School Debate

I had an interesting debate in school last week. We were talking about managers and trouble with managers and then someone mentioned going to talk to HR. Two of my classmates suggested that talking to HR is useless when you have a problem with your boss. I have been debating whether to post my response to the discussion here, but decided to just go for it. I feel like it is my responsibility to my profession. Or something.

HR varies from company to company, and professional to professional, and I realize you are only talking about your current employer. But I strongly disagree with the perception that “HR is only concerned about helping managers take actions in a way that avoids potential future lawsuits”. In fact, in the last two investigations that I have conducted, managers complained to my supervisor, saying that I was taking the employee’s “side” and not being “supportive” of the manager. That wasn’t true, either.

I also disagree that HR’s job is (or should be) to “look out for the employee’s best interests”. Neither is it to protect a single manager’s best interests. We are hired by the company to protect its interests. Happily, that often means helping one person to solve one problem with one supervisor. But it also means (sorry for the cliche) that sometimes the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.

The Society of Human Resource Managers has a huge page defining the HR discipline of Employee Relations, but here is a snapshot:

“Basic employee relations concepts include equal employment opportunity, fairness and consistency in the treatment of employees, effective communications between management and employees, documentation of employment actions, recordkeeping as required by law and practice, complaint resolution processes, managerial and employee training, and “best employment practices.” Employee relations also encompasses the organization’s overall approach to maintaining a positive, productive and cohesive work environment within the organization’s particular business model and corporate culture.”

You can see that there is some bureaucratic responsibility here, but I believe it is in the spirit of “maintaining a positive, productive and cohesive work environment”. From an employee relations perspective, I consider my job to be seeing a problem from multiple points of view and trying to open communication between employees and their supervisors. The goal is to build or rebuild trusting relationships. It is only when I am convinced that won’t work that I start defending the proverbial lawsuit.


Anonymous (2009). Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Employee Relations. Society of Human Resource Management. Retrieved on March 26, 2009 from:

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