I’ve worked in Human Resources for over a decade and love the field. I'd always known I loved working with people, but it was not until I started my career in HR that I really had the opportunity to explore what that meant. I think of my career in HR as my life coaching — it’s given me perspective, clarity, and allowed me the chance to grow.
Here are my top lessons learned from working in HR:
1. Life is full of gray areas.
HR is not always black and white, and neither is life. In HR, you're faced with tough ethical dilemmas where it’s critical that you remain objective.
Because so many difficult work issues fall into a gray area, I quickly learned the value of being consistent — in my message, in my investigation methods, and in the application of policies and regulations. In areas of gray, at least you can be a constant.
2. Trust is the most valuable commodity.
When you work in HR, you must have the best interest of both the organization and the employees in mind. As such, building trusting relationships is the most valuable skill set to develop.
In HR, as in life, if people don’t trust you, you’ll have a difficult time in any situation. You build trust, you build a relationship, and then you can really make a difference.
3. Don’t assume anything about anyone.
When I have investigated harassment complaints from employees, it’s easy to want to believe the person who is crying, or the person with whom I can most relate.
However, when you're responsible for the outcome of someone’s career, you learn to ask questions for clarity. You can’t assume that the first person you talk with is telling the truth. You can’t assume that the person who said the wrong thing is a terrible person. You have to get all the information and then make a judgment. Asking is sometimes the hardest part.
4. Good people sometimes do bad things.
I’ve seen this time and time again: a person who is a good manager makes a huge mistake and finds himself in a world of trouble. This does not make him a bad person, this makes him human. All you can do is help someone learn the lessons they need in order to not repeat their mistakes. Same thing is true in life: a good person can make a terrible mistake. They can have a lapse in judgment or they make a poor decision, and still manage to bounce back from it. Don’t ever judge someone by one mistake.
5. People want to be heard and know that they matter.
So many times I'd receive a call from an employee who wanted to file a complaint against a supervisor, or felt as though she was being treated unfairly. Sometimes, I'd sit in a mediation and see an employee share all her struggles, and once she finished, she wouldn’t want to pursue the case any further. All she wanted (all anybody ever wants) is to know that someone heard and took her feelings into consideration.
We all want to know that we have value and meaning both within our organization and within life. Take the time to listen.
7. Training can make a huge difference in someone's life.
What a difference it makes when someone is given tools and knowledge to be successful in work and in life. I have seen employees who were on the verge of being terminated go through training and make a complete 180-degree turn-around!
When you empower others to better themselves through learning, they will, in turn, make better decisions. Education and personal development can lead to extraordinary differences and extraordinary lives!
8. Build relationships before you need them … because you will.
I learned this lesson on the playground when I was in second grade. If you make friends with people, they have a harder time hitting you with the dodge ball than if you were an unknown classmate.
I took this lesson into HR with me, and reaped the benefits. No matter where you are in your career or life: at some point, you will need someone else. Build those relationships before you need help, and build them for a mutual benefit.
9. Strive for the win-win.
In life, you'll inevitably have conflict, and while sometimes you may be “right,” it’s important to know that’s not always the most important thing. When I would mediate complaints, I found that the goal was not to have a winner and a loser, but to have both parties be winners.
When you strive for a win-win solution, people leave happier than when they entered. You also have people who are more willing to work out their conflict in the future with the same outcome in mind. Strive for a solution that encourages future interactions, not just a winner.
10. Make time for fun.
People often think HR is so serious. It can be, but it can also be fun. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my mentor was making the workplace fun. I always encourage employers to make fun a value in their organization, regardless of the type of business.
If your employees know that they will have some laughs or joy at the office, they will look forward to coming to work, and be more productive. There is always room for (some) play and it always improves your perspective.
11. Know that a good boss makes all the difference.
I had a bad boss once. I was completely unmotivated to do great work. I was sick (physically and emotionally) and I was suffering in more ways than just in the workplace. The main problem was that this boss knew exactly how to capitalize on my insecurities and lead me to believe that they were true.
When she left, and I had a new boss who believed in me, encouraged me, and my career and my life changed. I bloomed as an employee and became a trusted source for the employees across the enterprise.
You are your own boss! Are you encouraging your own growth and development, or are you capitalizing on your weaknesses? Be a great boss, and start living an amazing life!
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