The rise of inhuman resources

Peter Kammerer shudders at today's tortuous recruitment process in many workplaces, too often led by human resources staff

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 10:33pm

A sure sign of old age is being able to recall the days when human resources departments didn't exist. Those times were much easier for employees: there was usually a single interview with the person needing the vacancy filled and, shortly after, an offer of work or not. The process has become more complicated with the rise and ever-expanding clout of HR. A friend hunting for the job of her dreams has found this out to her frustration.

Hong Kong's buoyant job market should have made her search easy. Each week, she sees half a dozen positions that suit her requirements of reasonable hours and pay. The applications are sent and the interview is fixed. Then begins the maddening bit - successive rounds of phone calls, written tests and face-to-face discussions.

HR people with little knowledge or understanding of the jobs on offer have often been in charge, conducting or leading the interviews and setting pay and conditions. One position, for a telephone call screener, necessitated four phone interviews and two in person over three weeks - at which time my friend had had enough and told the company she was no longer interested. There have been rude interviewers, irrelevant questions and even anger when a response appeared not to match expectations. One questioner repeatedly asked whether family commitments were more or less important than the job on offer, while another was fixated on whether the high school and university attended were of a high enough standard. All of it has left my friend with the impression that there are too many people involved in recruitment who are trying to justify their existence.

Her experience has also given her a theory: that the best companies to work for are those with the simplest application process. I can't find any research to back her belief. But I have found advice to companies from recruitment experts that HR departments should have the barest role, if any at all, in the hiring of employees. They warn that to do otherwise is to disempower managers, make a straightforward process impersonal and bureaucratic, and hamper accountability.

Our city's low unemployment rate of just 3.3 per cent should give companies even more food for thought. With so many vacancies, job loyalty becomes a thing of the past. That was amplified by a survey last week by the recruitment website Career Times Online and Baptist University's Centre for Human Resources Strategy and Development that showed 71 per cent of employees were either looking for a new job or thinking of getting one. Part of the fault was put down to the phenomenon of "monster bosses" - companies that had little regard for the people working for them.

A "position vacant" notice in English on the window of a Mong Kok restaurant was a tester for my friend. It advertised HK$65 an hour and the perks of air conditioning and a share of tips. A chef walking out the front door was discreetly collared and asked what work was like; he said "excellent". After a single interview, a job was offered on the spot. OK, so not a high-powered position or a classy job title, nor is this scientific research, but it says much about keeping workers and bosses happy and content.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post