The Playground Dynamics of HR

For a variety of reasons – none of them important – I found myself thinking about what the playground might look like if we all took recess at work. The marketing team would surely be painting the earth with chalk. The customer facing and/or shop floor employees would be building something in the sandbox, the IT and/or engineering team would be telling them how to build it, and the accounting/finance team would be relentless in trying to raze whatever it was they were building. The executive team would be huddled in a corner whispering while their admins fluttered about sharing their secrets with anyone who would listen. The sales team would probably be sneaking a smoke or off chasing the girls/boys. And the HR team…well, we’d be standing smack dab in the middle of the playground trying to figure out who we should go play with. And we’d be wrought with angst over the gravity of this decision:

  • “What can I do without getting into trouble?”
  • “Who really needs my attention more right now? Ya know, I really shouldn’t play favorites…I’ll just stay right here.”
  • “I’ve always wanted to play with Tom, but I really shouldn’t unless he invites me to.”
  • “Wow, no one is fighting, kicking, or screaming. No need for me here.”
  • “I’ll never understand that game Dick is playing…and no use trying.”
  • “Oh my, Harry really shouldn’t be doing that…I’ll need to talk to him about that…later.”

To some extent, these are things every kid wrestles with on the playground. But HR is so damn focused on workplace dynamics that it cripples us sometimes. We are painfully astute when it comes to deciphering the various workplace levers – the pulls and pushes. But rarely are we the ones actually doing the pulling or pushing. We preserve our role as the organization’s agent by not (fully) engaging in its games. We fail to see ourselves as an active (and vital) participant so we end up playing with no one. And who the hell wants someone like that on their playground?

Photo Credit: EarthtoDave

4 Responses to The Playground Dynamics of HR
  1. Richard Sherman
    September 21, 2010 | 6:22 pm

    Olly, olly oxen free*! Right on – this is something that I have smacked into face first and come up with a mouthful of sand time and again. I remember at one organization, I turned a corner and someone had just finished swearing a blue-streak. They turned bright red and stammered that they wouldn’t have said that if they knew I was there. Jeez o pete. I told them that I am not their priest, grandmother, or some delicate wilting orchid, I’m here to help people do the best work of their lives, not to monitor their swearing.

    We have the often self-imposed mandate to “keep the peace” but when we either don’t allow ourselves to immerse into the playground or aren’t supported when we dive into the pool…that’s a whole other topic…we become the outsiders that no one wants to play with. And goodness knows, we could all use more play time than we have now.

    Good stuff, bud! Thanks!

    *here’s the wikipedia link for that phrase if you were curious, like I was:

  2. Charlie
    September 21, 2010 | 6:59 pm

    @Richard – love the comment. and you’re right, this topic has tentacles that reach all over the place. thanks for the enlightenment on “olly olly oxen free.” used it all the time growing up, but had no appreciation for why the heck i was using it. peace.

  3. Robin Schooling
    September 24, 2010 | 12:18 pm

    Did you have the teachers at your school who hated getting recess duty? I mean, they just despised it. So they would huddle against the side of the building smoking (yes – I’m old) and talking about the kids. The teachers were the HR department of my grade school playground. Removed, apart, keeping an eye on the antics. Making mental notes of which kids to talk to after recess.

    Wow oh wow – let’s change that as a professional dynamic.

  4. Gina
    October 1, 2010 | 10:35 am

    This is a crack up! What an interesting perspective. We certainly do have the feeling that we are the watchful eye over all other departments. Hard to have fun ourselves when we have to be responsible for making sure everyone else is doing what they are supposed to.

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