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The Important Work of HR Professionals and the Skills to Do It

A recent study by the Rand Corporation, Harvard Medical School, and University of California Los Angeles found that almost 20% of workers in the U.S. find their workplace hostile or threatening. The study refers to this finding as “disturbingly high” and I have to agree. My take from this study is that the need for good work by HR professionals has never been more important. So, what skills are needed for HR professionals to succeed in this modern workplace?

If I could design the perfect HR professional, it would be an individual with a journalism degree who has taught school and can speak at least two languages. Human relations functions for employers are really about communication and education. All the training an HR professional receives on the management of the modern workforce means little if that HR professional cannot communicate that information effectively. One of the primary directives for an effective HR professional is to communicate basic principles of human management and the human resources culture of the employer to the supervisors, who, while technically skilled and leadership oriented, often are not trained communicators. Accordingly, the communications skills taught in journalism school, both written and verbal, would serve an HR manager well.

Similarly, the learned skill of teaching concepts is likely to be of use. Communicating with a group of busy supervisors is no easy thing. If someone has spent some time in a classroom and has been required to create a lesson plan, execute that lesson plan, and control a crowd of possibly distracted children or teenagers, that person has the skills to do the training required of HR managers. Having had experience in a real classroom setting would greatly benefit any aspiring HR professional.

Finally, the skill of being able to think in a different language helps sensitize an individual to understanding the impact of language and culture as it applies in today’s workplace. It is not really important what that second language is, but seeing the world through another culture’s language is a great way to gain the cultural sensitivity necessary to be an effective HR representative.

Skills of communication, teaching, and language comprehension are to me the most important skills of any HR professional. I know when I review a resume of a law student who is interested in becoming an employment lawyer, these are the same skills I hope to find on that resume. I know many excellent employment lawyers and HR professionals who are neither journalism majors or ex-teachers, but they have usually been given opportunities to obtain the communication and teaching skills that this background brings. In the HR world, companies should look for opportunities to provide these skills through additional training and opportunities for HR professionals to gain experience in communications, education, and language comprehension. With distressing numbers of employees feeling harassed or threatened at work, it is more important than ever that HR professionals have the proper skills to be best prepared for success in the modern workplace.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.