Human Resources: A Balancing Act

HR specialists are responsible for or involved in almost every aspect of an employee’s professional life from hiring to firing; you’ll find them recruiting and interviewing, dealing with payroll and benefits and directing a myriad of administrative functions like training and disciplinary measures. In most cases, human resources professionals are privy to the innermost workings of the company shaping its strategy via the employees.

Most HR Representatives try to be a helpful point of contact for the employee in sensitive situations, like grievances and personal issues. However, the human resource department also serves as a compliance buffer for the company, making sure federal worker mandates are followed and protecting the company from legal trouble.

These two jobs sometimes directly oppose each other, causing employees to ask - can I trust my HR department?

HR: Friend or Foe?

A Last Resort

Most sources will tell you that the HR department is not there to be your friend or solve your problems. Their purpose is to navigate the murky waters of worker protection acts and defend the company at all costs from any kind of legal hassles - including those from employees within the company itself.

For instance, if your boss is sending you sexually suggestive emails and you tell your HR Representative, will they respond to your complaint or cover it up in order to protect the company’s image? If you need time off work that isn’t convenient for the company, will your job be protected, or will you find yourself terminated on somewhat questionable grounds?

As the federal government broadens its worker-based laws, many HR departments are starting to be seen in a negative light, only interested in protecting the company they work for. A general distrust has seeped in, leaving employees wondering what recourse they have when extenuating circumstances arise.

A Delicate Balance

A good HR employee will recognize that in most situations, protecting the employees also serves to protect the company. They realize that looking at the organization with an “us” and “them” mentality is never the best way to assist all parties involved.  The aim should be facilitating straightforward and honest discussions that encourage the company and employees to work together on solutions.

The delicate balance of serving employees and employer for human resources.

This can be difficult in situations like those mentioned above, where a clear line is being drawn between an employer and employee. Good HR representatives know that to navigate these murky waters it’s beneficial to let employees be heard and their issues dealt with fairly; a satisfactory resolution for the employee likely means a happier workforce that trusts the company and leads to fewer issues long term.

At the end of the day, how the HR department responds to employee issues rests largely on the company’s procedures and the HR specialists themselves. Either way, it’s a good idea to understand when it might be a good idea to get your human resources department involved, or conversely, the situations in which HR should be your last resort or not told at all.

When to Seek the Counsel of Your HR Department

For questions that arise in matters of health benefits, insurance and employee assistance programs, your HR representative is your quickest and most knowledgeable option. They can help you understand what choices are available to you and guide you through situations like FMLA leave and emergency circumstances. Situations when you feel your personal safety is a concern or matters related to harassment are a definite yes.

It’s important to note, however, that what you say to your HR specialist is not always confidential, even if you’ve requested it. In certain cases, they may be legally obligated to divulge shared information. Keep this in mind when talking about sensitive situations.

What HR Doesn’t Need to Know

The short answer to this one is everything personal. The HR guy at your company doesn’t need to know about anything that might cause your employer to doubt your competency or worry about your performance. For example:

  1. You are contemplating not returning to work after the birth of a child.
  2. Your significant other or spouse may be transferred, and you are considering a move.
  3. You sued a former employer for any type of harassment or civil rights violation.

Unless your personal life is at risk of bleeding into your professional one, leave it at home.

Common Sense

Finding a company that is invested in its employees and employs an HR department focused on fair practices negates most of these concerns. Use common sense to decide when situations call for HR intervention, and know your own rights before you involve them. Most HR representatives will tell you they are there to help you - whether that’s true is up to you to decide.


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