Monday, 20 July 2009

New jobs for the HR Department

We loved this little piece by Alain de Botton - anyone else been told by a partner, when they are sorting out an argument "don't go all HR on me!"?

Everyone hates the HR department. This is the cavern from which your P45 is sent, where your assessments are stored and where orders are sent out to ship you off on a group exercise to a salmon-coloured conference centre near Staines, where you will hold hands with your boss and sing inspirational songs.

And yet to rebel against the HR department is to misunderstand one's era and the deeper currents of history.

Never before have so many thousands of ambitious human beings been asked to work together in such close confinement.

And so never before has there been such a need to determine how people could possibly sit together day after day in narrow plywood cubicles without screaming or murdering one another.

HR departments have had to study from scratch how we can munch our sandwiches so close to our colleagues without venting the gamut of our destructive passions.

There is something almost utopian in HR departments' grander ideas: a 24-hour anti-bullying hotline or a 360-degree career assessment.

These are the tools of an advanced civilisation taking politics to the next level. Contrived as the strategies instituted by HR people might seem, it is in fact their very artificiality that guarantees their success, for the laboured tone of away-day seminars allows workers manfully to protest that they have nothing whatsoever to learn from submitting to such disciplines.

Then, like guests at a house party who mock their host's suggestion of a round of Pictionary, they may be surprised to find themselves, as the game gets under way, able thereby to channel hostilities.

Home used to be associated with kindness and sympathy - and the workplace with cruelty and oppression. But there are times, on a Friday evening at 9pm, when my wife and I have said unkind things to one another, and when I have longed for someone from HR to walk in and suggest a group exercise.

Alain de Botton's latest book is The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99).

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