As a Human Resources professional, I wouldn’t describe myself as the typical JHU Communications student. Why? Well, the start of every semester brings the inevitable introduction thread on Blackboard, when the other students describe their jobs using terms like ‘’communications officer’’ and ‘’social media guru’’ and ‘’community manager.’’
It is always with a bit of a grimace that I write, ‘’I am a Human Resources professional..’’ and hope that I don’t lose my audience before I can quickly explain that – in my mind – there is actually a lot of overlap between traditional HR and traditional communications roles in organizations.
What comes to mind when you think of Human Resources?
We are a department generally associated with routine support functions like payslips and benefits processing, but we are most often associated with complaints, unpopular rules, and top-down directives.
While not universally liked nor respected, traditional Human Resources roles encompass many elements of a communications officer. HR departments rely on – and can support – communications efforts on many levels.
Here are three areas of intersection between HR and Communications departments:
HR is generally in charge of recruitment and selection. This requires us to ‘’sell’’ our positions to the outside world and encourage potential candidates to apply to our jobs. For this to be successful, we rely on the Communication team to build our brand. For our part, we enhance this brand through our direct interaction with externals during the hire process. The people we interact with during the recruitment process can become our ambassadors and the way we interact with them helps to shape the way our organizational brand is interpreted by the outside world. If the brand isn’t strong, HR won’t get good applicants; if our interaction with candidates isn’t positive and professional, our brand will suffer. Both departments rely on strong and clear advertising of the organization to the external world.
Any organization that has employees based in Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone at this moment is probably relying on their HR team to be communicating decisions about office closures and modified work schedules related to the Ebola epidemic. Even in situations where a Communication team creates crisis plans, HR is typically the department that communicates internally about official organizational stances on crisis situations – so we need to understand how to do this well. As an HR professional at an international NGO, these communications are usually related to security concerns following an outbreak, a coup, or a flood. In smaller organizations, HR is often also the department charged with domestic security concerns like fire drills and evacuation planning. A recent internal communication related to Ebola was a joint communication effort by both departments; my understanding of communication best practices facilitated that collaboration.
Building Organizational Culture
HR plays a huge role in building the internal organizational culture during the life cycle of employees. Starting with induction, new hires are trained to understand the culture and live the brand of the organization. This cultural adoption is further reinforced during annual reviews, and is often measured through the oft-dreaded and derided ‘’employee survey.’’ The Communication team should be involved in creating and distributing the employee survey because they are also charged with building and nurturing this cultural adoption and managing the organization’s brand internally. Employees who are happy, satisfied, and live the culture of the organization become brand ”ambassadors” enabling this cultural adoption and promoting the brand externally. Satisfied employees also create less turnover and fewer ‘’problems’’ for HR to sort out. It becomes a ‘’win-win’’ for both teams when employees are happy and live the culture; so it makes sense for both teams to work together to ensure this happens.
The bottom line is that HR and Communications are not as far apart as it may seem at first glance. After five semesters in the program, I feel strongly that being an HR professional is not such a strange career choice for someone interested in Communications as a discipline. I have improved my performance at work tremendously using the knowledge I’ve gained through the JHU Communication program. I recently had a meeting with my company’s new Communication Officer and she admitted to being surprised by how much I knew about leveraging social media to build our brand internally and externally. I admitted that I was enrolled in the program at JHU. Her reply? ‘’So you ARE a Communications professional – you just have an HR job.’’ I agreed.
Amy Thomas is currently a Human Resources Advisor at SNV Netherlands Development Organization. Amy has had various roles in HR over the past ten years including HR advisory roles with international NGOs based in southern Africa and southeast Asia, and HR management consulting roles supporting the US Government. She is currently based in the Hague. Amy has been in the Johns Hopkins University AAP Communications program since 2011 and will graduate this spring. You can find Amy on LinkedIn: nl.linkedin.com/in/amyerinthomas