How you could be a gatekeeper of meaningful work

When considering career opportunities, human resources (HR) might not be your first port of call. Historically, the profession has been portrayed as stuffy and boring, associated with people in beige cardigans with a mission to quell workplace fun and hand out tax forms. While you could be forgiven for holding this perception, you’d also be dead wrong.

You can embody meaningful work

The HR profession is one brimming with purpose and meaning; a job where you can really add value. And that’s what most of us want from our jobs.

Fifty-six per cent of workers believe that having purpose at work is more important than their salaries and seventy per cent say they’d be happier if they felt their work was having a positive impact, according to new research commissioned by Rise, a workplace meaning and happiness consultancy.

Recruiting employees, onboarding them into organisations, and focusing on a company’s culture means HR professionals not only get to help other people’s jobs be meaningful, they can derive personal meaning from doing so, a classic win-win scenario. To add in a third “win”, they get to do so in exchange for a generous salary; a truly rewarding and rare opportunity.

Perhaps this is why HR is increasingly seen as one of the best jobs to work in, ranking in the top 5 of 50 professions in America, according to online job review site Glassdoor.

You can be on the edge of change

With an onslaught of unethical practices flooding in from some of the nation’s biggest corporate players, HR’s role is more important than ever before.They’re not just rebuilding workplace cultures, they’re re-shaping them.

“HR leads culture,” says Petrina Coventry, professor of ethics at the University of Adelaide. “If you want an ethical culture you must know what drives ethics and know what higher-order thinking and culture is.”

However, HR is not all paper pushing and policing bad behaviour. Those working in the profession are starting to spend less time on the small percentage of disgruntled employees and are instead tackling the more exciting issues.

They’re thinking about the best ways to integrate technologies at work, they’re keeping organisations afloat, and they’re working with executive teams to challenge tired workplace traditions that no longer suit the modern employee.

While most jobs focus on a specific aspect of an organisation HR touches on each part of a business that involves people, which is every part really.

You can play to your best features

So what does it take to work in the world of HR? According to the HR Godfather himself, Dave Ulrich, professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, “HR professionals are caregivers who put aside their personal emotional demands to offer support to others facing professional and personal disruptions. [They are] the frontline in helping individuals understand and manage the inevitable challenges of change”.

Renowned business thinker Charles Handy agrees. Speaking at this year’s Australian HR Institute National Convention, Handy tasked the hundreds in the room with the task of being the “guardians of humankind”.

If that seems like a substantial request to you, maybe you’re just starting to get how important HR has the opportunity to be. This isn’t just for the workforce of today, but for those primed to step into the digitised workplace of the future. Or as Handy put it: “who else will make sure that the humans prevail over technology?”

If you’re interested in caring for people’s physical health, you might look into the medical profession. If you want to help shape the minds of the future, you might consider teaching. But if you’d like to play a part in moulding the workplaces of the future, and help people to view work as more than just a means to an end, then a career in HR could be your calling.

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