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Confidential to HR: How to keep engaged in chaos

5 min read


Maybe it’s just me and my insistence on seeing political and economic headlines through the lens of human resources and individual careers — but I think that of all the corporate functions, HR will be hit the hardest as current events unfold.  If you’re in HR, you’re in for a wild ride. And I’m thinking a lot of it is going to be very un-fun for you, very soon. So you are going to need some extra help in keeping your own engagement high and spirits up. Here are some ideas:

Remember why you got into HR. The people side of business is the heart and soul, blood and guts of the world’s economic engine. Really great HR folks got into the profession because they were fascinated by the relationship between individual prosperity and organizational success.  It’s not overly romantic to remember that HR is where people people find a role for themselves in business.  If you’re one of those people people types, embrace your nature. It will sustain you as you have to make tough decisions in upcoming months. Remember, engagement happens one person at a time. And why shouldn’t that first person be you?

Find a way to believe in your company. Most (I say, most) businesses are successful because they benefit mankind in some way.  When you’re caught up in internal politics and spreadsheets, it might be difficult to remember exactly how what your organization does helps its customers make their own dreams come true.  You owe it to yourself to think this through.  And then perhaps to lead an initiative with corporate communications to help the rest of your company’s employees remember the larger cause that your business serves.

Or decide that you can’t and start laying tracks to get the heck out. OK. So your company wasn’t what you thought it was going in. Or it’s morphed before your very eyes and you just don’t recognize it anymore.  Well, the good news is that now you have a new project to focus on.

Have at least one best friend outside of work. The big engagement researchers like to say that it’s important for people to have a best friend at work. (Personally, I don’t buy it as a universal truth.)  That’s really hard for you, if you’re in HR.  You’re not allowed to unload to a colleague friend. You’ve got way too many personnel secrets tucked away.  So have a cadre of good friends outside of work. People you can relax and be yourself with.  People who don’t care what you might know (but are not telling) about corporate plans and how they might affect jobs.  People who won’t ask you if you know of any jobs.

Join or start a “hole-in-the-wall gang.” In the book,  “HR From the Heart”  — which I wrote with Libby Sartain, former people chief of Southwest Airlines and Yahoo — Libby talks about how valuable her “hole-in-the-wall gang” was to her as she was coming up through her career. These were HR folks in companies in her city — her peers and colleagues.  They would understand better than anyone else what kinds of challenges and issues she was facing. And she understood theirs as well.  But it wasn’t all work, work, work. It was also fun, fun, fun. And even now, decades later, they still get together. This time, mostly for fun.

Don’t talk politics at work. Really.

Pick a professional growth project and commit to it. Your future may seem really uncertain right now. But it still belongs to you. So keep growing in your profession. Identify goals that stretch you just enough. Seek out mentors to help you achieve them.  Use yourself as an example and champion a learning culture within your company. It will give everyone something hopeful and positive to focus on .

Get away from it. I think I got a dollhouse out of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  My father, who was a CIA case officer assigned to the Miami bureau, was for a while one of only a handful of Americans who knew that Cuba was amassing a way scary number of missiles in 1962.  He knew before even President Kennedy, and President Kennedy’s people kept stonewalling the information. How’s that for workplace frustration?

Every night when he came home from work — until yet another dinnertime phone call would yank him back to the “office” — he disappeared into his workroom where he measured, sawed, hammered, glued and painted.  I’m not going to say that my dollhouse saved the world. But I think it did save my dad.

So we’re in the middle of another game-changing time in American history. And there’s no telling how long it will be before things smooth out again.  If you’re in HR, you’re caught up in this storm like no one else. And we all need you to take care of yourself. And the world can’t have too many dollhouses.

Note: For a free copy of Martha’s inspiring article, “Why I Love HR,” e-mail her at [email protected].

Image credit, Laurent Renault, via Shutterstock