“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress. And, by God, I have hadthis Congress!”
-John Adams, from the musical “1776”
I recently had the opportunity to visit our elected officials in Washington, DC as part of the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Employment Law and Legislative Conference. This conference is held every year in our nation’s capital and gives Human Resources Professionals like me the opportunity to educate our congressional leaders and members of their staff how various pieces of legislation impact the workplace.
I have been a human resources professional for a long time and have many fond memories. One such memory occurred shortly after 9/11 when I had to meet with then Senator Jim Bunning in a temporary office in The Capitol because his office in the Hart Building was quarantined due to an anthrax scare.
Another was the time one of our elected officials (who shall remain nameless) patronized me by inferring that employers do not know best the needs of their workplace. Hmm.
Why Would Anyone Want To Go To That?!
Fair quesiton. You may be asking why a mild-mannered, honest human resources professional like myself would voluntarily walk into a den of wolves like this each year. One reason could be that I am a political junkie and love talking about things I strongly believe in.
But more precisely it is because this “den of wolves” that we call Congress generally does not understand the realities of the workplace and desperately needs the knowledge and expertise of the human resources professional. That’s where we as human resources professionals come in.
Many human resources professionals that I speak to about lobbying have a lot of reservations – the intimidation factor, lack of confidence, and the belief that one individual can’t make a difference.
Let me dispel these reservations one at a time:
1. The Intimidation Factor – Do not be intimidated!!! Remember that you are a constituent of the elected official and can speak to issues that impact employers and employees in their district or state.
And never underestimate the power of the electorate – as a constituent, you equal votes and can influence whether or not this elected official remains in office. Many times, the elected official is unavailable and you may meet with one of the staff from their office. The average age of a congressional staff member is around 23 and fresh from college.
You are the expert here.
2. Lack of Confidence – Many elected officials are career politicians and have never owned a business or have an HR background. Therefore, they cannot truly understand the realities of the workplace and how legislation can impact the workplace, both negatively and positively. Many politicians get behind “feel good” legislation but never take the time to explore the unintended consequences that this legislation could create.
Health Care Reform is a prime example of this. HR professionals are the issue experts and can be very effective at educating their elected officials. Remember that you deal with these issues every day and, more importantly, realize what their real-world implications may be.
3. One individual can’t make a difference – Several years ago, the Louisville SHRM chapter held a diversity event where an actor was brought in to recreate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Congresswoman Anne Northup was in attendance and was approached by one of the chapter members who told her that it was unfortunate that there was no plaque or marker at the Lincoln Memorial where this speech was given to commemorate this historic event. Congresswoman Northup took up the issue with Congress and a law was passed and signed by President Clinton.
Today when you visit the Lincoln Memorial you can see the marker. This all came about because of the voice of ONE HR professional. Even the best ideas in the world start with just one person’s effort.
One person can make a difference!!
How You Can Help – Congress Needs Your Input
As human resources professionals, Congress needs our expertise and our voice to help craft legislation that will help organizations remain competitive and meet the demands of the 21st century.
You can help by simply picking up the phone or writing an email to your elected officials. You can also get involved with grassroots advocacy efforts by contacting your local SHRM chapter and see how you can help. Here are some helpful links to connect you with your elected official:
1. Congressional Directory – http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cdirectory/index.html
2. For SHRM Members – http://www.shrm.org/Advocacy/GetInvolved/Pages/default.aspx
Article written by Mitzi Root, SPHR