You Got an ‘Ology

Originally posted October 2013

A few months ago I was asked to speak to Psychology students at Liverpool John Moores University about HR as a career option. An understanding of Psychology is often seen as one of the key knowledge areas for HR since it gives us a good insight into individual behaviour and personality. But after a debate last week on Twitter it seems that to be an effective HR professional you also need a good knowledge of

  • Law – the legal framework surrounding the employment relationship, whatever country you live in, is essential for setting down the basic ground rules.
  • Sociology – as we focus on individuals and their behaviour, we often forget we also need an understanding of wider power relationships and organisational structures. And then of course sociology’s close cousin
  • Social Anthropology – to help us understand the importance of culture, ritual and narratives (for example, why it is often harder to change tea breaks than undertake a major redundancy exercise)
  • Economics – an understanding of how labour markets work, skill shortages and wage rates, helping us to plan recruitment. While Behavioural Economics helps to explain why a performance bonus may often have the opposite effect to that intended.
  • Statistics – if 10% of employees return a staff survey, how confident can we be that the answers reflect the workforce as a whole? And when we talk about “average” wages what do we really mean?
  • History – if we’re embarking on change, do we understand why things are the way they currently are? And are the factors that created that still around?

Of course, I’m talking a good basic understanding, not degree level knowledge of each subject. But two questions spring to mind – is there any other business area that requires such a breadth of knowledge? And are there any other areas that HR professionals need to understand?

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