The Five Worst Jobs in HR

By Kris Dunn

Jun. 13, 2008

Some jobs stink. Mine doesn’t. I hope yours doesn’t either. But some HR jobs really do reek.

I’ve wanted to do a list of them for a long time. And now the stars are aligned, just begging me to give the topic the treatment it so richly deserves.

What stars, you ask? Consider that the economy is struggling (which actually may have a silver lining for some HR pros). Every institute with a Commodore 64 is publishing a “HR Gets No Respect” study, and even notable HR bloggers are looking for new gigs.

It’s time for this list, people. You may be on the street looking for your next gig this year. In a moment of weakness, you’re going to come across some opportunities included on this list that look great on the surface. The list is full of jobs that you can probably land if you put your mind to it.

Don’t take them! It’s not that the people currently in these roles aren’t smart, credible and professional, because most of them probably are.

The real issue is the level of challenge and the perception of your career path once you’ve landed in one of them. The five worst jobs include career killers and work components that would crush the soul of most HR pros. Here’s a primer on the elements common to the five worst jobs in HR to get you in the mood to explore:

  • The worst jobs are so niche-oriented your mom can’t explain what you do. I understand a rotation through a specialty is a good thing, but these roles are generally subcategories of a specialty, making it tougher to bounce out to a generalist role when you are ready.

  • The worst jobs often involve heavy administrative work. If the work product you can point to at the end of the day is a report or a file, run like crazy. The problem with many of the worst jobs is that once you are done outlining your role for future employers, the person interviewing you envisions you filing papers four hours a day. Not exactly a momentum builder for your future.

  • The worst jobs involve tasks that are soul-crushing work for most HR pros. Every job has components you don’t like doing. That’s life, and you’ve experienced it before. Now take the soul crushers in your current job and multiply them by 50. That’s the strategic opportunity many of these jobs provide.

By now, just out of curiosity, you might be ready to jog over to your PC to drop some keywords—”soul-crushing administrative niche HR,” for instance—into Monster or Feel free to do that. Just don’t apply for anything you find. You never know what might happen—they might just hire you. To further dissuade you, here, by name, are the five worst jobs in HR, fed to you in countdown style like I’m Casey Kasem (I always encourage you to keep reaching for the stars, by the way):

  1. Corporate wellness professional: A surprise entry on the list, the wellness title is a fairly new one in corporate America and a natural reaction to a health care environment that serves up double-digit cost increases on an annual basis. The wellness job seems like a cool one, but avoid it like a supersize combo. Once you become the wellness guru, you’ll find yourself sandwiched between the unhealthy and the healthy, neither of whom has much desire to listen to you.

With notable exceptions, the unhealthy generally have belief and behavior structures that you can’t change with the time and resources you have available. The healthy are already doing most of what you’re focused on and are wondering when you’re going to build the on-site workout facility. You’ll need to take a long jog to relieve the resulting frustrations.

  1. EEO/AAP administrator: Before you attack me with e-mail, I’m not talking about the concept of diversity, because I’m a supporter of diversity as a business need. I’m talking about the limited upside of being an EEO/AAP administrator. In corporate America, being an affirmative action administrator is a thankless job. First up, you’ll be asked to collect reams of data and format it into hard-to-understand reports. Once that’s done, the communication begins, often with you informing business owners that they are “under-utilized” in a certain job category.

What happens once you tell the business owner that they are “under-utilized” in a certain job group? They’ll blame you for not being able to fill the job in a reasonable time frame. You become the symbol for a barrier rather than the solution. Nice.

  1. Call center recruiter (for a consumer call center): Can you say “cattle call”? The issue with the call center recruiter role isn’t the type of work, it’s the quantity and the economics of the situation. As a consumer call center recruiter, you’ll be asked to recruit new hires for a large call center (generally 300 to 1,000 seats). You’ll use your recruiting skills and innovation initially, then your excitement will wane as you realize the ugly truth—you’re being asked to produce 15 to 30 new hires every two to three weeks from a stretched labor market.

Add a marginal hourly rate (it’s a consumer call center) and no schedule flexibility for the candidates you’re attempting to recruit, and it’s a widow-maker of a job. Pay your dues and apply for the HR manager role when it becomes available.

  1. Safety manager: There’s no question that this role is needed, especially in manufacturing environments. No question employees are safer as a result. No question that safety professionals save their companies untold amounts of money. Unfortunately, there’s also no question that safety professionals, especially those who are one-person departments within a facility and not part of a corporate safety function, are some of the loneliest professionals in existence. Enforcing safety regulations and modifying employee behavior can make you feel more like a parole officer than a strategic manager.

It’s an important role, but landing in this job will convince you that Mike Tyson has more friends than you do. Give a high-five to your safety professional the next time you see him. That happens so rarely that he’ll remember you for life.

  1. LOA/FMLA administrator: Oh, the humanity. This administrator is a centralized control point for leave of absence and FMLA applications in your enterprise. That means this job sees all the trials and tribulations that employees (and their families) go through. You name it—disease, death, dismemberment— this person sees it. To be sure, there’s good that can come from it, in that an empathetic person in this role can calm employees moving through the leave process.

That’s negated by the reality: This person has to make a call on whether to challenge a suspect application, and that is one of the most confrontational situations you can find in the HR world. As part of this, you also get to question multiple FMLA applications that are 100 percent legit, meaning you’ll be seen as evil. It’s also one of the most administrative positions available. Stay away!

There are undoubtedly some talented professionals in these roles across corporate America. Don’t be one of them. Take your talents to an area of the HR practice where you can leverage your experience to bounce to other areas you develop an interest in, and to positions of leadership and authority.

Or you can spend the rest of your career figuring out if you are going to grind on me for additional FMLA certification. Maybe you’ll even get the opportunity to tell Alice in Accounting that her body mass index of 36 suggests she shouldn’t be worrying about retirement planning.

You deserve better. Stay away from these thankless jobs, but be kind to those currently serving.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor.

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