‘Go to HR?’ Are You Kidding?

Last week, a woman took to Twitter (because that’s what we do these days) to ask for advice on what to do following a male co-worker’s inappropriate sexually charged remarks, and ho-ly-crap did the Twitterverse jump all over that.

So frequent were the calls from well-meaning Twits for the women to take the matter to her company’s human resources department that “Go to HR” became one of the top trending phrases in the Twitisphere.

Ahhh, but then others started pushing back against this philosophy that HR would be helpful in solving the woman’s problem. Said @doriecp, among many, many others: “I see ‘go to HR’ trending, so I want to remind everyone that HR exists to protect the organization… not you. The only time they look out for your best interest is when your best interest aligns with the organization’s best interest.”

I don’t hide my distaste for HR. My position is that most HR people and HR departments are nothing more than agents of the C-Suite who masquerade as superheroes and advocates for the rank-and-file. That belief is well-earned. I’ve witnessed and been a part of too many dust-ups with those who fill these seats — and let’s be clear, a huge majority of the those seats are filled by people in jobs that are completely unnecessary if leaders educated themselves on how to hire the right people.

I’m hardly alone in my perception of HR. So bad is the perception of the department and those who are a part of it that it’s undergone a slick rebranding. Now these people are called Talent Management or Directors of People Engagement and the departments are called The People Management Department or People Operations.

Puh-lease.

: It’s still a masquerade.

As @doriecp pointed out, whatever you call these people, whoever or whatever they’re calling themselves today, the belief that they are there to look out for the well-being of any one staff member or the staff as a collective is completely false. If a worker’s needs or concerns butt up against the company’s, HR is going to side with the company every. single. time.

Don’t believe me? Who does the HR boss most frequently report to? The CEO. The CEO is the company. So if your situation runs counter to the best interests of the company, sorry, but people know who butters their bread.

Even if an HR department is, by some stroke of genius, independent from the C-Suite, that still doesn’t mean that’s whose door you should be walking through if you face a delicate workplace situation. Again, the company is what’s important to any HR department, and if your situation threatens the stability or reputation of the business, the best thing you can hope for is a hush-hush non-disclosure agreement that pays you for their malfeasance while ensuring everything you went through benefits no one else down the line.

And the worst thing? Do you know how miserable C-Suite-enabled HR departments can make your life before you finally quit and their problem goes away?

Jaded? Sure. Have I seen it happen? Repeatedly.

This isn’t to suggest that HR’s purpose should be anything different than it is. It shouldn’t be. The C-Suite deserves to have someone out there managing the culture or whatever it is they do. But that reality needs to be transparent to the workforce. You need to know with certainty that if you’re talking with HR, you’re not getting unbiased advice. You’re being steered. And doesn’t that just feel icky?

There are a wide variety of other options from whom you can find better advice than by going to HR. Even Twitter is on that list, and Twitter is horrible. There’s your mom and your best friend and a mentor from a previous job and your priest or rabbi and a bartender and your manicurist and an independent attorney. All of those people will give you less-slanted input than a company’s HR personnel.

If you’re truly looking to determine your next steps when you’re in a conflict with a colleague, you need objective input. You’re never — never — going to find that with HR.


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