By Phil Wilson, SHRP
the HR Profession
With last year’s passage of the Registered Human
Resources Professionals Act, 2013, HR professionals
will continue to focus on enhancing the “profession-alism”
of what it means to truly become a human
My colleague Claude Balthazard, HRPA’s VP Regulatory
Affairs, examined this topic recently in an article he wrote for
Queens University’s industrial relations journal.
Borrowing a definition of professionalism created by the Chief
Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism
(which was developed to help define professionalism for lawyers),
Claude explores HR professionalism through the prism of 10
“building blocks” of professionalism.
This is what HR professionals refer to as “competence.” What
distinguishes professionals, however, is a sense of obligation to
maintain competence in their field, and that professionals don’t
entirely decide for themselves what they need to keep up with.
HR professionals should feel a sense of obligation or duty to
maintain competence in their field and do so in a disciplined way.
Integrity is one of the cornerstones of professionalism and goes
beyond the obligation to observe ethical standards established by
the professional governing body. The idea is that HR professionals
can be counted on to act according to their espoused values despite
opportunities to do otherwise.
Honour means the sense of “higher purpose” or serving some
broader societal good beyond the immediate interests of clients
and employers that distinguishes professionals. The real test of
professionalism comes about when the professional must “safe-guard
the higher societal value” when the interest of the employer
conflicts with the broader public good.
As Claude says, many HR professionals may be uneasy with
this concept. HR professionals understand that they are often the
ones to protect the interests of employees, but are also aware that
there is often a price to pay for pushing back and taking a stand.
And without government recognition – i.e., licensing – then HR
professionals have little support and are far more vulnerable in
these situations than, say, lawyers.
It creates a catch-22; to be considered as a true profession, HR
must be seen as safeguarding a higher societal value. However,
until HR is widely seen to be a true profession, many HR profes-sionals
will consider it risky to do so. Nonetheless, it is a risk we
have agreed to accept when we chose to become true professionals.
Here, leadership means taking a proactive role on matters relat-ing
to the profession and its impact on society. This may include
speaking out to address a systemic injustice.
Professional autonomy is another challenging area for HR profes-sionals.
The phenomenon of “client capture” has been documented
in regards to lawyers. Client capture refers to the situation where a
professional begins to identify more with their employer and less
with the profession to the extent that the professional begins to
lose their independence and their professional judgment becomes
Like many professions, HR has been the subject of criticism that
requires a balance to be struck. On one hand, HR professionals
cannot dismiss criticism; and, to the extent that those criticisms
are valid, the profession should address them. Nonetheless, it is
important that such criticism not get in the way of pride in the
INTEGRITY IS ONE OF THE CORNERSTONES OF PROFESSIONALISM AND
GOES BEYOND THE OBLIGATION TO OBSERVE ETHICAL STANDARDS
ESTABLISHED BY THE PROFESSIONAL GOVERNING BODY.
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ OCTOBER 2014 ❚ 7