Perception is nine-tenths of the law of reputation

Is there a profession in the UK more consistently maligned than human resources? Those of you busy getting on with the day-to-day business of working in human resources (HR) could be forgiven for burying your head in your hands and wondering why you bother.

For it seems doing down the profession is in vogue, not only among practitioners themselves, as demonstrated in last week’s Personnel Today, but with business leaders queuing up to have a pop.

The latest perpetrator is Luke Johnson, head of private equity firm Risk Capital Partners and chairman of Channel 4. He used his column in last Wednesday’s Financial Times to launch into the HR function, seemingly apropos of nothing (see CIPD rushes to HR’s defence after scathing attack in FT ).

While there is nothing wrong with some constructive criticism – I’m sure those working in HR would be the first to admit that sometimes the profession doesn’t cover itself in glory – an out-and-out assault seems a tad unnecessary.

Comparing the power of HR to that of the CIA and Mossad no doubt made entertaining copy, but are Johnson’s words based on anything resembling fact?

The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn’t really matter whether Johnson speaks the truth. When you have a respected businessman writing in a respected newspaper read by thousands of other respected business people, the stereotype is perpetuated.

So HR continues to be perceived by business chiefs as a necessary evil, or an “amorphous support service”, as Johnson so eloquently phrased it.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape the notion that HR is just an agent of legislative compliance, as he suggested, when the profession has new employment law and EU directives coming at it left, right and centre.

Interestingly enough, in response to the piece, the FT chose to print a letter from a consultant at the Work Foundation rather than one penned by Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development chief Geoff Armstrong.What does that tell us about HR’s standing?

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