Human Resources and Christian Values
Can Christian values help HR influence culture and make organisations good places to work in? By Dr Clive Morton OBE
The whole idea of the human resource function originally came from 'the welfare at work' movement some 100 years ago, with many of its leaders Christian believers. Now it has 'come of age' and been codified, many aspects enshrined in law, seen as good practice and embraced by management, trade unions and governance experts.
So why for those in the workplace is the experience of HR sometimes negative and at odds with the perceived high hopes of such a worthy profession?
I hear stories of unfeeling application of a rule book with the mentality that goes along with it; of employees feeling manipulated and defenceless against hierarchy. Of examples of bullying not prevented by HR. Of whistleblowers subject to gagging clauses and discriminated against in job applications. Of internal politics that undermine confidence.
Fortunately these are exceptions, but no matter how infrequent, incidents such as these question the values currently underpinning some HR functions.
But can these ills be fairly placed at the door of HR? Evidence suggests that the source of such behaviours is 'the culture' that is allowed to develop in organisations. Cultures that permit or even encourage bullying on the grounds of 'performance management' are often associated with target measures that are seen by 'the top' as vital to the organisation. Such cultures create fear and undermine trust, which apart from leaving employees feeling bruised and marginalised, actually undermine the viability of enterprises by reducing productivity and collaboration causing a downward spiral.
Can Christian values help HR influence culture and make organisations good places to work in? Without a doubt. Jesus trained, encouraged and gave opportunities to his disciples to develop, and apart from defining the core commandments, I can't remember a rule book or sets of targets being waved around.
Hierarchy was not much in evidence with the ultimate 'servant leader' (Mark 10 v 42-45). Treatment of equality, dignity and embracing the disabled, the oppressed and despised foreigners was much in evidence.
So, in organisations where HR is seen in a negative light, or the workplace experience of employees is miserable, why not ask HR to return to the Christian beliefs of many of the founders of the 'welfare at work' movement and model the culture on Christ's teaching?
Elements of such policy would be open, transparent communication, giving dignity to employees, encouraging personal growth, no tolerance of bullying, and listening and defending the whistleblower. A 'no blame' culture based on trust and a desire to learn from mistakes. Also, I dare to think Jesus would be in favour of paying the 'living wage'!
With these Christian values not only will employees enjoy being at work, but the enterprise could thrive and become sustainable for everybody's benefit!
(For successful examples of such policies see Becoming World Class Morton. C. pub Macmillan, and By the Skin of Our Teeth Morton. C. pub MUP)
Dr Clive Morton OBE is a former civil engineer and Human Resources director, and is currently an Associate Professor at Middlesex University Business School. A member at Park Road Baptist Church, Peterborough, he also runs retreats in Italy with his wife, Florence. www.umbrianretreats.com