What Does Human Resources Do When the Baton is Passed?

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When the Baton is Passed Run_Two businessmen working as a team during a run

Question: “Our employees turn to us in HR all the time for help.  The needs can get tough to handle.  What is our job, and how do we prioritize?”

This July 4th weekend has been a challenging and energizing holiday weekend at the same time.  We watched the US Women’s Soccer team win the FIFA World Cup – winning a second consecutive world title.  These women were amazing (even if you don’t know the ins and outs of the sport).  Here in Los Angeles, we dealt with the aftermath of several major earthquakes.  While the damage was far less widespread than could have happened given the strength of the quake, people suddenly were in need.  I started a new job, in a new city, needed to find a place to live and had a to-do list a mile long.  And then I received a call …

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A dear friend wanted to chat about the challenges she is facing.  She isn’t entirely certain of the journey or the path this race will take, yet she is compelled to accept what has been handed to her. She finds strength from digging deep inside, relying on training and education as key resources. And she reaches out to others for assistance – as she did calling me.

What Does Human Resources Do?

I quipped, “Okay, the baton has been passed to you.  Now run like the wind with it, wherever.”  We both chuckled about the analogy. In a relay race, you know your objective, path, and unique position on the team.  The end is in sight.  Whether participating in a soccer match and kicking the ball to score (way to go Team USA’s Rose Lavelle), swimming or running a cross-country relay, you are part of a team, you know your place, your objective (do it fast!), ignore everything else.  Life isn’t nearly as clear and often hits us with relays that have no rules, no clearly laid out courses or even a whistle that starts the race.  The most challenging point is to figure out when to pass the baton and who is supposed to catch it!

In life we get handed, tossed, sometimes even hit over the head by batons.  Sometimes we didn’t even know we were in a race and then something happens, and you find the baton resting in your hand. The obligation to others becomes immediately apparent, but given that the course may not be a straight shot, or even mapped out we may rightly wonder – NOW WHAT?  Holding that baton comes with such expectation, obligation, commitment.  What if we didn’t stick out our hand, or let it drop?  We didn’t ask for that problem, invite that issue, or want to add the topic to the already full agenda we have each day.

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We, humans, are a complicated bunch.  It is all too easy to walk away from others’ challenges.  There are times the refrain sings loud and clear; I don’t want to get involved.  And then there are those occasions when you care, you wished things were different, you want to help, but the starting line is nowhere to be found.  My friend is a great example of being handed a baton and running forward.  She knew the “race” would be a tough go, knew enough that the situation called for her to tap skills she had never tested and to serve in an entirely new role.  She dealt.  Yup, she figured it out step by step. 

Two-Sided Coin

Human resource professionals often are “handed” batons in the form of an array of issues from employees, managers, or candidates that may well fall outside our job descriptions.   I believe that the role of HR is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, we must support the need of the business (otherwise, the business may fail to continue to exist).  On the other side of the coin, we are chartered to support, enable, and in some cases protect, employees – irrespective of rank or role.  You’ve likely encountered the employee with a death in the family, employees sharing a serious diagnosis or announcing their divorce. “Kid problems,” elder care, family issues, financial problems – the things humans must deal with often come our way as HR professionals.  Should HR offer support here?  Many may disagree; however, I strongly encourage you to accept the baton – and assist – appropriately, of course.

What can we do to solve someone’s “personal” issues?  How can I support employees who grieve or who ail or another who needs to talk?  I’m busy, I’m overwhelmed, and I’m not an expert.  I am a human.  And so I reach for the baton anyway.  It perhaps feels awkward, reassuring, encouraging, and soul-wrenching all at the same time. Wait - I’m not a relay runner. I don’t know how to handle the baton. I grab it and run anyway. Said another way, I see our job here in HR to support, tapping resources such as an EAP, community programs, or suggesting others who may have resources to offer.


I have been thinking of my friend’s baton - her “catch.”  She stepped up in tough ways and outside her comfort zone. What is the lesson learned from our conversation?  Step up, step in, and have the confidence to do your part – not more, but no less.  And then hand the baton over to the next “runner.”  You don’t have to do it all, just your leg of the relay.   Know when it is time to pass the baton – tough as the decision may be to make.  

My job, your job is not to tackle all.  We have to figure out the journey with the realization that there is a baton, and we are supposed to pass it along.  Be ready to grab the baton my sister runners – and go.  The run isn’t easy but reaching the finish line is well worth the effort.


Image courtesy Stock Photo Secrets.