Human Resource Department Misconceptions

Human Resource Department Misconceptions

Company Human Resource departments are often labeled as being there to help employees. This could only be further from the truth. Although this should be common knowledge to anyone in the workplace, it is always surprising how many people regularly believe Human Resource representatives are there to be helpful to an employee.

HR departments are not employee advocates. Their main objective is to keep a business out of trouble with the government and employment laws. Issues, such as sexual harassment and discrimination, are a few examples of real problems that do exist. The EOC (Equal Opportunity Commission) has a number of laws in place to protect workers. It is the Human Resource department’s responsibility to ensure a company does not get caught up in complaints that have potential for further action.

Human Resource Conflict Resolution

I have worked for several different companies throughout my time in the workplace. HR seems to always be the first to mind from co-workers when there is conflict. For example, someone that has an issue with a manager will say “I am going to make an HR complaint.” The fact is this will do nothing in most cases. The person you make the grievance to will appear understanding. They might even say action will be taken. But seldom there will be results.

There are really only a few circumstances with results from a complaint to HR. The first is when Human Resource is already looking to get rid of someone. A manager that is troublesome may have action taken against them with more ammunition. The second situation is when a complaint has genuine merits. The kind that could potentially expose a company to litigation.

HR departments rarely take action on employee allegations of wrong-doing. Even if they know something is occurring nothing may be done if it never becomes a large enough problem. If reported issues will never result in a catastrophic setback for the company financially or publicly, no action will ever be taken.

Human Resources Does Not Care About You

The people in the HR department work and get paid by the same company you do. Their interests are with the employer and not you. Everything they do is for the employer’s advantage. Much of the training they provide and all the initial new hire paperwork with clause after clause for termination reasons is in place for the employer.

The sexual harassment training, race discrimination training, and training on bullying in a work environment are for the company’s protection. Moreover, the arbitration agreements for litigation in employee handbooks or employee new hire agreements are not there for you.

HR employees are not much different from other comparable workers in a company. They must listen and play by the politics and bureaucratic rules. There is no ultimate oath they must take to morally stand up for employees. The idea that HR is a mediator and will do the right thing with truth and integrity is highly misunderstood.

Making a Complaint to Human Resources Might Get You Terminated

One of the biggest delusions with HR is that conversations are confidential. Unless you have this in writing, which would be almost never, they do not have an obligation to never repeat a conversation. Even if they tell you verbally that a conversation will never leave the room, you can be certain it will. This will be the case if something is serious or maybe not even a big deal.

With serious allegations reported to HR, leadership positions are notified. They will look to start building their case for defending these allegations. They may also start to look for ways to legitimately fire the person that made a complaint for cause. Having a worker around that appears to be causing trouble is not something they want.

A Complaint to HR Today Could Make you the Target of Termination Tomorrow

If a complaint is made to HR that would not be considered serious, it may only be a matter of time before a person is let go. Politics play a big role in any company. The who can do favors for others to promote themselves is the game. A complaint against a manager or co-worker today could be a political friend of someone tomorrow and you will be a target.

Take My Stories as Evidence of Human Resources Not Being on Your Side

Working for a number of years I have personally experienced situations demonstrating issues with believing a Human Resource department is there to help an employee. Not only is HR not designed to be in favor of an employee, but company politics will always win.

Example One

The first example I personally experienced with a naïve understanding of HR was when I worked for a large brokerage firm. This was a big business with thousands of employees around the world. The company proudly spoke about its culture of integrity, rewarding talent, and being a great place to work. The firm maintained that it was like a family. Although it was quickly evident these claims were not true when I began working there, it was not fully realized for several years.

When I began with the company my direct manager was tolerable. As time passed, he began to be a bully. Harassing workers, constant lying, and taking the recognition he should not be given was a daily occurrence. These issues were in addition to a drinking problem and mornings with meetings that smelled like a vodka bottle. This was not just my imagination as co-workers were tired of his evil ways as well. The company in many ways managed people by fear and not by having qualified leaders. It was known and even by HR that this individual had issues.

With years of problems mounting and no one wanting to speak up, I finally had enough one afternoon. The Human Resource department was not my immediate thought for a formal complaint, but I decided to reach out to the next person in the chain of command. This person I respected, except for keeping my boss employed.

Following my formal complaint, there was a meeting with my boss, his manager, and myself. We got everything out in the open and my immediate manager denied and lied about many of his actions. I had proof of a few items, but many of them were only verbal. Once the meeting ended, my manager left the room and the conversation continued. I explained the issues further to my managers boss and I could tell he knew I was not making up the stories I had told.

The next part of our conversation was somewhat surprising to me. He told me that I did indeed have valid complaints to report to HR. Furthermore, I should report the issues and get them on record. Then came the truth that was maybe not fully unexpected, but I had never been witness to. I was told that filing a complaint with the human resource department was not looked at favorably by management. This I would like to believe was a warning. Yet, it could also be received as a threat.

What I was being told is if I filed a complaint my position would be eliminated. It may not have been that day, but it would come eventually. The issue was my manager had some good political allies. His manager was not really one of them, but there were other people that would do a favor for him at some point in the future.

I eventually got laid off from this company with over 100 other employees several years later after I transferred and was working in another department. I can’t be certain if my complaints at the previous time contributed to this, but it is possible.

When the layoff occurred, I was offered a severance package. It was not worth the many years of my life, but being let go from a job I did need the money. As HR does, the agreement accepting the severance money included that I would not talk badly about the company for at least a few years. I believe HR did know of many issues. This was a way to keep the people leaving quiet. Another example of them looking out for the companies’ interest.

Example 2

The second example I experienced with HR not taking action with being there for an employee was with a large financial company. Again, this was a large company with close to 10,000 employees. Many people would perceive that bigger businesses may have more helpful Human Resource departments. This is not the case.

The management style at this company in many regards was atrocious. Personally, I had never spoken up about anything. But I found it hard to believe that no one had ever mentioned many of the issues in an exit interview. HR had to know that many problems did exist and there was no intervention what so ever. I eventually chose to leave this company on my own.

Example 3

The third example of HR not being helpful had to do with a girlfriend of mine and not me personally. She worked for a large company a number of years and had a good experience. Her direct report was not an issue. There was then a restructure in leadership and her new manager was discriminatory to women and harassing. This again was not a secret and likely not something HR did not know about. My girlfriend put up with it for some time and eventually was let go. This was not related to her work, but how she was not getting along with her direct report at the time.

With all of the issues she experienced with this employer and put up with many of them, we felt it was important to research any possible consequences for the employer. We decided on going as far as sitting down with an attorney. The results of this were not shocking, but disappointing and alarming.

Our meeting with the employment attorney started with explaining all of the issues. His reply was that he believed all of these things did occur. He did not have any doubt. The issue was proving the things that occurred. Moreover, he stated that you may win a case. However, it will be costly and one that you will not be able to take on.

The short story of this example is if you are not big enough or don’t have the resources to pursue an issue at work, HR is not going to care and neither will an attorney.

Should You Trust Your HR Department?

The information in this article on Human Resource departments is not an attack on them. It is only meant to show that workers should not entirely put their trust in them as an employee. Although the number is low in my opinion, there are good companies that care about their workers. But the vast majority of them are always looking out for their best interests.

HR will do their very best from the moment you walk in the door to protect the company that provides for them. Most valid complaints to a Human Resource Department are noticed on the surface. HR will appear compassionate about the situation and act as though helping you is the right thing to do. But the truth is in almost every case things will be swept under the carpet and caught up in company politics.

With even some of the most egregious forms of discrimination or harassment, there may never be a way to keep your job or make a company resolve their issues. Going to HR with any type of complaint in almost every case is a losing proposition. If you work for a company that has major problems, the human resource department is not going to correct it. The solution is moving on to the next place and seeing if things get better.


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