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  • Phil Marsland

HR Bubbles


'Bubbles' has taken on a new meaning over the past 12 months. It has become a phrase used to describe those close to you., mutually supportive and protective in the face of the pandemic. And in work and schools too bubbles have been formed.


This is fantastic in maintaining connectivity and looking out for one another in the face of danger. both physically and mentally.


But life in the bubble can mean that you only see your immediate surroundings, that there is a filter or film across your field of vision. Blurryness, uncertainty and fear exist beyond the shimmering bubble boundary.


This has a number of implications. Firstly, there can be a tendency to circle the wagons, to huddle together against danger. This is natural of course. But, in work maybe there is not always a threat, maybe its some insight from outside your bubble, some different idea or even help. Something new.


If you’re in this defensive protective mindsight anything new is highly unlikely to penetrate. Or to be seen as positive, and an opportunity.


This type of mindset has led to criticism of some HR practitioners and functions. Being stuck with their fixed thinking, in their ivory towers, dishing out policies and procedures and rules. Being the police person of the organisation. Maybe even taking on self appointed roles as the guardian of values and culture? And I would argue this is one of the root causes of HR’s sometime bad reputation.


I once worked in an HR function where the actual, and cultural leaders of the team regularly said “you’ll all be thinking and talking like us soon”. That prickled with me at the time, but then perhaps I didn’t have the insight to know why. I could see the attraction of this mindset though – a united front, all singing from the same hymn sheet – that all sounds great doesn’t it? Aligned and driving for the same things – excellent!


But in such a climate, where is the diversity of contribution and of thought? Is there a risk that this is silenced against the shouting GROUPTHINK?


And what about the impact of your HR language too. Does it work for your organisation, is it accessible or very HR-correcty. Does it switch off or inspire?


Changing tack, I know that early in my career I operated wrongly. Probably through immaturity and lack of professional experience. I thought that I was right and that people who didn’t agree were wrong about HR matters (whatever they are?!) There is a tendency with such a mindset to think about the right and wrong in managers and leaders of your organisation. To maybe pigeon hole them. Many a times I’ve been in conversations where labels have been affixed – he’s trouble, she’s not very good – without trying to find out more, or to find out why, or to help to solve any issues. I suppose this is more of the like me/not like me primitive brain, but this binary thinking still exists today and it is alarming.



Within this there can be a certain arrogance among HR folk. “We are the people experts, and we know what’s best”. Well perhaps, but it’s the people managers in your organisation that are responsible for delivery through their people. So how about trusting their judgement and experience a little more?



I could talk a lot about this, but for now I want to leave you with a couple of questions –


How is your HR bubble working for you?

And, what do you look and sound like to those outside the wall?



This subject and more are explored in my Blue Tree HR Thrive Masterclass series of bite sized webinars.

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