HR in the monastery

Although the Human Resources organizational management movement didn’t exist in the Middle Ages, I like to think that the seeds of it were alive in some ways in monastic life – everyone motivated to work toward a common goal, the bringing of the Kingdom of God to earth; everyone cared for, nurtured in community, and encouraged to do work that fit their talents. The true Human Resources model relies on satisfying relationships, appreciation, collaboration and the ability to self-actualize within an organization (Eisenberg, Goodall & Threthewey, 2013). Today’s HR departments should be able to help an organization fulfill such an ethos of quality, collaborative community.

I don’t believe today’s HR practices live out the ideologies of the Human Resources Approach of 1960s and 70s America. The employees at our state university, for example, must abide by state-directed HR policies, which have become legalistic. In such a large institution, their purpose is to make hiring and firing guidelines clear and to provide support for employees and the institution when there are disputes. HR at the university is charged with oversight of compliance of policies. Their job, primarily, is to protect the university.

What HR does for the university is often contradictory to allowing the hiring of the best talent. A candidate who is smart, innovative and has years of experience in the work world is denied a job at the university for not having the right degree, or falling short on years of experience in higher education (even if just by months). Someone with the right master’s degree with the minimum number of years of experience in higher education can get a job in a department in which they have no experience because they fit the bill. That person may be inexperienced in say, the work of the registrar’s office, could even be unmotivated or lack emotional intelligence. But they fit the requirements on paper.

It seems that today’s HR often lacks attention to the “human” side of “human” resources. There isn’t balance between creativity and constraint in this field. Furthermore, state jobs don’t pay well. That is a big enough inhibitor to managers’ ability to hire the best. Do they really need more such restrictions placed upon them regarding hiring those who can serve their offices most effectively? What suggestions would you have for improving HR departments ability to enhance the “human?”


Eisenberg, E.M., Goodall, H.L., Jr., & Trethewey, A. (2013). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint (7th Edition). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 

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