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A Day in the Life of HR1999

June 1, 1999
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Quick—which of these examples reflect HR as it really is: a) The CEO s inquiry about how pending collective bargaining agreements can be used to forward organizational goals; b) Laying off 40 people on Friday and needing to fill 60 jobs the following Monday; c) Binders for line managers that offer detailed guidance about performance reviews, training programs, recognition and more; d) The job applicant who explains that the government has put radio transmitters in her teeth; or e) A line of 80 people outside the HR department because their paychecks were incorrect.

It s a trick question, really—the answer is "all of the above." In fact, we might have chosen any five of the thousands of anecdotes that were shared in response to our annual survey, "A Day in the Life of HR," to make the same point: HR is part strategic thinking and part consulting, some administrative tasks and some crisis management. Those results are hardly surprising to even the most casual observer of HR. But it s one thing to think about these concepts in the abstract, and quite another to read anecdotes that bring them vividly to life.

Here s what the anecdotes and other survey data tell us: Business is more demanding than ever. Meeting those demands is taking an ever-greater toll on people. And HR—which must grapple with both realities and must often find a way to balance the demands that each reality poses—is today s toughest corporate job.

If you doubt it, spend a day with Kathy Davis. She s a fictional character, but the circumstances and events in Kathy s story are all drawn directly from the nearly 850 responses to the "Day in the Life of HR" survey. The "typical" Monday that Kathy faces after returning from her much-deserved vacation is exaggerated for dramatic effect and humor, but it offers an accurate picture of the breadth of HR s responsibilities and the challenges of the job.

If you still doubt that HR is today s toughest corporate job, spend the day with the six human resources professionals who allowed our writers to shadow them for a day. They work in organizations as disparate as E! Entertainment, Dole Foods, AirTouch and the United Nations. If Kathy s story shows the commonalities that characterize HR, these portraits make it clear that HR also is very much shaped by specific business goals and corporate values. The professionals we followed show passion, enthusiasm and commitment. HR may be challenging, but it also is hugely rewarding.

Last, but not least, we invite you to laugh and learn, to cry and cringe. Hundreds of you were willing to confess the biggest mistakes of your careers, to point fingers at clueless employees and CEOs, and to share memorable tales form the trenches. The best anecdotes are outlined throughout the report. Also see the results of the survey in this month s Workforce Extra.

This "Day in the Life of HR" special report is the first in a series of articles that will explore the human resources function at the end of the 20th century. In August, look for the results of The Official End-of-the-Millennium State-of-HR survey. The project, sponsored by Scantron, captures HR s attitudes about the profession, employees, corporate leadership and more.

In the meantime, we hope you find "A Day in the Life of HR" a day to remember.

Workforce, June 1999, Vol. 78, No. 6, pp. 32-33.

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