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Here's how I responded to Elizabeth in your last post ...

As shown in yesterday's news, sometimes speaking out can be a very daunting task. Did you see the clips of the CNN reporter mistreating Tea Party protesters? Did you see the stream of vitriol coming from some of the TV networks about the Tea Party? It was a shame to see so many TV networks denigrating the 1,000s of US citizens exersizing their freedom of speech rights.

But hey, if we don't speak up, who will?

Here's how I handle the issue of balancing conflicting loyalties. When doing my employer's work, I speak my peace and try to influence decisions; but if I am over-ruled by top management, I'm paid to support the decision or leave. But on my own as a US citizen I am free to write or email my president, his administration, and my elected representatives in federal, state, and local government. I'm not always successful, but at least I can say that I made my voice heard.

interesting discussion... but i don't know if i believe the employee advocate issue is the reason why HR pros might not be lobbying. intellectually, i get the dichotomy and it makes sense - but like paul says, an HR pro can do their day job and also participate in activities outside of the 9 to 5 as a US citizen to advance their profession or beliefs, whether or not it aligns with their organization's goals and values (although you'd hope they do align!).

i think lack of knowledge on how public policy issues may affect an HR pro's job is an issue. and i think laziness is another. but the biggest issue might be that an individual pro may (rightfully so) rely on a larger org, like their professional association, be it SHRM, W@W, etc to be their voice and do the majority of organizing and mobilizing... so it makes me wonder if folks like SHRM and W@W are doing enough education, outreach, and empowerment with their member bases... and if they are communicating enough about the result (like, because 40,000 of you wrote letters, here's what happened and the impact of you getting involved in the issue...) just another way to think about it.

completely different direction though... maybe... public policy and advocacy work is just seen as unsexy and we all leave it alone because of that. that could be it too... :)


Really great points - thanks for sharing them here.

I think we need to impress upon the SHRMs and the W@Ws that their members have this expectation of them - and that they do in fact need to meet this expectation through education, outreach and empowerment efforts. Following the meeting and discussion that prompted this post series, I was happy to learn that W@W is taking the step to develop and provide a toolkit to members, to support their ability to understand public policy and how to impact it. See here...


I hope you're wrong (but I suspect that you aren't) about us just avoiding it because it is "unsexy". The upshot is that living with the results of our inaction may be even "unsexier" - yes?

Yes. We can all lobby as private citizens, outside of our day jobs as HR professionals.

However, I believe that Cara was referring to our activities as a group; she wouldn't be privy to our individual efforts as citizens, only to what she sees as our 'group voice.'

Paul's point regarding the Tea Party coverage serves to underscore my original thesis: that we as HR professionals may be reluctant to go that public with our views if we feel that the publicity may disrupt our unique relationships with our very diverse customer bases.

I do think a large number of HR people do leave "politicking" to their professionals organizations. Some do have a fear that stepping out on an issue w/ personal views may come back to cause harm on a professional basis.

Personally, I participate in the process in several ways, often tempered by the volatility of a specific issue. Some of the ways:

o Using my "blog pulpit" to educate as much as possible
o Educating other HR people on a personal basis by sharing information one on one, or during networking sessions
o Donating personally to candidates that support my views
o Donating to PAC organizations per the above
o Ensuring that the business I work with is as prepared as possible
o Share relevant information through my network and social media

Some times I can be very out front, other times not so much. The main thing is being part of the process in some way. Too many people abdicate, or play "HR Switzerland" as KD said on the Capiyalist blog the other day.

In over two score decades spent in HR both in corporate and consulting roles, I have rarely (if ever) found myself conflicted over public and private views. Maybe I'm simply unique (just like everyone else, of course), but I'm challenged to remember a time when I felt contrained from speaking truth on controversial issues.

Even when in labor relations where any sign of weakness is exploited, I could express personal preferences for non-sanctioned policies contrary to The Contract. HR is not a proxy shop steward, because the union bosses are not paid to be evenhanded as is the case with HR; unlike HR, stewards and union reps are antagonistic advocates, for one side only.

Don't really see any intrinsic necessary conflict between conceding what would feel nice as an employee versus what is most cost-effective from the management standpoint. It's a matter of perspective, and the good HR pro can see all sides.

I do recall a time when I thought the VP HR at a top 50 conglomerate was going to have a cow when I stated the simple fact that the reason the Company (my client) paid unorganized personnel so high over the standard market-clearing rate was due to union compression and similar "internal equity" considerations. And there was a Tesimonial Consultant ("he eats your bread, he sings your song") still alive prominent in the comp society who tried to ostracise me and my partner for congressional testimony that crossed the Party Line on pay equity issues back in The Day. So, I must concede that yes, there definitely ARE potential negative consequences for being bluntly truthful.

Hey, we're here to do our job best we can, right? Better to be openly honest than a craven sycophant, but I can sympathize with those lacking the security that permits them to stand up. No disrespect intended.

Just wanted to add some additional thoughts to what is turning out to be a great string of discussions.

Just as my daughter will be graduating from college and entering the workforce, in a couple of years afterwards I will be retiring from corporate employment. She and many others don't necessarily come into the workforce knowing the history of what we went through in the HR profession. She likely has no idea why national health care, EFCA, or PFP regulation has many of us concerned. Nor does she necessarily have the confidence to speak out and try to make a difference on public policy issues.

It's up to us veterans who have developed thick skin over the years to share with our profession's newcomers the knowledge and values that are important, and how to try to influence public policy in our country.

Apathy exists everywhere in this country....not just amongst HR Professionals. It's a combo of lazy/busy/tired/frustrated/over it/uneducated/fear and the list goes on. "Organizing" requires: GET PEP (Goal, Education, Time, Patience, Effort, and most importantly Passion)

I have learned more from my readings via Kris Dunn (and all his leads) than I have ever learned from SHRM....so I think that these more grass roots types of discussions are helping to get the word out...more than SHRM or others ever could. Experiencing someone else's passion is really motivating....so we all need to get fired up and tell a fellow HR Professional how we feel about pending legislation AND then more IMPORTANTLY...ask them to pass it on.

I think it is like the ending of Boyz n the Hood: either they don't know, don't show or just don't care about what's going on in... legislation. I think there are a lot of people who just want to put in their 8 hours and go home. If policy changes, so what--job security. That and politics doesn't have a great reputation.

You've got a lot of interesting comments from this post, Ann. I agree with both Paul and Jim's comments. I don't think that pro-employer legislation has to be (or necessarily is) anti-employee. With 25 years of HR background, I've found that when you sort through all of the noise and act based upon your best instincts to manage HR issues, it works out. You gain the trust of both your employees and your managers.

I do believe that a kind of "Catch-22" is at hand here though, in that as a free country we have the right (and priviledge) of expressing our opinion and casting our vote. However, given how the political winds are blowing at any given time, pro-employer legislation will or won't be supported by the current administration. So my point is the frustration factor, and that's the flip side of the catch-22 rights and liberties that we enjoy. Sometimes it doesn't feel like you're making much of a difference acting all by yourself. That's how W@W and SHRM could each collectively make a much bigger impact through rallying their membership.

Great discussion everyone - thanks for weighing in here. This has been an enlightening conversation for me, and hopefully also for the readers who are following along. Just a couple of takeaways...

1) Whether or not we should, we do depend on our professional associations to be our voice in this arena. That, then, makes it incumbent on them to either act in that capacity or clearly manage member expectations so that we understand where their responsibility ends and ours begins in this regard.

2) With the volatility and sensitivity surrounding political discourse, some of us may be hesitant to throw ourselves into the fray. Luckily, there are both high visibility and low visibility (e.g., a private letter to your Congressional rep) ways to have an impact.

3) Like so many other aspects of life, we may find a form of the 20/80 rule at work here. The 20% of us who are motivated to do the hard work of getting educated and the tough/sometimes scary work of advocating a particular position are going to do so on behalf of the rest of the profession. By abdicating this responsibility, I guess the rest of us also give up the right to complain about where that 20% take us.

4) Having said all that, life is busy and work is hard, and certainly many of us struggle just to keep our heads above water daily as it is, let alone finding and devoting the time to public policy impact. I get that, I do.

5) Who needs professional associations when we have Kris Dunn? (Sorry, couldn't resist ....)

I will throw my two-cents worth in here. Many people see HR's role as employee advocate. And that is one of the many roles of HR. My take in my career has always been I advocate best for employees who are still working. If there is a piece of legislation or an activity that is going to endanger the well being of the company and that will cost them their jobs I am certainly not going to remain silent on that issue. I see myself as a business manager, for the company, who deals in people. I help both of those parties best by making sure people have jobs, get paid, and are treated fairly in order to be as productive as possible in order to make money for the company and themselves. If the company goes out of business because we let bad legislation or union activity occur then we have not done our job.

I have not had any problem explaining that #1, the company pays the paycheck. #2 We both work for the company. #3 we both need to make sure the best job is done, #4 companies are best served by employees who are happy with their situation and are thus productive.

As an HR professional, I have no problem voicing my opinion against so-called pro- employee or pro-employer legislation that has the potential to negatively impact business and I am very concerned about what I am seeing in both areas. Acting in my role as HR management, I do not consider myself to be either an employee or employer advocate. I am the catalyst the attempts to reconcile the needs of both groups for an outcome that benefits both. In a recent meeting involving all employees, I presented the reality that only a successful company, operating efficiently, meeting customer needs and making money can employ people and reward its employees for their contributions and further that the company's success is directly related to their diligence. I work in a "knowledge" business - Biotech.

Mike and JoAnn:

I like both of your pragmatic, reality-based takes on the question. Thanks for sharing them here!

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About The Author

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    Compensation consultant Ann Bares is the Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group. Ann has more than 20 years of experience consulting with organizations in the areas of compensation and performance management.

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