A common misconception held by first time managers and many employees is that Human Resources, AKA HR, People Team, or whatever is the in-vogue term is these days, exists to support the employees. Well informed optimists would say HR is called on to look after the interests of both the employees and the organization as a whole. Their responsibilities involve balancing the needs and concerns of these two key stakeholders.
In my career many of the individuals in the HR team strive to support employees, but in my experience the HR institution has little regard for employees beyond extracting maximum value. In many companies HR exists to protect the company by minimizing liability and get maximum useful output from the employees. Employee welfare matters only to the extend that it impacts productivities and the company retention targets.
Making Best Use of HR
While it’s true that HR teams aren’t on your side, there are numerous ways a good HR team can be helpful and you should take advantages of the services they provide.
HR Teams typically function as the administrators for benefits programs. Good HR teams will be excellent advocates for employees programs since they know the offerings and helping employee take advantage of the programs improves employee satisfaction against resources already budgeted and will be wasted if not used.
HR teams insure company policies are well documented. Good HR teams strive to insure policies are enforced fairly across the organization, though often there are “golden” people, typically high ranking individuals who get special treatment. The best HR teams advocate for transparency which builds trust and makes it much more likely than policies will be applied in a fair manner .
Often companies will have a “company manual” which is maintained by the HR team which will hold all the company policies. Whether your company has a manual or not, it’s often useful to ask someone in HR what formal policies exist. For example, most companies have travel policies which specifies payments, maximum lodging cost (often by location), modes of transportation the company will pay for, etc.
Many companies offer in house training, and/or access to external training and educational resources. These opportunities are often managed by the HR team, though in larger companies departments might have additional resources. Take advantage of these opportunities.
The recruiting process is very labor intensive. Writing up positions to be posted. Processing resumes. Reaching out to people who aren’t applying but would be good fit. Screening candidates. Arranging interview schedules. Making sure the candidate feels like they are cared for, are well informed, and are getting feedback. Insuring feedback is processes is happening and a good decision is made. Kindly delivering the offer/no-offer message to the candidate. Educating a candidate what is included in an offer: both good and bad. There are meta processes like developing a good screening system, training people to be effective interviewers, etc.
In my career I have had mixed experience with folks doing recruiting as part of an HR team. Some people have been superb. They often were involved in the initial “cultural” screening that examine work style / philosophy of the candidate and were able to help the candidate understand the important values of the team they we interviewing for. They made should there were no unnecessary surprises and everything was taken care of. Feedback was provided so I knew what was going well and not so well. If there were areas of concern or alignment which need more conversation. I have also experienced bad recruiters. In one case, they never got back to me after the interview and didn’t return my calls or email to follow-up. I later learned that the hiring manager thought I wasn’t interested in the position.
Avoid HR For…
Unlike a lawyer or CPA that you hire, HR personal are not obligated to confidentiality, fiduciary duty, or due care. Their first priority is protecting the company from lawsuits and other adverse situations. They are often required to report things that you would like to keep confidential.
Conflicts… unless unmanageable
People on the HR team can be effective mediators but they are no always permitted to do this. .Often company policies and politics can trump a mutually acceptable resolution. If there is a conflict between employees of a company, I would recommend not bring the conflict to HR unless you are prepared to see at least one individual lose their job.
How can this go wrong? One example is a young women who felt a coworkers was making inappropriate comments. She was encouraged to talk to HR rather directly address her peer with her concern. In less than a week her peer was terminated with no opportunity to correct the situation. The reporter was shocked and heartbroken with this outcome… the terminated team member was (and is still) a friend. Before the termination was finalized the two employees talked and came to see the issue was more a misunderstanding and some insensitivity on the part of the male coworker who would have been happy to change once he knew is relating style could give offense. Alas, once the process was started, the women was not permitted to stop the process.
Performance Issues… unless termination is likely
If you are struggling with your job performance, or if you are a manager who is working with an employee who is struggling with their performance I would recommend avoiding HR unless you believe the situation is likely going to end in a termination and want to insure all the rules / procedures are followed. While there are exceptions, HR teams are typically staffed by relatively young people who don’t have a lot of experience coaching people through difficulties and their first duty is to the company, not the employee who is struggling.
The other thing to note is that sometimes HR doesn’t want someone to be terminated because of the risk of legal action. They rarely understand the wrong person can dramatically impact the entire teams performance. For example 1 problem person on a team of 8 doesn’t reduce the team’s output to 7.5 to 7, it can drop the team to a 5 or less.