Trench HR: Where Java Means Coffee

Many years ago my friend Charlie Judy coined the phrase #TrenchHR. Boy oh boy did we run the hell out of that hashtag on the Twitterz circa 2010 – 2017 or so. (And then it kind of died off).

It’s still a shorthand I use quite frequently though because it perfectly (and succinctly) summarizes and encapsulates the HR practitioner experience. The phrase #TrenchHR (which, now that I think about it, would look really cool on a t-shirt), is a combination secret handshake, rallying cry and code word. It’s the opening shot to a conversation about REALITY:

Bob: “What do you do?”

Susie: “I work in HR.”

Bob: “Trench?”

Susie: “Yup”

Bob: “Me too.”

*** knowing looks ***

See here’s the thing; there really are different kinds of HR. While HR practitioners may have the same baseline/foundational knowledge and education, they practice their alchemy in different ways…depending, quit often, upon both their function and their environment. The act of #TrenchHR is not necessarily dependent upon organizational size; there are high-level HR professionals (with expansive span of control, fancy titles and an enviable HR tech stack) in enterprise organizations dealing with #TrenchHR issues every day. There are HR practitioners in start-up or growing organizations who rarely have to muddy their boots in the trenches.

For the most part, anyone who works as an HR consultant is not dealing with #TrenchHR on the regular – unless they are a number-crunching organizational wonk, truly embedded with their client, or serving in a Fractional type role.  This is also, by the way, why I firmly believe that no one (i.e. a newly minted HR grad) should EVER move right into “consulting” without spending some time in the trenches. They haven’t even LIVED real HR; how in the world are they going to advise someone? (Same with the academic types. But that’s another blog post).

So what is #TrenchHR? Well it looks like this….

  • Dealing with systems that are outdated and/or don’t function in the current era; stacks of paper for new hires to complete, spreadsheets as an HRIS, and paper time- cards that employees manually complete, sign and drop off (via inter-office envelopes!) in the Payroll Office each Monday morning
  • Being in charge of things like swag, t-shirts, Fitbits and pizzas for the weekly employee lunch (while also tracking shirt sizes and dietary preferences)
  • Needing to hire 40 people per month (#evergreen!!) with a monthly recruiting budget of $400
  • Battling with the CEO/Owner whenever there is a need to update or modernize the company’s people practices (“I don’t care if employees will quit if we don’t let them WFH; I want everyone back in the office NOW where I can see them!”)
  • Investigating in order to determine which employee felt the need to eliminate their bowels in a location not anywhere remotely near a toilet bowl (internal code name: “the mystery pooper”)
  • Completing an HR file audit (of any kind; I-9s; benefit files; training logs; you name it)
  • Having to maintain actual paper files in the first place
  • Conducting any sort of conversation about bodily fluids. This may include (a) discussing with a new hire why they felt the need to carry a urine-filled condom in their pocket to their post-offer drug screen appointment, or (b) determining why there is DNA (to use the approved terminology from Law & Order: SVU) on the sofa in the employee break room
  • Launching a harassment investigation that turns out to be nothing more than grown-ass adults acting like they have the hormones of 10th graders in a love triangle (or a love dodecahedron)

And so much more. So. Much.More.

Hanging in the trenches takes guts; though there’s minimal glory.  Positioning oneself in the trenches requires moxxy, a sense of humor and a whole lot of compassion for the human experience. It’s where I fell in love with this crazy profession of human resources and where I’ve spent the bulk of my time.

And, now that I think about it, #TrenchHR doesn’t just belong on a t-shirt. We deserve a monument.

******* 

shout out to my friend Andrew Gadomksi who, once upon a time, gave me the inspiration for this blog post title (and I’ve been sitting on it ever since)  

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2 thoughts on “Trench HR: Where Java Means Coffee

  1. Good post. I was so glad to see this post because I think that it’s important for people who are going through tough things to know that they’re not alone in their struggles. It can be really hard to find a supportive network when you don’t even know where to start looking! But if you keep trying and searching for the right people, eventually you’ll find them!

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