The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Small Victories – It’s Why I Do What I Do

This blog post was contributed by John Martin, associate director of client services at Princeton University and chair and treasurer of the CUPA-HR Eastern Region board of directors.

I recently did some training for one of my client groups on campus and as we were preparing to begin, I heard one of the employees say to another, “So who is this Martin guy?” The other responded, “He’s in HR … but he’s not an a-hole.”

I thought, “How wonderful … after all these years, I’m finally validated!”

Isn’t it amazing how people perceive our work and our chosen profession? We’ve been hated by CEOs in Fast Company magazine, Forbes wanted to fire us, and Salon said that HR doesn’t give a damn. Consultants are constantly saying we should be outsourced, that we are an expense and not a revenue generator. And think of how we’ve been portrayed in movies and pop culture – as inept, uncaring or just plain goofy, from the two Bobs in “Office Space” to poor Toby in “The Office” and George Clooney’s cold and manipulative character Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air.” If you are a “Person of Interest” fan like I am, you know the corrupt cops and politicians were code-named HR.

So there’s all this negativity swirling around us and there we are in our offices, getting yelled at by employees for siding with management or ragged on by senior managers for always taking the employee’s point of view. We find ourselves dealing with countless problems and issues on the regular and trying (sometimes desperately) to keep our heads above water, all while dealing with 100+ e-mails a day and six hours of meetings (which we may or may not know what they’re actually about/what purpose they serve or what homework we’ll walk away with). And as you well know from reading the CUPA-HR eNews and alerts from our government relations team, our own government is drowning us in alphabet soup (Title IX, ACA, NLRB, FLSA).

You finally say, “Enough!” and go for a walk on campus (probably on your way to one of those meetings). But once outside, you feel that vibe. You feel the energy of students heading to class, you see professors looking at their textbooks or laptops one more time as they walk into their classroom building, you give a wave to staff members you know. And then it happens – that one event that reminds you why you are here. I call them small victories.

It’s the staff member who comes up to you and says “thank you” for helping with her leave of absence questions. It’s the senior leader who tells you that he was glad he followed your advice because his employee is doing much better now. It’s the dean you’ve been trying to meet with who tells you she is looking forward to working with you. Or it’s the colleague who lets you know how much he appreciated your coaching in preparing for a particularly difficult conversation.

So whether big victories or small, hopefully they give you, like they do me, some balance against all you are dealing with and bring you back to why you chose to be in human resources in the first place.

Don’t let anyone convince you that we should be outsourced, blown up, hated or fired. HR should be encouraged, validated, appreciated and celebrated, because what we do makes an impact EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.