has a big role in diffusing tensions on a day-to-day basis.
Conclusion HR is still a work in progress. The chances of it becoming a business partner in most organizations are now under stress. The old times are back again. Fire fighting is no solution at all. Only time will tell whether HR will slowly get to enjoy the same professional status as Finance and Marketing. This cannot happen for at least another 15 years.