Yes, you read that right. I spent two years of my career in the human resources department, and it was a game changer.
I know, it’s a little unconventional, but let me be honest with you when I say this: I think everyone should experience being in HR the same way I feel that everyone should experience some retail/restaurant/customer service at least once in their life. In my previous role as a Sr. Graphic Designer, Internal Communications, I was often given the most confused expression when I shared with folks that I lived in the Human Resources department. Along with confused expression usually came with the statement “Oh, so you’re like a company cop.”
Mm, no? I can see how one can believe HR could be “the police” based on common stigmas, but I’m here to debunk that theory and share what it means to be a designer in an unconventional space.
The top 3 things I learned about being in HR:
1. Human Resources is no joke.
Before I joined HR, I used to be one of those employees that didn’t quite understand the complexity that is running a company and would always scoff and make sarcastic remarks [Example] “Ugh, HR just needs to get it together, how can they POSSIBLY mess up my benefits!? Don’t they understand how important my health is to me?!” I would punch past me knowing what I know now. HR is no joke. The role I played was more around engagement and communication, but I would often find myself working with our Operations Team, Talent Acquisition, Business Partners, and even some of our executives. It…B L E W…my mind just how many moving parts there were (and I’m so confident that there were so many more moving parts that I never got to see.) Open enrollment? Annual performance reviews? Payroll? Don’t take those things for granted; it takes a village Y'all.
2. I became a better listener.
A considerable part of my role was to listen to the organization. These can vary from getting feedback on our programs to hearing from my peers about getting around a challenge they had. This helped me become a proactive listener and create a support response vs. shift response. In turn, this also made me a better person for receiving feedback. Instead of listening to respond, I looked to understand. (Although, I’ll be the first to admit that this is still a work in progress.) Hearing someone vs. understanding them are two different things, and I am grateful that I was able to exercise this muscle.
3. My communication skills got better over time.
I mean this in two different forms: Design and Verbal/Written.
Design: During my first couple of weeks, I found myself challenged with how to create excellent design work all the while making the point come across with several higher stakeholders involved. At first, I would turn my nose and say “PFFT - THEY JUST DON’T KNOW GOOD DESIGN.” Again, remember when I said I would punch past me? Yea, no different here. As my role expanded into different avenues and my audience grew larger in and out of the organization, I found myself learning that marrying important content and design didn’t mean you had to “sacrifice” good design. If anything, it helped me realize why sometimes clients want things “bigger” or “brighter,” cause at the end of the day, what good is the design if it didn’t get its point across. While the design is important (especially to us designers, trust me I get it), the story and the why is equally crucial. *BONUS* designing is waaaaay simpler when you can wrap your head around the story and as I’m writing that I’m realizing how naive that sounds coming from an early Sr. - no less, it’s true.
Written: I remember in my earlier days I would just write emails for the sake of getting all my thoughts down and sending it off unaware of how my tone can be taken or in what order I was trying to relay my message…or if I was making any sense. I’m getting anxious at just the thought of how terrible I was at writing an email. Well, lucky for me (and for anyone now receiving my emails), one of the significant benefits of being on our team was being able to see what kind of work went into an email:
What tone are we trying to convey?
What information goes first?
Does this sound too “corporate” (also, I hate that term)
Is there a call to action?
How do we get them to act?
How do we get them to engage?
Is this too long?
All these little details that I never took into account before I got into my role and made it THAT much of a difference.
Verbal: While I’m still working on this because I’m a ball filled with energy that can spew my thoughts at 100000mph, I quickly learned how to respond while being aware of my tone and what words to use and let me tell you, it changed my life.
I am a better person for it.
While this may be a unique situation because I obviously don’t know how other HR teams operate or what their philosophy is, I came out a better person after being in HR. The philosophical approach our leaders took in our team was frequently centered around:
Bringing our whole-self to any event/situation
Empowering ourselves and others to be the best we can be
Keeping each other and ourselves accountable
Holding up a mirror to ourselves and to each other
I may have paraphrased a lot of it and missed more, but in essence, those were the ones that profoundly impacted me. Before being on the team, I spent a lot of my time unaware of my actions/feelings and how unfairly (of me) ended up showing to others. It was such a fresh of breath air knowing that I was on a team that not only fostered authenticity but also gave me a safe space to learn a lot about myself, which in turn, made me a better me!
Sometimes to grow you need to get pushed out of your comfort zone.