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EDITOR'S BLOG
Oct 20, 2014

'It's just doing its job'

A voice in the night reminded me of why HR needs more respect
    

By Todd Humber

I woke up with a start this morning at 4:11 a.m.

I had heard a strange sound, a sort of voice off in the distance — one of those middle-of-the-night noises that you can’t quite figure out if it was part of a dream or something that actually happened.

But my wife was woken by it too, so I knew it wasn’t part of a lingering dream. We listened in silence to see if the apparition would speak again. It did.

Through the house, the words echoed:

“Caution. Low Battery.” And then the same words repeated in French.

Ah, the damn smoke detector.

I cursed it for waking me up, then stumbled out of bed to obligatorily change the batteries. But the muttered under-the-breath expletives changed to appreciation as I fully woke up. That’s because my grandfather’s voice popped into my head as I recalled a story he told me.

My grandpa had a smoke detector placed just outside his kitchen. It was always going off. It wasn’t Christmas or Thanksgiving at his house if it didn’t start chirping at some point. Those are the strongest memories I have of my grandparents and the holidays — excessively wrapped presents under the tree, the smell of roast turkey in the air… and the wailing of the smoke detector as dinner neared. (It was a sign that dinner was surely almost ready, an unconventional dinner bell.)

Fed up, my grandfather approached a firefighter at the mall to voice his displeasure and ask what he could do. The local fire department had set up a booth to remind people to install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. The firefighter’s response was simple: “There’s nothing to do. It’s just doing its job.”

My grandfather never complained about the smoke alarm again. In fact, he liked to retell that story when it went off.

We all have annoyances in our lives, both at work and home, from people and things that are “just doing their jobs.”

HR professionals in particular fall into this category. Many managers and executives see them as the annoying fire alarm that’s always going off in the office.

“You can’t just fire Bob because you don’t like him. We’ll get sued, and have to pay a huge sum.”

“We have to comply with this new standard. If we don’t, we could get fined.”

“You can’t turn a blind eye to that… you have to intervene… you can’t ask that question…”

The list goes on and on and on.

But instead of complaining, employers should be thankful for the chirping coming from the HR department.

After I changed the batteries in all the detectors in the house, I stumbled back to bed. I was no longer annoyed at the alarm for waking me. Instead, I was grateful that it was doing its job — quietly protecting my family.

I just wish it could have told me around 7 p.m. that the batteries were going, rather than waiting until the middle of the night.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.

    
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