HR is one of those professions that we love to hate.  If you ask someone for an HR horror story, there’s a good chance he/she will have one.  Why is that?  Sometimes for good reason and sometimes not.  To be fair, every occupation has its share of failures.  For example:  Did anyone really believe that we needed a toaster designed to connect to an iPhone?

Full disclosure.  I’m an HR guy and I think that there are a lot of good reasons to support your HR team.  Having said that, here are some reasons that I think HR has the reputation that it does:

We fire the people you don’t want us to – Did we really need to fire that super friendly sales guy who has three sexual harassment complaints against him?  That’s just his way and everybody loves him!

We don’t fire the ones you do want us to – Why can’t we fire the employee who just publicly challenged you in a meeting so you’ve decided you’ve finally had it?  Why would her years of acceptable performance reviews without any performance documentation make a difference?  Aren’t we an at-will employer?

We take all of the fun out of work – What’s wrong with a few dirty jokes, and nicknames based on nationality for co-workers?  We’re just joking, HR doesn’t understand how to have fun.

We make people have difficult conversations – Why do I need to talk with her about the short length of her dress?  All you need to do is reissue the dress code reminder memo again.  That’ll fix it!

We make people put up with annoying stuff – Do we really need to move the coffee maker because Bill’s doctor says that he is allergic to coffee beans?  The new location will be inconvenient for everybody.  Can’t he just not breathe when it’s in use?

We often don’t share the real reason behind our decisions – Can’t we just tell everyone about an employee’s medical condition?  If we don’t, we’ll have to deal with other employees saying she’s just getting special treatment.

Sometimes we overrule the majority – Yes we know that the one conference room without a window is where you go to talk with recruiters and to gossip, but it’s also the new lactation room and that takes priority.

To be fair, HR is often far from perfect, but it’s also the department tasked with resolving the messiest of the messy situations.  Before you start your rant about the HR department, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I know the entire story? Frankly, you are unlikely to ever hear the entire story even if you think you have.
  • Is there a legal reason that we have to do it this way? Rules are often based on laws that are complicated at best, impractical at worst.  Either way, it usually falls on HR to enforce them.
  • Have I asked for an explanation? Often just taking the time to ask why a decision was made can be highly illuminating.

Any decent HR professional knows that many of our decisions are deeply unpopular and sometimes even counterproductive to the culture we advocate for creating.  Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we don’t.  My request?  Try to understand the backstory for decisions.  If you can’t see a reason, ask.  The answer, if it can be shared, might just surprise you.  If not, is it really as bad as the toaster idea?

Got an HR horror story that you’d like to share?  Let us know, we’d love to hear it!

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