There Is Nothing Human in Human Resources

A Vice President level colleague once shared with me her perception of Human Resources. She said, and I quote, “There is nothing human in Human Resources!”

Now, I am not sure what prompted this statement, but I can only imagine. Pause a moment. Think of a decision that has been communicated to your organization that might lend itself to this question.

I am sharing this because the comment set off a series of questions I began to have about my chosen profession. What this colleague shared with me really hit a nerve. We touch lives in all our actions in Human Resources. This is the core and root of what we do. Somehow, I believe this has been lost in translation.
When I think about one single word that defines Human Resources for me, it is compassion. Compassion means displaying, showing or demonstrating human kindness. It means being human. Let’s face it, there is a reason the profession is titled Human Resources. Right?
I have learned that as you advance in your career, your compassion grows. You treat your business colleagues, partners, employees, management or vendors with respect and honesty knowing that at times you are forced to make difficult tough decisions. Treating others with fairness and integrity, your leadership and professionalism will prevail. Maintain and treat with absolute honesty without attacking the person.

Every day, Human Resources professionals go to work and deal with issues involving human beings. Yes, there is much more – operational issues, budgetary issues, strategy issues, product or project issues – but they all have a single common denominator or influence – the human factor. I have come to learn many things about what we do in Human Resources and I believe what separates the great from the good can be summarized as emotional and social intelligence.

During my career I have had to make extremely difficult decisions knowing that I’m not only affecting a single person but quite possibly a family or community. But what has set me apart professionally and personally is my keen ability to handle people, with compassion, while executing these decisions. This is why I love and am passionate about what I do. And this is why it is imperative and crucial that HR plays a strategic role in an organization.
As you advance in your career, whether it be in Human Resources or any other profession, your ‘soft skills’ become that more critical, visible and what is cascaded down and throughout the organization. Your emotional or social intelligence is what sets you apart as a true leader and visionary – inspiring and guiding people.

Emotional or social intelligence, and compassion, is what keeps the human in Human Resources.

Photo credit iStockPhoto

About the Author

Michelle McLaren

Michelle McLaren, PHR is a Human Resources Business Partner for Wincor Nixdorf, a Global IT organization and has over 18 years progressive human resources experience. She is the Chair for the Austin HR Management Association Certification Committee, blogs regularly for AHRMA on various HR topics and lends her talents to other HR projects and initiatives. You can connect with Michelle on LinkedIn.


Liz Stone

Well said Michelle. I think too often people at all levels of management forget about being compassionate of others and the impacts of our day to day decisions have on people’s lives. It is a pleasure to be associated with someone who shares my own beliefs both professionally and personally.

Jennifer V. Miller


Congratulations on your first Women of HR post. Well done!

What you write about today speaks to professionalism– it’s clear that you have found a way to maintain your energy and passion for your chosen profession, rather than become jaded and burned out. No easy feat! My hats off to you for staying focused on the your primrary mission.


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