It seems that almost everyone has some kind of complaint regarding HR personnel. They certainly make easy targets; just ask the creator of those Dilbert cartoons. However, it may come as a surprise that HR departments are not the cause of every bad thing that happens – they’re not the root of all evil, it’s not their fault that your team missed its objective for last quarter, and they had nothing to do with your candy bar getting caught on the end of that coil in the vending machine.
HR seems to have a PR problem. Many folks see them as spies for ownership, out-of-touch administrators, ineffective incompetents, and/or convenient scapegoats for poor organizational performance. Upon closer inspection, though, it’s easy to see that HR professionals are pretty much like the rest of us: stretched thin because of budget cuts, overworked, undercompensated, and doing the best they can with the resources at their disposal.
Executioners, Overgrown Hall Monitors & Spies for Ownership
It’s an unfortunate fact of life for the folks working in the HR department that they will always be stuck in the middle of management and front line staff. When you’re the person delivering a written warning to someone for not clocking in on time for the second week in a row, it’s probably going to be difficult making friends with the rank and file. Also, if you’re the person charged with carrying out this month’s reduction in force (RIF), most employees will be doing their best to avoid you, not grabbing a beer with you at happy hour.
Administering discipline and facilitating terminations are two of the more unsavory elements of working in HR, but both are aspects of the position nonetheless. It’s important to note that most professionals decide to join HR because they like people and want to help their employers succeed by enabling staff members to maximize their talents. However, because they are situated between ownership and the workforce, they will always be targets of derision.
The only solution here is to somehow make it clear to employees that, although HR is tasked with presiding over disciplinary proceedings and handing down terminations, these decisions are made in conjunction with managers/supervisors and corporate leadership. It may sound like shifting the blame, but most of the time they really are only following orders and doing what’s best for the company.
Completely Out of Touch
Some studies have suggested that HR’s attitudes about employee satisfaction don’t match up with workers’ actual opinions on important metrics, like how long employees plan to stay with the company or how engaged people are with their jobs. However, it's important to note that HR managers often get their information from internal surveys.
Although these reviews are nearly always anonymous, employees don’t often treat them that way and are prone to fibbing because they think negative comments could come back to haunt them. Employee surveys may not be the best way to gather honest feedback, but is it fair to say HR professionals are out of touch if they’re being lied to by staff members?
Ineffective & Incompetent
According to a recent report from Deloitte, only 8% of HR departments are focused on their own professional development. The reason for this is simple – they’re too busy training everyone else to have time for HR-related instruction. But if this is the case, then it’s no wonder the complaints we bring to HR rarely amount to anything, right? If HR associates aren’t constantly updated on the latest employment practices and methods to resolve employee grievances then it should come as no surprise that they fail to take action when problems are reported.
Unfortunately, this is not exactly the case. Often what appears to be inaction may actually be evidence of an HR representative performing their duties within the bounds of their position. For instance, it’s important to keep in mind that all employee information is confidential. This means that if you complain about your coworker to HR and follow up looking for juicy details about their exchange with the offending party, you shouldn’t be surprised if they say “the issue was addressed.” Your HR staff member simply may not be at liberty to reveal further details to you.
Other times it may be that their hands are simply tied. Many problems require documented evidence to proceed further. If no such evidence exists, then it becomes a “he said, she said” situation, and very few HR departments will wade into those types of circumstances because they can leave the company vulnerable to potential litigation.
Not enough “talent” in your department? HR needs to kick their recruiting operation into gear. Team full of underperformers? That’s because HR didn’t provide proper training. Your favorite pet project has become stalled? Must be because of all that red tape HR brings to an organization.
The above examples display common situations that can easily be twisted into HR finger-pointing, but any of these scenarios could have a much different (and far more logical) explanation. The real reason for these issues may be more complex: there is not enough “talent” because the recruiting budget was spent three months ago, your team is full of mediocre staff because your abrasive management style alienated all of the top-performing recruits that HR sent your way, and that favorite pet project of yours?
Unfortunately, no one was as excited about it as you were and you failed to get the proper buy-in from senior leadership. So you can blame HR all you want, but sometimes a problem’s true cause lies much closer to home.
No one is perfect, and no department is without fault. There are plenty of lousy HR professionals out there just as there are numerous second-rate accountants, salespeople, software developers, and lawyers. Even if you’ve had bad experiences with HR representatives at your previous employers, don’t let prejudice or stereotypes cloud your present judgment. The HR component is a key element of any successful company and far beyond just a “necessary evil” as some have called it.
HR associates are just like the rest of us, and at its core it remains a very people-focused part of any enterprise or organization. So rather than complaining when something goes wrong and chalking it up to “more incompetence from our HR staff,” try offering some support and working with your HR department to improve processes you feel are inadequate. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the folks in your company’s human capital management department. Who knows? You might be able to help them make some positive changes.
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