Queen's University IRC

What does ‘professionalism’ mean for HR professionals?


Claude Balthazard
Vice-President Regulatory Affairs, Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)

August 14, 2014

What does 'professionalism' mean for HR professionals?The desire for HR professionals to be accorded the respect and status of being true professionals is a theme that goes back many decades; and there is no evidence to suggest that this desire has waned over the years. In 2013, the Human Resources Professionals Association asked the following question on its annual member survey: “Do you agree that the professionalization of HR is, or should be, an important issue for the profession?”—89.4% of respondents agreed with the statement. This represents as much agreement as one is ever likely to find on any question. (Human Resources Professionals Association, 2013).

But there is an interesting contradiction here. The contradiction lies in that for something that is seemingly so important to HR professionals; the topic of “professionalism” rarely appears in HR publications or HR conferences. When the topic of professionalism comes up in HR circles, there are two responses which are often heard. The first is a response that goes something like “I always behave in a professional manner, and my clients and colleagues think of me as such.” The other response goes something like “I am always professional in what I do, but there are others in our profession that give the rest of us a bad reputation.” And yet, in a 2011 survey conducted by the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Center on the State of HR in Canada (Juniper & Hill, 2011), the authors noted that those HR professionals who reported that they are “pessimistic” or “not sure” about the future of HR were, in general, concerned about the lack of professionalism in the profession and the credentials that are required in order to obtain the CHRP designation.

By way of contrast, some of the established professions do not seem to take “professionalism” for granted and certainly do not think that the topic is an “undiscussable.” A bit more than a decade ago, in response to concerns that had been expressed about a decline in professionalism among lawyers, the Chief Justice of Ontario struck an Advisory Committee on Professionalism. The document Elements of Professionalism was authored by the Committee’s Working Group on the Definition of Professionalism. (2001)

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