The Legend Of The Human Resources Crypt

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Everyone hates the HR department. This is the cavern from which your pink slip is sent, where your assessments are stored and, if you are especially unfortunate, where orders are sent out to ship you off you on a group exercise to a salmon-coloured conference center, where you will hold hands with your boss and sing inspirational songs.

And yet to rebel against the HR department is to misunderstand one's era and the deeper currents of history. Never before have so many thousands of ambitious human beings been asked to work together in such close confinement in glass towers and business parks. And so never before has there been such a need to determine how people could possibly sit together day after day in narrow plywood cubicles, manipulating data on their screens, without screaming or murdering one another.

Alain De Botton

hide captionPhilosopher Alain De Botton is the author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Vincent Starr

HR departments have had to study from scratch how we can hear our colleagues consuming lunch at desks inches from ours without giving in to the gamut of destructive passions which Freud knew are always present just beneath the surface. There is something idealistic, almost utopian, in HR departments' grander ideas: a 24 hour anti-bullying hotline or a 360 degree bi-yearly career assessment. These are the tools of an advanced civilisation taking politics to the next level. Contrived as the strategies instituted by HR people might seem, it is in fact their very artificiality which guarantees their success, for the laboured tone of away-day seminars and group feedback exercises allows workers manfully to protest that they have nothing whatsoever to learn from submitting to such disciplines. Then, like guests at a house party who at first mock their host's suggestion of a round of Pictionary, they may be surprised to find themselves, as the game gets under way, able thereby to channel their hostilities and sublimate their anger.

Home used to be associated with kindness and sympathy - and the workplace with cruelty and oppression. But there are times, on a Friday evening at 9pm, when my wife and I have said unkind regrettable things to one another, and when I have longed for there to be a 24 hour hotline to call and for someone from HR to walk in and suggest a group exercise which might get us swiftly back on the straight and narrow.

Philosopher Alain De Botton is the author of 'The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work'.

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