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Pitfalls of human resource management and its practice in Nigeria: What ‘you smell nice’ taught me

Pitfalls of human resource management and its practice in Nigeria What ‘you smell nice’ taught me
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“…You’re confused,” she said matter-of-factly. She did not raise her voice. She did not bat an eyelid. It was a simple declaration of what she was sure of; a declaration of who she assumed I was within 15 minutes of having a conversation with her.

To say that I was furious would be an understatement, but I had been taught to always keep my cool at a job interview, even when the interviewer was spitting rubbish.

I sighed subtly and said with a calm smile, “I beg to differ, ma’am.”

And then she goes, “I know what I am saying. This is my job and I have been in this field for over 10 years. What this tells me about you is that you are confused, but you are young so that is excusable. However, you need to identify your career path and stick to it…” She launched into an unsolicited sermon about how no one wants to hire a person without a clear career goal.

I listened and acted interested in all she had to say. When I left her desk, I felt humiliated and utterly insulted.

I concluded that she did not really know her job. To hell with her ten-year experience!

However, how many other applicants have left job interviews feeling so poorly of themselves – their self-esteem eroded and blatant disrespect thrown at them?

My experience brings to mind the popular Twitter war tagged ‘#you smell nice’ that trended for days.

A young man had attended a job interview and told the interviewer shortly before he left that she smelt nice.

Two sides of the narrative caught the attention of netizens as some sided with the interviewer that the job applicant had been rude and chauvinistic and others scolded the human resource personnel for ‘dragging’ the guy on the savage streets of Twitter. The latter group was sympathetic towards the guy and noted that though it had been relatively unprofessional for the applicant to have made such a comment (no matter how innocent it was), the interviewer should have ignored it or politely corrected the fella rather than humiliate him on social media.

This simply confirmed something I had suspected about human resource management in Nigeria for a long time: many of the practitioners lack emotional intelligence and have a misunderstanding of the field in its entirety.

In my case, it was not an innocent-comment-at-the-wrong-time kind of moment. I had applied for a role as a reporter at a TV station, but the human resource manager noted the fact that I had a particular certification and assumed that it was evidence of poor understanding of my career path then went on to berate me for it.

She said, “I see that you took certain courses as a corps member, and one of them is Human Resource management. Why? Your experience so far and the course of the study point to the media and journalism.”

Thinking it was an opportunity to show how forward-thinking I am, I explained, “I hope to establish my own media organization in the future. I believed that taking the course at the time would give me insight into management and handling human resources ahead of time.”

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She scoffed, “When do you intend to own this media organization?”

Smiling sweetly, “It is a long-term plan; maybe ten years from now.”

“Do you think that the field will remain the same in the next ten years? Won’t it evolve? What is the point in taking the course when the knowledge won’t be relevant anymore? You simply wasted your time in taking all those courses that they tell you corps members to take.”

I frowned slightly but maintained my cool. “Yes, the field may evolve, but the basics will remain the same. I got the foundation and I intend to build on my knowledge.”

“Really? So, what do you understand by human resource management? See, this just tells me that you are confused. You are jumping from one field to another. Instead, stick to a path and grow on it.”

I had learnt a long time earlier to be assertive and I attempted to show my displeasure. “I beg to differ, ma’am,” I replied but she continued her lecture anyway, picking offence because she assumed that I had implied she didn’t know her job.

With these two cases, am I wrong to believe that human resource managers are missing the mark? Definitely not. I took a mini-poll and asked other people for their experiences with human resource managers and most had a negative experience to relay.

In the words of a respondent, “They think they know it all.”

Another replied simply, “My experience with them is crappy.”

One said, “They think they are next to God.”

Human resource management demystified

Many assume that the job of a human resource manager starts and ends with recruitment: create a ridiculous job description, write a cute job ad on various platforms, wait like a hawk for the unsuspecting applicants to apply, rough them up during the interview and see how well they do under pressure then send an offer of employment to the one that scales through the fire and finally, wait till the next need for staff arises.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Human resource management, in my opinion, is the heart of an organization; get it wrong and watch your organization go downhill.

According to Susam M. Healthfield, a Human Resource expert with The Balanced Careers, “Human Resource Management (HRM) is the function within an organization that focuses on the recruitment ofmanagement of, and providing direction and guidance for the people who work in an organization.”

She adds, “The HRM department members provide the knowledge, necessary tools, training, administrative services, coaching, legal and management advice, and talent management oversight that the rest of the organization needs for successful operation…

HRM is moving away from traditional personnel, administration, and transactional roles, which are increasingly outsourced. The HRM function is now expected to add value to the strategic utilization of employees and to ensure that employee programs recommended and implemented impact the business in positive measurable ways.”

What do we learn from this?

The job of a human resource manager is far beyond recruitment alone. Once employees have been on-boarded, their efficacy is dependent mainly on the human resource department and the innovative techniques it employs to motivate them to give their best to the organization. Thus, the impact of human resource management is long term and requires a subtle approach since human beings are such unique resources – different from tables, chairs or money – that have to be handled with respect and understanding of the various needs they may have (See Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs).

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Challenges in Nigerian practice

According to Prof. Onah of the University of Nigeria, the challenges of human resource management in Nigeria are:

  • Inadequate strategic HR planning training
  • Low budgetary provision for training and development
  • Doubtful skills and competencies of HR management practitioners
  • Poor reward management
  • Ineffective supervision
  • Indiscipline
  • Occupational stress
  • Environmental constraints, which may be legal, social, economic, technological or political-economic)

Ultimately, human resource management is not a bed of roses in Nigeria. However, one particular thing plagues the practice the most, certain experts say.

What might this be?

A new perspective

A renowned human resource expert, Brigette Hyacinth has a very interesting philosophy and it has stuck with me ever since I came across it on LinkedIn.

She always says, “Let us put ‘human’ back into ‘human resources’.”

As simple as that statement is, it resonates within me because more often than not, human resource managers that I have had contact with, lack empathy.

I spoke to Isaac Gimbason, a human resource manager and founder of Prime Sage Innovation Centre, and he had thought-provoking points to share.

He noted that he is largely dissatisfied with the field and the greatest pitfall of human resource management in Nigeria, in his opinion, is the lack of emotional intelligence on the part of the practitioners.

I was in a meeting and a lady raised a complaint that she works hard but feels underappreciated at work. The facilitator asked her if she receives a salary and the lady said ‘yes’. Then the facilitator said, ‘Case closed, that’s all your employers owes you in Nigeria.’

I did not agree with that because, in HRM practice, various people have different kinds of rewards that make them feel appreciated. For some, it is cash and for others, it is praise and recognition and many others have theirs. It is the job the management and HRM to understand their employees’ personality and engage them to the level that keeps them motivated to consistently give their best.

That lady obviously did not see her salary as sufficient show of appreciation… yet she is told that her salary is all she gets. The company will never get the best out of that staff.”

He added that one great misconception about HR practice in Nigeria is that the practitioners assume more often than not, that the job will give them the platform to help people, but they are soon shocked to realize that they have only been hired to do the dirty job of management in handling employees, to whip them in line.

Also, he said that it is readily believed that managing human resources effectively is the sole role of the HR office/department when the reality is that management ought to play a huge role in keeping employees engaged, motivated and satisfied.

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When asked, he said that the root of the problem is in the mere fact that human resource managers know what they ought to do (theoretical aspect) but simply fail to put it in practice.

A solution he proposes is that “Human resource management should have an effective regulatory body in Nigeria. The same way that doctors’ licenses are revoked if they are caught in malpractice, there should be one for HR practitioners too. That will put them in check. It may not eradicate the malpractice entirely but will minimize it significantly.”

Therefore, I believe that when a job applicant walks into a room and is a bundle of nerves, rather than bark at the candidate, the human resource manager should be able to put the person at ease.

At times, nerves get the best of people and the fact that they cannot deliver at that moment does not mean that they have nothing to offer the organization. Too many companies have lost out on prospective employees that could have contributed greatly to the organization because they didn’t really give them a chance during recruitment.

Furthermore, can someone write a memo to the average human resource manager in Nigeria to tell him/her that she does not know it all?

I have been to interviews where there was a blatant disregard for the candidates. The interview session did not start on time and then it took too long, with irrelevant and degrading questions. Such experiences always led me to wonder if these recruiters assumed that one was jobless simply because he/she is unemployed.

More so, rather than hound employees when they seem to be under-performing you (as a human resource manager) should seek ways to motivate them. Inasmuch as their personal baggage is none of your business and human beings are resources in an organization, they are animate. This means they have feelings, needs and baggage that might affect their productivity. Besides, if you don’t give them an enabling environment to develop and thrive, how do you expect them to give their best?

So many employers and human resource managers forget that their employees have lives outside work. Once, I saw a post by Hyacinth where she noted that one of her staff asked for a day off and was all fidgety about it. She wrote that she told the staff it was okay to take the day and sort out her personal issues because she recognized the fact that an employee who was having issues in her personal life would not be effective at work.

In conclusion, I leave you with the words of this human resource management guru, “Grilling a candidate with unreasonable questions is not an interview. An interview is a two-way street. You are interviewing candidates to hire and not humiliate. It’s sad that some interviewers have an attitude of superiority. Being an interviewer is not just a title but it is a responsibility. You are deciding the career of an individual. Put yourself in the candidates’ shoes. A little respect and empathy go a long way.”

Angela Umoru

Angela Umoru

I am a graduate of Mass Communication from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and an aspiring broadcaster.View Author posts

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