Have you seen the blog of Evil HR Lady? (http://evilhrlady.blogspot.com/2009/03/i-quit.html) You can see how she describes the perception of HR as the bearer of all bad news for the hapless employee who will be disciplined, demoted, transferred, terminated or whatever. I once had an employee express a similar sentiment, namely that “You’re hired” is the last good news you get from HR. After I kicked him out of my office, I started making a mental list of the things I have done to help my employees, such as fighting for their benefits coverage, answering their questions, helping them get legal or other professional advice when needed, defending their positions to management, and so on. Apparently, this negative perception of HR persists, but I don’t believe HR is the real culprit here.
First, I have never understood why I should have to fire an employee. I don’t make those decisions. Managers decide when to fire an employee. I am usually the one trying to find ways NOT to get the employee fired, or trying to force the manager to make a strong case before terminating, so when the time comes, it will be a short conversation and there won’t be any surprises. But many managers have a hard time managing.
I had one who complained about her recent hire, the one she failed to train to do much more than make photocopies, but did not terminate during her probation period. She didn’t think the person was worth anything, but still felt her presence was necessary to help with her workload when she went on vacation. She figured she would fire the gal when she got back from vacation. She figured wrong. The employee suffered a work related injury while her boss was on vacation. Further, she passed her 90 day probationary period without receiving any negative feedback from her boss. So I told the manager to do the 90 day performance evaluation, explain the employee’s deficiencies, and give her an improvement plan. If she failed to improve, the she should be fired. The written evaluation turned out to be neutral and called for more one and one training, which the manager was supposed to provide. This was hardly the documentation needed to make a strong case for termination.
When it did come time to terminate the employee, I was expected to deliver the news, not the manager who had been trying for months to get rid of her. The manager pretended to feel all badly about the termination, while I got to play the bad guy. Who is really evil here?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had managers who have utterly failed to provide candid feedback to an underperformer (even with my coaching and offer of support), then expect me to clean up their mess, like address the discrimination suit that comes later. Sometimes it’s not that bad. Sometimes I just have to be the one to break it to the employee that his or her boss is dissatisfied.
The same comes at the time of merit increases. Again, HR does not and should not decide how much of a raise each employee should receive, only the general guidelines for how compensation should be administered, such as the salary ranges and a range of possible increase percentages. The department manager should have the nerve to tell the employee not to expect a 10% increase this year, because he or she really is not the star of the department.
Managers often want to write up employees when they are frustrated with behavior or performance. I am happy to take down the information, draft the corrective action documentation, and sit with the manager while this is reviewed with the employee to act as a witness or even a facilitator in the conversation. Again, I can’t tell you how many times the manager will simply hand over the write-up to the employee, ask them to read and sign, and otherwise stay mute. They want to stay relatively silent while I defend the action the manager initiated.
If I am unsuccessful in advocating an employee’s position, I am “evil” because I “did nothing” to help the employee. If I argue on behalf of an employee and against a management action I view as unfair, I am “evil” for not being totally on management’s side. I am “evil” for demanding documentation from managers before taking adverse employment action. I am “evil” for not hiring people quickly enough, because I either want to thoroughly vet the candidate first (eg. get a criminal background check, post-offer physical and drug screen completed), or because I need higher authorization before I can put the person on the payroll. I am “evil” for not immediately getting rid of, or at least censoring, supervisors that are unpopular with certain employees. Some employees like to think they must be the victim of some form of discrimination if a supervisor holds them accountable for some standard of performance. I can’t always take the employee’s side. I can’t always take the supervisor’s side either, so I’m always in the wrong in somebody’s eyes.
Much of the previous paragraph is a description of the employee relations professional’s role – to be the neutral party between the workforce and management and try to resolve differences in a manner that’s legal and fair to BOTH sides of the employment relationship. However, the managers have a responsibility to provide clear, consistent and candid feedback to their employees, as well as the training, coaching and support necessary to help the employee succeed. I can try to help the manager along the way, be and advisor and provide support, but I shouldn’t be stuck doing the dirty part of their job.
And that’s my vent for the day. Again, I am opening myself up to a lot of criticism here, so let me have it!