This paper seeks to answer the question of whether or not human resources are a viable professional career within the business world. The research was carefully analyzed and examined to clearly understand the controversy surrounding that question. Through the various responsibilities that take place within HR departments, there is reason to believe that human resources are viable within the business sector, but is that really true? At the center of the argument is the matter of specialization. Should HR personnel be required to obtain professional credentials as their working counterparts? What are the ethical implications if this is not done? To what extent is HR responsible for other employees in a particular business or company? How do/will the other employees view the HR officials if there is a discovery that they do not have the proper credentials?
This paper will also shine a light on the role of psychology in human resources management regarding the methods and motivations of human resources professionals. Questions of how psychology plays into leadership will be answered. To what extent do leadership qualities become one of the necessities of an HR representative’s qualifications? Is it an HR representative's duty to encourage and motivate or should those duties be left to others within a business or company? Human resource management in detail will be explored as well such as how HR professionals oblige other workers so that workers come to understand that HR has their comfort, safety, and interests in mind. There is belief that insight and knowledge will be gained through answering the central question for both career decision making and personal understanding.
The question of whether human resources should be considered a professional area or simply one sector of the business community has lasting ramifications for human resource training, workplace management and policy changes, and employee well-being and satisfaction. This question also has ramifications for my own professional preparation as a career in human resources is something that has strongly been considered. There is hope that by researching this topic, that more insight into the controversy will be gained and thus more knowledge about this as a career possibility, thereby allowing for informed and worthwhile decisions about my own prospective background, education and professional training to be made. There is also hope that this project will highlight the distinctive aspects of human research and provide a clearer understanding of an HR representative's role in the business world.
First, for the sake of clarity, the issue of contention in this topic is not whether HR members are professionals or whether human resources is a legitimate career path; these two points are true beyond dispute as human resources representatives are not being construed or denigrated as being part of the second class of management. Rather, the issue has more to do with whether or not human resources ought to be considered as a different class of management. That is to ask, do the professional roles and demands placed upon HR personnel vary from those of other administrators to such a degree that human resource representatives require different or additional training in order to discharge their duties effectively and responsibly?
After researching this project, it is my belief that the answer to this question is yes; the responsibilities that an HR representative assumes are currently very different from those of traditional administrative positions and, due to advances in the fields of psychology and business ethics, and rapidly evolving laws that govern the workplace, the differences between these two areas are quickly becoming increasingly disparate. In order to accommodate this disparity between HR and management roles, the business community will need to recognize human resources as a separate field and treat it accordingly. If it does not, businesses will suffer needlessly due to inadequately trained HR representatives, poorly managed workplaces, and dissatisfied employees.
At the center of this issue is the matter of specialization; should HR personnel be required to obtain professional credentials which are different from those of other management positions. There are many in the business community who think this should not be the case. For example, when asked in an interview with TLNT, a website about human resources, whether HR certifications such as a PHR were important for new hires, Lisa Bender of the MITRE Corporation answered “I believe not. Experience is a much greater advantage” (Ledford, 2012). It is doubtless that experience goes a long way in any professional field – even the most menial; and applicant applying for a position as a janitor with five years of experience stands a better chance of landing a job than an applicant with no experience. However, while what Bender claims about experience being advantageous to applicants may or may not be correct, her response largely sidesteps the issue. Perhaps it is the case that hiring managers would rather an applicant have experience than HR credentials but is it responsible to their employees and shareholders to have this preference when making new hires?
The fact is that to do their jobs efficiently, HR representatives need specialized knowledge of several highly complicated fields, and one of the most important of these fields is ethics. According to David Ingram, in a recent article in The Houston Chronicle, HR’s unique position “includes numerous ethical pitfalls that can damage a company’s reputation or financial sustainability if not properly handled” (Ingram, 2013). Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of HR’s role is the neutrality which it is ideally supposed to show between management and employees. According to the SHRM Code of Ethics, it is HR’s job to add “value to add value to the organizations (they) serve and (contribute) to the ethical success of those organizations” (SHRM, 2007). While other members of management will be prone to fulfill their obligations to the shareholders and board of directors of a company and the employees will understandably be concerned for their own interests, the human resources representative is bound to take both of these interests into account. This stabilizing effect that HR must perform requires a thorough training in ethics; moreover, due to the continual development and acceptance of ideas in the more peripheral fields of feminist, race-based, LGBTQ rights, and gender-based ethical theories, it is unlikely that the cursory courses in business ethics that are required to obtain an MBA will be sufficient to prepare an HR representative to make the kind of informed, balanced decisions that the position demands.
In addition to being able to make difficult and often crucial ethical deliberations, it is also HR’s responsibility to train and oversee their employees in ethical decision-making and workplace behavior. This often involves composing training seminars and exercises for workers, dealing with employees who have been reprimanded for unethical behavior, and creating and continually updating company policies which outline acceptable and unacceptable language, actions, and practices. Thus, in order to function properly in his or her position, a human resources representative also needs an understanding of ethics which is suitable for training other individuals in ethical standards. It is clear that the pedagogical duties of HR also require its personnel to achieve knowledge of ethics than is demanded from other types of management positions. Again, the ethical training undergone in traditional business educate will note prepare a person to assume the stringent responsibility required to perform as an HR representative.
Another area of specialized knowledge that HR must be trained in is the field of psychology. In the article “The Role of Psychology in Human Resources Management,” Talibova Rasim identifies and discusses four core responsibilities of HR that significantly overlap with the field of psychology. The first of these responsibilities is that of motivation. In order to prompt an employee to do his or her job efficiently, a human resources manager must know what best motivates the employee. This often involves maintaining a delicate balance between rewarding and punishing employees. This being the case, HR must discern when it is appropriate to use each of the methods and how individual workers are likely to respond to these stimuli. Some workers are more likely to be motivated through incentives granted for good performance while others will be more motivated by the negative consequences that follow from a performance which is lacking. Similarly, trying to motivate employees through punishment when the opportunity to earn a reward would do more to increase efficiency will be detrimental to productivity.
The second intersection of psychology and HR responsibility identified by Rasim is that of leadership. The ability to build and nurture trust between workers and administration is a skill that every good manager should master to be effective; however, this trait is an essential component of an HR representative’s qualifications. This is most apparent in HR’s duty to deal with employee’s work-related complaints and concerns. While workers might look to other management positions for labor guidelines, quality oversight, and scheduling issues, they put their trust in HR to ensure that their comfort, safety, and interests in job security are fairly spoken for. In order for this relationship to be possible, HR must make a continual effort to portray themselves as the employees’ delegate to management. Speaking for the workers in this way requires listening to their concerns which, in turn, demands that a report of good faith be at work between HR and the employees.
A third responsibility of HR that deeply relates to human psychology is found in the area of interpersonal relationships. It is extremely important that a human resources manager have a strong grasp of how human beings relate to one another. This is the case particularly in environments that often produce high amounts of stress and can become droning and monotonous, which are conditions that can have drastic effects upon the dynamics between different employees. For this reason, HR must at times be able to predict how two or more workers will interact with one another in a particular context and advise management accordingly based upon this prediction; this will lessen the likelihood of employees whose personalities do not complement one another’s from developing a conflict. Such conflicts will, of course, inevitably arise in the workplace, and when they do, it will be important that the HR representative has an understanding of the mechanics of interpersonal relationships to settle resolve the dispute, if possible, to the satisfaction of all involved.
A fourth aspect of HR management that overlaps with training in psychology identified by Rasim in the article is the job of selecting individuals for employment. Rasim claims that this selection should be “guided by (an applicant’s) revealing of necessary characteristics, features, qualities, and abilities of the person for successful performance of this or that professional work” (Rasim, 2008). In other words, HR must be able to look beyond a prospect’s resume, application, references, and cover letter and make a judgment about whether or not the applicant has the psychological traits necessary to fulfill the duties of the position that they are applying for. This is perhaps the most obvious way that psychology plays an important role in a human resource representative’s performance. HR’s ability to evaluate potential employees during the interview process, which is often over very quickly, may be the difference between making a high-quality hire and a low-quality one. This decision directly affects the resources and productivity of the company, the integrity of the organization, and the safety and well-being of the current employees, and it rests squarely on the shoulders of HR. In this respect, the more familiar with psychology a human resources manager is, the better of the company, as a whole, will be.
A third area of specialized knowledge that an HR representative must have is federal and state regulation and law. Given the various regulations imposed upon businesses the rapid rate that they are subject to change due to the creation of new legislation, it is very important for a human resources manager to have been a background that includes extensive legal training. Many aspects of this requirement relating to the requirement that an HR representative have an understanding of ethics; however, as what legal to for a company to do is not always the ethically appropriate action, and conversely, what might fulfill a company’s ethical obligation does not always fall within the parameters of the law, training in ethics cannot substitute for legal training or vice versa. Rather, HR must be equipped with sufficient knowledge of both so that it can ensure that the company create and enforce policies and make decisions that are both legal and ethical to protect its assets and reputation.
Though many companies will hire lawyers versed in labor law to advise them on these sorts of issue, HR must be familiar with the subject of the law so that it can implement this advice and see that is it is consistently employed by the company in all of its practices. There are many legal issues that a human resources manager must regularly take into account to responsibly discharge his or her duties. First of all, for instance, the process of hiring and firing employees is heavily regulated by state and local government as well as by contractual union agreements and regulations. Before any such action can be taken, it is important that HR be certain that, in doing so, no binding agreements will be breached and no industry regulation or state laws will be violated.
Additionally, specific workplace regulations are set in place and enforced by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Agency, and union contracts regularly specify additional qualifications that must be applied to a workplace where its members or employed. As one of the chief tasks of HR is to make certain that employees enjoy a work environment that is free of unnecessary hazards caused by negligence or management oversight and that any terms regarding working conditions that may have been agreed upon are fulfilled, its personnel will need to be familiar with both the legislative regulations and the contractual obligations the company must respect.
Human resources representatives will also have to be familiar with laws that specify how a company must treat members various groups which have been historically discriminated against in the workforce such as women, ethnic minorities, individuals who identify as LGBT, and religious minorities who may have certain faith-based obligations that must be accommodated. Members of these groups are continually entering the workforce in great numbers, and this will inevitably lead to conflicts between employees that are based on these differences. It is HR’s responsibility to make sure that these individuals are treated with dignity and respect, and that they are not discriminated against as members of these groups by their coworkers or managers. Human resource representatives must have a background in the laws that address workplace discrimination if they are to safeguard their employees and their companies.
A third issue that will require HR managers to be familiar with legal policy is the subject of employee workplace privacy. This is an area of law that is growing more important and, with the increasing popularity of social networking sites and many people’s reliance upon email communication, with increasingly be drawn into the foreground of management/employee relations. While many states have not yet implemented laws concerning the right to privacy in the workplace, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, and Rhode Island have passed legislation to that effect ("Employee Workplace Privacy Rights," 2013) Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union has focused much of its attention on this issue and are promoting legislation that, if passed, would significantly alter the current status of an employee’s right to privacy while at work (ACLU.org, 2013).
The business community can expect to see this issue evolve in the future, and many standard practices that are presently utilized by management to help to increase a company’s security, integrity, and efficiency, such as monitoring employee phone conversations and computer activity and administering random drug tests will have to be altered or halted altogether. In order to stay abreast of these changes in workplace-related legislation, human resource representatives will have to have sufficient training in the field of law so that they can be certain that whatever procedures their company puts in place regarding employee surveillance and managerial oversight comply with these laws and protect their employees’ rights to privacy. If HR fails to do this, it will be neglecting its obligations and putting the company at risk.
It is apparent that the continual development and stress on the application of ethical theory in business practices, the emerging importance of psychological analysis, and the protean nature of the legal system have placed and will continue to place demanding obligations on human resources personnel. HR has itself become a specialized profession and ought to be considered so. However, this has gone unnoticed by both the business community and academia as the standard curricula of business education do not adequately equip students with the essential skills in ethics, psychology, or law that are necessary for effective human resource stewardship. It is irresponsible and imprudent for companies to hire HR members who do not have the training or background that are necessary to properly fulfill their duties to their shareholders, their management team, and their employees.
Because of the professional obligations outlined above, and because these three distinct fields are not sufficiently covered in the traditional model of business education as it is practiced in most MBA programs, it is necessary that the business community acknowledge the glaring distinction between the requirements of HR and traditional management roles; the process by which HR is trained will have to be altered so that human resources managers receive the well-rounded educations that their positions will require of them. In order for this to happen, a standard HR curriculum must be developed apart from the traditional business education model so that students can learn and develop the skills that their positions will require.
Additionally, the business community in general, and the HR sector, in particular, will have to put greater emphasis on the importance of HR training and credentials like the PHR. Human resources cannot be regarded as a mere subset of management for very much longer without risking the safety, liability, efficiency, and assets of a company. The sooner that the business community recognizes that HR has evolved to a distinctive and specialized professional arena, the sooner it will be able to hire human resources representatives that are capable of ensuring its company’s legal, financial, and ethical security by creating a stable and productive environment.
American Civil Liberties Union. (2013). Retrieved July 31, 2013, from American Civil Liberties Union website: http://www.aclu.org/
Employee Workplace Privacy Rights. (2013). Retrieved July 31, 2013, from EmployeeIssues.com website: http://www.employeeissues.com
Ingram, D. (2013). The Importance of Ethics in Human Resources. The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/importance-ethics-human-resources-12780.html
Ledford, G. (2012, January 27). Do Professional HR Certifications Really Help Job Seekers? Retrieved July 31, 2013, from TLNT website: http://www.tlnt.com/2012/01/27/do-professional-hr-certifications-really-help-job-seekers/
Rashim, T. S. (2008). The Role of Psychology in Human Resources Management.Europe's Journal of Psychology, 4(4), Retrieved from http://ejop.psychopen.eu/article/view/438/333
SHRM Code of Ethics. (2007, November 16). Retrieved July 31, 2013, from SHRM Code of Ethics website: http://www.shrm.org/about/Pages/code-of-ethics.aspx