The HR ‘pressure sandwich’

A recent social media discussion I was involved in has for me thinking about the ‘pressure sandwich’ many HR professionals find themselves in when dealing with the myriad challenging situations they encounter daily.

On one side they have their employer, wanting a quick resolution to a problem, or perhaps wanting to get rid of someone who is a poor performer, has a patchy attendance record, long term health problems , or just an “attitude”. Managers can be impatient for quick action, perhaps understandably. An employee who is causing a problem of some kind can be draining when it comes to management time, costly in terms of pay if they are not delivering or not present at work but need to be paid anyway, and can have a negative impact on the rest of the team in terms of morale and performance. So some pressure on HR to deal with it quickly is common.

On the other side, the HR professional has their own empathy and compassion, their instinct and knowledge about ‘best practice’, the weight of the law, the opinions of fellow HR professionals and the individual themselves. They know the impact the dismissal or other action will have on the individual and have probably seen it many times before, and may want to avoid it if at all possible. They have their professional knowledge of what constitutes good practice when it comes to handling the situation in question, and short cuts may deviate from that. The HR professional will also know, or be able to seek advice about, the legal implications of quick action, in the form of potential legal claims that could be costly and difficult for the employer.

The HR professional may seek input from colleagues, internal or external, who may be happy to offer advice as to what should be done, or even to judge the mere suggestion of the quick action being lobbied for by the manager. Easy to do that from afar, but that input can weigh heavily on the HR professional involved, even with the knowledge that those offering a view are not in that position.

Coming up with a way forward to keep everyone reasonably happy and without the HR professional being blamed by either or both sides for what might be considered an unsatisfactory result is almost impossible at times.

Of course it’s not always like that. But that pressure from both sides can be tough to deal with, and in circumstances where HR people are who managers go to to offload, but it’s not appropriate to do the same, that’s a lot to absorb.

Moving to self employment can reduce both the impact and frequency of that pressure sandwich, and, whilst self employment obviously comes with its own pressures and stresses, I think it is at least part of the reason many people consider starting their own consultancy.

If you like the idea of launching your own HR consultancy, working with us is an option. Do get in touch to find out how we work and what we offer.