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When HR sucks the fun out of the workplace

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

“Human Resources has squeezed out the joy that used to be found in the workplace.” So writes a reader in responding to an article in the Observer news paper. They specifically mention annual appraisals, endless data collection and targets. Most of us are familiar with the complaint about stifling bureaucracy and no one likes annual appraisals which is why HR in many organisations is trying to replace them with something more positive and supportive like regular one to one supervision.

It is true that most organisations have detailed monitoring and therefore data collection around recruitment and absence management. It is also the case that most Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategies involve targets and monitoring arrangements. However I suspect that this complaint is really about the whole performance management culture and the way it has restricted or driven the way managers manage.

HR are not to blame for the performance culture in organisations they are as much governed by it as other members of the organisation. The data collected on recruitment and disciplinary action broken down into race, gender, and where available,  disability, sexuality, faith and age, has certainly presented organisations with some uncomfortable information and been a catalyst for change. How useful targets are is constantly being debated, there is some evidence for the view that,  what gets measured gets done but there is also evidence that targets can distort managers actions and divert resources leading to unintended consequences. The consensus appears to select targets carefully and keep them to a minimum.

A performance management culture may improve the performance of the organisation but does not improve the people management skills of managers. And we know from research that what determines how individuals feel about their work and workplace is largely determined by whether they feel valued, respected and supported by their line manager.

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