I have cried in my car outside corporate offices a lot in my career in HR. Can I tell you about those times?
I once worked with a group of individuals who engaged in covert workplace bullying. From snide remarks, silent treatment and exclusion. When I spoke up, the behaviour only worsened. I would drive to work every day and proceed to cry in my car for 10 minutes before I cleaned myself up and braced myself for what they
would do to me today.
I once worked for a leader who didn’t think I was cut out to balance parenting and a meaningful career because some mornings, I was 5 minutes late to my office or needed an hour off to attend one of my children’s school events. I got pulled over speeding to work one morning, and the poor officer stood by my door as I cried for 15 minutes. He patted me on the shoulder, said, ‘it’ll get better.’, and handed me a $200 speeding ticket.
I cried when ‘gentleman’ made handshake deals over pints of beer in the evening that diminished the hours of work I had done to research a solid defence on a grievance. I was told by my leader that sometimes men get things done quicker when they can let loose and talk freely.
I once worked in an organization where men in power wanted me fired for the change my role would bring to the toxic workplace culture. I cried a lot in those years. I cried when I was told by my leader that I had to build a relationship with an incredibly cruel and unkind man. I cried when I was called to task for standing up for myself. I cried for not having a voice, for being diminished and for needing the job.
I once cried in my car after an employee told me their story of racism and when I advocated for this employee, I was told that my brown skin gave me too much bias. I was asked ‘are you the right person for this file?’. So I cried for my frustration, my embarrassment and for the employee who sought equity and justice.
I cry sometimes when my colleagues in HR call me to share their stories. I cried when my colleague, trying desperately to attain credentials for promotion was denied professional development because HR approvals go last. I cried when my colleague with twin 2-year-olds was denied a hybrid work schedule because HR needs to be the role model for returning to work. I cried for them, and I cried most for my profession.
But this story isn’t just about my tears; it’s about ACTION. How many HR practitioners cry in cars, washroom stalls and offices as they struggle to meet unrealistic expectations and face immense workplace discrimination and toxicity? I’ll give you a hint - more than you can count. Here’s my call to ACTION for all leaders responsible for the well being of the HR team:
Stop Putting HR Last
Every wellness initiative you create must be tested by the HR department first. Free massages and taco - HR will test that Monday, thank you. Improved health benefits - start with the HR team. Flexible work weeks - HR will try that for you starting next week. Thank you!
Stop Normalizing HR Abuse
Your HR team is not a corporate punching bag. Stop taking your frustrations out on them. If you don’t like the new recruitment software - write a respectful email about it. If you need to vent about your boss - take a ‘difficult conversations’ crash course and talk to your boss. HR practitioners offer a safe space for employees to share their thoughts and to engage in respectful problem-solving. Talk to HR as you would have HR speak to you.
Stop Hiding Behind HR
HR teams have suffered an awful reputation through the years. We’re the police, the bad guys, the makers of rules and crushers of dreams. Sometimes this is the nature of the work, but mostly HR is thrown under the bus because too many leaders prefer to hide behind HR. Leaders, it’s time to show up and stand up for the hard decisions.
I cried a lot of tears in my career before I found my voice and began to share my stories. There is great freedom and healing in sharing my stories, and bringing light to the many folks shedding tears in HR offices and home offices across the province today. HR is in crisis. We must do better.