Tuesday, March 24, 2009

She Hates HR

I saw a CNNMoney article by Jeanne Sahadi from a couple years back. The article describes tidbits from Cynthia Shapiro's book "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know."

Right there in the HR is never your friend section, I read this:

"HR is not there to help employees anymore. HR is there to support management," Shapiro said.

Nice! ... this woman hates HR. It's perfect for my blog, I thought.

It did notice Shapiro say HR is not there 'anymore'. That's a good sign at least - perhaps HR used to be there to help? From her website, I see Shapiro has 18 years of HR experience, but now calls herself an International Best Selling Author - Speaker - Business and Career Strategist. I wonder if there is a link from this professional shift and to when HR stopped being there to help?

Here's more from the HR is never your friend section:

Always go to your boss first with any concerns or conflicts. Going to HR makes you look weak – which isn't a plus when it comes to getting promoted.

"Only go to HR after you've tried and documented several attempts to speak with your boss about a serious issue," she writes. By serious, she means an issue that, if not resolved, would cause you to leave the company.

And definitely don't shoot the breeze with HR about your medical concerns, family stresses or that drunken night in Vegas.

Anything you say can and will be used against you if need be -- no matter how sympathetic and helpful the person you talk to may seem.

There seems to be some sort of strange irony here. These could be read as warnings that you don't have the right HR staff, instead of proof HR isn't your friend. They seem like a page from a playbook from an HR department that no longer delivers value - a Top 10 of items heard when your HR function has left the building. We should add a couple, like "don't tell HR you've become a new employee - they will just have meaningless forms to complete and give you a list of pointless duties" or "don't ask HR for a list of Company Holidays - they'll trick you into thinking National Ice Cream Day is off and then will fire you when you don't show up."

At first I thought the other sections in the article (other than the HR is never your friend section) might have less of a stench to them - especially from what I've seen at larger corporations. Larger more formal places can be slow, heavy with process, and often don't have a face. But the more I looked, the more I just couldn't buy it - the examples seem incomplete and the comparisons unfair.

Midnight-oil burners get promoted and work-life balancers are the first to get canned - gosh I could see that happening, I thought.

Parents especially are at risk of being perceived as distracted. "From nine-to-five your work life has to at least appear to come first, even if it doesn't," Shapiro writes.

Hmmm wait a minute .... I suppose it's true, parents could be at risk if they don't 'appear' to put work first between nine-to-five. But, isn't anyone at risk if they don't even appear to put work first from nine-to-five? Isn't it possible the midnight-oil burners are producing more and performing better?

You are at risk of layoff if you filed a complaint against the company or your boss - or if you are overly negative about the company.

I know retaliation can happen and certainly don't endorse it, but isn't there a possibility overly negative employees are often unproductive? They don't perform as well as someone who is motivated and likes being at work.

The 'sneak-peek' into corporate tactics is a shallow, incomplete, and dark picture. I agree with Shapiro here - HR does exist to support management, and serve the company. Everyone is supposed to be supporting the company. HR can do this by being a friend to employees. Perhaps giving insight or helping to resolve possible conflict before it comes a 'serious' issue, or making sure midnight-oil burners don't fizzle out and quit, and helping work-life-balancers know what is expected from them.

I doubt I'll be able to stop thinking about this article for awhile (although I'm not so interested in getting the book).
It sadly makes me question and think about how HR does suck for many people, and really how work itself sucks for so many. Aren't there nice people that care about the people they work with? Aren't there bosses and employees that just do the right thing? Aren't there people that care about performing well (whether at home or burning the midnight oil)? I know there is a lot more to these issues and they are complex, but from a wide angle it seems 'hating' gets attention, it can be profitable, and is just pessimistic fun for its own sake.

I like this approach: HR is there to help employees. HR is there to support management. What's your corporate tactic and strategy?


  1. I read the book based on a recommendation from a workmate (outside of HR). It was bad. Not a book I'd recommend anyone waste their time reading.

    Although I didn't agree with 99% of the content, I did agree with the few pages on annual performance reviews: 'Secret 48: Yearly performance reviews are not for giving feedback'. The section basically stated that feedback should be provided to employees on a regular basis, as often as possible (whether it be positive/highlighting areas that can be improved) thereby making annual reviews a non-event.

    I believe HR should be an agent both for the business and for the employee. Obviously there are times that interests clash (which is why HR functions even exist!), but I see it my role to ensure that the interests of both sides are considered and where needed, protected.

  2. Hi Sarah - so glad to know I'm not missing much. And I 100% agree with you re: HR for business AND employee. You nailed it.

    I also agree with you (and Secret 48) about feedback and reviews - there should be no surprises. No new information. Does this 'non-event' mean the book, or you, suggest not having reviews? Intriguing idea, especially with the 5 point stale list of forms so many companies use. I think about this all the time (so many seem to hate reviews).

    I think reviews still have value ... if done right. Maybe this is just to give employees a time to talk, listen to concerns and ideas, to recognize their accomplishments, to talk about any major changes (more $), to talk about what they want more of big picture-wise.