I’ve been working in the professional development arena for a long time now. I started my business in 2009, and it’s funny how much has changed—and how much has stayed the same.
One thing that has always been true is this: People really mistrust Human Resources.
It’s always surprising (though, at this point, it shouldn’t be) just how much people resist the idea that HR might be able to help in certain workplace situations.
Look, I get it. A lot of people have had a lot of bad experiences with HR. Just like anything, there are good HR professionals and there are bad ones. There are organizations that support their employees, and ones that don’t.
As a professional career coach, I feel strongly that we do ourselves and others a disservice when we blindly write off HR as being “the enemy.”
Sadly, I think a lot of bad HR experiences revolve around a fundamental misunderstanding of what HR is and what it does.
What is the Role of Human Resources?
Let’s first be clear about the role of HR. Human Resources is a department within an organization, and they handle a lot of different things related to the workforce, including compensation, hiring, and legal issues. HR professionals are there to protect the organization from any issues that might arise within the workforce. They are NOT there to protect the employee.
HOWEVER, because a company is made up of employees, and because employee problems are a huge source of risk for an organization (legal and otherwise), HR has a vested interest in keeping employees safe, productive, and reasonably happy.
When you go to HR with a concern of any sort, it’s their job to listen and investigate, and ultimately, to solve the problem in a way that is positive for the organization.
Understanding the Issue of Control
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize something very important: when you take an issue to HR, the issue is no longer in your hands. You do not control the outcome. You do not get to have a say in what happens from there. Whether or not you want an investigation is irrelevant in most situations. HR has to make that decision based on their expertise, not what you want. If you want certain things to stay private, for example, you might not have that choice anymore. It can feel like HR is not on your side, and that’s true. They aren’t, necessarily.
Legal Issues and Other Employee Situations
However, if you’re being harassed or discriminated against or being treated in a way that puts the organization at risk, HR needs to know about that. They need the opportunity to right the situation. Again, you might not like the steps they take to do that. You might have to have some uncomfortable conversations. But they are there to guide that process.
They don’t always get it right. But, if you believe your organization has integrity and wants to maintain a positive working culture, and you’re experiencing something that doesn’t align with that, HR should be viewed as a resource for you. Let’s not be so skeptical as to believe that ALL organizations are evil and all HR people corrupt.
Yes, you should THINK before you get HR involved in your employee issues. You’re an adult and you can manage many issues on your own, including those uncomfortable, interpersonal disputes that inevitably happen when a diverse group of human beings spend too much time together.
HR is for those situations that you can’t manage on your own, the ones that rise to a new, concerning level—a level that jeopardizes your ability to perform.
HR has a job to do, and you will likely lose control of a situation once you involve them. But some situations NEED to be out of your hands. You need a third-party to step in and figure things out on your behalf. Realize that the outcome might not be what you want it to be…but, at least there will be an outcome. At least you will have done something to try to improve the situation.
Draw Your Own Conclusions
Please remember: Mine is just one perspective. You are free to disregard it. That’s the glorious thing about adulthood. You get to choose your own perspective based on your own experiences. If you choose to see HR as the enemy, that’s up to you. I presume you have good reasons. But don’t simply allow other people’s experiences to dictate your thoughts on this matter. There’s too much at stake.