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“HR! Whose side are you on…?”

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

During a team meeting one of my managers expressed “disappointment” at what they consider the lack of support from HR during a recent grievance submitted by one of their staff against them. On more than one occasion managers complained that HR were putting obstacles in the way of their plans to increase efficiency and reduce costs by making changes to working practices. At the same time I had staff telling me in the employee engagement group I facilitated that their was no point in raising issues about their line manager with HR because they always took the side of management.

I suppose you could argue that if both management and staff felt that HR was bias against them then this was an indication they were being even handed. What I think it demonstrated was a misunderstanding of the role of HR. Every head of HR I have ever worked with was very clear that their team was impartial. This impartially meant that HR would try and assist managers to resolve a grievance informally. In my experience managers did sometimes act rashly or unreasonably and HR would held managers out of the hole they had dug for themselves.  Which might involve agreeing to reconsider their decision or even admit that they might of been a bit hasty. Better that than be subject to a formal grievance hear and have to defend the indefensible.

Similarly when a manager informed HR they intended to impose some changes in working practise for very sound business reasons only for HR to remind them about the need to follow the organisation’s  policy procedures especially around consultation, this is HR protecting the organisation not putting obstacles in the way of change. This would be the case even if as the manager said, ….their is no point in consulting employees because we already known they wouldn’t like it and won’t agree to it but we are going to do it any way”. Like wise an individual manager could not reasonable expect HR to bi pass the recruitment process just because they have already identified the ideal candidate.

HR have a remit not only to police policies and procedures but to ensure the organisation treats employees fairly. So why do some employees lack faith in the impartially of HR. Sometimes managers give their employees the impression their unpopular decisions or their management style is supported by the organisation/HR. It would be more accurate to say senior management and HR want things done but in such away as not to cause conflict or a sense of injustice in the workforce.

In addition HR is in most employees minds linked to the negative side of work that is suspensions , misconduct hearings, competence meetings, absence management, redeployment, redundancies. Other reasons include HR efforts to resolve conflict informally which is misinterpreted as supporting the managers. HR often upset employees by saying their manager is not being unreasonable. HR sit in Headquarters and can be thought of as faceless bureaucrats who say, “have you discussed this with your manger” and can’t be trusted not to tell your manager you’re complaint about them.

HR try and act as the moral compass of the organisation reminding managers of the need to act reasonably, listening to the concerns of employees and advocating consultation and negotiation, promoting a fair work environment but within the context of the best interests of the organisation.

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