Month: February 2018

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Or Don’t – It’s Really Up to You

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Titles are cheap.

It’s an old saying, but true. Your organization can call you whatever they like – Specialist, Manager, Supervisor, Grand Poohbah, Lord High Inquisitor – and it won’t cost them a dime. In fact, they often give you a title just so they don’t have to pay you more money.

And you fall for it – sucker.

People put a lot of stock in titles. Take my profession. Once, we were called Personnel. It seemed an appropriate enough description, except for the fact that most people couldn’t remember how many n’s and l’s were in it until spellcheck came along. It implied that we were in charge of all aspects of an organization that were people related – hiring, benefits, payroll, etc. That’s exactly what we did, and we did it well.

But being called a Personnel Specialist (or Representative or Supervisor) just wasn’t special enough for some of us. We saw ourselves as being a strategic part of the organization. We wanted a seat at the Adult Table. But rather than putting in the hard work to get us that seat, we just insisted on a new title. And thus, Human Resources was born.

Funny thing is, although Human Resources is a now the widely accepted term, most of what we do is still related to personnel. Our time is mainly spent making sure everyone gets paid and has a 401(k) while staying compliant with state and federal laws. Sure, the big boys gave us the title, but that was just so they didn’t have to figure out how to fit in one more chair at Thanksgiving dinner.

Still, if you posted a job for Personnel instead of Human Resources, I’d bet you’d get half the applicants, and most of those would be old ladies with names like Agatha or Beatrice who never understood why we got rid of accounting ledgers and carbon paper.

Recently, people both in and out of my profession want to eliminate Human Resources from job titles. Those outside of the profession don’t like it because they think it reduces people to just another item to be used by an organization, like a building, a truck or a machine. They are people, and want to be treated as such. Well, guess what? To most organizations, a resource is exactly what you are. Something to be exploited and then thrown away once you’re no longer of value to them.

Me, I don’t see you like just a machine or a piece of office equipment. After all, I’ve never had to reprimand one of our company cars for coming in to work hung over or been sued by a computer for discrimination.
Implying that you’re a resource isn’t flattering, but at least it’s honest.

As for practitioners, just like they didn’t feel that Personnel reflected their importance to organizations a few decades ago, they now feel the same about Human Resources. It’s just plain doesn’t sound important enough.
So now you are seeing all sorts or more creative titles – Vice President of Human Capital, People Manager, even Vibe Manager. This is mostly used at young tech companies, where cash for salaries is as rare as a suit and tie, so the inexpensive but prized job titles are handed out like so many worthless stock options.

But my favorite substitute for Human Resources is Vice President of Happiness. Sorry, but I’d rather be called Adolf Genghis Kahn Stalin than have that has my responsibility.

I can’t make you happy. No one can. I can make the sink taps run with local craft IPAs, set up ping pong tables in every conference room, bring in pizza at lunch and have a masseuse at your beck and call and you still might be miserable.
The biggest obstacle is that you probably wouldn’t recognize happiness if a giant smiley face dropped from the sky and hit them in the head. You think happiness is having a certain house or car. They think it has to do with that next promotion or big raise. These things may bring some temporary joy, but they won’t result in long-term happiness. This isn’t necessarily your fault. Our society, our economy, relies on the idea that happiness is only a new smartphone or Caribbean cruise away.

Most studies show that a large portion of your happiness is genetic. You have a happiness range that is predetermined, and nothing is going to change it. So unless I start working as a bio-engineer, there is no way I can help you there.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be more happy than you already are. Most of these factors are immaterial. Sure, if you don’t know how you’re going to make your next rent payment or have 20 bucks to put in your gas tank so you can get to work or have cancer or chronic depression, it’s going to have an impact on your happiness. But assuming you have enough money to meet your needs and are in good health, happiness comes from those intrinsic aspects of life such as a sense of belonging, doing things that are meaningful, new experiences and helping others.

Your employer’s job (and by extension, my job) is not to make you happy. Your employer’s job is to provide some desired good or service. If you are happy at work, that’s just a bonus.
Or is it? Some would argue that happiness gets in the way of work. After all, if you’re happy, that means you are satisfied and feel good about where you are in life. If that’s the case, what motivates you to excel? Why should you strive to get that project done early or stay late to ensure that order gets filled if you are fine with things just the way they are?

Those who say this are full of crap. Studies show that happy employees are more productive and can more easily adapt to continuing changes in the workplace. I myself would have an easier job if I didn’t have to mediate petty squabbles between people who are obviously miserable and want to spread that misery to others.

So your employer should want you to be happy. I want you to be happy. Unfortunately, it’s outside my pay grade, I’m only one person and I have no influence over your life once you walk out the door at the end of the day. The most I can do is make sure you have a productive and safe work environment that promotes happiness.

The rest is up to you.

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