Let’s Put Humanity Back Into HR

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“Never forget the human in human resources: “The best leaders balance a passion for the business with a compassion for people.” – Jack Welch

A woman suddenly can’t log into her company computer. She notices someone else is also logged in under her name. She reports this to her HR person who brushes it off as a technical glitch. The next day she is asked to appear in the HR person’s office, where, after 22 years of service she is fired on flimsy grounds (failing to report a tardy employee). No two-week notice is given. Human Resources?

And even now, after two full months of COVID regulations well communicated by the state and local governments, HR forums are filled with HR people and business owners who continue to explore ways to skirt compensating employees under the CARES Act and Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

“Our company owners aren’t thrilled on paying for 2 weeks of sick leave (48 hours total) so they are being resistant towards the 2 weeks paid sick leave. Can I have him [the employee] use 1 week of PTO and then we pay the 2nd week of leave? I didn’t know if this was possible. We are a small company of under 50 so we are just trying to avoid losing money where we can.”

Some of these people are so inexperienced and untrained that they are asked to invent ways to avoid the rules, looking for answers to questions that should be referred to legal counsel:

1. “[Could we] ask executives making over xx $ amount to take a cut in pay – say 10%.

2. If so what documentation/authorization do you need?

3. Does this need to be communicated to all staff?”

The confusion continues with unfair practices questions, that are dictated by common sense: “A friend’s sister was fired from her employer in Ohio for refusing to wear a Trump 2020 face mask. I know we’re an at will state but can they legally do that?” And this one:  “An employee had an anaphylactic reaction to poison ivy today. If their job may cause them to come in contact with this frequently, is that grounds to disqualify them for that job?”

Also, humanity seems lacking in helping employees take care of loved ones and themselves recover from COVID. “Hi, I am looking for a termination letter to send to an employee that has exhausted FMLA…Do you have anything I can use?” No mention of other leave the employee may be entitled to. It’s easier to just get rid of him.

Simple Google searches result in scads of stories of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of Human Resources. One tale involves an HR intern shadowing the HR Director on termination meetings. At every termination session, the HR Director coldly recited the same sentence: “By the way, if you’re planning to sue us, good luck because we have the best outside counsel in Los Angeles.” The article goes on to say that the author realized the HR Director didn’t even hear herself after a while. The words were automatic and became a standardized part of the termination process. This Human Resources Director had obviously lost touch with her own sense of humanity and allowed herself to denigrate the person, already vulnerable.

Human Resources needs to move beyond being the extended arm of CEOs and business owners. They need to be more effective and productive than simply echoing to employees what management wants. Today’s business needs to acknowledge that until robots take over every human task, companies are comprised of people, human beings with thoughts, feelings and opinions. Yet, we still forget that a company, together with its people, is working toward a common goal. So reflective of today’s business climate, where quarterly results make or break a career. Regrettably, also reflective of the callousness of our divisive society today. Humans, for all of our faults, still crave respect, integrity, dignity and love. Putting humanity back into Human Resources is built upon trust. It requires constant reassessment, flexibility and overcommunications. But, isn’t it worth it? Can we cultivate the right attitude toward each other in business and in our everyday lives?

Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP

147 Francis Horn Drive, Kingston, RI, 02881


Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, and a Certified EQi-2.0 and EQ360 Practitioner.

Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth. In addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping good leaders get even better through positive behavior change.