Is anyone ever happy to get a phone call from HR?
Does anyone expect that call to bring good news? Or a fun surprise?
No. Of course not. It’s almost comical in its ridiculousness.
HR’s the flag-throwing referee. Or our high school principal. Or a corporate version of Jiminy Cricket.
They’re the ones to remind us about documentation. They remind us of the expense report rules. And tell us about work appropriate dress.
The other day HR flagged me for not following the employee training curriculum.
Before that, HR was upset that I wasn’t documenting a development plan per their standards. And another time where I was letting an employee have too much sick leave. And again when I gave someone extra vacation time without asking first. And before that I was in trouble for not completing performance appraisals on time.
Most of us have these examples. But HR is just trying to do the job they’ve been asked to manage, same as the rest of us.
So what causes all of these negative feelings? And what can we do about it?
A Question of Misplaced Loyalty?
When I first started working, someone gave me the advice, “Always remember, HR is here to protect the company. They aren’t here to protect you.”
Which is true. They have a responsibility to uphold the company’s values and standards. But so do we all.
And HR people generally want to be liked and appreciated by other employees. As entertaining as Catbert is, I don’t think he represents a significant percentage of HR directors.
When I pressed most employees, they really struggled to come up with examples of when HR actively ignored employee well-being for the benefit of the company. HR’s perceived loyalty is the often cited reason for our disdain. But it’s not one that’s frequently backed with evidence.
So if this isn’t the true reason for our HR distaste, what is?
It’s Not All Bad Times
It’s important to recognize that HR’s not always annoying.
How many of us begrudge the work they do on benefit programs? What about legal paperwork and labor laws?
Not me. I’m happy to let HR handle this stuff. I have no interest in learning them.
But when it comes to performance measurement or training development, it’s a whole different story. We complain and grumble about every decision.
So why are some cases appreciated and others met with disdain?
The difference lies in whether we believe HR’s value is credible. And the level of credibility we expect out of them is directly proportional to our interest in the topic.
So, Why Should I Listen to You?
Few of us want to learn and research benefit programs. And few of us see that as our job. So we’re content to let HR handle it.
I don’t know if they do a good job of it. I assume so. But I’ve never bothered to look into it.
Low interest in doing it myself. Low demands on credibility for the person who does do it.
Same situation with legal regulations and salary baselining. Not my job. Don’t want it to be. I’m sure HR’s doing just fine.
But performance measurement? Oh no. That’s part of my job. That’s a critical aspect of leading people. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone in HR tell me how to lead people. Someone whose decisions are based on an Inc. article they stumbled upon that morning.
Training plans? Interviewing? No, no, no. My job. Either prove your worth and prove it well, or leave those responsibilities to those of us who actually live them.
When we see responsibilities as part of our identity, we’re naturally more protective of them. So when others try to manage those areas, it’s not surprising that we push back against their involvement.
But we all still accept new ideas. We’ll take advice and new perspectives. As long as we believe they’re credible. And if that area is tied to our work identity, then the source of that direction needs to have a lot of credibility.
Because HR usually does have credibility in these areas. They have evidence and feedback to support their policies. They’re trusted to manage company issues at a broader level than individual managers because they’ve earned it with past successes.
The problem is just that our goal is to make a decision that benefits us today. And their goal is to make one that best helps the company to be successful in the future.
We Should All Be Businesspeople First.
“Instead of cheerleading, people in my profession should think of themselves as businesspeople. What’s good for the company? How do we communicate that to employees? How can we help every worker understand what we mean by high performance?” – Patty McCord, Former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix
I think our real problem with HR is that deep down, we all believe we should get special treatment. And HR is there to tell us we don’t deserve it.
HR’s responsible to ensure a measure of fairness and consistency. They care less about making us happy today and more about helping the company be successful next year.
They know that if they authorize today’s request, there’ll be secondary ramifications throughout the company. And they need to understand those impacts.
They’re the checks and balances that keep us all in control.
And it’s often a thankless job. But it’s a critical one as well.
Thank an HR Person Today
Everything at work becomes easier when we have a good relationship with HR. They know the rules and can help us navigate them. They understand company processes and the reasons behind new directions.
So let’s try to be a little more appreciative of the job they’re doing. They’re doing their best in a tough situation. We can choose to help that or hinder it.
Let’s try to see the rationale behind their decisions. Let’s look for how their policies support a long-term vision rather than just seeing them as limiting today’s morale.
There’s no shortage of people looking to make their job more difficult. Let’s be someone who makes it easier. At the very least, it’ll help us earn some goodwill for those future “misunderstandings.”