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Does professional citizenship resonate with you?

So, you think you’re a professional? And most of us do. Think we’re professionals. We get to work on time, roll up our sleeves, coach colleagues, advise the business, fight fires; balancing the needs of workers and organisations at the same time. And we go home. To our friends and loved ones, to the gym, to the pub, to the cinema.

But if we’re professionals, do our responsibilities start and end with our day job? Do we have a duty to use our unique skills to help others? How can we go beyond our roles while balancing our work, family and other busy life commitments? These ideas sit at the heart of professional citizenship, which is described by the University of Minnesota as 'an identity: seeing oneself first as a citizen with special expertise working alongside other citizens with their own special expertise in order to solve community problems that require everyone’s effort.’

So, what do you think? How can we be better professional citizens? And should we be? Does the concept resonate with you? Please share your thoughts - the good, the bad and the ugly!

  • Teresa

    | 359 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    9 Nov, 2017 09:17

    That's an interesting concept and reminds me of a very strange date i went on a few years back. After some initial pleasant conversation, the chap tried to tell me that as a HR Professional, I had a duty to spend all of my time outside of work trying to make the world a better place. I disagreed - my private time is for me to do things that i enjoy and whilst i always try to help people a nd do good because of my nature, it was certainly not my 'duty; to do that, just because i happened to be working in HR

    He then got very animated and cotninued to rant that i was being irresponsible and HR people like me, needed to realised that we were responsible for 'ridding the world of evil'. Unsurprisingly i disagreed, and at that point i ended the evening. Strangely he asked to see me again and was surprised when i declined.

    So my thoughts are very strongly that we absolutely have no duty to be better professional citizens outside of work. I do however believe that everyone - young or old, professional or not, has a responsibility to treat the world and the living beings on it with care and respect.
  • Robey

    | 1560 Posts

    Chartered Member

    9 Nov, 2017 09:22

    Definitely me.

    In my voluntary work with schools, in church and in geek communities, I often find myself putting my head above the parapet to challenge unacceptable behaviour, or to share my knowledge of behavioural science strategies to influence and improve attitudes and environments.

    I was subject to a brief but vituperative storm of trolling a few months ago when I suggested in my blog a voluntary code of conduct for tabletop gaming clubs to make it easier for women, minors and minority groups to complain about unacceptable behaviour, harassment and assault. Usual accusations of being a Social Justice Warrior, "white knight" or PC-liberal-left-wing-infiltrator.
  • Anka

    | 127 Posts

    Chartered Member

    9 Nov, 2017 10:47

    As Teresa said - an interesting concept. However, I believe nothing like this can ever be achieved without a degree of societal expectation which could be interpreted as pressure or curtailment of individual liberty.

    Friends on visiting Germany were favourably impressed with the lack of littering but at the same time found it odd that pedestrians waited at a red (for them) traffic light if the road was clear. But these are two sides of the same coin - both are frowned upon, jay walking is a criminal offence and strangers will take issue with you if you try and cross the road without waiting for the green man. In Norway, if you have children at primary school, the teachers will apparently at regular intervals put children in groups for play dates and their parents and siblings are also expected to turn up. So every child has play dates with all the other children. This is perceived to be good for the community, and I understand there is degree of societal pressure to ensure it happens and it is "expected" of the parents to turn up. In other countries, religion might still play a big part in shaping expectations, I imagine there might still be fewer people coming out as gay in Italy than the UK?

    My view is that something that is "good" for society or community almost always seems to involve some sort of pressure needing to be exerted, be it by church, family, bourgeois expectations... There is a price to pay, in the form of individual liberty. EG well-designed cycle infrastructure - massively beneficial to society but would involve car drivers relinquishing some of their individual control over road space for the good of society. They will never do this voluntarily. I regard this country at fairly libertarian so I cannot see anyone having the appetite to exert any pressure to ensure "society" functions better than it does. Personally, i would be happy to adapt to many concepts of good citizenship but they would need to apply to everyone without exception, we should "all be in this together".
  • In reply to Teresa:

    I have to admit I agree with Teresa, I feel no requirement or need to continue what I do in work into my personal life and if I am entirely honest my personal opinions are often very different to those I put forward at work.

    I do think there is a wider social responsibility to be kind and do the right thing but I feel no need to crusade or feel any pressure to be a perfect example of.
  • Ray Naylor

    | 2589 Posts

    Chartered Member

    9 Nov, 2017 15:14

    In reply to Teresa:

    Agree with Teresa that there should not be an implicit and automatic obligation/duty on HR professionals to take an active role in deploying their expertise in the community at large.

    In a period when I was regularly doing 60-70 hours weeks with occasional 50 hour non-stop crisis sessions, I would have been a little miffed if someone had suggested that I really ought to do more for the community at large - particularly when the work I was doing time involved recruiting 3.500 people for new jobs, liaising with technical schools to help them align their course content with the company's recruitment needs, training newly recruited first line managers with the supervisory skills they didn't yet have but clearly had the potential to acquire.....

    Many on the forum give their time to the community on a voluntary basis, and for me that is the right way to ensure commitment and enthusiasm on the part of those giving their time. I fully recognise that in other national cultures, different social values apply - however the UK is not Norway, India or Uzbekisatan and has it's own distinctive values (neither right or wrong in an absolute sense), and it would be totally wrong to blindly copy other cultures.

    On the other hand I believe that as human beings we have a duty to treat others with respect and consideration, which for some people can include extending the availability of their professional skills to the community at large - but by choice. When I retire next year I shall continue to teach MBA courses in international HR, but that is just as much about keeping my brain in gear as about giving to the community
  • David

    | 20854 Posts

    Chartered Member

    9 Nov, 2017 16:00

    In reply to Ray Naylor:

    Totally agree with the observation in Ray's final para above and have to say that I'm not too comfortable with this concept just focusing on 'professionals' (whatever that means exactly, in an HR context.....). To me, it's inherent in the concept of a decent society or human community that everyone, be they professionals or artisans or whatever puts whatever skill and spare time and available resources they have into helping it to function effectively, for the common good.

    A now long dead relative used to recount life in a local village in the 1930s Depression where her father was the village butcher and could not bring himself to watch neighbours' children etc starve, so gave away meat to very many local families, at considerable financial cost. He wasn't a 'professional' but so what??
  • Judy Williams

    | 549 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    10 Nov, 2017 14:30

    Have to say that I'm not particularly comfortable with this. 'Professional Citizenship' indicates that some sort of public recognition of this identity would follow. True helpfulness, community spirit, philanthropy, etc, requires no witness or applause, regardless of whether this is given with reference to professional expertise. Many thousands (or millions - who knows?) do things every day for their community or neighbours without flag waving. Random Acts of Kindness is a growing movement and a concept I prefer.
  • Hello Lizzie,
    This is an interesting discourse you have initiated. However, for me, I would look at things a bit differently.

    Professionalism to me is not necessarily about making your skills available outside work. It is more about how you conduct yourself in carrying out your work or while pursuing your organisation's aims, and whether your conduct outside of work presents a positive view of the profession you are a part of.

    Secondly, personally, the order for me is not work first, so my behaviour outside of work is not necessarily driven by values arising out of a set of 'professional' ethos. Rather, my behaviour at work and indeed outside of work are driven by my own personal values and core beliefs. For instance, I always engage people on the premise that I ought to show respect and kindness to others even when I do not agree with them. And irrespective of whether I am at work or not, this premise applies.

    I am involved in my community but not because of my profession, rather because I genuinely care about the causes I am involved in and the difference they make to other people's lives. And that will happen regardless of whatever 'professional' role I find myself engaged in at any point in time.
  • I believe we all have a responsibility to contribute to the wider community, whatever our skills may be. I don't entirely understand the need for this to be 'professional' - everyone has a unique set of skills that can benefit others, regardless of what their career is. The suggestion that just because we are 'professionals' we have a higher level of responsibility as a citizen or are somehow able to contribute mote than others is a little self-aggrandizing, in my opinion.

    While I believe we all have a level of social responsibility, how we choose to exercise that is up to us. Perhaps we can indeed use our professional skills to assist in the wider community, or perhaps we choose to be of benefit in other ways such as charity work, coaching a local sports team etc and leave our work behind at the office.

    My fiance is a Doctor, and although he is always polite and attempts to help anyone who asks, the amount of people who think it is perfectly acceptable to discuss their intimate medical issues with him in social situations is ridiculous, putting him in a difficult position every time because he doesn't want to compromise his professional integrity by providing advice without proper examination or access to medical records. But if he were to refuse to engage with them entirely, they would no doubt think him extremely rude and somehow failing in his role as a Doctor. Of course, he would always assist in a genuine medical emergency.

    I therefore think there is a dangerous precedent in sending out a message that a professional should be expected to carry forward their expertise outside of the working environment. If someone wishes, and is able, to do so, then that's one thing, but I don't think there should be an expectation to do so. There are plenty of ways, regardless of profession, that every individual can contribute to society, and how they choose to do so should be entirely up to them.
  • Thank you all for sharing your varied and interesting views on this subject. We are currently testing the concept of professional citizenship and are particularly looking for the views of those with whom is does not resonate! We would therefore love it if you could spare the time to talk to us a little more about the subject, as we are looking to pull together a diverse range of opinions on the topic.

    Please do contact me, Fiona Scott, at f.scott@cipd.co.uk
  • In reply to Fiona:

    Hi Fiona, This is a very interesting subject and one which I can see resonates with all of us. As a HR professional of long-standing, I have now stopped telling people in social situations what I do - because every time I go to a party or wedding etc. if I answer that I am a People Manager -people ask "Is that HR?" and when I answer yes they always say "I would like to talk to you about something later on if you don`t mind?". What can I say? I reply yes of course. They find me wherever I am - usually whilst I`m just about to start on my delicious dinner in the middle of a conversation with an old friend I have n`t seen for ages and they start regaling me about the problems they are having with their manager or their workplace. And every time I feel sorry and either tell them what they should do or I give them my number so that they can call me. I have done this for many years and free of charge. One person even had the gall to tell me "I asked my lawyer but he wants £1,500 to fill in my ET1 but you will do it for me for free". I have found that my good works outside the workplace have impacted on my wellbeing. After all I deal with complex ER issues 50 hours per week, week in and week out, so going to a party over the weekend helps me unwind etc. Eventually any professional work outside the workplace or business can lead to burnout and I have to think about my health in this world of never switching off. After all do we ask a lawyer or a barrister to give us advice for free when they are not in their work setting. You will find that if we are professionals we have to take a leaf out of the lawyers page and behave professionally. That does not mean that I don`t help friends and family anyway with free advice - we all give back freely of our time and expertise - because that`s who we are. But the question is - if we are professionals - what are the boundaries. If our advice and time is so cheap - do we deserve to be called professionals?
  • Hi everyone - thanks so much for all your responses! It's great to hear your thoughts and feedback while we are exploring this idea. (And apologies if my own response is a little late - I have been off honeymooning!)

    I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to share my own personal take on it, too. In my original post, I asked a provocative question about whether we have a duty to go beyond our roles to help others, but I think in reality, the kind of professional citizenship we are exploring at the CIPD isn't that prescriptive. It takes into account that we all have busy lives and at any one point, it might not be possible for us - physically or mentally - to do stuff outside of our roles. (I know that's something quite a few of you have picked up on too.) It still holds true to the idea that we have a duty to use our unique skills to help others, but in whatever way we can - whether that's improving your organisation's recruitment processes, having challenging conversations to effect change, giving advice to a friend, volunteering to help young people enter the labour market or leading a movement on gender equality. It's on a sliding scale and could well mean that for you - the way you make a difference right now is within your role, but at other times you might go beyond it. It gives us the room to make a difference in whatever way we can. Please share your thoughts - positive or negative - as we're still very much interested in hearing them.

    My colleague Fiona is doing some further, more in-depth research to properly explore some of the ideas surfacing in this discussion - like a lot of you have spoken about feeling pressure from others to constantly give advice, the need for balance, that we should focus on helping others regardless of our profession - if you'd like to get involved please do contact her: f.scott@cipd.co.uk

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