On January 4, 2018, well known author, speaker, and HR professor Dave Ulrich tweeted: “In a world of increased uncertainty and change, aspiring #HR professionals are emotional first responders who help organizations and people not only survive, but thrive.”
According to Merriam-Webster the definition of a first responder is a person (such as a police officer or an EMT) who is among those responsible for going immediately to the scene of an accident or emergency to provide assistance.
So, an emotional first responder is a person who is responsible for assisting a person’s emotional well-being.
As an HR Pro for decades, I related to what he said because I often found myself in this role. It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of us in HR often feel like we’re also serving as psychologists and social workers. I am a firm believer in Human Resources assuming a place in the organization that enables its practitioners to relate to employees as people rather than disposable assets. Employees endure a wide range of emotionally charged situations that may or not may not be related to work. Either way, it is our responsibility as leaders and HR professionals to help them navigate through these emotions. We must cultivate both a sense of fundamental compassion and decency, and the ability to minimize the impact of difficult individual stressors on others in the workplace.
I was the emotional first responder in my workplace during the 9/11 event. I was with an aviation company at the time, so the sense of shock and dismay was particularly palpable. I gave my staff time off and I went to work to contact our employees and
I was the emotional first responder when one our staff called in to our receptionist threatening suicide.
I was the emotional first responder when a harassment claim/discrimination claims hit my desk, and when I was tasked to fire a single mother on Christmas Eve (a separate blog on draft for this)
The #MeToo movement taught us that sexual harassment and other discrimination affected many workplaces. At the very least, HR should be the emotional first responder. If only courageous practitioners had provided emotional support instead of financial payoffs to the victims of perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, there would have been less victims and perhaps criminal investigations could have been filed in a timely manner for those who were sexually assaulted. If they were worried about public relations, the damage to the organization’s brand will be less severe than they are now.
During the hurricanes of 2017, HR pros served as emotional first responders – helping and reassuring employees of their jobs, providing timely paychecks, and helping employees access resources within their communities.
HR is already the procedural first responder when it comes to worker’s compensation claim, disability claim, leave of absence, or bereavement. Serving as the emotional first responder in the face of such events should come naturally to us, given the potential effects on employees’ mental and emotional health.
Psychologist Guy Winch identified society’s expectation that we should “get over” psychological wounds, despite that fact that emotional injuries can be just as crippling as physical ones. We need to learn how to practice emotional first aid. Here are 7 ways to do so: https://ideas.ted.com/7-ways-to-practice-emotional-first-aid/.
What I have learned from HR Leaders like Dave Ulrich, Mark Crowley (author of “Lead from the Heart”, and Steven Browne (author of “HR on Purpose”), when we care about the emotional well-being of our employees and not just maximizing profits, we can help prevent burn out, minimize job stress, and create an organizational culture that cares about people. When employees feel that the company cares about them, they will reciprocate with hard work and loyalty. What makes best employers is not who pays the most, but who cares the most. If you look at who made best employers year in and year out, it’s about who provided the best benefits and perks like flexibility, healthcare, paid time off, professional/personal development, etc. To learn more about these HR Gurus follow them on Twitter:
PS. This blog is dedicated to my first HR Mentor, Joan A. Hukari, SPHR (picture on the left). Sadly, she passed on January 13, 2007. She was my emotional first responder when I was a HR novice. She mentored me, sent me to HR workshops and very forgiving when I made mistakes and had my back when upper management tried to throw me under the bus. She inspired me to get my college education and gave me flexibility (before it was even a thing when I had difficulty with my first pregnancy. The benefits she put together for our organization were the richest I know, even in this day and age. I am forever thankful for her guidance and her big heart for the employees she worked with. It wasn’t a surprise to me that at her memorial, there were several HR practitioners who credited her for being their mentor. She was the one who encouraged me to be part of #SHRM.