Here’s Why We No Longer Need Articles About No Longer Needing HR

Yesterday I read an article titled Why We No Longer Need HR Departments, and apparently I wasn’t the only one sucked in by the catchy title.

The article garnered more than 3,000 comments, and I surely didn’t read them all, but I read enough to be able to declare here that many readers, like myself, don’t think the author said much of anything.

Here’s the gist of what he said: HR is a stupid name. HR can’t effectively serve two masters. Basic HR functions can be outsourced.

Blah Blah Blah.

Here’s why we really do need HR

And it occurred to me, after I’d read the post of course, that I’m tired of these types of articles. They’re all much ado about nothing. Detractors of HR can pontificate all day long about the uselessness of the function, but at the end of the day, someone has to do what needs doing.

As long as companies are filled with people and not robots, someone has to pay the people and someone has to deal with all the things that happen when people with various motivations, agendas, and needs get together and are expected to work together toward a common goal.

And, we will need that as long as we have a government that tells companies what they can, can’t, and must do — or else someone else has to see that companies do all of it (or don’t).

So go ahead and keep talking about who needs HR, and you’ll see who does.

A $47 million testimonial for HR

Here’s a true story: After about 10 years working as an editor, I’d decided that I wanted to do something different. I’d always been intrigued with workplace dynamics and interested in employment law, and by chance, I got the opportunity to become involved in some employee relations issue at my current job.

Silly me; I got hooked and was all psyched up about my new-found workplace insights, so I began sharing information with the company president. But (surprise!) he really didn’t care what I thought. I complained to my mother about how dismissive the president was of the information I’d brought him, and she said, “Crystal, no one wants to hear what you think about running that company. Those people pay you to edit their books, not give them advice about the business.

She was right, of course. And so I said to myself, “Fine. I’ll find a way to make them pay me to give them advice.” And I did. But when I told certain family members about the career change, I got crazy stares. My brother-in-law, a sales manager, was particularly critical. He said:

Why in the world would you want to do that? HR is a bunch of crap. HR people are wanna-be lawyers who can’t even do their own jobs right. They always send us the worst people to hire and think they should get in everyone’s business as ‘the conscious of the company.’ You were on the revenue-generating side of the business, and you should have stayed there. At my company, we got rid of our entire HR department. We’re outsourcing everything, and things have never been better.”

You don’t say?

Not quite a year later, his company shelled out $47 million to settle charges of gender discrimination and was ordered by the court to create an HR department and hire and appointment a Vice President of Human Resources who would report directly to the CEO or the president. I won’t mention the company’s name, but I’ve given you enough information to look it up.

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(Of course, I taunted my in-law at the next family reunion; he gave me a poker face and insisted that the company had “won” that case. Whatever dude.)

When humans get together, sh** happens

So here’s my point: I don’t care what you call it — Personnel, HR, Human Capital Management, Talent Management, People R Us, whatever. Someone has to do the work. And it can’t all be farmed out, no matter how hard you try.

You can hire a consultant (and remember, I am a consultant, so I’m not criticizing that choice, believe me), but if you’ve got real problems that consultant is going to be all over you like white on rice, baby — and not operating in a distant land far, far away — if you want those problems solved.

Technology is great. Technology rocks. But technology can’t change the nature of human beings.

And when human beings get together (even virtually) shit happens — and someone trained to manage it has to manage it, period.

That is, unless you want to get what my brother-in-law’s company got. And I’m not just talking about lawsuits. I’m talking about unproductive conflict, lost talent opportunities, wasted time and money, bad blood, and bad publicity.

Not that they didn’t deserve it.

Who doesn’t need HR? Pulease.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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