What does HR have in common with Chandler Bing from the TV series 'Friends'?

We know Chandler has an important job, but not many of us understand what he actually does. The same applies to many people who work in HR. How do we explain to our families, friends and colleagues what working with HR actually involves? In this article, some HR professionals describe how they tackle this

For many of us it is still a mystery what Chandler Bing from the popular TV series "Friends" actually does for a living. The usual answer is that he has a good job, but not many of us know what he actually does.

This is also the case for many of us who work in HR. People think we have good jobs, without knowing what exactly this entails. It can be hard to explain to friends, family members and colleagues what working with HR (Human Resources) actually involves.

This is natural, also because HR covers such a wide area. Today, HR includes payroll administration, leadership development, branding, law, job satisfaction, employee development, talent management, workforce management, and so on.

We asked a number of HR professionals to give their take on how they explain their role to others outside the world of HR.

Different explanations for younger and older people

Our interview subjects agree that there are two groups that are especially challenging when it comes to explaining HR: older people, and children and young people. Older people may be familiar with the concept of a "personnel department", so several of the interviewees use this term to explain HR to older people.

Ulrika Öberg, Franke FuturumUlrika Öberg from Franke Futurum adapts her explanation for children and young people:

"How I explain this depends on who I'm explaining it to. I tell younger children that I work on a computer a lot and meet a lot of people. I can't use the term HR with my uncle, aged 65, but I say that I'm responsible for personnel and work with personnel issues."

Solbjørg Myren, FiresafeSolbjørg Myren from Firesafe takes a similar approach:

"It's usually the youngest and the oldest who don't understand the concept of 'HR' and I explain it differently, depending on the age group. If they're older, I say I'm a personnel manager. If one of my 18-year-old daughter's friends asks, I say that I work with people in the organisation. I work with employing and developing people, and make sure they have the right employment agreements and good managers."

Working with people

A customary answer is that you work with people, or more specifically "make sure that people thrive at their workplace, so they can do the best possible job":

Ida Janghed, Hilti Sverige”Quite simply, it's about making the most of the human capital in a company. How we get people to want to move in the same direction, to become involved and support the company's vision. It's also about ensuring a healthy corporate culture that will enable people to thrive, work and contribute to achieving fantastic results," says Ida Janghed, HR Director at Hilti Sverige.

Kari Strande, BorregaardAnother explanation focused on attracting, developing and retaining comes from Kari Strande, HR Director at Borregaard:

"I say that I'm responsible for Borregaard recruiting the right people, and further developing their competence via e.g. management support and competence programmes. I also assist if anyone is to leave the organisation."

Martina Danko, Lantmännen CerealiaMartina Danko, HR consultant at Lantmännen Cerelia, also pinpoints developing people as the central aspect of her role. Her focus is on developing people in managerial positions:

"I usually say that my job is to help managers to become better managers. Going into further detail about my work would be too complicated, but if anyone is really interested and asks a lot of questions, I'm happy to explain more. My main task is to make sure that managers can work as effectively and flexibly as possible."

Part of the overall picture

Lisa Pira, SolarHR specialist Lisa Pira from Solar has another version of how to describe the HR role.

Even though she has never tried to explain her work to her grandchild, she finds it important to explain her role in terms of what her workplace is engaged in:

"If they ask, I'll explain about my workplace and how we sell lamps and switches. And that I work with people, to make sure that we have a workplace where as many of us as possible enjoy and thrive in our work, and have the opportunity to develop and do a good job," she says.

So – What does Chandler Bing actually work with?

Chandler is "IT Procurement Manager" with focus on statistical analysis and data reconfiguration, whatever that may mean? Later he becomes a copywriter in an advertising agency. So now you know!