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December 2016

lickingballs

The complexities of HR

[This originally ran March 10.]

Not long ago, the human resources department at a company consisted of hard-working, humble and often-lovely creatures who didn’t even have last names. Returning from lunch you might find a note telling you to call “Debbie in insurance” or “Angela in accounting.”

Those notes were delivered by a secretary, a/k/a the brains of the operation and the only person who knew what was going on. Now secretaries have been banned, replaced by a new species called the administrative assistant. AAs too often are pawns for executives and contribute little to the common good.

Early HR departments were often a single person. The first one I remember was in “Gone with the Wind.” Jonas Wilkerson was the overseer at Tara. He often delegated duties to his foreman, Big Sam, including when to call “quittin’ time.” Mr. Wilkerson eventually lost that job and most of his friends when he threw in with the carpetbaggers after the war.

From those humble beginnings grew the HR departments of today, overstaffed with people eager to stick their noses into areas like employee recruitment, which should be handled by managers familiar with the company’s product or service. Others have noted this, and a growing number of companies are sending the meddlers packing. Notes Nolan Gray at JobScience.com:

“In bygone years, HR was much less complex. There was hiring, firing, payroll and working out the occasional kerfuffle. But since the late 1970s, HR has grown increasingly more challenging. And in recent years, FMLA, ADA and now Obamacare have made compliance a series of flaming hoops to jump through!”

Against such an imposing government gauntlet, companies knew when to say “quittin’ time.” A man of good sense, Big Sam would approve.

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