Lucy Adams
January 24, 2023
Reading time: 10 minutes
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I once got a call from a client who wanted some advice about a tricky situation she found herself in. She told me that her boss (the HRD), the CEO, the management team and the HR team were all vehemently against doing anything differently. Moreover, she explained that the business was profitable and they had no problem recruiting and retaining great talent. So she was finding it difficult to get any traction for her ideas. She asked me what she could do about it and sadly, my rather unhelpful response was ‘why don’t you leave?’ Whilst this is an extreme case, it did get me thinking about why we often stay in roles that have passed their sell-by date and where we aren’t getting the job satisfaction we desire. When should we know that we’re beating our heads against a brick wall, and start looking for another company where our talents and energy can be put to better use?

A couple of months ago I posted the question on LinkedIn; ‘How do you know it’s time to leave your HR job?’ The response was amazing, with around 300 HR people telling me about their personal red flags that tell them it’s time to move on. I’ve tried to summarise these responses – and added a few of my own – and it seems to come down to four key signals (and one key word) that both individually and collectively mean it’s time we dust off our CV and start looking for new HR pastures.

Values clash

The first indicator that it’s time to go is when you feel that your values are being compromised. This was mentioned a lot with so many of you feeling frustrated that bad behaviour is ignored, like Laura’s comment ‘It’s time to go when you’re told to turn a blind eye to harassment / discrimination etc due to favouritism to an individual because they’re a high performer’. Or the comment by Stephen about a bullying culture being ignored because it’s ‘just the way they are’!  My own personal light bulb moment around values came when my CEO told me that my role was to be the ‘conscience’ of the business – as if his conscience could be delegated! Of course, a big part of being in HR is to challenge, but if you feel that your values are being trampled on regularly, it might be good to move on.

Not adding value

The second reason to change jobs is when you believe you are just not adding value. This was mentioned several times, with you sharing your frustrations about your HR Director’s obsession with process, or your parent company making you adhere to overly prescriptive policies. I liked how David phrased it – he said that it’s time to go when ‘you are made to enforce company rules and regulations which you know are total and utter nonsense’!  Then there was Jennifer’s annoyance that ‘you have to refer everything to a written policy rather than just having a sensible, pragmatic conversation’. But Simone won the prize for best example of not adding value when she said it’s time to go when ‘you’re having your 1000th meeting on agile transformation’! We all have that sinking feeling that we’re not adding value from time to time, but when it’s constant – it’s time to go!

When you don’t feel valued

Probably the most common frustration was a sense that we aren’t valued; that our professional expertise, our advice or the fact that we represent the people just doesn’t matter to our leaders. Angela recalled being told to ‘keep focussing on the fluffy stuff’ and Nathan said his red flag was working in an organisation where “HR is here just for advice and we can ignore that advice if we want to” only for it all to go wrong and for the business to then say “this is a mess, fix it”. And finally, and one low point I’ve experienced personally, from Chris, ‘When you are told you have to report to Finance!’ We don’t expect cards and flowers every day, but many of us clearly don’t feel valued very often, if at all. Let’s find a place that recognises the value of people – and, if we do things differently – where they value HR.

You don’t value them

And finally, the last reason we should recognise it’s time to leave our HR job is when we have stopped valuing THEM! If you feel continually irritated by your leaders, managers or employees, or if you find yourself saying things like ‘They won’t do it properly’, then maybe it’s time to look for something different. Or as Agnes put it so brilliantly, it’s time to go when ‘you’ve got no professionalism left in you to control the eye-rolls anymore’. Despite our valid frustrations with the people we work with, when we stop valuing them, respecting them or trusting that they can do better, then we’re best off finding somewhere new.

I realise that this could be a fairly negative blog, so maybe, in closing, it’s worth seeing things through a different lens – and view these comments as the basis for your next job search. Before you sign that new contract, and commit your energy and talents to that new role – are you as sure as you can be that:

  • You share their values
  • You’ll have the space and encouragement to add value
  •  They instinctively get the fact that people matter and that
  • You can respect and be proud of the work that they do

If the answer’s yes, then chances are you’ve got a great new role!

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