Human Resources – Unsung Heroes!

February 11, 2009 at 7:57 pm 3 comments

By Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC, home of


When people ask me what I do,  I like to tell them that I am an “Executive Search Consultant,” but I always then clarify that with, “you know, a headhunter.”   I am not a Human Resources professional, but I interact with them on a regular basis, and based upon those interactions I thought I could offer up some different suggestions that Human Resources professionals could be doing during these slow times.  Now, I do have a couple of  good ideas, but I have decided to hold off on those ideas for now as  a friend of a friend set me straight about what many Human Resources professionals within the civil engineering industry are going through right now, and it is a topic that is worth mentioning.

The economy has slowed down, but you have not…many of you are still working 50-60 hours week, but now you are experiencing the dark side of human resources where the best skill sets you have are guts and compassion.  Downsizing, layoffs, RIF, whatever you want to call it, it is not a pleasurable experience, no matter which side of the desk you may be on.   I speak here not through experience, but through the account of this process from a Human Resources professional in our industry.  

Preparing for layoffs is grueling:

  • Compiling staff review documentation from managers;
  • Working with managers in identifying who will be laid off ; 
  • Coaching those managers as to how to best approach the looming conversation while knowing that no coaching can really ever fully prepare someone for what it’s like to let a colleague go;
  •  Organizing and implementing severance programs; 
  • Administering COBRA; 
  • Conducting outplacement assistance; 
  • Fending off lawsuits; 
  • Taking on the tasks of those in your department who were recently let go; 
  • Much more that I am surely missing.

Maybe the most difficult duty you have right now though,  is having to sit down across the desk from a mom or a dad, from a single parent, from an employee whose spouse just lost their job a week ago, from a parent with a sick child or a child who is just getting ready to go off to college, from a young woman who just put a down payment on her first home, or from a friend, and telling them that they are being laid off. ..and then dealing with roller coaster of emotions that are felt from that employee, their family, from yourself,  from their supervisor and from their friends who still work there.  

This is not what you signed up for, but there is no better trained or more qualified  person in your organization to deal with the current situation than you:

  • You have the guts to stick to the orders that you were given as opposed to packing up your desk and bailing;
  • You have the compassion to empathize with these folks; 
  • You have the ability to absorb the verbal abuse that is unleashed on you; 
  • And you have the know-how and the desire to do EVERYTHING in your power to make sure that these folks are granted their severance, that they are provided everything they need to know about applying for COBRA, that they know who to call to roll over their 401K into what you hope to be  a new 401K in the very near future, and to coach and to help these individuals find new employment.  

Especially during these tumultuous times, the Human Resources professionals are clearly the unsung heroes whose compassion, resiliency, hard work and dedication are the rock…waitthe mountain…that everyone leans upon.

The great thing about being in America is that we are resilient.  We have the ability to dig down DEEP and to be strong, to stand tall, to fight tooth and nail, and to land on two feet.  It is not an easy thing to be a part of, on either side of that desk, but the smoke will eventually clear and most people will be a better person for it.  



civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering industry blog :: civil engineering discussions


Entry filed under: Headhunters, Recruiting, The Workplace, Uncategorized. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the urban recruiter  |  August 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    As a veteran recruiter (headhunter!) with a large temporary workforce – you can become immune to the plight of HR Managers during these trying times. As recruiters for temporary workers, 50% or our job is letting a temp go when a booking comes to end. It is part and parcel of what recruiters do on a daily basis.

    This article serves to remind us of the impact of ending a job and all its ramifications. It will serve our team to be more humanitarian. Lets hope that HR teams in general learn through these episodes and perhaps in future not be so quick or abrupt when letting temporary staff go, last thing on a Friday night when many agencies cannot get them started again on a Monday?

  • 2. Larry Courtney  |  February 23, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Great blog and unfortunately, very timely. There is no question these are difficult times and difficult actions must be taken … actions which affect friends, co-workers and just good decent people who deserve better. While we must all, peers and supervisors alike, be sensitive to a comrade who has been laid off, probably the best thing we can give them is direction and getting them focused on future employment. Help them see that now their focus needs to be on the future and what they can do to control it, and not focus on the past. Questioning the past can only lead to disappointment and resentment.

    All types of emotions can arise in a person as a result of a layoff, but by far the two that must be dealt with by the company is the “why me” and the “fear.” There is probably no explanation sufficient to answer the question of “why me?”, although management must be prepared to do so. To most people “why me” is a bevy of issues, contributions they have made and past performance that can not easily be directly addressed. The key is to focus the person on where they go from here, even to the point of proving them with a suggested outline of what actions might be best to take and when they should be take them. While these activities may be obvious to the employed, fear, shock and uncertainty about the future can quickly cloud rational linear thought processes. Certainly firms with outplacement services have this issue well covered, but those who don’t can help newly laid off staff by helping them form a plan of action for themselves. As we all know, the sooner a laid off employee finds new work, the better off everyone is.

  • 3. Lara Shepherd  |  February 14, 2009 at 3:39 am

    WOW! What a blog…you hit it right on the mark. Here’s to those of us still getting up every day, chin up, hope in our hearts, being there for those who have been chosen to go, and being there for those who are still remaining.

    These are some of the best words and descriptions, telling it like it is. For those of us with a front row seat, I don”t think we could have written it better ourselves. I chose my career to be in HR b/c I wanted to be there for people. And I hope that each person that has been a colleague of mine, feels that they were supported by me. HR isn’t just orientation and enrolling EEs in benefits. It runs much deeper, and your comments hit some of the depth right on the nose.


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