Does HR Really Care?

This snippet appeared in a post on the Ask a Manager blog a few months back. Thought it was a good topic to jump start a post as well as a great reminder from Alison on the dual roles of HR.

Sometimes when I read an article advising a reader to go to their HR department for help, I wonder if this is really a solution that will benefit the worker. I\’ve been privy to situations where it seemed that HR became involved not to mediate–but to fast-track an employee to the exit door. I\’m looking for perspective. It seems as if HR works to shield management, and is rarely a real resource to resolve issues workers may have with folks in a manager\’s role or higher. What does your experience say? 

HR is there to serve the needs of the employer. In some cases, that means helping out employees — because it\’s in the best interests of the employer to retain great employees, hear about and address bad managers, stop legal problems before they explode, and so forth. But plenty of other times, what\’s best for the employer is not what\’s best for the employee. It varies by situation. In general, though, when I read advice suggesting that an employee take a problem to HR, about 75% of the time it strikes me as an inappropriate thing to do; HR people aren\’t therapists or priests or mediators. Unless something is a legal issue or truly egregious, you should deal with your manager directly. (And a good HR department will tell you to do that.)

First off, I think this is a great summary of what HR does from a manager’s point of view. Most of them don’t have this concept down just yet, and it shows in how they interact both with the HR team and with their staff. I have a unique perspective because unlike a lot of HR pros, I work right next to the people I get to serve. I’m always willing to help with the routine questions, but I really enjoy when people ask for those more in-depth things like how a mutual fund in their 401(k) works or how a manager can use incentives to reach one of his team members.

The not so fun side

In my daily work, I run into people who assume it’s their job to tell me every little detail that’s going on with them. Sometimes it’s an obvious attempt to try and excuse poor performance. Other times it’s clearly a call for help, though the person is trying to keep it hidden. Working in small office makes those random complaints of inappropriate behavior much tougher to handle.

And when we truly have a performance issue, we bend over backwards to give the offender plenty of opportunities to get it right. Why? Because while we do “serve the needs of the employer,” we also realize that we’re dealing with people. We’re fallible. Acknowledging it doesn’t mean we have to accept it as the answer to the problem. It just means we are more willing to offer innovative solutions to the problems facing our people.

The key to success

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn (I love being hands-on!) is to push things back on managers and employees when appropriate. When Employee X comes to me with a complaint about their manager not sharing information with them, my first response isn’t, “Well, let’s march down there together and teach him/her a lesson!” My first response is going to be, “Okay, so what did they say when you approached them about it?” 99% of the time the employee hasn’t breathed a word of the issue to the manager, which is humorous since the complaint is based on a lack of communication.

Rule #1 for HR: push things back on managers/employees when appropriate. It’s not to reduce your workload today. It’s to reduce your workload a month or a year from now when the situation has devolved into a battleground because you enabled one or both parties to avoid each other. At that point you’ll wish you had done things differently from the start.

By the way, I had an employee call me “personnel” the other day. All I could do was smile so big that I couldn’t respond. Does HR really care? You bet we do.

16 thoughts on “Does HR Really Care?

  1. Jay Kuhns

    Good post Ben. One way I’ve tried to deal with this issue is to develop the role of Employee Ombudsman. It’s been a huge success here.

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