How to Deal with HR – Friend or Foe?

HR (Human Resources) is an interesting function of a company. To most employees, HR is just a support function – not friend or foe.  How to deal with HR in most cases is simple – submit a request and get their help.   We may even have very good feelings toward HR if all the interactions (getting benefits, hiring someone on your team) have been helpful and pleasant.   With that said, make no mistake though, to employees, HR is foe. You cannot count on HR to be on your side for all matters.

  1. When the incentive and motivation of the employee is aligned with that of the company, then this is not an issue. HR is a support function that helps the employee get benefits, hire people, etc.. For 90% of the employees, their exposure to HR is just that and they may mistakenly think that HR is on their side whenever they have an issue.
  2. HR is foe when the employee’s agenda is at odd with that of the company. When push comes to shove, HR is funded by the company and one of its function is to protect the company from liability. I think that’s where the analogy “smiling assassin” comes from for HR professionals. HR needs to be diplomatic when an employee has an complaint towards the company. It will take necessary action to listen and then document that they responded to the grievance appropriately. The primary goal for HR is NOT necessarily to represent the employee but make sure the company is doing all the legal necessary steps if it ever end up in court.
  3. Examples of times when employee’s agenda is at odd with the company include
    a) sexual harassment complaint
    b) violation of privacy complaint (e.g., disclosure of personal health info by a senior leader that affected an employee’s work reputation)
    c) contesting an unfair review or lay off
    d) any kind of discrimination complaint
    e) worker compensation claims
    While HR will set up meetings for the employee who complained with the right leaders in the firm and tell that employee they will investigate thoroughly, HR’s number 1 goal is to protect the company from any lawsuit by following/documenting actions taken in response to a complaint or claim.

I am not saying this is wrong. I think it’s absolutely necessary for HR to play this function for the business to fend against frivolous lawsuits. I just think that sometimes employees naively think HR is “on their side” when HR simply cannot take both sides in a conflicting issue between company and employee.

Whoever pays the bills (in this case the company) gets the HR’s allegiance.    So if you are ever caught in any of the situations above, think about how to deal with HR carefully.  HR unfortunately will not be your “friend” in the matter.  They will simply do what will be the best for the company without risking any legal action from you.

Good luck out there.  I am always in your corner

– Lei

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