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National Association of Counties * Washington, D.C.           Vol. 31, No. 16 * August 23, 1999

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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

It is a tradition in the Rosenberg family to watch the old Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” at least one a year. This is the movie in which a person works very hard to make a difference in the lives of others, but comes to question his own value and worth as a person.

He is given the gift of being able to see what the world would be like had he never existed.

In any organization, there is a similar struggle periodically in which HR professionals wonder if they make a difference at all.

They, at times, wonder about whether their colleagues understand how hard they work or how much they care. With that background in mind, let’s ask “Clarence, the HR angel” to give us a glimpse of what local government might be like without HR.

Imagine a world in which managers are appointed based on whom they know, not whether they can do the job. Imagine an agency in which employees are untrained and which has no protections in matters of workplace equity, such as unlawful discrimination.

The agency without HR would be very vulnerable to workplace violence and to lawsuits alleging poor behavior or poor performance. The culture of the organization would be far less people friendly. Employees would have much less communication within the agency.

Out of a lack of communication would come a lack of understanding and that would give rise to rumors and much greater workplace stress, union organizing, absenteeism and more. By the way, there would be no Employee Assistance Programs around for getting help to employees and then, families when they need it most. That would lead to further serious workplace trouble.

Top management would make decisions without strategic input from HR about the human effects of organizational change, outsourcing, reductions in force. These decisions, poorly made and lacking insight, would only further harm the morale and productivity of the organization.

Employee transactions, such as separations, promotions, discipline, would be handled ad hoc and one at a time. There would be no data or trend analysis nor would the organization have a forward observer who would be looking over the horizon at changes in the law or economy. This, in turn, would lead to higher costs for benefits – and fewer of them.

Ask yourself whether or not HR makes a positive difference. All those who prefer to work in the agency Clarence has just shown us, please say “aye,” All opposed? Take an HR professional out to lunch and occasionally say, “Thank you.”

Best wishes and let me know if I can help.

Best Wishes,
The HR Doctor
e-mail at

(If you have questions for the "HR Doctor," e-mail him at Rosenberg is the Human Resources director for Broward County, Fla.)


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